I’ve had bronchitis. As far as I can tell, I’ve done nothing to deserve bronchitis except to hang around with a lot of germy kids. When it emerged that it wasn’t going to get better on its own, off I went, hippity-hop to the doctor’s shop. Greeting me on the doorstep were two young women, one holding the reins of a small, harnessed child. Both were obviously waiting for appointments and had popped out of the waiting room for a much-needed cigarette.
I know that it’s easy to be sanctimonious about smokers and the like but I found the perspective of being ill made my feelings about the issue very different.
I know full well from what I read that the health service is overburdened with perfectly preventable health problems. Obesity and smoking related diseases being amongst them. Now I was unable to see a doctor on the day when I was feeling really grim. Had I been able to hit the antibiotics 24 hours earlier, I might well have been spared a miserable, fever-ridden night of delirium and a headache that felt like it was going to take off the top of my head. I couldn’t help but feel that if there had been a few less people in the surgery who had made themselves ill, I could have been seen more promptly.
I realise that there’s an argument here about priorities: after all, I’ve taken up valuable national health time and expertise with a set of sports injuries. On the other hand, playing regular sports is keeping my heart healthy, preventing obesity and is a counter to the onset of depression and such. It’s just my ligaments and occasionally my bones that seem to come out worse off. There are, however, no benefits to smoking, obesity or indolence.
Do I think that I deserve better service from the NHS than an obese smoker on a surgery step? Well, yes, actually, I do.
I have to admit, I don’t keep myself in shape for any reasons other than selfish ones. I play sports because I love it; I don’t smoke because I don’t like it and because I’d rather have the use of my lungs. However, I promote healthy living amongst the kids that I teach; I try to set a good example. I don’t resent paying my taxes. I don’t bother my GP unless I’m sure that I need to. In general, I try to do the right thing. I don’t think that we should do ‘the right thing’ out of expectation of reward – we should do it because we have a responsibility to the society that we embrace (by living in it) and I don’t see why I should have to queue behind the people who don’t do the right thing. I know a lot of people whose natural inclination to try to do good for their fellow man is gradually giving way to ‘why bother’. I had a taste of that feeling today – I was sitting in the waiting room idly pondering a system where state-provided, basic health insurance would have to be topped up by private contributions based on spot checks that analysed the contribution that individuals made to their own health. Nicotine in the blood? Too many lipids because you’ve been snorking down cream buns for three days? Up go your contributions. Now there’s an incentive for the private citizen to adopt a healthier lifestyle.Of course, the argument there is that this is a form of class discrimination: a number of studies have demonstrated that the middle classes (more olives, darling?) eat better diets and have more time and better access to leisure facilities. But, I counter, if the market for fresh veg grew at the expense of the junk food market, if more parents felt that they would benefit in the short term by quitting the fags and taking their kids to the park, then better food would become more affordable and the hoodies and junkies that frighten folks from the parks would be displaced by weight of numbers. As leisure facilities hit capacity, the market would expand, causing competition that would drive down prices. These are basic laws of economics. The thing is that it is economics that have led us into this dead-end. Value (and thus profit) can only be added to a product by putting work into it. Thus people are willing to pay extra money for food that has been processed and stuck into plastic, microwaveable containers so that dinner takes three and a half minutes to prepare and they can slump in front of Eastenders shovelling congealing glop into their ever-expanding necks.So tax the processed food to buggery and produce direct, short-term incentives that will force people into the kitchen. Offer them free, fun, community cookery courses nearby so that they can have as much fun cooking as some of us already do. Instead of vegetating, blank-eyed in front of the wazzock lantern they can get their kids cooking and start to build a more positive cycle.The point is that we have let the short-term economic gain to a select group of the rich turn the health of a nation into a long-term problem. In the long run, the rich will continue to get richer and the poor will continue to suffer worse health and increasingly inadequate healthcare unless government is prepared to intervene and make unpopular decisions, ride out the unpopularity as short-term investment appears to cost people money. In other words, do what’s right.Fat chance. Fat nation.Good health, everyone…