Tackling people ‘in distress’ as a doctor helps mayor handle critics 

Dr Nik Johnson, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

Dr Nik Johnson, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough - Credit: Archant

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson says being “spat on” and tackling people “in distress” allows him to deal with a handful of those critical of him combining medicine with politics. 

“As a doctor you have an amazing ability to have coping mechanisms which allow you to deal with distress and danger,” he said. 

“Hopefully by talking and explaining to people you can diffuse situations to the betterment of people.” 

Dr Johnson was responding to criticism questioning his salary and how he manages to continue working still for the NHS whilst holding public office.  

One former Conservative councillor, concerned that Fenland may not get investment, even took to social media to express a stronger view.  

“Anyone who can abandon sick and dying children wouldn’t have too much of a problem abandoning the north county,” wrote Jonathan Farmer. 

Mr Farmer, a former Mayor of Wisbech, was an unsuccessful candidate for Sutton the May county council elections.  

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But Dr Johnson believes that when councillors of all parties “see my message of 3 C’s - which are things I have learnt – applied to the role of mayor they will see the benefits”. 

He said: “There are things which have happened to me as a doctor that are quite hard and you get criticised.  

“It is part of life as a doctor being spat on or having violence directed to me from people upset about something or who are in distress or frankly are so drunk, they couldn’t stand up.”  

Dr Johnson says he still sees himself “as the doctor elected to be mayor”. 

He continues to carry out eight hours weekly of “standard outpatient care” and to go back and enjoy “what I have done for over 30 years”. 

The mayor said the majority of people had received him positively since winning the May election, recognising his “real life experience than rather than having followed a traditional political route”. 

He said: “Call me what you want but I am full time mayor with a full-time commitment; there are 168 hours in a week and for eight of them I spend sitting in front of patients.” 

Dr Johnson said whenever he’s asked, he has been able to explain the dual roles and says explaining to people face to face has been seen nothing but a positive response. 

 He says working in the NHS and the cross organisational work that involves gives him “a unique take on becoming leader of the Combined Authority”. 

And whilst refusing to respond to any particular criticisms, he says simply: “I am a children’s doctor” and maintaining his registration is important as it is for others like him who have entered politics.  

He cites as an example his NHS colleague, Dr Caroline Johnson, the Conservative MP for Sleaford, who continues to works “on a flexible contract as a consultant paediatrician by North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust.  

It is the same Trust as Dr Nik Johnson works for “in fact Caroline coincidentally is also in the same department as me”. 

On pay and allowances, Dr Nik says he has taken “a significant pay cut in becoming mayor because of how strongly I feel”. 

He said with loss of pension rights and salary it amounts to approximately a 40 per cent pay cut (as mayor he draws an allowance of £80,000 a year). 

 Dr Johnson said becoming mayor “is a job you have to design to fit around personal circumstances – it allows me to make the most of all opportunities”. 

He was committed to “working very hard doing mayoral duties which I am absolutely doing” whilst remaining an on call paediatric doctor. 

Of his past political career, he calls himself a “little bit of a dark horse" serving a short term until this year as a district councillor in Huntingdon.  

He had come to the fore in campaigns of 2015 and 2017 but without success but had been working on local elections for over 10 years.  

He’s not surprised few had heard of him until Labour selected him as their mayoral candidate.  

Did he hold a grudge against his critics? 

“Absolutely, definitely not,” he said.