Who is Responsible for Your Health?

Who should take responsibility for you health? Sounds like a straightforward question, doesn’t it? But I get so frustrated when complex issues get squashed into simplified, silo-thinking, ready for twitter or media sound bites, or the under-girding of political ideologies.

So….just as the economy is not just made up of the interplay between business and the household, but is in fact far more rich and complex, so too the interplay of responsibility for our own health.

Kate Raworth, really helpfully uses the following diagram to help us rethink the components of the economy. I would like to suggest that we use it to think about health, also.

So…who is responsible for your health and wellbeing?

  1. Your Family/Household
  2. Society/The Commons
  3. The Market
  4. The State
  5. You

In some ways, I feel like all of these are obvious, in their own way, but I will just unpack each one a little bit more.

 

Your Family/Household

We all have needs. We need to know we are provided for (water, food, clothes etc), safe, loved, welcome, encouraged, disciplined and given place to dream and live those dream out. It is the role of our families or the household to which we belong to ensure those things happen as we grow. So much of our ill-health, our brokenness and our long term physical and psychological pain is because these basic needs were never met and left us without a sense of wholeness. The lack of met need, has a huge impact on the development of our personality and character. When we speak of ‘personality disorders’, each type has it’s roots in early life when needs were unmet and therefore parts of the personality remained undeveloped. Let’s face it – no family is perfect! And so, I would argue, that all of us have ‘disordered personalities’, and until we confront the shadow parts of ourselves that are trying to overcome this sense of loss or inadequacy, we continue to project an ego version of ourselves to those around us. We do so to cover over this pain, but facing it head on and allowing ourselves to fess up to our deepest needs, would actually lead to us being a great deal more healthy.

When I work with head teachers and ask them what the biggest need they have in their school, the answer is almost always ‘parenting classes’. However, there are very few providers of this available (due to cuts at a county council level) and the classes available are often very ‘middle class’ in their approach. We need to completely rethink parenting classes in the context of the poverty-truth commission and think about less twee ways to really engage with communities about how we raise happy and healthy kids. The truth that Adverse Childhood Experiences are our greatest public health crisis is not going away. Grasping this nettle is going to be painful but really necessary if we are to breathe health and wellbeing into our society.

 

Society/The Commons

Just as we get our needs met by those in our immediate household, the same is true of society. The way we treat children, the things we expose them to, the way we love them and educate them has a massive impact on their current future health and wellbeing. It’s becoming clear that social media is causing significant harm to our mental health as a nation, particularly our young people, and yet we don’t know how to curb our enthusiasm for all our technology…let alone the rise of the robots…

The commons is fast disappearing, too easily privatized and made available to those who can afford it. How do we safeguard the commons and use it for the benefit of all? What would the Diggers say to us now? The breakdown of our communities, with increasing isolation and loneliness is having a detrimental effect on our wellbeing. What can we do to recover the spaces that belong to us all and help us rediscover the joy of connecting and being together?

The commons is also about our corporate voice. It is only really vast people movements, speaking with one voice that can really cause governments to sit up, listen and take heed of the needs of the people. It is only together, that we will make enough noise to change the health and wellbeing of all of us for the better. How might we speak and act together in a way that will take corporate responsibility for all our health and wellbeing?

 

The Market

Oh the benevolent hand of the market! If only…. But the Market plays an absolutely key (though currently over played) part in our economy and our health and wellbeing. We know for a fact that advertising is deliberately trying to misinform us so that we make irrational decisions. A key component is to make people feel worse about themselves so that they buy things they simply do not need. Supermarkets are being challenged for the ways they deliberately place products and arrange their stores to cause people to buy more unhealthy things and food chains are constantly trying to ‘up-sell’ their unhealthy products and downgrade our health in the process. They evangelize the masses with the idea that we are all free to make our own choices, but if this were so, they would not spend the billions of pounds involved in socially engineering our choices, so that we ‘freely’ choose that which harms us! Oh for a market that might redefine it’s moral code! The market could do SO much good, but unharnessed and left without true accountability or consequences, it serves to damage our health – something it is truly responsible for.

 

The State

The state has a vital role and responsibility in caring for all of our health and when it washes it’s hands of that responsibility or tries to pass it over, we see a massive rise in health inequalities and overall worse-health for all. The NHS in the UK is one of the great triumphs of the state. Providing brilliant healthcare for those who need it whenever they are unwell is truly amazing. Imagine not being able to afford this because it depended on keeping up with insurance bills. It is not uncommon for us to see people in General Practice, who literally cannot afford to feed their families any more and are having to make some incredibly difficult choices (made far worse by long school holidays). Easy to point the finger and start creating a narrative about how it’s “all their fault”, but far harder to hear the truth of what it is really like to be a lived-expert in poverty and the trap it creates and harder still to look to alternative solutions, rather than believe the austerity narrative. There is clear evidence that the more unequal a society becomes, the worse the health outcomes – both physical and mental. When the market is allowed to behave exactly as it wants, we also see the health of people suffer. It is only through the right kind of government that the market can be tamed. It is only with the right kind of legislation that the economy can be skewed towards redistribution and regeneration of the resources needed – this would need to include a radically feminist approach that works on behalf of women, in particular, for equal opportunity, pay and recognition of just how much the ‘household economy’ contributes to the overall wellbeing of the nation. It is only the right kind of leadership that will tackle the inequalities we see and refuse to be wined and dined into maintaining the status quo. It is only brave leadership that will take the ecological issues, like plastic in the oceans, massive over antibiotic use in animals, and ongoing air and river pollution that will give us a healthy planet and human population in the future.

 

You

And where possible, and for some given various health issues, this is more possible for some than others – we do not all have an equal starting place or a level playing field – where we can  – we do have a responsibility to ourselves and to the wider society to care for our own health and wellbeing, so that when the health and social services are needed, they are available for all. It also means using the health and social care services in a way that creates sustainability, being grateful for them and ensuring they and the people who work in them are not abused.

 

It’s complex, but it’s vital that too much emphasis is not put on any one area. We must not play the blame game, especially not towards individuals when we haven’t taken the time to hear their story, nor understood the wider context of the role of the other vital players on the field. Each aspect of the economy plays a massive role in the health and wellbeing of the nation, and it is high time that each plays it’s relevant part to its fullest ability.

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Learning from The Well

The Well is an extraordinary community of people. I respect them deeply and learn so much from every time I have the privilege of being with them, listening to their stories. They are all people on the journey of recovery from drug and/or alcohol addiction. They are welcoming, non-judgmental, caring, embracing and kind. Most importantly of all, they offer hope that no matter how far into hell you have been, there is a way out and no matter how badly you have messed up, you are lovable and worthy of a new chance. There are countless stories of those who have gone before, through the “12 steps”, and found transformational grace and and the chance of a new life. The support they give to each other, especially at times of trouble is based on openness, honesty, trust and a genuine love for each other that holds through difficult battles for a better future.  Every story I have heard has humbled me, and each time I am with them, I go away changed and filled with fresh hope. I am so grateful that I can now count several members of the community as my friends. I feel we, as the medical community have much to learn from them.

 

 

After my last meeting with The Well community, which was in Barrow In Furness, I then spent some time with an excellent Diabetologist, Cathy hay, who is employed by Cumbria Partnership Foundation Trust, but works at Furness General Hospital (another example of how we are breaking down boundaries and working more effectively as part of Better Care Together). I was learning from Cathy about how she and her amazing team are transforming how they care for and work with people who have diabetes. Like me, she believes that hierarchical behaviour gets in the way of building good relationships across teams, playing to each other’s strengths and working effectively with patients. She has worked hard to break down the ‘need’ for consultant follow-up clinics, putting the power back into patients hands. They have had a much more proactive approach at working with patients to really educate them and empower them about their own conditions through the fabulous work of the Diabetes specialist Nurses and Dietitians and a team of Psychologists, lead by Elspeth Desert, who help patients learn how to face up to and cope with physical health issues.

 

Group programmes (such as DESMOND, DAFNE or the X-PERT courses) enable patients to build supportive relationships with one another and networks form in which patients are rightly able to become the experts in their own conditions, supported by a team of people who they can draw on, as and when needed – determined by the person with the condition. This cuts the need for outpatient appointments drastically and releases the team to work far more effectively. The ‘Walk Away from Diabetes’ programme encourages those with the earliest warning signs to try and avoid lifelong medication altogether through exercise, dietary changes and accountability with one another.

 

In some ways, the approach is similar to what I have experienced of The Well and it got me thinking about just how transferable this approach could be across health services, in an extremely timely and cost effective way…..(which although sounds potentially a little mercenary is actually really important – we do actually have a responsibility to use the resources we have as well as we can, and our previous models are no longer deliverable, given our financial and staffing pressures, let alone the increased numbers of people accessing services). What if, once people are diagnosed with a long-term condition, we give them the option of a self-directed, learning approach to their condition, in the context of community with others and a supportive network around them? We could save an inordinate number of unnecessary outpatient appointments. It puts people back in charge of their own bodies and conditions, far more empowered to make informed choices and enables care to be available in a more efficient, cost effective and timely manner. Communities of people, facing up to their conditions together, learning together, helping each other, supporting and resourcing each other and finding improved health and wellbeing at every level as a result.

 

Many people across the UK have at least one long term condition. Many of these people also struggle with a mental health problem at the same time, often linked to the condition they live with. A more cooperative approach can break down some of the barriers and enable people to connect, which will improve both their physical and mental health at the same time.

 

We are beginning to see an exciting redesign of our respiratory services along these lines, lead by Pat Haslam, Farhan Amin, Tim Gatherall, Shahedal Bari and the team……I wonder how brave we can be across the board and how much better our care might be together if we did?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Creating a Culture of Joy in the NHS

Tweet A Culture of Joy is the biggest determinant of safe and high quality healthcare! That is such a phenomenal statement that it is worth reading over and over again, making it into a poster, sticking it on your wall and meditating on it morning and night. It feels to be simultaneously absolutely true and [Continue Reading …]