Taking healthy responsibility with a changing health service

Our health is our own. And yet, increasingly our health is everyone’s business, as debates heat up about the funding of the NHS and our collective responsibility to look after ourselves. Our blog this month looks into some of the bigger issues we face in England, and the implications this has on our own health choices.

We know the NHS is in trouble. Just before the general election, NHS England published a major report and plan for the next five years. While most of the coverage centred about the £8bn the NHS was asking to stay afloat, another core message went under the radar. One of the major changes the NHS looked to do was to encourage people to take more care of their own health, which would help keep more people healthy, and reduce the incidence of preventable problems stemming from conditions like obesity.

You could be cynical and say that the two issues are linked. If the NHS has less money to treat people, then you might expect there would be more of a push to keep people away from hospitals and GP surgeries, and take responsibility for their own health. But while there may be some truth to that, in fairness there has been a long-standing recognition that the conditions treated by the NHS has changed markedly through its lifespan. People with long-term conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and asthma account for about 70% of the NHS spend in England. Roll the clock back to the 1950s, and you’d find most of the spend was dedicated to treatment of infectious diseases, a far lower proportion than today thanks to vaccination and improved public health programmes. Today, coupled with a bigger and ageing population, then even without the current financial squeeze the NHS was going to be facing bigger pressures, and a need for it to reshape to better serve the needs of the current population.

We’re not here to debate the rights and wrongs of NHS reform though. Instead, we want to address that the greater emphasis on personal responsibility can paradoxically feel like a mixed message for men. Time and time again, men are told by public health advocates to take care of their health, and particularly to go to the doctor more. But while taking responsibility for your own health is all well and good, what many men don’t need is any more sense that they are not welcome at the GP, or that they would be adding additional burdens onto a breaking system.

So how should we, as individual men, address this conflict? Well, we’d emphasise that guys should do three main things:

  1. Ensure you’re aware of common health conditions, their signs and risks.
  2. Take care of your health by eating well, keeping active and avoiding harmful activities like smoking.
  3. Definitely go to the doctor if you are worried about an issue, and as you get older, make sure you go for regular check-ups based on your health risks.

Taking care of your own health is an important responsibility, to yourself but yes if everyone does this, it has wider benefits to society. But even with a cash-strapped NHS, you have the right to see a doctor as much as anyone else. And long-term, the sooner you identify any health issues and have them treated, the quicker they can be resolved, both for you, your doctor and the NHS. It’s not just you that you’ll benefit – presumably your friends and family all want you to be around and healthy!

Finally, it’s understandable that for some of us, it can be daunting to try to keep aware of all the risks and signs of illnesses and live a healthy lifestyle. Well, you don’t need to know everything – that’s what doctors and good quality health information are for (see our links on our health information page. But there are well-established risk factors which will raise your risk of developing a multitude of health conditions, recently mentioned in a great blog by the BBC’s Nick Triggle.  These are not exclusive, but are a very good rule of thumb on things to avoid:

  1. Smoking
  2. Drinking over the recommended alcohol limit
  3. Not getting enough exercise
  4. Being overweight or obese
  5. Not eating the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables daily
  6. Eating over the recommended daily amount of sugar
  7. Eating over the recommended daily amount of salt

 

None of these will come as a surprise, but so often we ignore where we may be coming up short. Have a good, honest think about your lifestyle, and identify if you have any of these risks, and then what actions you could take. Start small, and you’ll be more likely to go the distance! A lot of good ways to motivate yourself are also covered in our previous blogs, so have a look there if you’d like some inspiration.

We’ll be looking at how to judge risk and health stats in our next blog, so that should also help you decide what to worry about and what to ignore. Until then, take care of yourselves!