When I was growing up, my mum and my nan had a cure for most minor ailments, or at least something to relieve the symptoms. Sore throat? A butterball would be prepared — a knob of butter rolled into a ball and then dipped in sugar to be sucked and allowed to melt in the mouth. (Sounds revolting, I know, but they were quite nice really and the greasiness would ease a dry throat.)
For earache, something I suffered with a lot as a boy, it would be warmed oiled dripped into my lughole. Again not a cure, but the warmth would ease the pain. When I had a cold, my nana was a great believer in Mentholatum, a sort of early Vic in an old fashioned jar, to be slapped on your chest before you went to bed, and bloody uncomfortable it was too as it made your vest stick to your skin. Finally, some more of the stuff would be smeared under your nose.
If a child was generally under the weather and whingingly unable to sleeps, a glass of warm milk was prepared with a drop of whisky added. This did me no lasting damage, other than for a lifelong dislike of the malt.
Burns were straight forward — under the cold water tap for several minutes followed by a smearing on of butter. (It’s amazing how many uses you could put a pack of Lurpak to.) Actually, my dad had another theory. He was an engineer and got burnt a lot in the course of his work and he reckoned that the best thing to do was to hold the affected part as close to a heat source for as long as you could bear it and the pain would go away, presumably because the pain sensors were totally shot.
The reason I mention this is that in those days, the first response to an illness or injury was to see what you could do about it yourself. Both mum and nana were had grown up in a pre-NHS world when a trip to the doctor cost money. (My dad claims that the dentist used to do extractions in the kitchen at home, costing 3d a tooth, or 6d if you wanted anaesthetic.) They knew from experience that if you could ease the symptoms, then people generally got better on their own.
Things have changed. It seems some people seek professional help the moment they sneeze, at least if the ever-growing number of people going to A&E; is to go by, not to mention the always full GP surgery waiting room. The bar of public expectation has been raised and the government has responded by setting targets of no more than four hour A&E; waits and two days for a GP appointment. The problem is that as you increase supply, you stimulate demand and A&E; and the GP becomes the immediate first port of call for more and more people.
What worries me though is that we are effectively deskilling people when it comes to taking care of themselves which is odd when there are so many proprietary medicines available over the counter or on the supermarket shelves. Are we creating a generation who think that there should always be a medical intervention no matter how minor the ailment?
I don’t have a solution. If I did I’d be in parliament. Actually, having a solution would probably disbar me from politics, but it is a worrying trend. Will the kids of the future know to rub a nettle sting with a dock leaf, or will they just dial 999 instead?