Mary E Black: Inside the mind of a Member of Parliament

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I had the opportunity to listen to a number of MPs explain how they think during the excellent Westminster experience  organized by Cumberlege Eden & Partners as part of my NHS Executive Fast Track Programme. I took notes from the MPs—current and recent—whom we met. The session was targeted at senior people in the NHS, but it could be generally applicable to other organizations.

Here are 10 examples of what might be running through their minds as you approach them for a long-awaited meeting.

1.    Who do you represent? (There is no need to tell the entire history of your organization.)
2.    What is the point you want to get across?
3.    What do you want me to go away with?
4.    What is the postcode of this person or issue—is it in my constituency or does it relate to something I am directly responsible for, such as a special interest committee? (If not I am much less interested.)
5.    Please don’t come and share your pain extensively with me—I have enough of my own.
6.    There are times in the five year cycle when I become more dangerous—closer the to election the more partisan I get.
7.    I am tired. I have lots on my plate. So keep the paperwork short. I like one size of A4, others like two, we all like short.
8.    When you are talking do not use jargon. (Care pathways appears to be a particular bugbear.)
9.    I will be wondering “head, heart, knees, and toes. A “head” issue is one that needs a good presentation of facts and figures so I can decide. If it is a “heart” issue—one I really care about for personal issues—then emotion or a very relevant case history, and not facts, will sway me. A “knee” issue is something I may just need to keep in the air. A toe—this is one that needs kicking into the long grass. Do you know in advance how I will see your issue?
10.    If you are going to be senior in the NHS in my patch I do not want any surprises.

And here is some more general advice from them:

–    Understand what MPs can do in relation to the NHS. They can ask questions, they can hold debates about your organization, they can support staff who have been bullied or midwives who think things are unsafe.(The organization should be in their constituency.)
–    Relationships and rapport are very important. Relate your issues to the MP, their lives, and their constituents. It may even be possible to create long-term relationships and even friendships. From the day you take post make it your responsibility to build a relationship with your MP as quickly as possible.
–    All MPs are different, so do not presume that you know your MP. For example find out if an MP wants to know facts and figures—some will, and some will not.
–    Make sure they know how you will communicate them and do your homework in advance, understand how their office works and who is the contact person in their team.
–    You can get a lot of help from the staff in an MP’s office, from working out how best to approach them to understanding their interests and even their positions on key issues.
–    If you are a senior person make sure you sign off on any letter to an MP even if someone else writes them. You do not know where that letter might end up—in a newspaper, a tribunal—so probably better to keep it fairly formal.
–    Do not hide behind patient confidentiality—make sure you have cleared up in advance any such issues. MPs (and local councilors) are approached by their constituents all the time with the most personal of concerns so your MP may already know a lot of the history of a particular case.
–    Before you issue a press release, pick up the phone and let your MP know as he/she is often the first person the press will call for a quote and so they need to know what is happening.

Finally, the do not forget the three “R”s.

1.    Research. We are coming up to an election. Find out who your MPs are as people and what their interests are. Find out who they are in their parties. Find out if they like to be addressed by their first name or not.
2.    Relationships are really important. You should have a relationship based on trust.
3.    Results. Do not come and whinge. Bring solutions.

Perhaps my next article should be a guide for MPs on how to work with senior people in the NHS? Now that would be an interesting one to write….

Mary E Black is a medical doctor currently on the NHS Executive fast track programme based at Homerton University Hospital Foundation Trust in London. She is on Twitter @DrMaryBlack and

Competing interests: I have no relevant interests to declare.