Fundamentally FIT Comment:The NHS

With the general election in full swing and the NHS taking its regular spot at the top of the list of voters concerns I wanted to take the opportunity to share a few thoughts on how, as a fitness professional and health coach I see the public’s role in supporting the NHS.

The NHS is undoubtedly the envy of the world for the quality of care provided at the point of need. While it may fall down is areas such as access to the best current medication and waiting times, the British public is relentless in its desire to see it thrive and do more. I once heard a TV pundit refer to the NHS as the closest thing the British have to a national religion. Quite simply all of our lives have been touched by the work done in the NHS.

While I don’t want to dive into funding issues directly, or it’s shortages of staff and the day to day struggles placed on the NHS, sadly we all too aware of them. I would, however, like to explain how I see the broader role of the general public in supporting and minimising the pressure we all place on this national institution. As voters, we demonstrate our right to choose a party that will protect and support the NHS. As direct users, however, we are often responsible for placing an additional burden and pressure onto that very system.

For Example

Let’s take a quick look at where NHS England currently spends some of its estimated £120 Billion budget.

Coronary Heart Disease was estimated in 2009 to cost the NHS around £1.8 billion per year (estimated from 2009 costs BHF).

If we look at diabetes UK’s website they have this to say. The cost of diabetes to the NHS is over £1.5m an hour or 10% of the NHS budget for England and Wales. This equates to over £25,000 being spent on diabetes every minute. In total, an estimated £14 billion pounds is spent a year on treating diabetes and its complications, with the cost of treating complications representing the much higher cost.

These are just two examples of the swelling cost burden on the NHS. Alongside the current struggles the WHO also states that 74% of men & 64% of women in the UK will be either overweight or obese by 2030. By 2025 more than 5 million people will have diabetes, Or 400 people per day will develop this condition.

Both heart disease and type two diabetes have many contributing lifestyle factors which are heavily connected to your probability of developing one of these conditions as well as its severity. These include the quality of your diet, the level of physical activity (walking for example) and the amount of regular exercise you take.

Certain aspects of these conditions can be unconnected to lifestyle. For example, high blood pressure runs in my own family and therefore I am statistically more likely to have higher blood pressure. This means I am more focussed on my lifestyle to minimise this risk, although I cannot remove it altogether.

Our Role

We are often more concerned with getting into skinny jeans or a summer dress but miss the importance of genuine good health. As a fitness professional and health coach I certainly feel people undervalue their health and often feel unable or unwilling at times to make it a priority in their lives. This often changes when people have a genuine health scare and they suddenly realise they are not indestructible. Sadly, however, studies have indicated that many of those who have had a health scare fail to make any lasting long term changes.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the one’s we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek” – Barack Obama

We hold the ultimate control over our own actions and therefore are the only ones who can choose to look after our own health. Yes, people have work, family and personal issues that need to be managed to achieve this, but a willingness to change always, and only comes from a person who is ready to try.

Looking at the escalating costs of running the NHS and the many new roles it is expected to fill each year, it is sad to see so few people making the connection between their own health and lifestyle and the positive impact we could all be having if we looked after ourselves more proactively. Inactivity alone made up to 1.5-3% of all total care costs in the NHS in 2006-2007 (BHF). Current costs are likely to be even more significant.

There are of course people who eat well, exercise and still get sick, and if you are unwell then don’t put off seeing your doctor, that’s why we have world class health care. Improving your health and reduces the risk of getting sick in the first place is a mush more sensible approach and your quality of life will also be dramatically improved.

My desire is to see politicians not just making well-publicised speeches about putting more money into the NHS but investing in better nutritional education, taking stronger action against the food companies regarding its usage of certain ingredients (e.g. sugar), tackling some of its marketing tactics and providing fully regulated and transparent food labelling. This at least would be a positive first step in supporting the public to a healthier lifestyle and could easily be done by a willing government.

If Government, food companies and us the general public were working together more proactively on this topic we could reduce the pressure on the NHS and in turn, it would be able to do a lot more with the funding it does receive.
The bottom line for the NHS is that it simply cannot survive on its current path and its eye-watering running costs. We as users of this amazing service must also accept our social responsibility and do what we realistically can to make sure we are reducing our own impact, however big or small those personal changes may be. In my opinion, This is one of the single most important actions we must take as a country to secure the future of the NHS for ourselves and the generations to come.

Andy Strong