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Small changes rather than high-tech solutions will reduce inequality

Dr david turner duo 3x2

Dr david turner duo 3×2

We start the year with news that the NHS has plans to charge healthy people to map their genetic code.

The suggestion is that patients will be able to pay the NHS to sequence their DNA to help predict their risk of cancer, and other serious chronic diseases. The massed data will be good for researchers I’m sure, but I’m not convinced the results will necessarily be that much use to an individual patient.

The Government and the media love the ‘latest’ specialist treatment for a rare genetic disease or cancer, but it is not usually these new developments that do the most to improve the lives of the many. By the simple action of removing the handle from a water pump in Broad Street, John Snow probably did more to prevent disease in the population of Soho in the 19th century than all the other doctors in the area combined.

A working-class male in Glasgow will live on average to 71, whereas a professional male in London will make it to 82.

UK CEOs now earn on average 133 times the average worker in their company. For comparison, in the 1950s, they earned around 30 times more. ‘Fat cat’ Friday fell this year on 4th Jan – the day when most CEOs had already earned what the average worker in their company will take home in 12 months

There are now hundreds of food banks around the UK, which many working families rely on to eat. A decade ago few people were aware of the concept of a food bank.

These facts and statistics may not seem to have much relevance to coal face GPs, but arguably a few relatively small tweaks to government policy could beneficially affect the health of the nation more than the work of 33,000 GPs.

Royal colleges are naturally reluctant to involve themselves in politics, but I would argue they have a duty to, when they may be able to influence changes at government level which could positively benefit the health of the many. Universal credit, taxing junk food, improvement in social housing and arguably (if unpopular for some) increasing the tax for the very wealthy are some areas where small changes could beneficially affect millions.

Not cutting-edge medicine, but then neither was removing a pump handle.

Dr David Turner is a GP in North West London