How it all began
I remember the date: Saturday 20th April 2019.
I had been following the Extinction Rebellion protests with great interest. Finally a movement had arrived that was demanding action to stop the destruction of our planet. Destruction that threatens not just the planet but all the people who depend on it. Me, my family, my friends, my patients. Everyone alive now and everyone yet to be born. I felt empowered to join, but was held back by a lack of self-belief and a fear of professional consequences.
The turning point was a Sky News report, fronted by Adam Boulton, in which he interviewed a young activist leader, Robin Boardman. In two short minutes he had called his guest a “Right wing fascist” and his fellow rebels “Incompetent, middle class and self-indulgent criminals”.
I had never seen such a sickening attack live on air, and I took it personally.
If Adam Boulton was sickened by Robin, he must also be sickened by me, and many others like me who see the planet we depend on in grave danger. I didn’t understand how he could be so out of touch. It wasn’t an isolated incident. Other press outlets also focussed on public inconvenience, rather than the huge and looming threat of a public health catastrophe.
I began to feel guilt. I had known about this problem for a long time, yet I hadn’t gotten involved. I’d made changes in my own life - becoming an environmental vegetarian 1 year prior, and living as low-impact as I could, but I knew I could’ve done more, especially given my professional standing. Would Adam Boulton have dared be so vile if he’d have been faced with a doctor or a nurse?
I sat in deep thought about my duty of care. I read and re-read the ethical guidelines, written by the General Medical Council, which stated:
You must take prompt action if you think that patient safety, dignity or comfort is being compromised.
You must protect and promote the health of patients and the public.
There it was, clear as day. How could I claim to be a responsible professional and ignore this? How could I sit back and let others face the fire? That evening I stayed up till 6am filming and editing a video expressing my thoughts. I made a website “Doctorsforxr.com” and sent it out in the morning to my friends and colleagues in medicine. I didn’t know what to expect to be honest. I was worried my promotion of civil disobedience would provoke a backlash, but I was convinced it was the right thing to do. Thankfully the response was incredible.
Within 48 hours there were 70 concerned doctors in a Whatsapp group, and within 7 days, 15 strangers met in a flat in North London to plan a Doctors’ Rebellion.