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‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’

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Once I thought I was immortal and there was nothing in life that couldn’t be fixed. I learnt, as we all do, that my body is frail, mortal flesh and that there are some things we have to live with.

Sometimes chance, accident or some flaw in our genes affects our health and we have to deal with it. But I still believe that we can do a great deal to improve health and well-being.

Fred is 93 and in magnificent health. He’s well nourished, remains active and sparkles with life. Charles is only 53 but has a body ravaged by alcohol abuse. He’s undernourished, his muscles are wasted and his bones are demineralised. His quality of life is poor and his life expectancy limited.

Edith is thin but has stringy muscles. She has a touch of blood pressure but, at 97, she can’t complain. Anna is only 56 but
is obese, has type 2 diabetes and is hypertensive. Her cholesterol is high and her knee pain makes it difficult to get around.

Charles and Anna are old before their time.

The NHS celebrates its 60th birthday this year. Before its inception, ordinary people feared illness and the costs of treatment.

The NHS removed those fears and increased public expectations. There is much to celebrate but the world has changed and the NHS must change, too. It must enable people to remain healthy and to help them find their way when they’ve lost it.

We need more services for people like Charles who have problems with alcohol and drugs. Services that will help people to detoxify and get their lives back on track. Anna is being treated with medication for her ailments. She’s being considered for a knee replacement. But if Anna was to lose weight there’s an excellent chance her blood sugars would stabilise, her cholesterol would improve, her hypertension would resolve and her knee pain would improve.

There are limits to healthcare. The NHS can repair a fractured neck of femur but if it fractured because of osteoporosis, other bones remain at risk. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Health promotion enables people to live healthier, happier lives and reduces the strain on the health service. The NHS must combine health promotion with rescue services for those who need them. It’s no use just fishing people out of the river because there are limits to how many we can rescue or how well they can recover. We must also help people to maintain and regain health.

Linda Nazarko is a nurse consultant at Ealing PCT

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