Prevention is the word on everyone's lips for health and wellbeing, yet why do my experiences suggest we still look to mask symptoms rather than cure them?
The current health and social care agenda has a focus on prevention, the Care Act 2014 stated that there will be ‘A greater emphasis on prevention ‘ - local authorities and providers of support would encourage and assist people to lead healthy lives, reducing the chances of them needing more support in the future’
The number one priority of the NHS 10 Year Plan, is to ensure prevention is at its heart, emphasising an effort to move away from a system that simply treats, into one that also helps to keep people well for longer.
In theory, this sounds fantastic, supporting people to stay well and take responsibility for their life choices. Raising aspirations, personal accountability and ultimately the wellbeing of individuals and communities to tackle health inequalities.
Until recently I stood by the mantra ‘your health reflects your lifestyle choices’ not seeing or understanding the true impact of having reduced resources, lack of knowledge and facing a mountain of life’s challenges, including; access to health care, adequate living arrangements, the money to buy food, transport, clothing, and pay utility bills. Somehow your own health becomes the last thing to worry about.
In December 2018 I was diagnosed with a long-term health condition. I live an active and healthy lifestyle, I don’t smoke and only consume alcohol socially, but despite that my health is now labelled with a diagnosis. I will gain first-hand experience of the health services and all from a new-found perspective. I was offered immediately medical interventions, invasive treatment that would mask my symptoms but not cure them.
I began to research everything I could to find ways to help myself, determined to live well and challenge expectations both of myself and my diagnosis. With the help of the internet, I found lots of ways to manage my condition, from vitamin supplements to keep me healthy, holistic therapies to ease the pain and physical exercises to address the underlying issues.
It was only after going through this process, that I began to realise that choice was not always an option in keeping well, without finances I wouldn’t be able to access the vitamins I need to support my long-term wellbeing, there is no prescription to cover the cost of holistic therapies to address the underlying problems. The only support available is a tablet to mask the pain.
In 2016 Public Health England reported that the health of people in Middlesbrough is generally worse than the England average. Middlesbrough is one of the most deprived authorities in England and approximately 9,600 children live-in low-income families. Life expectancy for both men and women is lower than the England average. Life expectancy is 11.7 years lower for men and 12.0 years lower for women in the most deprived areas of Middlesbrough than in the least deprived areas.
For us to be serious about prevention we need to be serious about looking at the whole person. I am lucky, I have a supportive employer, I have access to health supplements, exercise classes and holistic therapies that support not only my physical but my emotional health and wellbeing. If we are serious about addressing health inequalities and supporting the prevention agenda, we need to continue to be mindful that we really are considering the whole person and not just providing a tablet to mask the pain.