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Nick Harding: Happiest working fo

Nick Harding is a modern day Dr Finlay, a GP whose career encompasses every desirable quality in current primary care. He was instrumental in setting up one of the first “superpractices” in Birmingham, which has almost 100 000 patients and is a vanguard project for NHS England. He chairs Sandwell and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group, ranks 47th in the Health Service Journal’s list of the 100 most influential people in the NHS, and has an honorary professorship from Aston University for his work in establishing its new medical school. But he doesn’t wear a three piece suit in thorn-proof tweed, and his black bag is filled with meeting papers and a laptop alongside his stethoscope.


What was your earliest ambition?

Watching Live Aid in 1985—an amazing combination of the best music of the time and haunting videos—gave me a cause to live for. I knew then that it wasn’t right to see people in poverty with a treatable illness, although, at age 15, I didn’t know how to treat it.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

My grandfather. He was director of public health for Kidderminster and worked with political leaders to introduce the Clean Air Act 1956. He was very practical and believed in empowering people to live better lives.


What was the worst mistake in your career?

It took me far too long to take on a clinical leadership role. I’m thankful to those who did the arm twisting and the people who believed in me.

What was your best career move?

Becoming a GP is an amazing way to be part of the community and use clinical skills. While training I think that some saw it as a second choice profession, but for me it’s the best job in the world.

Bevan or Lansley? Who has been the best and the worst health secretary in your lifetime?

The job of changing policy to improve health is tough. Over the years I’ve been more concerned about the side effects of medicine rather than the benefit. Health policies risk not thinking about side effects, just the intended benefits.


Who is the person you would most like to thank, and why?

My wife, who is sitting next to me and who, although feeling under the weather, still made my dinner after getting my daughters’ packed lunches ready.

To whom would you most like to apologise?

All of those whose goal was to be medical students but who just missed the set marks. They could have been the most fantastic, gifted, caring, compassionate doctors but never got the opportunity because of the system

If you were given £1m what would you spend it on?

Three causes that I’m passionate about: Aston Medical School’s initiative to help inner city students achieve their educational potential; a scheme in Malawi aimed at reducing the significant transportation costs for teams improving health; and Gas Street, an innovative church with a clear vision to bring hope and light to communities in Birmingham.

Where are or were you happiest?

Spending time with the team of local Malawians we’ve been privileged enough to invest in, who take simple health lessons out to other villages.

What single unheralded change has made the most difference in your field in your lifetime?

Probably the mobile phone. It allows us to stay connected and work more effectively.

Do you support doctor assisted suicide?

As a doctor my aim is to preserve life.


What book should every doctor read?

I listen to a TED Talk once a week to expand my horizons: short, inspirational bursts by some of the best communicators around the world.

What poem, song, or passage of prose would you like mourners at your funeral to hear?

“Walk On” by U2.


What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Each year for one of my daughter’s birthdays we go out for a fine dining experience. We love getting dressed up, the theatre of the restaurant, and the exquisite tastes and creative presentation.

What television programmes do you like?

The Newsroom by Aaron Sorkin. He’s a great writer, and his opening sequence, defining what makes a great country, is just incredible.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Lowden F35 guitar, although I used to have more time to play it.

What, if anything, are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint?

Not enough.

What personal ambition do you still have?

Whatever I do, my ambition is to train the next generation of leaders while doing it.

Summarise your personality in three words

Caring for people.

Where does alcohol fit into your life?

When my dad retired we signed up for a wine tasting course. I loved learning about the complexities of wine, and it’s become an interest.

What is your pet hate?


What would be on the menu for your last supper?

Brunch, cooked on an open fire next to the South Luangwa River in Zambia.

Do you have any regrets about becoming a doctor?


If you weren’t in your present position what would you be doing instead?

Becoming a Strengths Finder leadership coach.

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