Why I took a second job as an NHS mental health doctor – despite already being a busy MP
PUBLISHED: 07:30 01 January 2019 | UPDATED: 10:53 02 January 2019
For many people, one job would be quite enough.
But when not in Westminster or his constituency, MP Dr Dan Poulter works in what many would also consider a demanding job on its own – as a frontline mental health doctor.
Far from being exhausted by the requirements of two jobs, the former gynaecologist and obstetrician – who does the bulk of his hours when parliament is in recess – said retraining as a psychologist had been incredibly rewarding.
And despite criticism of his extra workload, the Conservative today reveals the insight he has gained into NHS provision and increasing mental ill health – something he believes makes him better placed to fight for much-needed change.
In particular the experience has made him critical of successive governments, including his own party’s, for their approach to mental health care at a time of growing need.
“It’s certainly brought a perspective to my work as an MP,” said Dr Poulter, who took up his mental health post four years ago when he returned to the backbenches after being a health minister.
“It has helped make me much more independently-minded in my work as an MP and not toe the government line on certain policies if I don’t think they’re right.”
Despite several years of experience in gynaecology, the Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP chose to retrain in a new field and take a more junior role when he returned to the backbenches in 2015 after being a minister.
“I realised there were more women I was seeing in the ante-natal clinic who had challenges that couldn’t be solved through medicine or surgery,” he said.
“There were quite a high proportion of women I was looking after who had mental health needs.”
It is pattern he has only seen grow since, as changes in society have put more people under pressure.
“One of the things I know to be very effective for a lot of women after childbirth is having the support of a close confidant or supportive figure, whether that be a partner or parent, on a daily basis,” he said.
“Increasingly you see both parents work and people often live a long way away from wider family.
“That’s something that will affect health and well-being.
“There has been greater awareness of mental health and people have been more able to talk about things.
“However the modern world is a more challenging place to live in and that’s something that produces its own difficulties for a lot of families.”
During the past four years Dr Poulter has worked across the mental health service in London, including in child and adolescent mental health (CAMHS) and an accident and emergency department.
He currently works in substance misuse services, assessing patients and giving them the appropriate diagnosis or care – whether it is medication or cognitive behavioural therapy.
This “fragmented” approach to drug treatment is something Dr Poulter criticises, saying: “A lot of people who are homeless have substance dependency problems and also have underlying mental health problems as well.
“But so many people are looked after different bits of the system. People fall through the gaps.
“It needs to be revised as a matter of urgency if we want to provide care for people who are homeless.”
The workload of NHS staff is also something that concerns him, saying: “You have sometimes got one care co-ordinator looking after 25 people who are seriously unwell.
“That’s too much for one person to manage.
“You have got a lot of unfilled consultant and nursing posts and schools have long been saying they need to have closer working with CAMHS.
“There needs to be a serious expansion in what’s available to meet existing demand, let alone increasing demand.”
When it was revealed in the parliamentary register of interests that Dr Poulter spends an average of 25 hours a week working in the NHS, some argued he should be devoting his full attention to his £77,379 a year job as an MP.
But Dr Poulter rejects the criticism, saying: “I always put constituency work first.
“It would be a more valid criticism to have a second job if I was doing something that meant I wasn’t able to be in Suffolk or live here.
“There are far too many people that are career politicians who lack understanding and experience of the real world.
“It is incredibly humanising and grounding to work as a doctor.
“I’ve found working in mental health services incredibly rewarding – you get to help people in big ways and small ways.”