John Clark writes…
First published: March 2012 – Gazette & Herald
‘The one thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history’. To illustrate the point I have discovered what looks like a quote from the future. It’s a statement from a committee representing the GPs of the County of Cheshire (pity it wasn’t North Yorkshire).
The legislation before the NHS was the National Insurance act. This Law set up a committee to represent the GPs. The title of the act announced its aim of: ‘- the Prevention and Cure of sickness’. In 1939 after decades of this being in place, the Cheshire GPs Committee was clear about the second aim. If “postponement of the event of Death” was the measure then they had succeeded. They continued “The fall in fatality is all the more notable in view of the rise in sickness”.
On the first item – the Prevention of sickness – it was not possible to claim that the promise of the Bill had been fulfilled. In practice there was a rise. The conclusion of the Cheshire Committee was: “that this sickness came from a lifetime of the wrong nutrition”.
In his 1938 book The Wheel of Health, Dr Wrench asks “Why are medical students always presented with sick people for our teaching and not the ultra healthy?” He looked into the diet of healthy groups of people from around the world. These included Indians, Eskimos and the island of Tristan da Cunha. Health did not depend on the content of the food. The almost lacto-vegetarian diet of an Indian tribe (the Hunza) to the almost carnivorous diet of the Inuit had little, if any, content in common. There was however a theme running through all the groups. Their food was whole food and it was not processed.
So clearly, for more than 70 years we have known that health is dependent on diet. There was a massive experiment near the beginning of those 70 years that added a huge amount of evidence to the case that food is the source of good health – the 1939 -1945 war. People ate less. Sugar and meat were rationed. The nation’s health improved. If our government is serious about ‘topdown’ changes then it should look at the causes of ill health. We have learnt that poor housing and sewerage systems have a massive impact on health. There are glimmerings that David Cameron may control the free flow of cheap alcohol. It is less important how or how much he changes the system of the NHS. The real nettle he has to grasp is without healthy food we cannot have a healthy nation.
I believe it would pay the UK to have good quality food in all our public institutions; schools, prisons, care homes and of course hospitals. There is one little glimmer coming from Scarborough Hospital. Here the canteen provides homemade soups and 70% fresh produce. ‘Complaints’ about the hospital food have plummeted. Now the patients even write to the local paper as well as the manager, singing the praises of the hospital food. Plus it is good for patients’ health. This time will we learn from history or will Scarborough still be one of the few glimmers of light.