Health expert Professor Michael West says being with the people we love is key to a healthy future

All you need is love - that is the surprising prescription for the NHS from a public health expert at Lancaster University.

Friday, 29th June 2018, 12:08 am
Updated Wednesday, 4th July 2018, 6:17 pm
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Professor Michael West says that our NHS is showing no signs of faltering.

But it will change - it will have to to keep up with the changes in the health of the population.

The crux of this is first and foremost getting people to value spending time with others that they love.

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It is breathtakingly simple health advice but apparently not one that the nation pays enough heed to.

Asked about the most important aspects of health for the next 70 years Prof West said: “Spending quality time with people we love and who love us.

“We are more likely to die from loneliness than from the effects of drinking and smoking.

“It’s about other health habits as well but those are essential.”

Another deceptively simple bit of advice which he says needs to be stressed is making sure we get a good night’s sleep.

Studies show that when the clocks go forward the next day fatal accidents increase, there’s a spike in heart attacks ant the likelihood of a stroke may rise.

“Exercise and sleep is also vital,” said Prof West. “People don’t have an understanding on how important sleep is.

“When they put the clocks forward for daylight saving time, the next day there is a spike in deaths and heart attacks across Europe, simply because people had lost sleep.

“We must teach people the importance of good sleep habits.”

As people get older and as young people stop exercising as much, professionals are finding that the health of the population is changing in some marked ways.

Prof West said: “The health of older people and younger people is changing. Young people have problems with obesity which can lead to diabetes.

“People are getting older so we need dementia care and others are dealing with mental disorders so even though we are getting more sophisticated, there are more changes to be made.

“We will have to accept that there will need to be much more spending within the health service.

“We also have to start taking responsibility for our own health and teach people how to look after themselves.

“We need to teach people the importance of being present rather than ruminating and being anxious about the future. Being active, rather than being passive.”

As medicine progresses and as the needs of the population change the health service has already begun to move away from the traditional ways services are delivered.

Prof West said: “You had these mighty doctors who are respected in the community - it’s a benevolent, paternalistic system.

“I think a much bigger slice of our resources will go to mental health services in primary care. We are not dealing with the mental health problem. I think there will be more innovation in primary care.

“There will no longer be the traditional three GPs and a receptionist. More and more group practices will work together and provide specialised services and develop services that are tailored to communities rather than having a generic approach.

“Tower Hamlets, for example, has a garden club for older people in the area – this has had profound positive effects on their health.

“There will be more community influence with people taking part in designing the health care services.

“They will effectively become customer owners.”

Prof West says that with more of a direct sense of ownership residents will have more of a vested interest and voice in the provision of their health care.

He added: “People are only involved at this point in things like A&E closures.

“That’s a dead route, it’s single-issue campaigning, I think communities will need to be given more control to design services which will be high-quality and compassionate.”

He also said the future of the NHS involves multiple public services working together, police and firefighters to name a few, for the best of patients.

“They are making slow progress at the moment. They have been used to working in silos but if you really want to address some health inequalities these groups need to start working together.”

Contrary to expectations, the professor dismissed worries over the privatisation of the NHS.

He said: “Private companies dip their toes in the water, realise its a harsh environment and get out.

“There are few and far between and there is no evidence that they sustain in the market.”

Casting his gaze into the crystal ball of the future of the UK’s health system he was reassuring, saying that its future was secure.

“I think it will continue to be because it is a jewel in the crown of our country,” he said. “The way that we think about our NHS is fantastic. We want to be a compassionate country.

“It featured in the middle of our opening Olympic ceremony – we need to protect it as a nation.

“There is no sign that it is diminishing.”