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Avoidable deaths

June 26th, 2023 · Posted by Skuds in Life/Politics · No Comments · Life, Politics

This story caught my attention on the radio news this morning (“UK’s high rate of avoidable deaths linked to NHS woes”) and I think the headline is more than a bit misleading.

Read a bit further and it says “The UK had one of the lowest levels of life expectancy – although the study acknowledged this would be affected by many factors, aside from the quality of NHS care” but the NHS is the only factor mentioned in the headline, and what these ‘other factors’ might be is not expanded on at all in the story on the BBC website.

The brief story on the radio news focussed on cancer survival rates, of which I have a little experience. I don’t deny that having sufficient trained doctors, oncologists, nurses, beds and facilities is important. Also I am sure that having more scanners so we can have more screening and earlier diagnosis would help greatly, but I really started wondering about some of these other factors.

I was thinking back to when I had an especially nasty cancer that was treated by some powerful chemotherapy and extremely invasive surgery. Before I had the surgery I had a battery of tests and was very surprised to find that, cancer apart, I was in very good shape. Specifically my heart, lungs and liver were all in good nick for my age. As an overweight ex-smoker this was all quite unexpected but welcome news and I suspect that if I had not kicked the fags some years before, and did not make a point of walking a lot it would have been very different.

So I was wondering if the general health of the population is one of these other factors. Obviously the NHS has some involvement there as well, but prevention never gets as much attention as curing, and a lot of the prevention is outside the scope of the NHS. Many of the preventative measures would have an uphill struggle to get accepted as they would be seen as killjoy measures or examples of ‘the nanny state’.

Just one example is active travel. If a lot of the car journeys under a mile or two were replaced with walking or cycling then you would get the double benefits of better cardiac health and less pollution to breathe in while walking or cycling. You keep hearing about the increased incidence of lung problems in kids brought up near main roads. I’m not sure I would have scraped through having my lung collapsed for my operation if it had been systematically ruined by living next to an inner city ring road.

Seeing all the current protests about ULEZ, LTNs and cycle lanes just makes me think that these survival rates for cancer, and other early deaths will not improve any time soon, and the headlines will continue to link them to NHS resources so that we focus on one part of the jigsaw without ever seeing the full picture. Yes, having doctors, scanner, beds, etc. is important. Those are the corners and edges of the jigsaw, without which we will struggle to complete it, and let’s have them, but you don’t stop there; you fill in the middle with all the other parts, the active travel, the healthier foods, sugar tax, sport in schools, reduced pollution and all the rest.

Notice that the graph in the article shows that the comparable country with worse outcomes is the US, probably the country with an even worse diet and greater car-dependency than the UK and I don’t think that is a coincidence.

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