In terms of my dentistry, I’ll try to do three half-days per week, but that can drop to one half-day or even nothing depending on how things are at the House of Commons. Dentistry is my sanity, if you like. Other people play golf, I go and do some dentistry.
Monday is usually the best day for fitting in surgery time as most MPs are travelling to the House of Commons and it doesn’t really start until 2.30pm. I normally get up around 5.30-6.00am and I start dealing with emails – I have a House-of-Commons-office at my home in Mole Valley. My wife is one of my secretaries and she runs through my diary. She and I discuss who she’s writing to that day, what she’s saying, what meetings I have scheduled and so forth. Then I head to the surgery, which is in Putney, for about 8-8.30am. I work there until about 12 and then I’m off to Westminster. When I get there I’ll read the papers, organise and answer correspondence, which can be huge – for example, in my first year here I received 17,000 letters.
Monday is generally a busy day for the Community & Local Government Select Committee of which I am a member; that usually finishes up at about 6-6.30pm and then I’m into more correspondence and paperwork. The last vote on Mondays and Tuesdays is between 10-10.15pm and after that I’ll drive home, getting there at about 11-11.30pm. Quite often my wife has paperwork waiting for me.
On Tuesdays and Wednesdays I’ll usually leave home at about 5.45am and come straight to the House of Commons, work on speeches and look at what’s going on with the select committee and its various interests. On Wednesdays and Thursdays the House finishes earlier – I’ll still have some evening meetings but I’ll be home quite early, about 9.30pm. I sometimes host functions at the House on Thursdays, Fridays and even Saturday evenings.
Saturdays are an opportunity to do some work in the constituency, which involves a lot of door knocking. It is a chance to ask constituents about their woes or otherwise. It’s an opportunity for people who don’t write in to get hold of me, and through talking to them I get a better feel for what’s going on, particularly at the moment.
People have been hit very hard by the economic downturn. It may be a constituency that John Prescott would consider flush, but it’s not. There are many people who are wealthy, but there are a lot of people that were in the City who have been hit very hard. Also, there are a lot of people at the bottom economically, in particular in the villages where some people have lived all their lives and worked on the farms, and some of them are extremely poor. People at the bottom in an area like Surrey tend to get missed because the government has diverted money away. Part of my constituency is Leatherhead, which is almost a national centre for charities helping people with difficulties.
There is an organisation that offers support to wounded and shell-shocked soldiers, another that helps the severely physical and mentally disabled.
I also do a lot of work with children’s organisations. I am a patron of a charity called Child Victims of Crime. It was set up in conjunction with police forces across the country and it offers essential support to kids, picking them up right at the bottom.
I’ve been campaigning for some years to improve the legislation dealing with paedophiles. When I first started researching this, before the internet had quite the major effect it has recently, I discovered there were a lot more paedophiles in this country than one would imagine. I work quite closely with the police and my own front bench on this. At the moment I’m putting together some amendments and a private members bill. I’m trying to toughen the law so police can catch these people, and where possible rehabilitation can occur, and where it’s not possible they can stay locked up.
My practice in Putney is a sole practice. I get referrals and a number of my patients come over from abroad, USA as well as Europe. The dental profession has changed dramatically, especially over the last ten years with the increase in technologies such as restorative materials, implants and endodontics – it’s all made dentistry quite exciting. What I like most about modern dentistry is the possibility of vastly improving people’s appearance. It horrified me coming over from New Zealand to see the state of dental health in this country. I was working in east London and the levels of decay were utterly horrendous. Of course, more of the water is fluoridated in other countries. But now it’s changed – you know you can put in really class restorations, encourage the patients to put pride into their appearance, and you know it will last.
I resisted bringing dentistry regularly into the House of Commons for years, but that has changed recently. I suddenly realised that what the government was doing to dentistry was wrong. I’m working with a number of people such as the British Dental Association, and have set up an all-party group so that MPs can understand more. The industry and the profession need to teach the MPs what dentistry is really all about. Their reliance on the NHS gives them a very tunnel-vision view of what’s out there and what’s available. The spectrum of dentistry now is so much broader than anything the NHS can or should offer. We need to open MPs’ minds. There are too many bean-counters, totting up numbers of UDAs and fillings and so on. That isn’t really what dentistry is about.
The NHS plays a vital role in health, but we need to reflect on the fact that dentistry is more than examinations and a few X-rays, it’s about offering a comprehensive choice of treatment options to patients.
Balancing the two jobs of MP and dentist isn’t easy but I can compartmentalise – when I’m doing dentistry I can set the politics to one side in my mind and concentrate exactly on what I’m doing.
Outside of those two roles I’ve always had a passion for travelling and photography. When I retire I’ll probably go back to the photography.