It’s time to do the impossible. It’s time to turn the tide.
In my last blog, I talked about the exponential potential of what could be possible if clinicians worked together in a more collaborative way. However, far more can be achieved if we work together in and with our communities to create a social movement together around being more healthy and well. I’ve talked previously about the “battle royale” that occurred between Béchamp and Pasteur over whether we should promote health or fight disease. The answer is, of course, that we need to do both, but the clinical community is not equipped with the resource or power to do it alone.
What we cannot accept, though, is our current apathy or malaise that some of the health crises we now face are too much for us to do anything about. We are in the midst of a battle, which we are currently losing and it is time to gird our loins for a turning of the tide. Here in Morecambe Bay, we have started a conversation, not just among the Clinical Community but with the wider population about how we might become the healthiest place in the UK. Yes, we mean this in a very holistic way, but there are also some specific foci we have so we can together reverse some of the appalling health statistics we are facing.
For too long, we have simply laid down and allowed exercise to be taken out of schools, whilst our kids consume a bath full of sugar every year. All the time our own work and eating habits have become significantly unhealthy. We have relied on expensive drugs to fix our problems, rather than tackling the root causes of our excesses. It has lead to 1 in every 5 pounds in the NHS being spent as a direct result of our lifestyles and 1 in 11 pounds being spent on diabetes. We say we value the NHS above anything else as a nation (maybe an issue in it’s own right…..) but we do not behave in ways that show this value to be true. We have not been brave enough to challenge the status quo and together make a wholesale change both about how we promote health and look to aggressively reverse it when things begin to go wrong.
I suggest that within a generation, if we wanted to, we could render Type 2 Diabetes a rare diagnosis. We can do this through encouraging far more healthy lifestyles in our children and young people now, like running a mile a day and learning to eat food that doesn’t actually harm them! I believe we could significantly reduce the need for so many people to be taking medication for hypertension and diabetes now, prevent many strokes and heart attacks, by being violent towards these conditions with major changes in lifestyle, though diet and exercise, rather than the prescription of drugs, using coaching, peer support and local champions to give psychological motivation and encouragement. We are beginning to have some excellent discussions and develop some exciting plans around this.
Our NHS health checks should serve as a major motivational opportunity for someone to pull themselves back from the brink of a lifetime of medication and we should use all medication reviews as a chance to help people adopt lifestyles that might reverse the need for such drugs. In the process, we would also significantly reverse our number of cancer diagnoses – many of which are linked to our lifestyle choices. We simply can’t afford for our current and failing approach to continue. We need to be braver together! And this means the NHS must be willing to partner in new ways, not only with local people, but also with businesses like the major supermarkets to help reverse our current direction towards the abyss, in which there is no longer a healthcare system that serves the needs of everyone, no matter where they come from or how much they do or don’t earn.
Don’t get me wrong! We should absolutely use medication to its fullest use for those who are at risk and have not responded to major lifestyle changes. For example, we can wage war on Atrial Fibrillation, ensuring far more appropriate use of anticoagulation, in the most cost effective and safest way, therefore preventing many life-changing strokes in the mean time. And for those who, despite lifestyle measures, still have a high blood pressure or continue with diabetes, we should not withhold medication that would prevent major issues later on. It’s just at the moment, we’re reaching for the prescription pad too readily and not looking to reverse conditions completely before they set in. We need more education out there around the early signs of cancer, so we can hit it early and reverse it’s effects when we have a better chance. Respiratory disease is another area where we could seriously make a change. We need to think of ourselves as one big respiratory team, tackling smoking, housing damp and carpeting, whilst ensuring every person has an understanding of their condition, how to use their medication effectively and what to do when things flare up. A cohesive clinical community really could deliver something special in each of these disease areas.
We could also be a great deal more effective in how we care for the frail elderly. We don’t need anywhere near as many hospital beds. We can provide care in residential and nursing homes, avoiding double payment for beds, by shifting resource out of our acute hospitals and into the community. We need to have a far more grown up conversation about why we admit people to hospital when there is very little proven benefit of doing so.
Taking a strategic shift towards a social movement for health, significant lifestyle changes and treatment only after these things have been given serious attention, but unapologetically so once they have, we can turn back this battle at the gates and change the health of this nation for generations to come. We can undo the unaffordable situation we find ourselves in and discover together a much more healthy future.
We can absolutely do this!! It’s going to take some serious resolve and we’re going to have to withstand the fear and pressure of some pretty powerful lobbies, like the sugar, alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical giants, and perhaps even the government itself, but it is time for us to do the impossible. With love, hope and faith, we can do this! Yes we need to focus on schools and work places. Yes, we need to partner with organisations we’ve never worked with before. Yes, we need a far more effective media strategy and yes, we need to allow clinicians to work very differently. But we cannot do nothing. So let’s try something a whole lot more radical. That’s what we’re going for in Morecambe Bay – not just better care together, but better health together – you can watch and wait, and see if we sink or swim, or you can join us!