Thursday, February 29, 2024

Medics demand: “Make poverty your first priority Prime Minister”

“Make feeding the poor and heating the frail your first real task in office.” That’s the plea from a group of senior medics who have told the incoming PM that “despair is not an option”  –  and that thousands could die of malnutrition, hypothermia and even suicide, due to the cost-of-living crisis.

In an open letter spearheaded by Dr Zahid Chauhan (pictured), the GP who delivered the first COVID vaccination clinic for the homeless on the planet, signatories shared their disbelief that they were practicing in a developed nation where financial hardship is having such a profound effect on physical and mental health.

And they called on Ms Truss to pep-up our hardworking primary care system now to deal with the coming swathe of patients who are sure to become sick in body and mind if the situation isn’t treated as an emergency. “Like my colleagues, I have seen a huge increase in illnesses directly caused by stress, anxiety, and a sense of hopelessness” said Dr Chauhan, “indeed some of our signatories believe 80% of their patients are in this category, now. Unlike in the early days of COVID, this problem is solvable with no need for miracle cures or protective vaccines. It just takes an administration with the desire to truly support ailing surgeries and walk-in centres and do more for the needy to alleviate poverty. We cannot have the current situation, where the poor are feeding the poorest through unsustainable foodbanks.”

Unusually, the doctors acknowledged publicly that patients are partly culpable for their own health but that “no amount of individual responsibility can mitigate against one of the few inevitabilities in life – namely, illness.” 

The group also expressed concerns for the health and wellbeing of overwhelmed NHS surgery staff – including nurses, hospital practitioners and mental health professionals. 
They felt that time restraints for appointments, a lack of expertise and an overreliance on increasingly struggling charities, was adding to a mental health crisis nationally, that had its foundations in the long lockdown. “As GPs we feel so frustrated that we can only spare people with desperate emotional problems just ten minutes. And filling-in a survey and dispensing medication to avoid catastrophe is the archetypal sticker plaster over a wound” continued Dr Chauhan. 

Hope was to be had in the dedication, professionalism and compassion of the NHS, the letter argued, qualities that were so evident during the pandemic.
“I do not think that during my long-career within the NHS I have ever been as proud as I am now of the colleagues around me” concluded Dr Chauhan, “and despite the feeling that government has let them down in the past, I can see the desire to work with decision-makers to improve physical and mental health. We signed-up to do this job often out of vocation and a sense of duty to the sick and needy. We acknowledge their desperate current plight and yearn to be part of a solution.

Our door is open to Liz Truss, and we would be delighted to be the first appointment on her schedule, so that we can discuss these issues and show compassion to those who need it most.” 

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