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Health before wealth

Voices | Published:

By Rob Duhamel

Rob Duhamel

Christmas for me this year has been more ‘no oil’ than ‘Noel’. Diagnosed with gallstones a few weeks ago, I have taken a good, hard look at my diet and realised that literally living off the fat of the land is not a sensible strategy for a long, healthy life.

The standard medical advice for my condition is to cut out the gall bladder, removing the ‘source’ of the problem but potentially creating future health and lifestyle difficulties. This approach is typical of modern health services. When faced with an issue, there will be a complicated and technical surgical or chemical intervention. Sometimes this may be the only course of action but for many health conditions there are simpler lifestyle changes that could manage or prevent the problem in the first place.

The Council of Ministers is contemplating spending half a billion pounds on a new hospital building – by far the largest capital investment the Island has ever made. The building will be full of expensive gadgets and equipment but this technology alone will not make people healthier. The choice of a site for this building has taken up much political effort and tax-payers’ money over the last few years. 2019 will see a final decision. Hopefully common sense will prevail and politicians will not settle for the current sub-optimal site. That would be a great shame and a waste of public money. In the longer term, there are other more important decisions to be taken.

A health department’s main emphasis should be on helping people to stay healthy with preventative healthcare schemes. Jersey has reduced the impact of tobacco with a smoking ban and funded programmes to help smokers quit but there is still much to do. Alcohol is associated with significant health problems but the government’s attitude here is more ambivalent. In this year’s budget, the Treasury Minister proposed a tax rise of 9.5 per cent on tobacco but alcohol duty increased by just 3.5 per cent – well below the overall cost of living.

A recent survey found one third of local 11-year-olds are overweight or obese. Although there is a welcome emphasis on health promotion in published government plans, this needs to be backed up by co-ordinated effort across all departments and dedicated funding to support healthy eating, exercise and general lifestyle-advice programmes. Health and happiness should come before wealth.

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