Who is responsible for our health?

I have been in workplaces where it felt like I was the most responsible person there. – If anything went wrong, I was responsible!  Of course, that wasn’t really the case but I was often the first person to be told about the problem and be asked to do something to resolve it.

I hear a lot on the news about the health of the nation, different ideas about what should and should not be funded etc and what the total level of funding should be. Over 30 years working in the   NHS before I took early retirement has doubtless contributed to my ability to pick up on these news items and not surprisingly, having worked in physical health (though not for all that long) and mental health, I often have my own opinions on these matters.

One thing I am very clear on is much more should be done to stop so many becoming ill in the first place. The National Health Service should have a primary focus on maintaining health rather than dealing with illness. Needless to say, in designing such an NHS where we are now is not an easy place to start and I am reminded of the person who asked for directions and the local, having thought for a while said, “Well if I wanted to get there, I wouldn’t start off from here.”

I would use the tax system to cut down on tobacco, alcohol and sugar consumption and also tax foods with excessive amounts of fat and or salt. At the same time, I would get rid of VAT on bicycles and their accessories/components. These are only a few examples of how public policy could be used to influence health.

Despite this and many other policy measures that I would like to see and probably many more that I haven’t thought of, I see health as primarily the individual’s responsibility. However to exercise that responsibility requires knowledge and education. (If a client of mine develops blisters after sunbathing following a massage using citrus or basil oils, if I haven’t reminded them of the need to abstain from this for twelve hours it is my fault not  theirs.

In the above case, education is easy as a client receiving massage is already someone who believes in what I do and trusts me enough to have a massage. In the unlikely event that I have a client whom I believe might misuse the information and go out in the sun as a means of deliberate self harm, I would avoid using those oils. With clients in the mental health system who might possibly be pregnant and still say that there was no possibility of this, I avoid using oils contraindicated in pregnancy.

The biggest issue to me is how can those who have little knowledge about what is good for their physical or emotional health take responsibility? This is where all health  professionals whether in the conventional system or the complementary system have a duty to educate. (Schools should also be doing far more as should those parents able to do so.) It is only when every visit to a health professional results in the patient/client leaving with a greater knowledge of how to cater for their own needs that the current mismatch of demand and resources can end. (Please note, I also think the NHS needs extra funding especially while increasing this educational work to make this happen.)

It also requires all practitioners to be honest about what they do and don’t know and not to make any false claims such as those being made still by some complementary practitioners abour vaccinations.