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Interview with Dr Phil Hammond

May 4, 2016

The NHS is our most treasured institution, gluing us together as a humane society and treating us according to need not ability to pay. It’s also more dangerous to use than bungee jumping.

Dr Phil Hammond brings his highly subversive comedy – ‘How to survive the NHS, and help the NHS survive’ – to the Dulwich Festival, calling for an end to top down disorganisation of the NHS, and launching his own ‘bidet revolution’ – from the bottom up!

We asked him what the audience can expect from his show and what we can do to look after our health and that of the NHS.

Your performance at the Dulwich Festival promises to teach us how to survive the NHS. Without giving too much away, could you give us a few survival tips?   

Healthcare begins with self care, and self care begins with self love. It sounds a bit narcissistic but if you don’t love yourself, you won’t look after yourself. For 90% of symptoms, you’re better off with a dog than a doctor.

You’re calling for a ‘bidet revolution’ of the NHS – from the bottom up. Why do you think the best hope for NHS reform comes from grass-roots level? 

The only hope for the NHS lies outside its buildings. 70% of what we can do to prevent an illness, or prevent an existing illness getting worse, is down to our life circumstances and choices. Every day we stay well enough not to need the NHS, someone who does need it benefits. Don’t smoke, eat mainly plants, drink in moderation, enjoy getting breathless and relax afterwards. Learn to be kind to your mind.

A pressurized, creaking NHS has almost become a familiar backdrop to whichever political party has been in office over the past few decades. How do we engender a sense of urgency in people that unless we act now we risk losing it? 

I think people are getting the message, and well done to the junior doctors for pointing out how stressful and unsafe it can be to work in the NHS, and how stupid and dangerous politicians can be when they’re given statistics to play with. Enough people voted for 10 years of austerity to cripple public services, now enough of us must vote to invest in public services before they die. It’s the best thing we could do for the health and happiness of the nation.

You’re a doctor, comedian, political commentator, satirist, broadcaster and are involved with a number of medical charities… Many people would consider one of those roles enough to fill their time. How do you find the time and energy to juggle so many jobs? 

I let my patients die. Actually, its all the same job, but the content and timing differ slightly. Like most doctors or comedians or journalists or broadcasters, I spend most of my life winging it.

You were born and lived your early years in Australia before moving to the UK at the age of seven. Do you think being an ‘outsider’ in a country sharpens your satirical senses? 

I used to feel a bit of an outsider but Clive James gave me some great advice – just feel comfortable in your skin wherever you happen to be on this planet. The Aussie in me finds the hierarchy and inhibition of the British fascinating, but I’m proud to call myself Eurostralian.

A theme that runs through the Dulwich Festival this year – taking inspiration from the actions of Edward Alleyn in 1616 – is considering how we each of us can make a positive difference in our society and improve the lives of others. As someone who has committed to doing this on many levels, what advice could you offer us? 

Widen your circle of compassion beyond your immediate friends and family. The happiest people on this planet give back to those less fortunate, and have a good laugh doing so.

Tickets for Dr Phil’s performance are available here: