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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 May 2005, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Doctors in the House
By Nick Triggle
BBC News health reporter

Dr Richard Taylor
Dr Taylor was the only independent MP in the last parliament
Doctors are used to making things better, so in some respects becoming an MP is a logical extension of the job.

All three main political parties had members of the medical profession in their ranks during the last parliament.

For the Tories they included Dr Liam Fox, a former GP, who as joint party chairman is the most senior.

But the shadow government also includes Dr Andrew Murrison, a health spokesman who is again a former GP.

On the Liberal Democrats benches there was Dr Evan Harris, who worked as a hospital doctor in Oxford before becoming a local MP.

And among the Labour ranks was Howard Stoate, who still works part time as a GP.

Dr Evan Harris
One advantage is that the speaker will call you on health questions, you would be foolish to ignore it
Dr Evan Harris, of the Liberal Democrats

And that is not forgetting the only independent MP in the last parliament - Dr Richard Taylor, a retired consultant physician at Kidderminster Hospital, who stood on the ticket of saving the hospital.

On top of these, there were a number of other MPs who have worked in the field of health, including pharmacists and opticians.

The natural progression for an MP with a medical background is to become a member of the Health Select Committee or a spokesperson for their party on health.

Dr Stoate sat on the committee from 1997 to 2001 and Richard Taylor was a member during the last parliament.

Dr Harris and Dr Fox have also been their party's health spokesmen.

Understandable

And while the appointments are understandable, doctors who are standing for the House of Commons in this election said there was a risk of becoming typecast.

Dr Harris said: "It is a danger. Clearly you come from an area of expertise. But that can work as a handicap as people say a doctor will only see from a doctor's point of view, rather than a patients."

And he said his medical background, which had taught him to be "scientific and rational" about medical issues to do with public health, had put him at odds with his party at times.

"I am pleased the party was prepared to back the sensible non-party partisan line on MMR and targets.

Michael Howard
Michael Howard is promising to return hope to voters

"But my difficulty with the party policy is this hostility to GM [foods].

He added: "One advantage is that the speaker will call you on health questions, you would be foolish to ignore it."

Dr Taylor agreed, saying it was common for other MPs to assume he was only interested in health.

"I have sat on various all-party groups on a range of issues, such as flooding, which are important to my constituents. It is not just about the NHS."

But he said he believed his career history has allowed him to make more of an impact.

Higher profile

"I sat on the Health Select Committee and as the only doctor on the committee I was really listened to. Although I think it also helps to be an independent, you have a higher profile than a party backbencher.

"But it is not only that. I think my opinion is respected, and that has meant we have been able to achieve things.

"We have reversed some of the downgrading of the hospital that had happened before the last election. We have got back elective surgery and are looking to get a doctor on call 24 hours a day in the emergency unit.

"And what has become clear is that no hospital has been downgraded in such a way since."

And Dr Bob Hodges, a junior doctor at the Cheltenham General Hospital, who is standing as an independent in this election on the ticket of saving a children's ward at the hospital, suggested more medics could put themselves forward for parliament in the future.

"The NHS is one of the most important issues in politics so it is no surprise that people like myself and Dr Taylor put ourselves forward.

"It stands to reason that a medically qualified person will have a better grasp of health issues."

Candidates by seats:

Cheltenham - Keith Bessant (Green), Christopher Evans (Labour), Vanessa Gearson (Conservative), Dancing Ken Hanks (Monster Raving Loony Party), Bob Hodges (Independent), Martin Horwood (Liberal Democrat), Niall Warry (UK Independence Party).

Dartford - Peter Bucklitsch (Liberal Democrat), Mark Croucher (UK Independence Party), Gareth Johnson (Conservative), Howard Stoate (Labour), Michael Tibby (New England Party).

Wyre Forest - Marc Bayliss (Labour), Mark Garnier (Conservative) Rustie Lee (UK Independence Party), Frances Oborski (Liberal Party), Bert Priest (Monster Raving Loony Party), Richard Taylor (Independent).

Woodspring - Mike Bell (Liberal Democrat), Anthony Butcher (UK Independence Party), Liam Fox (Conservative), Michael Howson (British National Party), Rebecca Lewis (Green), Chanel Stevens (Labour).

Westbury - Phil Gibby (Labour), Duncan Hames (Liberal Democrat), Andrew Murrison (Conservative), Lincoln Williams (UK Independence Party).

Oxford West and Abingdon - Antonia Bance (Labour), Evan Harris (Liberal Democrat), Tom Lines (Green), Amanda McLean (Conservative), Marcus Watney (UK Independence Party).



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