Wednesday, 20 February 2013


So, how is this great country of mine doing? You can look at all kinds of indicators to decide; income, wealth, car/home ownership, literacy.

I’m taking a look at infant mortality. According to the health minister on Monday; “for too long, Britain’s childhood mortality rates have been amongst the worst in Europe when compared to similar countries”

I was particularly struck that looking at the deaths of children under 14 years old, a quarter showed “identifiable failure in the child’s direct care”. These are all quotes from the Guardian Newspaper, Tuesday 19/2/13.

It’s alright, there is now a government forum, there are pledges;

“I am determined that children and young people should be put at the heart of the new health and social care system”.

The scandal is that it seems to be manageable diseases like asthma and diabetes that are a big part of the problem. These two straight forward illnesses are badly managed in adults too – many die too early as a result.

Funnily enough it seems like only yesterday that the government was claiming that it was going to put elderly people’s care at the heart of the health service.

It’s not just those at the start or the end of their lives that are losing out; many groups have life expectancies which are lower than the average. Off the top of my head; travellers, people in the North of England, Scotland, ethnic minorities, the poor.

People with mental health problems die much younger than they should from ordinary, physical illnesses.

Anyone with cancer in the UK is likely to have an outcome (that ominous word again) that is worse than most similar European countries.

A lot of this is plain old inequality in society being reflected in unequal access to healthcare. There are also some groups better able to exploit the system than others.

Some years ago I was working and driving fast through Hounslow on my way to a job. A little girl crossed the road in front of me without looking. When I say I was driving fast, my friends would laugh because they know how slow my fast is. So, no problem, but when she saw me she stopped and I was horrified to see that she had rickets.

Ricketts is a preventable disease of poverty or ignorance caused by a vitamin deficiency. My parents generation banished it when they fought for “no return to the 1930’s”

It’s why as a child I was given a little bottle of milk every morning, free at school. It was a measure stopped by Margaret Thatcher when she was schools minister in the 1970’s, to save money.

Everyone hated the milk. We would have hated rickets more. What really upsets me is that people don’t seem to care. A single case of rickets should have set alarms ringing. Today, there’s a lot of it about. Now when I listen, I don’t hear any bells.

 Neil Harris

(a don’t stop till you drop production)

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