We are in the midst of a global pandemic, but no I am not referring to the one you might be thinking of. While COVID-19 has infiltrated every aspect of our lives and is responsible for more than 45,000 UK deaths, we are also facing a silent pandemic of lifestyle-related chronic disease that rarely makes the news but is responsible for 2.6 million deaths every year across the UK and Wales.
Whilst we don’t have a vaccine and a cure for COVID19, we do have a cure for the pandemic of lifestyle-related chronic diseases, and I believe we don’t talk enough about this simple cost-effective and life-saving cure. Optimal lifestyle and nutrition advice could prevent most of the 89% of UK deaths, and it could relieve 40% of the burden on the NHS. So, you might be wondering why isn’t every single news outlet write about a treatment which could save millions of lives each and every year?
Well, this solution does not generate a profit for anyone. It does not make pharmaceutical companies rich, and it doesn’t make health care professionals look like heroes. Due to a broken health system which rewards medication driven symptomatic relief, we fail to offer this treatment to our patients daily, and with this failure, we continue to feed our patients into the pandemic of long term suffering and premature death.
To best serve our patients, we need to create a health care service where our patients have barrier-free access to optimal lifestyle and nutrition advice offered by multidisciplinary health care professionals that empower them to take control of their own health. This would allow us to move away from medicating and essentially “palliating” chronic disease. Ultimately, this could tip the scales towards preventing and reversing disease effectively. We must become creative and find ways that will allow us to eliminate the red tape created by the political and pharmaceutical agendas so that we can slow down our consultations and reconnect with our patients to offer the care which will bring about meaningful health gains.
Health care professionals have dedicated their lives to their calling, for no other reason but to help their patients get better and cure them of their pain and suffering. Unfortunately, the current system focuses more on achieving financial and time-driven targets which fail to serve both our patients and doctors. The time-pressed consultations, allow for no more than a quick prescription.
The current health system treats chronic disease the same way it treats communicable disease (infectious disease): with pills and injections. While this might temporarily relieve acute symptoms, it does not address the underlying cause of the problem, the lifestyle and socioeconomic inequality. The result of our current approach: a silent global pandemic, which is now responsible for 70–80% of the health care spending, and even with all that expenditure, it is still sharply rising to continue to be our number one killer. So, we can safely say that the current approach to treatment has failed, and we urgently need a new one.
Focusing on the medications often leads to false reassurance for our patients as they are made to believe that their health is restored once they take their magic pills. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as it only offers symptomatic relief. Starting patients on medications, without providing lifestyle and nutrition advice robs them of the opportunity to manage the root cause of the disease.
On the other hand, it leads to high pressures for our colleagues, and the loss of job satisfaction leads many to leave the profession. I can see this clearly in my patients and my colleagues, but it’s also mirrored in the epidemic of preventable chronic diseases and physician burnout. The two are interlinked.
“Our failure to apply lifestyle and nutrition advice results in 44 years of lost life per 1,000 people or 2.6 million each year across England and Wales.”
Daily I see the human faces and tragic stories behind this staggering statistic. The patients, whom I treat in A&E with an acute complication of their preventable chronic disease are my daily reminder that we must be relentless with our message that our patients, friends and family have a choice, and they can take control of their health before it’s too late.
Imagine if we had a health care structure that didn’t rob our doctors from the art of healing, by offering time and resources to implement lifestyle and nutrition treatments. It could prevent the death of countless lives, relieving the burden on our NHS which in return, would stop the burnout and fuel the souls of the doctors who dedicated their lives to the profession. It is thus unethical for us to continue the way we have been practising medicine for a century. If we want to bring the health back into our “healthcare”, then we must change with the current evidence, even if we have to reinvent the way we practice medicine.