WITH under 100 days to go until the general election, the big issue, pundits tell us, will be the future of the NHS. It will be safe in their hands, pulled back from the precipice, expanded, streamlined, reorganised, chucked-money-at – depending on who you précis – while more GPs are trained, more appointments made available, a fleet of midwives conjured up and untold riches put into long-term care and mental health.
Sounds brilliant. And so simple one can only wonder how it’s taken so long. Crisis? What crisis?
The sad truth, as I see it, is that nobody in these anxious vote-gathering times will be brave enough to say what we all know deep down. That the NHS is wonderful, those who work in it heroic, and the fact that, whatever soundbites we’re fed about funding and reshaping, it may sink gently to its knees, is not really about politics but about you and me. It is, to put it bluntly, All Our Fault.
The NHS is overstretched because 64 per cent of us are overweight; 19 per cent still smoke (despite all those warnings tch tch) and 15 per cent – at a conservative estimate – drink far too much (leading to nearly 10million hospital visits in 2013). And if you’re not a podgy lush with a fag in her hand? Then I would hazard a guess you’re the worried well.
Pounding that treadmill, checking the labels, eschewing sugar and salt in your organic radish and broccoli shake, and back up at the doctor’s with that funny rash from the stress of it all. One could take the view that education is the answer.
More cookery in schools might teach the boys and girls that vegetables exist as well as Burger King. Posters of a pickled liver might keep them off the gin. But probably the best thing we could do as a nation, bearing in mind the cost of mental health treatment, is to teach our kids to calm down, cheer up, and stop sweating the small stuff.
While we all start looking on the bright side. A ciggie in your break might kill you but will also make you new friends – nothing like huddling together in a freezing doorway to foster camaraderie – and interaction with others boosts serotonin, the feel-good chemical which may save you from depression till you go.
A drink or two can protect against heart disease and give you respite from worry. (And has been single-handedly responsible for keeping the karaoke industry afloat.)
When you’re very old it is better to be slightly plump than as thin as a rake. And anxiety causes more health problems than e numbers. Some of us are luckier than we should be. Others aren’t. We all know of some lard-scoffing, scotch-swilling, 60-a-day chap who lived to his 90s. (And a clean-living, additive-free, gluten-avoiding vegan, who sadly did not.) As the fatalists are fond of reminding us – when you’re time’s up, it is. The Do Your Best and Then Don’t Worry Party could be a vote winner. Along with a concerted campaign to teach us to value the NHS; not abuse it.
Advertising slogans might include: “Accident and Emergency – the clue’s in the name”; “Doctors are for ill people” and “Do you really need that seventh doughnut? Give up your seats on the bus for those who need one…”
We can dream.
In the meantime, brace yourselves for more cries of restructuring, cash injections, training programmes and the promise of appointments for all. And know that the only hands the health service is really safe in, are ours…
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