We’ve all been following government and health official advice and stayed at home, self-isolating and washing our hands religiously to protect ourselves so as to protect the NHS so they can do their job effectively without being overwhelmed by the number of ill patients.
But what about beyond COVID-19? There will be a time when the initial carnage wrought by this new virus is history; when it takes its place alongside the many other diseases present in the community that today are routinely prevented with screening programs and vaccines, tested for if suspected, and for which treatment options are tried and tested for those who succumb. Perhaps we take it for granted that modern medicine appears to have a pill for all ills – except it doesn’t.
New diseases have wreaked havoc on global populations down through the centuries; COVID-19 is not the first in the 21st Century but, so far, is proving the most damaging. Likely, it will not be the last.
But, beyond COVID-19 what, if anything can we do to ensure we protect the NHS for the future so it can save the lives of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren?
It’s not just about funding and workforce but also about how those resources are used by us.
Did you know that 70% of the whole health and care budget is spent on treating and caring for people with long-term health conditions? Many of these conditions are largely preventable. For example, obesity by itself is a cause of early death but the risk is compounded with the development of associated conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease which together with mental health illness all adversely affect our quality of life. However, if we adopt good lifestyle choices and develop healthy habits throughout life we can help improve our outlook and quality of life as we age. It’s about what we eat, drink, how much and how well we sleep, and about our social and physical activity.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, many of us, and more than usual, have been using our daily allocation of exercise time to get outside and walk, run or cycle and over the past few weeks that has become a habit. I would urge us all to make time continue to these activities once the lockdown restrictions ease. We will have felt the physical and mental health benefits of this regular activity and can continue to do so improving our quality of life in the longer term. We need to think of it a bit like investing in a health pension, benefiting from it in later life as we will from our financial pension but for our health.
Investing in our future health by our actions today can help reduce our likelihood of developing long term health problems which in turn should reduce our demand on precious health resource. This will help ensure the viability and sustainability of our NHS into the future.
Please let none of us be under any illusion that the absence of a health problem today means we won’t develop one tomorrow as if we persist with unhealthy lifestyle choices then we risk become unhealthy.
Perfection is an illusion - instead, seek progress and you will achieve