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Interview with the British Medical Journal

The BMJ published an interview with me in March 2017 for their 'Observations' section.

What was your earliest ambition?
As a boy I was keen to be a pilot. My poor eyesight put an end to that ambition.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Two of my former consultants, James Stuart and Keith Cartwright, who mentored me early in my career, helped me write my first scientific papers, and started me on my academic career path.

What was the worst mistake in your career?
Early in my career I admitted a man who had undergone some changes in behaviour after a minor head injury. I did not consider ordering a CT scan immediately, but fortunately my senior registrar did, and a diagnosis of a subdural haematoma was made. The patient underwent surgery that evening and had a good outcome.

What was your best career move?
Moving to London in the 1990s to take up my first academic post. Although I was unsure about moving to such a large city, having always lived in much smaller towns, working in London opened up many professional and academic opportunities to me.

Who has been the best and the worst health secretary in your lifetime?
William Waldegrave and Frank Dobson both tried their best for the NHS. Those who followed them, from Alan Milburn onwards, have been far less successful.

Who is the person you would most like to thank, and why?My wife, for supporting me in my personal and professional life.

To whom would you most like to apologise?
The patients in my medical practice. As an academic GP I see them only one day a week. Because of this, many of my patients think I work only part time and have a very easy life. I can assure them that I do work full time.

If you were given £1m what would you spend it on?
Education is the key to development, so I would use the money to support university scholarships in a low income country.

Where are or were you happiest?
I am happiest when on holiday with my family in Pembrokeshire, which I visit regularly.

What single unheralded change has made the most difference in your field in your lifetime?
The development of the internet and the rapid and easy access to medical information it has made possible for patients, clinicians, and academics.

What book should every doctor read?
The Citadel by A J Cronin. Though it was published in 1937, its core messages are still relevant to doctors. For a non-medical book I would recommend The Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a fascinating contemporary account of the overthrow of the Aztec empire by the Spanish and their local allies.

What poem, song, or passage of prose would you like mourners at your funeral to hear?“Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Chocolate. But don’t tell my patients.

What television programmes do you like?
When I have time I enjoy watching scientific, historical, and current affairs programmes.

What is your most treasured possession?
My family and friends. All the material objects I own can be replaced.

What, if anything, are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint?
I am taking far fewer overseas trips and hence flying a lot less now than in the past. I have also switched my house to LED lights.

What personal ambition do you still have?
General practice and the rest of the NHS are going through a very difficult period. I would like to see my general practice continue to provide high quality, accessible care to the people of Clapham.

Summarise your personality in three words
Honest, conscientious, logical.

What is your pet hate?
Politicians who do not base policy on evidence. Many of the problems we now face in the NHS are because of this.

What would be on the menu for your last supper?
A salmon starter, followed by roast chicken with vegetables, and finished off with bread and butter pudding.

Do you have any regrets about becoming a doctor and an academic?
No. I am very grateful that I have had the opportunity to be an academic doctor. Being an academic and a clinician opened a tremendous career path for me.

If you weren’t in your present position what would you be doing instead?
If I weren’t a doctor I would have probably pursued a career in a field such as information technology or accountancy.

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