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Opinion

John Bird: Put your name to The Big Issue health pledge

Is there a way of addressing health issues in the way that doctors, nurses and paramedics do, whilst they remain healthy and work for the NHS?

note that the NHS is largely run by healthy people. That does not mean to say you don’t encounter, on rare occasions, obese doctors, nurses or ambulance drivers. Or heavy smoking surgeons. Or coke-guzzling (of both kinds) junior doctors. Or heavy drinking radiologists. But largely, you might say – aside from those visiting the sick – when you meet a healthy person in a hospital, they’ll work for the NHS.

So hospitals, we could say, are about the healthy administering to the unhealthy. Is there a lesson to be learned in this observation? And could we find a way of getting the unhealthy to learn something from the healthy NHS worker, other than more bed rest, more pills or following the medical or surgical regime proffered by the NHS?

But life’s like that, isn’t it? You go to an estate agent to find a house from someone who presumably already has a house of their own. Homeless organisations aren’t run by people without homes, nor do police officers go around robbing you blind whilst you watch Coronation Street on the telly. Rather, they provide you with an answer. In the same way that an estate agent gets you the house you want, and the homeless group, the home you want. And the sandwich bar the sandwich you want, and the bus driver, the journey you want.

So why should the NHS be any different to other service providers? You’re ill, so therefore you go to the source of the cure. And the source of the cure is the NHS.

But there’s a slight difference. Desiring somewhere to live, something to eat, or a way of being conveyed to a place you couldn’t walk to (in a reasonable amount of time) are essential services. You’ll always need them, because you’ll always be wanting somewhere to live, and to eat, and ways to travel. But you only need the NHS, the cure, when you’re ill.

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If you don’t need the NHS, then it is, in some ways, similar to not wanting to use the services of a bus driver when you have nowhere to go. Or a sandwich bar when you’re far from hungry.

You go to largely healthy people to make you healthy in the same way as you go to a cafe when you’re hungry.

But: sometimes you may want to walk or cycle or drive for that demanding trip. And when you’re hungry, you may wish to make your own food. And when you want a room, you may choose to look yourself, rather than rely on a homeless group, housing association or estate agent.

But you can’t exactly do your own health thing, can you? You can’t administer to your own health when you’re ill.

Or can you? Is there a way of addressing health issues in the way that doctors, nurses and paramedics do, whilst they remain healthy and work for the NHS?

Recently, a much-praised chair of a London hospital trust resigned. It was money that drove him out. But also, he had to admit that there was just too much demand for the services of the hospital trust he headed up.

So it seemed, in this case – in spite of keeping healthy themselves – that the hospital trust couldn’t pass on their own good health to its local users, who then became ill and required the use of their already overloaded services.

If you don’t need the NHS, then it is, in some ways, similar to not wanting to use the services of a bus driver when you have nowhere to go

One of the most constant men in my maturing years was a doctor who, when I met him as a junior, had an appalling health regime. The hours were dreadful, he was smoking and he didn’t get exercise.

But he climbed up the pecking order, became a fully fledged doctor, got positions in a hospital and, if he wasn’t on a bike or swimming in the local outdoor pool, he was doing all manner of healthy stuff. Football, tennis, you name it. That was how he maintained his ability to be a doctor, whilst also reading medical papers and contributing to journals and conferences.

Hectic, constant activity from first thing in the morning to last thing at night, as well as being a father and a thinking, thoughtful member of his community.

Yet he was always seeing the sick, the ill, the dying. There was always ‘too many of them’.

If doctors, may I suggest, wish to transform the health of the many who become their patients, then they need to find a way of tapping into the resources that they harbour within themselves, and that helped them become the provider and not the provided to.

May I also suggest that health trusts should be thinking about how to reduce the drain on our time, our resources and our abilities? The reliable way of doing this is for the NHS to stop the flow! That means the NHS has got to get back, big time, into prevention. That means social medicine. Targeting those at risk of diabetes, early. Putting health into the heart of the planning system. An all-out focus on beefing up GP services.

It also means convincing more people, in this its 70th birthday year, to volunteer for the NHS by staying healthy. Why, who knows? They may then become healthy enough to become doctors or nurses themselves.

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