Robert Winston, Doctor and Labour Peer: "It's Difficult to Be a Genuine Right a Doctor and a Genuine Right-Winger"
Elmhirst, Sophie, New Statesman (1996)
Why did you become a doctor?
There were never any doctors in my family. But my grandparents and my mother had a strong social conscience that was formative.
Does politics influence your medical work?
Most of the people you care for are not going to be rich, unless you're in private practice. It's hard to be a good doctor if you don't think about the social circumstances of who you're treating. There are many Tory doctors, but I think it's difficult to be a doctor and a genuine right-winger.
What do you think of the government's change of tack on the NHS?
If it's nota U-turn, it's a huge change of emphasis. There's a massive deficit in the NHS that the government is not handling. The idea that this is due to mismanagement is nonsense, and GP-led commissioning is not going to make it better, it's going to make it worse.
What about their "listening exercise"?
It's not a listening exercise--it's a communication without dialogue.
Are you worried about further privatisation?
The fragmentation that already started with the internal market is going to be made much worse. People are talking about the postcode lottery with IVF--it's a model for what's going to happen to other services, including cancer. Cameron saying "We're going to treat cancer patients differently" is a nonsense. There are all sorts of fatal diseases. Will they not be treated in the same way? There's a lack of coherence.
Do you think David Cameron and Andrew Lansley understand the NHS?
No, of course they don't. They don't understand how people work in the health service. If they did, the first thing they would do is increase morale by having people working in teams. You're fighting a battle and dependence on your comrades is key. That's how young doctors feel--that's how I felt.
How should the NHS be funded?
Perhaps we should be getting some people to pay for parts of it. When I ran an NHS clinic, I would have at least 20 per cent no-shows. Each of those cost the NHS [pounds sterling] 200.
How is Labour doing in opposition?
Badly. The government is vulnerable and it should be ripped to shreds, but in both houses we're not doing well. I don't know if it's the leadership. I like Ed Miliband--he's a nice man--but it's not an easy job. Would Ed Balls do it better? Probably not.
Did you support David's bid for leadership?
Yes. I know David well, and I've always been impressed by him--but it's difficult to know whether he would have done better.
Do you regret your anti-AV stance?
One of the reasons for being against AV is that it makes hung parliaments more likely. …