Health Liz Hodgkinson
dear! Pity us poor old people, shuffling along on our Zimmer frames, confused, vulnerable, selfishly using up scarce NHS resources, crowding out doctors’ surgeries, rattling with dozens of daily pills and generally being right old nuisances.
As the NHS marks its 70th birthday, there is a general view that we are only being kept alive by expensive care, and that the more checks and screens we undergo, the healthier and longer-lived we will be.
Well, excuse me. Although I am hurtling with indecent haste towards my ninth decade, I am as fit and healthy as I was 40 years ago. My own continuing good health – and that of many others in their mid-seventies – has nothing whatever to do with any medical intervention. I have never had a health screen, scan or check in my life, take no medication of any kind, never have the flu jab – no fear – and I am not constantly limping into A&E.
Nor have I had a hip or knee replacement, and these are expensive operations. I have never had a cholesterol check, and on the rare occasions I have been to the doctor – about twice in the past 14 years – she insists on taking my blood pressure, after glancing at my virtually non-existent notes. Annoyingly for the drug companies, it resolutely remains normal and that means there is no reason to put me on a regimen of statins, beta-blockers, warfarin or any of the other drugs we oldies are routinely prescribed, whether we need them or not.
The result is that, at the grand old age of 74, I cost the NHS precisely nothing. Nor do I subscribe to any private medical insurance schemes. I am not about to go looking for illness, nor to take steps to prevent conditions I am extremely unlikely to get.
I resent the widespread implication that, just because we are old, we must inevitably be racked with a dire collection of age-related diseases. This patronising attitude is encouraged by the NHS, which offers so-called health checks to everybody aged between 40 and 74. These checks, it is alleged, can help prevent conditions such as stroke, type-2 diabetes and kidney disease.
‘If you get invited by your GP practice, be sure to go,’ is the advice. I never take it. In his last column for The Oldie, the late Dr Tom Stuttaford reckoned that screening was the key to the health of the nation. Although I am not a doctor, can I beg to differ with the great man?
It is widely believed that screening delivers health. It doesn’t. All it can do at best is to pick up diseases and conditions you never know you had and which might possibly never trouble you. A friend went along for a routine Bupa health check, feeling perfectly well. He was devastated to be told he was riddled with lung cancer and that, without treatment, he had a year to live. ‘How long with treatment?’ he asked. ‘Eighteen months at most,’ the doctor replied.
My friend decided to forgo the treatment and yes, he did live for a year, nine months of which were symptom- and treatment-free. Was he better off knowing or not knowing?
Along with others of a certain age, I regularly receive bowel cancer kits through the post. I throw them away with all the other junk mail. That truly is NHS money wasted – on me at least.
If I feel absolutely fine and have no illness symptoms of any kind, why not leave well alone? Why, even the NHS is now admitting that many of its procedures and operations are absolutely useless and will not be carried out in future. Among these are back pain injections, knee arthroscopies for arthritis and snoring surgery, which are to be banished completely.
So if I remain so well without any medical care whatever, what is my secret? First, you have to hold your nerve when badgered and bullied by NHS busybodies into having checks for this and that, and the other is starting a healthy lifestyle when you are about 45 or 50, latest.
But don’t just take my word for it. A recent large-scale study carried out on behalf of the British Heart Foundation analysed 6,223 people aged 69 and over. Twenty years earlier, these same people had been surveyed. It was found that those who, like me, did not smoke, were not overweight, who exercised regularly and had no pre-existing conditions, remained as healthy in their seventies as they had been in their fifties.
In fact, 40 per cent of the total NHS budget now goes on treating drinkers, the obese, smokers and drug-users.
It is true, as some Oldie readers may remember, that I do spend a lot of money on cosmetic treatments, none of which are medically necessary. But if I look good, I feel good, and that means, I am convinced, that there is much less chance of illness taking a hold.
Irresponsible? All I can say is: so far, so good. There are no guarantees and something will give in the end, but while I remain perfectly well, I shall not trouble the NHS one jot.
‘To be honest, this isn’t for your rheumatism. I’m putting a voodoo curse on my ex-husband’