In the United Kingdom we are lucky enough to be given free healthcare, much to the envy of most other countries across the globe. But this money has to come from somewhere, and to prevent the burden on the taxpayer it is up to medical experts to do all they can to prevent more money being spent than is absolutely necessary.
However, with rising budget deficits it’s fairly safe to say that the National Health Service needs all the help it can get at the moment. Overspending is arguably the biggest problem, which is why a collection of expert nutritionists and doctors have recently written to the Medical Schools Council asking for big changes that could save the NHS billions of pounds.
Who wrote the letter and why?
The letter was written by a collection of 10 doctors, nutritionists, sport scientists and other experts in the field. It was addressed to Katie Petty-Saphon, Chief Executive of the Medical Schools Council and Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt also copied in.
The key objective of the letter was to convince the two councils to introduce the field of lifestyle-based medicine to training programmes for all doctors. This includes both new doctors training to become qualified and existing doctors undertaking the Continuing Medical Education (CME) programme.
The idea is that by introducing lifestyle-based medicine to these professionals, they will be able to spread its messages to a wider audience and greatly improve general health. Therefore, less people will need to visit health professionals and the costs associated with running the NHS will be significantly lower.
After all, research has shown that a majority of the increased spending on the NHS has resulted from poor nutrition and diet, low levels of physical exercise, excessive drinking of alcohol and cigarette smoking.
What is lifestyle medicine?
Lifestyle-based medicine is concerned with teaching patients of the importance of good diet and regular exercise. More specifically, how leading a healthy and active lifestyle can reduce or even prevent a wide variety of illnesses and ailments simultaneously reducing the frequency of hospital or GP surgery visits.
Type-2 diabetes as an example of the benefits of lifestyle medicine
The authors of the letter use type-2 diabetes as a powerful example of the money that the NHS could potentially save by training more doctors in lifestyle medicine. Type-2 diabetes is a preventable and reversible condition that costs the NHS and wider economy an estimated £20 billion through lost productivity. With today’s high-sugar diets and often low levels of exercise, this figure is set to double within two decades.
As an example, an expert at the Royal College of General Practitioners’ named Dr David Unwin has saved £45,000 (when compared to average clinical expenditure) on medication alone by giving his pre-diabetic and type-2 diabetic patients diet advice.
If we take this saving and multiply it across every GP surgery in the UK, the NHS could potentially save up to £423 million on diabetes medication.
Many doctors are unaware of the importance of lifestyle-based medicine
The letter also shed light on the surprising fact that many healthcare professionals are seriously lacking in knowledge when it comes to the effects of nutrition and exercise on physical health.
It cited recent research by investment company Credit Suisse that revealed that a staggering 54% of doctors made the mistake of assuming that cholesterol in food raises cholesterol levels in the blood. Research elsewhere has shown that only one in three doctors could identify oily fish – a fairly well-known healthy food.
Things aren’t much more optimistic when it comes to physical exercise. Research from Professor Chris Oliver of Edinburgh University showed that an astounding level of medical professionals could recite the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines on physical activity – only 14%!
Moreover, less than 1 in 10 respondents reported that they felt confident enough to give patients advice on physical exercises.
A lack of training – but doctors want to learn more
The most recent research into the prevalence of nutritional training comes from the USA. It showed that most medical schools provide less than 25 hours of nutrition training (the recommended minimum amount), while less than 50% taught any nutrition at all.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, most doctors acknowledged their lack of understanding when it comes to nutrition. However, 78% of physicians were keen to take on additional training in nutrition and believed that this would benefit their patients too.
The problem with the UK’s over-reliance on medication
Lastly, the letter highlighted that the rates of prescribed medicines have hugely increased in the UK in recent years. This increase contributes to both morbidity and mortality, with an estimated 25% of hospital admissions for the elderly resulting from adverse reactions to medication.
This worrying pattern has lead the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (which represents more than 200,000 doctors) to launch a ‘Choosing Wisely’ campaign – which aimed to address this issue and cut back on the dangers of prescribing too much medicine.
There was a response within 24 hours
Luckily the letter appears to have struck a chord with its recipients. Less than a day after it was sent, Katie Petty-Saphon – the Chief Executive of the Medical Schools Council – was quoted in an article in The Guardian showing her support for the improved education of lifestyle medicine.
She said that unhealthy lifestyle choices needed greater emphasis in future medical training if doctors were going to be able to cope with the rising numbers of diseases linked to poor diet, alcohol and cigarette consumption. She also called for the General Medical Council to raise the priority given to nutrition and exercise when the guidelines for medical school teaching are next reviewed.
How Can a Paleo Diet Help?
Eating a paleo diet which includes plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit, eggs and unprocessed meat and fish and removes most processed food will help the majority of people lose weight and reduce their risk of type-II diabetes.
Eating a wholefoods diet does not need to be difficult – read our posts Just Eat Real Food and Eating Paleo on a Budget for lots of advice as to how you can easily and simply base your diet on real foods, lose weight and cut your risk of the major lifestyle diseases.
For a detailed paleo meal plan with recipes and shopping lists tailored for the UK supermarkets, sign up to our 30 Day Paleo Plan.