Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fancy Doing Something for Nothing?

The American Psychological Association’s Psychology and Ageing Journal may not be the preferred bedtime reading for many people in North Lincolnshire. However, this month it contains an article that we all ought to be aware of. According to researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University (I know, but we won’t let the name distract us), the process of volunteering is helpful in bringing about a reduction in blood pressure.  Now, when was the last time you volunteered to do something for nothing? The employed might retort that they work for nothing for the first five months of the year (Tax Freedom Day being somewhere around the middle of May in the UK), but I am assuming that doesn’t count, otherwise we wouldn’t have such a high demand for blood pressure pills in this country.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor in heart disease, strokes and kidney disease, so it is worth taking seriously. The American research suggests that positive lifestyle factors such as volunteering can have a major impact on blood pressure through the chemical processes that bring about the ‘feel good factor’. To benefit, a person has to perform voluntary work for at least 200 hours per year.

Of course, one’s blood pressure isn’t the only thing to benefit from volunteering. Volunteering also helps to build a caring society, reduces social exclusion, makes an economic impact (adding £4.8 billion to the UK’s finances), opens up social networks, brings interesting and exciting new experiences, improves personal skills, enhances personal development, and improves employment and career prospects. From a medical perspective, stress levels are also often reduced, which may be part of the way in which volunteering reduces blood pressure. So, all in all, it is a good thing to do.

Meanwhile, in other areas of this week’s medical press, we learn that the Department of Health has decided that there is no evidence to support the concept that GPs are not capable of working in General Practice until their 68th birthday. Ironically, the same report acknowledges that the same GPs may not be motivated to work that long. Motivation is a multifaceted beast, but it has a lot to do with job satisfaction, manageable workloads, and not feeling exhausted before getting to lunchtime (in itself a vague concept these days). Even more ironically, on the same day the above report was published, other reports highlighted (as though it wasn’t already clear) that General Practice is at breaking point and cannot be looked to in order to solve the country’s A&E crisis.

Nonetheless, that didn’t stop NHS England suggesting that GPs should provide 24/7 ‘decision support’ (whatever that means) to tackle the out of hours problems. Neither did a national lack of GPs stop the Care Quality Commission announcing that it would close GP practices that didn’t stay open long enough to satisfy patient demand. I may be losing the plot here, but will someone please explain to me how that solves the problem? Even as I write, I can feel my blood pressure rising. Perhaps a quick spot of voluntary work will help? Now, I wonder whether emptying the dishwasher and putting the rubbish out, before Mrs J-F tells me to do it, will count towards my 200 hours per year target?

First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, 27 June 2013
© Copyright Robert M Jaggs-Fowler 2013 

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