Health can be simplified into balanced healthy diet, regular exercise, uninterrupted six to seven hours sleep, and emotional well-being.
In my over 30 years’ experience in general practice, I see GPs fall into two camps – those who think the above has a minimal impact and those who are convinced of its importance in staying healthy. Poor national health is a major factor in increasing GP workload and rising costs, and with prevention plans and improved health advice, both could be considerably reduced.
I accept the argument that ‘you can’t fix a trauma or acute heart attack with diet’ and advance in medical innovation is one of the hallmarks of increased longevity. But in my view many chronic conditions are less successfully treated with medicine; diet and lifestyle more generally have an important role in arthritis, type 2 diabetes, autism, asthma, heart disease and certain cancers.
Orthodox doctors, of which I am one, focus too much on that wonderful saying, ‘If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ And the hammer that we have is the script pad or scalpel. We tend to gloss over the importance of lifestyle modification.
The best treatment for diabetes 2, heart disease, certain cancer and osteoporosis – all of our modern-day killers – is not to get them in the first place. The people who practise good lifestyle principles reduce their risk for all significant diseases by over 70%, whereas a drug like statin might reduce your risk of a heart attack by 10%, with a potential for a bucket of side effects.
So lifestyle principles across the board are much more powerful than anything a GP can do for his patients. Much more than 90% of modern diseases are preventable through education. A heart attack can cost £20,000 to treat. If it can be prevented, that has huge cost implications.
Preventive measures should be more of a focus for the NHS England. A change in approach, with more responsibility placed on people to manage their own health, could save billions of pounds each year. Medicine is not enough on its own; people need to take responsibility for their own health.
NHS England must consider, therefore, a mandatory prescription of the following given to all the attendees in GP surgery,
1. Take care of your abdominal fat.
2. You cannot be healthy if you smoke, if you drink too much alcohol. You cannot be healthy if you snort cocaine.
3. Good quality eating and less of it.
4. Have a regular habit of at least 30 minutes brisk walk .
5. Reduce stress – the best drug on the planet is happiness, peace and contentment.