Inspiring People: Margaret McCartney

Margaret McCartney

A few months ago I decided to start a series of blog posts called ‘Inspiring People’. The idea was triggered by the death of Doug Altman; I wanted to tell you about the people that inspire me. Some of them will be researchers, some clinicians, some artists, some patients, and everything in between – hopefully the blog posts will give you an idea of how I approach the research that I do, where I get inspiration from, and who I respect and admire. You might even find a few new sources of inspiration for yourself too!

Today’s inspiring person is Dr Margaret McCartney; she’s a GP based in Glasgow, former columnist for the British Medical Journal, broadcaster for Radio 4’s Inside Health programme, and a fierce advocate for the NHS. She’s also the author of various books focussing on patient health and the NHS – including The Patient Paradox that I’ve read and recommended here.

Why does Margaret McCartney inspire me?

In the post about Doug Altman I talked about the first conference presentation I gave, and how Doug’s laughter and encouragement from the audience settled my nerves. At that same conference, I saw Margaret McCartney speak for the first time. Her presentation was absolutely brilliant. She talked about death, about how we as a society need to accept the inevitability of death, and how we should be working to make death a more dignified process rather than working to keep people alive at any cost. It’s weird to think that listening to Margaret’s talk caused me to really think about death for the first time; we will all die, we have all known someone who has died, and yet we avoid the subject. I left that talk feeling inspired, humbled, and ready to buy every book Margaret has ever written.

Aside from the fact that she talks about really important, and often taboo, subjects, she talks about them in an accessible way – it’s a no holds barred approach, provocative without being actively confrontational. Listening to her, you can tell that she doesn’t take any shit, but she is so honest, intelligent and eloquent, that it’s difficult to pick any holes in her argument.

The video below is one of Margaret’s fantastic talks – this one from 2014 at the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at the University of Oxford. In this talk she’s discussing screening tests and how the process of having a screening test should not be something that patients go into without knowledge – screening tests have implications and therefore need thought and consideration before the decision to have one (or not) is made. People need to have information available to them in order for them to make the decisions that are right for them.

Find out more

If you’d like to find out more about Margaret McCartney’s work, I’d recommend starting with the sources below:

Margaret McCartney’s blog, her Twitter, and her books

Articles from the BMJ:
Medicine must do better on gender
A new era of consumerist private GP services
If you don’t pay for it you are the product
Can we now talk openly about the risks of screening?
If screening is worth doing, it’s worth doing well
The NHS shouldn’t have to pick up the bill for private screening tests
Hiding and seeking doctors’ conflicts of interest
We need another vote

If you only have time to read one thing, make it this:
A summary of four and a half years of columns in one column

As a researcher, I appreciate her brutal honesty; as a patient, I appreciate her ability to communicate; and as a tax payer, I appreciate her constant push for transparency in the way that our healthcare system is funded, skewed and tainted by industry influence and political games.

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