Yesterday I read that the NHS is in trouble because trusts are spending £2000 a shift on locum doctors http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9150772/NHS-pays-20000-a-week-for-a-doctor.html.
If you ask the majority of doctors, they will tell you they do not earn anything near that for a locum shift, a tenth of that would be more precise! There’s not a day goes by that there isn’t another article about doctors costs, ‘fat cat’ hospital managers and wasteful costs within the NHS. Whereas there is some truth in all the above, one area that is definitely contributing to the pressures and demise of the NHS is rarely looked at.
If we want the NHS to survive, which I believe most of the population do want, we need to start taking responsibility for our own health again. As a doctor who has been working in the system for 10 years across the UK, one thing is startlingly obvious to me – people have stopped taking care of themselves.
In the past, The NHS was used by the population when they were really sick. Now people turn up to see me 1 day after having a cold. Each ambulance call out costs about £400 – think about how many people every single day call unnecessary ambulances. Think about all the times the ambulances are called out to see drunks in city centres every weekend.
A hospital bed costs £400 a night. I know from my time working in elderly care that beds are kept by elderly patients for weeks on end once they are physically well because they aren’t safe to be living alone and their relatives won’t take them home while they wait for a nursing or residential home bed. And everyday, hundreds of people do not attend hospital outpatient and GP appointments, costing the NHS thousands of pounds.
Because we aren’t directly billed to use these services, people class them as free. And we all know, when you get something for nothing, you don’t appreciate it. Which is what is happening with the NHS.
Whilst the NHS does lots of great things for lots of people – after all, we are one of the few countries in the world where you can go in with a stroke or heart attack and receive immediate life saving treatment at no extra cost – it has also created a culture where people no longer take care of themselves. People have forgotten how to look after themselves, and neglect the foundations of health – nutrition, exercise and having a clear mind. People aren’t happy to pay for treatment or invest in themselves, but we are spending billions on junk food and McDonald’s every year.
The NHS spends millions every year on cleaning up the mess made from people’s bad lifestyle choices and lack of self-care.
As a doctor, this is incredibly frustrating to me. I became a doctor to help people, not to just dish out antibiotics, painkillers and sick notes.
So I trained in Integrative Medicine, in my own time costing me over £10,000, which is common in the USA and Australia, but not in the UK. Integrative Medicine looks at the an individual as a whole and sees how all the systems affect each other. It also focuses on good self care as the foundation of health, ie nutrition, exercise, managing stress, and using natural health care and supplements whenever possible.
An example of integrative medicine from the USA is a programme created by Dr Dean Ornish that is widely available and reverses heart disease and prostate cancer. Yes, that’s right, you did read correctly – REVERSES heart disease that normally requires bypass surgery in the UK, and prostate cancer without surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Would you like to know what this consists of? A very low fat vegetarian diet, yoga, relaxation and a support group. That is all.
I find it really rewarding to empower people to look after themselves, and have even had cases of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia that improve, even though these are commonly thought of as conditions that have no cure.
I see patients privately to do this as there are no provisions to do this work within the NHS. And if you are thinking that I am doing it for the money, you are wrong, as the NHS pays me more than my private work, I just find my private work more fulfilling.
These are the measures I think we need to take to help save the NHS:
1. Encourage patients to take responsibility for themselves.
2. Give all patients a ‘bill’ outlining how much their appointment and treatment cost. They don’t have to pay it, it may just raise awareness of how much things cost in the NHS.
3. Billing all patients for missed appointments and inappropriate call outs for ambulances.
4. Encouraging patients who can afford it to pay for their outpatient appointments.
We all need to think about how to help our NHS to survive and do our bit to help. With waiting lists at an all-time high, it is in your interest to look after yourself as much as possible to try and prevent illness.
A recent survey showed that in the UK, life expectancy is going up to 80 years old, but we are expected to live in poorer health and spend more time in hospital, and we are becoming the most obese nation in Europe. This is scary stuff. The NHS is not coping with the current workload, so it will definitely sink if this survey is correct.
The situation is dire. I am not exaggerating.
If you don’t start looking after your health no one else will, because if we carry on like this, the NHS won’t be around to help you much longer.