Friday, October 29, 2010

A Century and Not Out

'Who wants to live forever?'

Those words are, if my quinguaginarian brain remembers correctly, lyrics from a song by Queen. For readers who have the pleasure of being under thirty, it probably seems that you are going to live forever. However, for those of us who are middle-aged or beyond, reality sooner or later sinks in; the truth is we have used half of our innings.

Or have we?

Consider your reaction to being told, at the age of fifty, that you have seventy years to go. You would probably greet such news with scepticism. After all, doesn't the Bible speak of 'three score years and ten' being man's allotted time? Well, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) would beg to differ. In a recent report, the ONS says Britain will have some 90,000 people over the age of 100 by the year 2034. Already, we know that there are several people living at the age of 115, and the oldest life on record is that of a French woman who died at the age of 122 in 1997.

Now, let me put that into perspective. The year 2034 is only 23 years away, and 90,000 people is approximately 60% of the population of North Lincolnshire. At least some of us fifty year olds may therefore not have reached middle age yet.

There is, of course, much in the way of current national discussion regarding what the retirement age should be (or whether we should have one at all), and whether the country can afford everyone's pensions. However, I would like to offer another thought for you to consider. If you were told today that you have a pretty good chance of becoming a supercentenarian, what would you want to do with all that extra time? How would you wish to enrich your added years with activity rather than be restricted by illness or infirmity?

I cannot answer the first question for you. However, in respect to the second, now is the time to start preparing by getting those lifestyle excesses sorted out (you know the ones; you don't need me to spell them out for you). For my part, I have so many interests to pursue that I am setting my sights on reaching at least 120. You are therefore cordially invited to my birthday party in 2080 (but do bring a cutting from this newspaper to prove eligibility).

(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, 20th October 2010)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

To Wake or Sleep?

'To sleep – perchance to dream!'

At least that is how Shakespeare's Hamlet voiced his feelings on this important aspect of health. I have no doubt that his view would continue to find many modern-day supporters. However, how does such leisurely sentiment fit along side the Chancellor, George Osborne's recently expressed wish that we might all work an extra hour for the good of England?

Assuming that, for some of us, the proposed extra hour of work reduces time asleep, how might that impact on our health? It has long been known that sleep deprivation causes an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and depression. Recent statistics also indicate a greater risk of heart disease and of dying younger. Furthermore, we might be heavier in the process, as reduced sleep reduces the ability to burn off fat. Sleep deprivation is also a safety risk; causing 'microsleeps', where people spontaneously 'nod off' for brief periods and thereby run the risk of causing accidents whilst operating machinery or driving vehicles.

Meanwhile there is no doubt that sleep is a necessity in order to allow the body to regenerate cells and heal damaged tissues, revitalise the immune system, organise our memories, and improve our energy levels, apart from just making us feel happier.

However, for those of us who find difficulty staying in bed, all is not lost. Whilst the usual recommendation for an adult is seven to eight hours sleep per night, a report in Sleep Medicine recorded that, in a survey of 450 women over a period of fourteen years, those women who sleep between five and six-and-a-half hours were more likely to be alive than those who had been managing the recommended seven or eight hours per night.

This brings me to another Tory statesman (Disraeli), who is reported to have said: 'there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics'. What, then, is a person to believe? Personally, I subscribe to the poet Felix Dennis's concept that our task is to find the most agreeable way to fill the gap between being born and dying. If you wake naturally after only five or six hours sleep, do not fret; instead rejoice that you have that extra hour to make use of for the betterment of England. For, as A.E. Housman wrote in the 'Shropshire Lad': 'Up, lad: when the journey's over there'll be time enough to sleep'.

(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Wednesday 13th October 2010)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Whither the Local NHS?

We live in exciting times.

At least we do if the government's announcements in respect to the National Health Service are to be believed. Primary Care Trusts are going to be abolished; supposedly meaning less money spent on bureaucracy and managers, and more money for front line health services. Best of all, GPs are going to be given control of a large part of the budget. Surely that has all got to be good? Well, many people thought so at first. However, the reality is now beginning to sink in, and the initial promises do not look so sparkling.

The NHS is an institution that many of us have known and taken for granted during our entire lives. We are accustomed to the freedom of visiting our GPs without worrying about the cost. Neither have we had to give thought to the price of the investigations, prescriptions, or operations which might be necessary. In short, we have benefitted from a health service that many other countries have looked upon with envy.

Times, however, are changing, and the changes will affect us all. Along with many other public services, the NHS has to take a long hard look at its finances. Many GPs have understandably taken the view that our job is to look after people's health; how it is all paid for is someone else's problem. No longer can that be the case. Local GPs are already working together in anticipation of the change 2013 will bring, and the message is daunting. We simply cannot afford everything we do.

Which begs the question as to what the NHS is really for? How prepared are we to discontinue specific services, reduce the level of prescribing for some drugs, or see waiting times become longer for certain operations? It is a debate which successive governments have shied away from, preferring the delusion that the NHS can afford to do everything. The truth is it cannot, and the general public needs to know that. The public equally needs to be involved now in shaping the local services for the future. Bringing the money nearer to those who spend it means greater responsibility. However, the responsibility belongs to everyone, not just the local doctors.

After all, whilst we are often thought to work miracles, when it comes to a lack of cash, I am afraid we are not magicians.

(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Wednesday 6th October 2010)

The Power of Love

Looking through my writing archives for the month of March, I came across the following article, initially published in my weekly column for...