Good healthcare requires good care of our health!
It is quite hard to know where to start when considering the UK government’s response, or lack of it, to the current crisis in the National Health Service; not that this crisis is anything new. It has been brewing for the whole of the Conservatives’ twelve years in power and, many might say, some years before that.
There is a perception that the NHS is just a massive bottomless pit and the more money the government pours into it the more it swallows up. This inevitably leads to a suspicion that a right-wing political leadership would like to see the health service move further towards the private sector, where quite a lot of the present NHS work is already undertaken.
The news almost every day is full of hospitals at breaking point with ambulances queuing up outside the entrance, dangerous waiting times for patients to receive treatment, beds blocked due to a failing social care system and staff vacancies almost across the board. On top of this, the Covid pandemic made it very difficult to get a face-to-face appointment with a GP and still an increasing amount of consultation is done over the telephone or on-line, which may be cost-effective but is hardly an improvement in quality of service. Getting a doctor to come out has not been seen since Dr Finlay’s Casebook in the 1960s.
Against this stark backcloth of a health service creaking at the seams, we have nurses and ambulance staff going on strike over the 2022/23 pay award and it is hard to imagine a worse time to get ill since the NHS came into existence on 5 July 1948.
The truth of the matter is that there are no short-term solutions. It is fair to argue that years of underfunding of the health and social care systems will inevitably bring us to the brink of a calamitous breakdown, which will take many years to rectify. Some might cynically suggest that such a disastrous scenario is precisely what might lead to a radical overhaul of the NHS and the inevitable introduction of some level of private and/or insurance solution.
If you were the Health Minister, you might think that encouraging and supporting better health is a pretty good start to addressing the mountain of problems you are facing. Keeping the population away from GP surgeries and hospitals would seem to be the proverbial ‘no-brainer’. So why is it that the rising tide of obesity, particularly among children, and the growing cases of diabetes are no longer a government priority?
A few years ago the UK government seemed convinced that a 9pm watershed and online ban on paid-for advertising for food and drink high in fat, salt or sugar (so-called ‘junk food’) was an important initiative in tackling obesity, and its serious consequences, in the young (and old). However, following the inevitable lobbying from the food and drink industry, advertisers and broadcasters, the Conservatives have announced that this ‘hot potato’ will be shelved until October 2025. As this will be after the next General Election, the successful political party in two years’ time can decide whether to pick it up, or not. The fact that the opinion polls suggest that the next government might be Labour makes delay even more appealing to the current incumbents.
All the evidence for a healthier population points towards a proactive programme of measures to prevent obesity and improve well-being. There is also a strong case that the less well-off have poorer diets, are disproportionately affected by obesity and, therefore, in need of greater medical intervention. Not only does this situation fly in the face of a government which talks a lot about “levelling up”, it adds to the enormous strain on our healthcare resources.
It is clear that the public supports making food healthier and more nutritious; but we are in the midst of a cost of living crisis and shoppers will err towards price promotions to make their household budget go further. Consequently, there has to be a comprehensive campaign to educate consumers, require product reformulation, demand clearer labelling and, to the extent justified, tax unhealthy food and drink. This may fall on deaf ears with the current government, but it must be a manifesto commitment for parties going into the next General Election.