It’s a rather depressing thought that after so many decades of health improvements, the Western World is now starting to see life expectancy fall, and even sadder that this is largely due to diseases that are lifestyle related – in other words, preventable. Type 2 diabetes is a clear case in point, being related to poor diet, obesity and lack of exercise, and whilst it may not be considered a ‘killer disease’, it places a huge burden on those affected and their families, and mops up a staggering 10% of the NHS budget – and rising…
In part, the economic downturn is to blame. Recently, the WHO warned that youth unemployment in the UK is a ‘public health time bomb’ and there is evidence of a move towards consumption of cheaper, less nutritious food which will store up further health problems for the future. Paradoxically, unhealthy foods are often cheaper than healthy options, and I have no shame in regularly asking the hapless baristas at my local health club, “How come an apple, which only has to be picked and wend its way here on a truck, costs the same as a packet of crisps, with all the slicing, frying, packaging, advertising and marketing that takes?!” (I think they’ve started to avoid serving me…)
Arguably, health prevention has never been high up on the agenda within the NHS which seems to be in full on fire-fighting mode. Things may change now that local authorities are responsible for public health following legislative changes this April. We shall see. In the meantime, the private sector is filling the void. ROAD’s client, Esaote, has developed a package of ultrasound technologies called ‘Prevention Suite’ which enables practitioners (GPs, radiologists and other clinicians) to assess the heart and surrounding vessels in one step, providing accurate risk scores for development of cardiovascular disease.
But, does showing the patient early signs of CVD – the actual arterial plaques starting to be laid down – make any difference? Well, early findings from studies involving hundreds of patients across Europe are showing that this approach not only provides accurate prediction of CVD, but also shows individuals do modify their behaviour, having seen the evidence on the screen for themselves.
Sadly, such tools do not always reach those in greatest need where they can have the biggest impact. Working for a provider of NHS Health Check infrastructure taught us that the neediest are often the hardest to reach – in particular, middle aged men who aren’t engaged with their health, and rarely (if ever) visit their GP.
We also know from working with SCA Hygiene that the burden of care long-term falls largely on relatives and friends, often at great cost to their health, too. Speaking as one of the so-called ‘sandwich generation’ and juggling work with my children and sometimes care of elderly family members, I urge all stakeholders to consider the preventative approach. It will pay – on so many levels.