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The medical timebomb…

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If you are like my wife and me you stay away from doctors.  My wife has been a medical journalist for years and is very cynical about the over-medicalisation of healthcare.  And with very good reason as data emerging from America now provides really strong evidence that the third leading cause of death comes from mistakes made by the medical profession.  That’s as much as half the number of people who die from cancer.  So next time you visit a GP, be aware that you are putting your life in his or her hands.  The scariest thing about this is that because of the way deaths are recorded, and the data is collected, the figure is likely to be vastly underestimated.  It turns out that the method used by many countries to record deaths while in medical care are far more concerned with collating cost and billing information than they are in tracking medical mistakes.  It’s upsetting to realise that the medical profession in the West is so arrogant it assumes that it doesn’t make fatal mistakes!  So, of course, there is absolutely no record of medical errors that don’t result in killing you but merely seriously disable you in some way!  These medical errors include the prescribing of thousands of drugs which have serious, sometimes life-threatening, side effects, especially when interacting with other medicines.  And these side-effects are frequently buried in unpublished negative trials, or hidden in tiny print in the drug information sheet, or simply subsumed in the fervent spiel of the medical reps as they hand out the generous pens, wallets, leather note pads, mouse mats and packed lunches to the GPs. So always be very, very sceptical about any medication that you are prescribed.  Most doctors still don’t seem to realise that they are simply the distribution outlets for large pharmaceutical companies.  So it’s not surprising that big pharma doesn’t spend much advertising to consumers - all the serious money is directed at doctors.  And partly as a result of time constraints, but mainly due to clever targeted advertising, doctors are heavily biased towards thinking that a pharmaceutical product should be used when it may not be the best solution for the patient.  And it works:  even highly trained and well-meaning professionals don’t realise that they are being influenced. These worrying reflections occurred to me when I spotted the data used in the chart above based on estimates from the Nuffield Trust.  I recently had an hour long conversation with my local Member of Parliament and I came across this information while researching the background to a question that in the end we didn’t have time to discuss.  You see in Britain at the moment a lot of fuss is being made about the National Health Service (NHS).  Hardly a day goes by without the media carrying a story about a hospital having to go into “special measures” because it’s over-spent its budget; waiting times for surgery are being exceeded, or it’s difficult getting an appointment with a doctor.  Many people blame the number of recent immigrants overwhelming the health service but that narrative is too simple.  There is a large element of truth in blaming immigration – the population has swelled by almost 4.5 million over 10 years.  Governments have been quick to tax new arrivals, yet slow to roll out the expensive extra hospitals and doctors needed to cope with them.  And it has to be acknowledged that some “New Brits” or EU nationals still arrive with expensive to treat diseases (previously almost eliminated in Britain) such as tuberculosis.  This is despite the UK TB pre-entry screening programme.  Tragically the people who slip through the net often don’t report their highly infectious symptoms for months or even years, and they are more likely to carry drug-resistant TB.  But these additional healthcare costs are not the main reason behind our over-stretched health care service.  Looking at the chart above you can see that the majority of NHS money needs to be spent on people in later life.  And Britain now has an unusually large proportion of pensioners (around 17% according to The Office of National Statistics - ONS) because of the baby “bulge” after the Second World War.  This natural upward curve was the result of the unnatural depression in births whilst a generation of sexually active males were separated from their sweethearts for six or seven years, followed by a huge baby boom occurring within a couple of years of the war ending.  Unfortunately governments almost never think long term, although they should have been able to plan for the increased health needs of the population.  After all they had well over six decades to prepare for the current medical “bulge,” and they should also have noted actuarial figures showing that more and more people were living longer.  In Britain if you reach the age of 65 the chances are you will live to be 83 if you are male and 86 if you are female (ONS statistics).  And you can see from the above chart even a small change in people’s longevity has a huge effect on the cost of health care for the entire population. Then there are the government cutbacks.  Britain’s Conservative Party seems determined to ignore data and even humanity whilst steadfastly pursuing its blinkered objective of lower taxes and the privatisation of most public services. As Polly Toynbee and David Walker rightly point out in their recent book - throughout the last seven years the Conservative government have been on a mission to cut public spending to a ratio of 36% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  The plan has been to reach this point by 2020 and this is currently on target as in 2017 the ratio will be 38%.  So at a time when more money per head should be spent on healthcare in Britain the Conservative neo-liberal ideology has reduced spending not just by a bit but significantly.  The Germans wouldn’t recognise British healthcare problems as they spend 44% of GDP on public services.  And Denmark spends no less than 50% of GDP on healthcare care, but then both these countries collect far more tax per head of population than Britain.   To add to the gloom, tight budgets and lack of planning mean we’ve ended up with a fragile healthcare organisation which still uses computers running old operating systems (Windows XP, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2003) that are no longer supported by the manufacturer.  So there are no bug fixes or security updates, meaning NHS computer systems are highly susceptible to hackers.  So much for all the “confidential,” “customer-focussed,” “patient-centric,” care planned by the NHS’s ludicrously expensive management consultants.   As Charles Arthur points out, between mid-2015 and mid-2016, 88 out of 260 NHS Trusts had experienced ransomware attacks, with one hospital being attacked 19 times in one year.  Having read the 153 page, recently released, NHS report “Securing Excellence in GP IT Services, it is obvious that the management theory of what should be happening and what is actually happening couldn’t be further apart.  Being attacked by WannaCry ransomware should have made that obvious. With all this in mind, next time you see your highly-pressured, under resourced doctor, (who hasn’t got time to keep up to date with all the important advances in the medical world), for your allotted 7 – 10 minutes, be minded that while he or she may have your best interest at heart, they don’t understand how dangerous they may be.  So perhaps it’s not surprising that the poor devils are now forced to pay about 9% of their salaries for indemnity insurance.  Working with an obsolete and potentially hazardous computer system is the last straw.  About four months ago, I went to the local surgery for a routine blood test and was shocked to see the nurse recording my details onto a Windows XP computer.  That meant the doctor’s network was wide open to attack and a month later that’s what happened.  Someone suggested the NHS needs Windows XP computers to be able to communicate with older MRI scanners whose software hasn’t been updated, but what the hell was the NHS doing when they bought devices without on-going software support? Poor old NHS.  All we can do is eat well, exercise, get enough sleep and avoid doctors like the plague. June 2017 
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If you are like my wife and me you stay away from doctors.  My wife has been a medical journalist for years and is very cynical about the over-medicalisation of healthcare.  And with very good reason as data emerging from America now provides really strong evidence that the third leading cause of death comes from mistakes made by the medical profession.  That’s as much as half the number of people who die from cancer.  So next time you visit a GP, be aware that you are putting your life in his or her hands.  The scariest thing about this is that because of the way deaths are recorded, and the data is collected, the figure is likely to be vastly underestimated.  It turns out that the method used by many countries to record deaths while in medical care are far more concerned with collating cost and billing information than they are in tracking medical mistakes.  It’s upsetting to realise that the medical profession in the West is so arrogant it assumes that it doesn’t make fatal mistakes!  So, of course, there is absolutely no record of medical errors that don’t result in killing you but merely seriously disable you in some way!  These medical errors include the prescribing of thousands of drugs which have serious, sometimes life-threatening, side effects, especially when interacting with other medicines.  And these side- effects are frequently buried in unpublished negative trials, or hidden in tiny print in the drug information sheet, or simply subsumed in the fervent spiel of the medical reps as they hand out the generous pens, wallets, leather note pads, mouse mats and packed lunches to the GPs. So always be very, very sceptical about any medication that you are prescribed.  Most doctors still don’t seem to realise that they are simply the distribution outlets for large pharmaceutical companies.  So it’s not surprising that big pharma doesn’t spend much advertising to consumers - all the serious money is directed at doctors.  And partly as a result of time constraints, but mainly due to clever targeted advertising, doctors are heavily biased towards thinking that a pharmaceutical product should be used when it may not be the best solution for the patient.  And it works:  even highly trained and well-meaning professionals don’t realise that they are being influenced. These worrying reflections occurred to me when I spotted the data used in the chart above based on estimates from the Nuffield Trust.  I recently had an hour long conversation with my local Member of Parliament and I came across this information while researching the background to a question that in the end we didn’t have time to discuss.  You see in Britain at the moment a lot of fuss is being made about the National Health Service (NHS).  Hardly a day goes by without the media carrying a story about a hospital having to go into “special measures” because it’s over-spent its budget; waiting times for surgery are being exceeded, or it’s difficult getting an appointment with a doctor.  Many people blame the number of recent immigrants overwhelming the health service but that narrative is too simple.  There is a large element of truth in blaming immigration – the population has swelled by almost 4.5 million over 10 years.  Governments have been quick to tax new arrivals, yet slow to roll out the expensive extra hospitals and doctors needed to cope with them.  And it has to be acknowledged that some “New Brits” or EU nationals still arrive with expensive to treat diseases (previously almost eliminated in Britain) such as tuberculosis.  This is despite the UK TB pre-entry screening programme.  Tragically the people who slip through the net often don’t report their highly infectious symptoms for months or even years, and they are more likely to carry drug-resistant TB.  But these additional healthcare costs are not the main reason behind our over-stretched health care service.  Looking at the chart above you can see that the majority of NHS money needs to be spent on people in later life.  And Britain now has an unusually large proportion of pensioners (around 17% according to The Office of National Statistics - ONS) because of the baby “bulge” after the Second World War.  This natural upward curve was the result of the unnatural depression in births whilst a generation of sexually active males were separated from their sweethearts for six or seven years, followed by a huge baby boom occurring within a couple of years of the war ending.  Unfortunately governments almost never think long term, although they should have been able to plan for the increased health needs of the population.  After all they had well over six decades to prepare for the current medical “bulge,” and they should also have noted actuarial figures showing that more and more people were living longer.  In Britain if you reach the age of 65 the chances are you will live to be 83 if you are male and 86 if you are female (ONS statistics).  And you can see from the above chart even a small change in people’s longevity has a huge effect on the cost of health care for the entire population. Then there are the government cutbacks.  Britain’s Conservative Party seems determined to ignore data and even humanity whilst steadfastly pursuing its blinkered objective of lower taxes and the privatisation of most public services. As Polly Toynbee and David Walker rightly point out in their recent book - throughout the last seven years the Conservative government have been on a mission to cut public spending to a ratio of 36% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  The plan has been to reach this point by 2020 and this is currently on target as in 2017 the ratio will be 38%.  So at a time when more money per head should be spent on healthcare in Britain the Conservative neo-liberal ideology has reduced spending not just by a bit but significantly.  The Germans wouldn’t recognise British healthcare problems as they spend 44% of GDP on public services.  And Denmark spends no less than 50% of GDP on healthcare care, but then both these countries collect far more tax per head of population than Britain.   To add to the gloom, tight budgets and lack of planning mean we’ve ended up with a fragile healthcare organisation which still uses computers running old operating systems (Windows XP, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2003) that are no longer supported by the manufacturer.  So there are no bug fixes or security updates, meaning NHS computer systems are highly susceptible to hackers.  So much for all the “confidential,” “customer-focussed,” “patient- centric,” care planned by the NHS’s ludicrously expensive management consultants.   As Charles Arthur points out, between mid-2015 and mid-2016, 88 out of 260 NHS Trusts had experienced ransomware attacks, with one hospital being attacked 19 times in one year.  Having read the 153 page, recently released, NHS report Securing Excellence in GP IT Services, it is obvious that the management theory of what should be happening and what is actually happening couldn’t be further apart.  Being attacked by WannaCry ransomware should have made that obvious. With all this in mind, next time you see your highly-pressured, under resourced doctor, (who hasn’t got time to keep up to date with all the important advances in the medical world), for your allotted 7 – 10 minutes, be minded that while he or she may have your best interest at heart, they don’t understand how dangerous they may be.  So perhaps it’s not surprising that the poor devils are now forced to pay about 9% of their salaries for indemnity insurance.  Working with an obsolete and potentially hazardous computer system is the last straw.  About four months ago, I went to the local surgery for a routine blood test and was shocked to see the nurse recording my details onto a Windows XP computer.  That meant the doctor’s network was wide open to attack and a month later that’s what happened.  Someone suggested the NHS needs Windows XP computers to be able to communicate with older MRI scanners whose software hasn’t been updated, but what the hell was the NHS doing when they bought devices without on-going software support? Poor old NHS.  All we can do is eat well, exercise, get enough sleep and avoid doctors like the plague. June 2017 
Home Click here to download the PowerPoint chart: Click here to download the PowerPoint chart:

The medical timebomb…

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