Today we are on BBC Radio 4’s Inside Health at 9pm being interviewed by Dr Mark Porter. The broadcast will be repeated again tomorrow at 3.30pm (Wednesday 09.8.17). We are really pleased and honoured to have had the opportunity to appear on this programme. It’s incredibly stressful being interviewed, thinking all the time that many thousands of people might be listening. All of a sudden your thoughts evaporate or the ones you’re left with seem obvious. I was so calm beforehand. The ideas we discussed centred on these themes:
- Facts4Life is about enlightenment not entitlement – we live in a fix-it culture where we increasingly look for instant fixes. It’s not surprising; the media is full of programmes telling us to sort stuff out, tackle things. This is great but some reality needs adding; not everything can be fixed. And if it can be fixed, the fix isn’t always immediate and often we look outside for a solution when the answer lies within. And that’s not some hippy, alternative idea – most of our ailments would benefit from us being fitter, leaner, on a better diet and having had more sleep etc. This applies to blood pressure, heart disease, osteoarthritis as much as it does to sadness, depression and loneliness.
- We live in a world which increases or manufactures illness out of normality. We call this the perfection agenda – anything short of perfection is increasingly being seen as illness and this is driving much of our mental health crisis. Most of us buy in to the idea that if we feel ill or just ‘not right’, something must be wrong. It’s an infinite step from here – and this needs challenging – to the idea that all ‘ills’ or feelings of things not being right are illnesses. It’s in that tiny window between feeling ill and being in need of external help that general practice operates. Most of what we do in general practice is about holding people who feel ill and want a diagnosis; a legitimisation – if we provide this, we may be satisfying the need for a label that is ascribed to a range of symptoms or feelings, but we GPs operate in a slightly different plane. We are usually quite happy acknowledging someone is feeling unwell without needing to label it with a diagnosis.
- Most of us get better from most illnesses on our own. The problem general practice has had is getting across the complexity we manage. We are experts of ignorance; we understand acutely the limits of our knowledge and we are good at basic things like seeing when people are really ill. Most people are not ill and when they are, they mostly get better themselves – we can all improve this by looking after ourselves.
- Children are interested in their health, are quick to learn and adapt their behaviours. If we want children – and others – to take more responsibility for their health, we have to get across these ideas. The programme shows Facts4Life working very successfully in schools – teachers are enthusiastic, children are clearly taking on the ideas and we are beginning to involve GPs and parents. We have shown that discussing illness doesn’t need to be frightening or heavy. Learning more about illness should liberate us from the fear that illness is something we can avoid and should avoid at all costs. We all get ill from time to time and will eventually die. If we can be helped to be more responsible, we can shift the line between where our responsibilities end and medicine’s begin – in fact we need to blur the line and in that blurred area share responsibility.