In my view, this should be an obligation and a duty as a citizen - but that, I am afraid is a dream, unlikely to morph into an everyday reality anytime soon.
I know, sometimes ill health happens, regardless of how good and wholesome your lifestyle may be - exactly that happened to me when I was diagnosed with cancer in 1983.
It was then, that I coined the phrase - the national health mentality - in response to how ordinary people feel about their illness - repeated to me time and time again from doctors of all specialities - “people don’t want to know about their illnesses, they just want us to take their illness away” - period. One doctor told me that he was blamed by one of his patients for her illness - it was his fault she was ill!
Well, there was a time in ancient China where doctors were only paid by the people in their care if they were healthy. Mmmmm.
A few years ago, I was asked to give some advice to a terminal cancer patient. I listened to his story - his drinking and smoking – his family history - how he ‘deserved’ this illness for all his wrongdoings in his past, his poor relationship with his Father and so on - some of which could have been possible contributory factors to his condition. I gently asked him for more details of the exact location and size of the cancer - whether there were any secondaries and other details. I was astonished by the response from this very intelligent, 50 year old company director and father of three children, all in their early teens - “I don’t know where it is - I have refused to see the scans and I don’t want to know - it is essentially not my problem now - it is up to my oncologist to sort this out for me.”
So... fast forward thirty plus years and illness perceptions and their outcomes, appear not to have changed much. How can one not want to know more about what could bring a premature end to their life? This is not uncommon - in fact, it appears to be pretty normal. Most people live in fear of their illnesses and look to their health care people for all the answers, when the answers lie within themselves.
St Augustine says much the same thing in Confessions...
‘Men go forth to wonder at the height of mountains, the huge waves of the sea, the broad flow of the rivers, the vast compass of the ocean, the courses of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering’.
Lets flip this and take a brief look at the other side of this particular coin.
Doctors say they are under huge pressure from their patients to dole out medication to treat their symptoms. According to them, most patients want to come away with a prescription to satisfy an almost visceral need to eliminate the symptoms, but also, in a pretty weird way, to ‘prove’ that they have received a diagnosis from a highly qualified medical doctor, that requires a treatment to some degree.
And, of course, GP’s, faced with this type of expectational onslaught, surely can’t be blamed for doling out what the patient wants, not the least of which would be providing ‘proof’ - the prescription - of something wrong with them to their peers, without the slightest regard for the consequences of mid to long term drug use - after all the doctor knows best?
And.....then there is another possible problem - what influence do the pharmaceutical companies have on doctors at the coal face to dole out as many medications as possible. After all they spend millions on marketing their products to the entire medical establishment and ordinary public opinion sits comfortably on the perception that these companies get a good return on their investment.
If the British Medical Journal can say that ‘most drugs do not work for most people’ - then why do doctors and medical specialist prescribe them with such gay abandon? Because they get paid to do so - yes - but they are also heavily pressurised by their patients from GP surgeries to their hospital beds.
We need change on both sides.
Patients need to be less fearful of their diagnoses and to be more informed, so that they can take matters into their own hands and make changes to their lifestyles, in order to alleviate symptoms and allow the body to use its own impressive healing arsenal in the process.
And doctors need to encourage their patients to take more responsibility for their own health and in doing so become less reliant on medical drugs, many of which have horrendous side effects, as we all know. Will doctors engage in this way? I have my doubts.
According to the NHS Confederation website the per capita spend on our health currently sits at just under £2,000 pa. Many people, mostly young, and especially between the ages of 20 - 45 use the NHS very little, if at all, but as we age, we tend to be using it more and more, unless we as individuals take more control of our own health, which means permanent health and lifestyle changes into old age.
I created a mantra for a medical health care centre called HealthWays I founded in the early 80’s “Look after your body its the only one you’ll ever have”.
Still has a ring to it.
Don’t you think?