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999 Call for the NHS

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By 999 Call for the NHS, Sep 6 2017 05:12PM

Thanks to Deborah Harrington

999 Call for the NHS member and founder of Public Matters

It's true. I'm sick of Wellness.

I am sick of smiling NHS executives, Clinical Commissioning Group leaders, Think Tank Thought Leaders blathering on - as they always do once they've found a nice catchy soundbite - about the NHS being redesigned as a wellness service, not a sickness service.

This is a phrase I am sick of hearing. It's tosh! Utter daft contemptuous tosh!!

It implies that the NHS was set up only to treat - and perhaps to treat unnecessarily - rather than to cure and keep people healthy. Uh...

It implies that doctors are investing in keeping us sick.


It completely ignores the fact that Bevan was minister for health and housing and in that post-war period considered that sound, secure and healthy housing would do more in the long run for the nation's overall health than anything else.

It ignores a comprehensive vaccination programme brought in to protect the nation's children from common diseases which could lead to death or long term health problems.

It ignores the investment of time and creativity of clinical staff in shortening the amount of time patients have to stay in hospital.

It ignores the contraceptive pill, ante-natal care, smoking cessation programmes, sexual health clinics and routine cervical smear tests.

It ignores the extraordinary development of prosthetics which enable those who would previously been forced to live with quite restrictive physical conditions to be limited instead only as far as their imaginations will allow them to go - as the existence of Prof Stephen Hawking so beautifully demonstrates.

In short it ignores all the real efforts (many in the process of being dismantled) that have been made to ensure health rather than illness is the norm for the majority of the population. But the primary purpose of the NHS is to look after our illnesses and disabilities. Because that is the core of healthcare and is exactly the part of healthcare that so many people could not afford to access before the creation of the NHS.

So I may start to scream next time I hear the 'it's a wellness not a sickness' meaningless drivel. It's a commonly used phrase by think tanks, NHS England flunkeys, etc to validate the changes they are making. Did I say changes? Drastic cuts and damaging harm disguised as 'improvement' and propped up with positive claptrap smoke and mirrors.

They all fall into the same sick bucket, sorry- "well vessel". Promoting individual responsibility for our health (assuming we can all afford the delivered organic box or the weekly supply of quinoa and spirulina) they calmy congratulat the NHS of old but then move quickly to:

"The world has changed. If it were now we wouldn't design the NHS like this. It was designed to treat illness, but what we need in our modern changing world is a wellness service that focuses on how people can keep themselves well. We now have the opportunity to change that."

It is Grade 'A' BS. More Smoke and Mirrors to mask the current and future denial of care in our new Not-the-NHS through the 5 Year Forward View STPs, Vanguards, Success Regimes and any number of bamboozling corporate disruptive devices.

It is a common claim of those that are cutting and selling off the NHS, that it's ok that they're doing it because we are going to have what is known as (another Americanisation) Health PROMOTION - wonderful behaviour change programmes that will empower people with long term illnesses like heart, respiratory, diabetes etc to change their lifestyles and take up their beds and walk. It will have to be their beds because they are not going to find one in a hospital anywhere near them.

They like to say it is Prevention.

But it isn't preventive health as we know it - which is mass public programmes like clean water, sewerage disposal, clean air (the chance would be a fine thing, vaccinations etc.) It is a very different beast because it is a neocon framing of the problem of ill health that conveniently blames those suffering from it for their own illness, cos they have the wrong behaviour and the wrong lifestyle.

Along the way, a number of well meaning people who see the sense in tackling the structural social and economic and environmental causes of ill health have got caught up in the absurd rhetoric about needing to change the NHS from an illness service to a wellness service.

So while housing and education and air quality control and clean water are essential to good health along with adequate food labelling and more they are not 'the NHS'. They are the responsibitiy of other government departments working in tandem with the NHS. Coordinated. Integrated. Not morphed into a one stop shop for society's needs.

If you are anywhere near me at that moment when some smarmy smart-suit smiles on the stage and repeats "I think we should call the NHS a Wellness Service" - then I apologise to your ear drums in advance.

To read a more about Health Prevention vs. Promotion visit PUBLIC MATTERS.

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