How to fix the NHS
July 21st 2017, 12:17
The key is building a parallel system of preventative care, says Rob Verkerk
The sooner our politicians stop thinking that money is all that's needed to fix our crumbling healthcare systems, the better off and healthier we'll be. Eventually, we must accept the risk that the system may never fulfil its intended function very well, and not be shocked if we're left stranded on our own.
Sadly, that's how it is with our drug-dominated healthcare systems. Drugs don't work for most of the conditions that drain our healthcare systems: cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, arthritis and mental health disorders. The late Dr Allen Roses, then at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), had the right idea in 2003 when he said, "The vast majority of drugs—more than 90 per cent—only work in 30 or 50 per cent of the people." But he was being optimistic, perhaps to keep his job. The journal BMJ Clinical Evidence, after evaluating around 3,000 medical treatments, found
that only 11 per cent were of true benefit to patients.
Over the last 50 years or so, pharma companies have influenced medical training, and treated family physicians and general practitioners (GPs), the first line of contact with the public, as sales reps. These docs are good at prescribing drugs, but less skilled at knowing which factors in a patient's lifestyle need changing to help them deal with their disease. Those who do have the required knowledge lack the time to do justice to the multifactorial, non-pharmaceutical approaches which, in any case, are the domains of the naturopathic, functional, lifestyle and traditional medicine practitioners who have been shoved to the margins of mainstream healthcare.
In 2016, the International Trade Administration of the US Department of Commerce quoted pharmaceutical sales of $333 billion—or an average spend of $1,036 per every US citizen. Of this, 70 per cent went for patented drugs, 21 per cent for generics and a mere 6 per cent for over-the-counter (OTC) drugs; the pattern is generally similar in the rest of the West.
This is evidence that our societies are totally invested in patented drugs, and the pharma industry (which relies on patents) remains firmly convinced, as suggested by Bruce Lehman, president of the International Intellectual Property Institute, that "patent exclusivity is the only effective way to protect and receive a return on that investment".
Yet, evolutionary biology tells us that what our bodies really need for health has always been around us, helping to make us resilient and responsive to a constantly changing environment. This includes foods and the natural healing compounds—the 'original' drugs—they contain.
Our bodies have over 135 metabolic pathways that need to be modulated according to our specific needs at any given time, and require information from enzymes and signalling compounds made internally or consumed as plant nutrients, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other nutrients. Every year we learn more about the way these naturally occurring compounds influence our body's pathways, metabolism and gene expression, as well as how they interact with the gut microbes on which we depend.
But as for knowledge, we're still in kindergarten when it comes to dealing with complex, chronic diseases, and pharma-dominated medicine seems to have been barking up the wrong tree for over half a century. How can it make sense to expect that a patented chemical the body has never seen in its evolutionary history—and which will likely fall out of favour once its patent has expired—will be a miracle cure?
The answers to our current healthcare crisis lie in harnessing the power of nature. It's already happening in energy and agriculture, so why should healthcare be any different?
The lip service currently being paid to sustainable healthcare is more about throwing good money after bad into a broken system or lessening its negative impact on the environment. But it should be about creating an effective system that can be maintained without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Let's build a parallel system that actually works, that initially functions alongside the current one. Let's build from the bottom-up, using the most current knowledge of our physical, physiological and psychological needs.
That's the main thrust of what we do at the Alliance for Natural Health International (www.anhinternational.org). We believe that contemporary healthcare systems would be considerably less broken without the burden of chronic and degenerative conditions that can be dealt with outside of the current system.
This means working towards effective, non-pharma-based self-care. For that, we need greater freedom in making healthy choices when choosing foods and supplements, and a liberal regime of health claims to help people discover what's good for them. For those who need guidance on their health journeys, they need suitably qualified and experienced practitioners, not drug dealers.
The main features of this parallel system are already in place, and most accept that it's just a matter of time. The current industry players, clinging desperately to the status quo, should either adapt or step aside, because the business model they rely on is already defunct and, in time, through the power of nature, will become extinct.