08 August, 2010

The State and your health

Professor Steve Field, Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, enters the national health debate in an article in the Observer. It is a narrow tightrope, but one which, I think must be walked. Field walks it quite well, with the occasional lapse into hysteria, such as describing smoking in front of your children as ‘child abuse’.

The problem of balance is perhaps epitomised by Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary. Lansley, who is thin, says doctors should tell the overweight not that they are obese, which sounds like a medical condition, but that they are fat. At the same time, he says that the work of Jamie Oliver with school meals is ‘lecturing’.

Double standards are common in this area.

There is a great temptation for governments to ban anything which is bad for you and to make it illegal not to do something which is good for you. In my view excessive government action is not only unhealthy politically – it looks as if the people are the servants of the state – but also probably counter-productive. I have often said that people in Britain drink too much because it is naughty, and the State pumping out regulations and laws to curtail it will just make it naughtier.

At the same time the people are entitled to have the information they need to conduct a healthy lifestyle, be it about breast, cervical or prostate cancer, or heart disease, diabetes, and the dangers of smoking. I am rather in favour of Jamie Oliver – it seems to me that if he is prepared to spend his time conducting this information transfer we should be grateful to him.

Where we do not have private help in this way a simple solution would be to have all government sponsored food lecturing to be done by the NHS on its budget. So if they believed that a £250,000 TV campaign on drinking would save more than £250,000 in the hospitals, they should go ahead.

At the end it is the experts who should lecture and they should be paid by how much they save us.

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