Health Liz Hodgkin­son

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - 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’

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