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Don't worry, be happy

Public health officials don’t have enough to worry about, says Phil, and that’s no bad thing

Public health officials don't have enough to worry about, says Phil, and that's no bad thing

There is a long and illustrious history of public health legislation in this country. It is remarkable to think that, back in the 1930s, as many as 2,000 people a year died from bovine TB contracted from drinking raw milk. There must have been an astonishing amount of associated non-fatal tuberculosis-related morbidity, and it is hard to argue with the legislation that came into force in 1949 regarding the pasteurisation of milk.

There are other classic examples. In 1952 around 4,000 people in London died, apparently as a direct consequence of an infamous prolonged smog. The result was the Clean Air Act. Now we have the cleanest air since the start of the industrial revolution, even up here on Teesside. Even though I resent the fact that I will never experience one of those legendary fogs where you couldn't see a hand in front of your face, I accept that the health benefits outweigh the childish fun of walking into lampposts and seeing (or rather hearing) traffic pile up like toppling dominos.

Perhaps the most significant boon to public health was the Sanitary Act of 1866, which required local authorities to provide clean water and effective sewage disposal. Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands

of people were thus saved from premature death from cholera and typhoid and lesser gastrointestinal diseases; a triumph unrivalled until the introduction of mass immunisation in the mid-twentieth century.

I remember being incredibly moved by my mother, a child of the fifties, telling me how she once turned up at school to be told her two best friends had died of diphtheria overnight.

More recently, we've had the drink-driving and seatbelt laws, which have demonstrably reduced senseless automobile mayhem. But although car-related deaths are lower than at any point since 1930 (despite a thousandfold increase in the number of cars), the amount of public anxiety and political angst seems to increase exponentially.

There is now hardly anything significant left to worry about, yet we agonise more than at any time in history. We have introduced laws prohibiting smoking in public places, despite the fact that possibly only Roy Castle ever died from it. There are moves to introduce mass immunisation against chicken pox, because six children out of 60 million people succumbed to it last year. Every one a tragedy, of course, but as public health issues go, it's a drop of widdle in a sewage farm.

Today I read a report from the University of Dundee, bewailing the fact only 37 diabetes patients in their study of 100 wore properly fitting shoes. The other 63, and by implication millions of others, were putting their footal health at serious risk by chafing and nippage in the chiropodiacal area. Woe unto all of us. May we never be smitten with worse.

We now have more public health officials than ever before, and it seems they have time on their hands. Thank God

for that. Let's banish anxiety and worry, and make an attempt to enjoy being members of the healthiest and longest-living society that our planet has ever seen. There's much to do and much to appreciate. Let's get things in perspective. It's a beautiful world.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland


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