So says The Telegraph following the publication of a report in the Lancet on life expectancy in the UK and it really does annoy me. Not that we can expect to slip off this mortal coil a few years early, but the way that journos and those with a drum to bang link things that aren’t necessarily connected.
In this instance the three link connection is NHS spending, ill health and life expectancy.
So let’s start at the beginning, why should higher spending on health services improve health? Apart from the relatively small amounts that the NHS spends on health education, the vast majority of the budget goes on treating the problems after they occur. If anything, higher spending can be seen as a response to more ill health, not the other way round.
Which leads us to sickness itself. The authors of the study tell us that the big risk factors are tobacco, obesity, alcohol, lack of exercise and poor diet, none of which the NHS can influence directly.
Then life expectancy. The NHS does have a role play in providing treatments that put right the health problems after they happen, or at least in prolonging life, but again social and attitude factors play a part.
We know that people living in poorer areas are likely to turn up at their doctor’s surgery with a problem than those in more affluent areas and the later you present, the less successful the outcome.
But my fundamental point is – don’t blame the NHS if you’re ill. It isn’t their fault.