The Blog

Britain's Healthcare Needs a Dose of Climate Change Common Sense

The current row about doctors working 24/7 is a smaller fray than other matters. My medic friends might slap me with a surgical glove for saying that, but there we go. The bigger issue is the lack of integrated healthcare.

Step back from the weeding performed at the frontline of healthcare and look at the whole garden of health. What do you see? Do you see bedraggled doctors valiantly staunching bleeding in A&E? Or nurses cleaning off yet another smattering of vomit? True, they are key parts. But not all of it.

Why, you could also see the social worker helping a teenage self-harmer after he's been discharged from hospital for his suicide attempt. You could see the cleaner helping a dementia patient in a nursing home find their way back to their room. And then there's the personal trainer helping a car accident victim regain the full use of their legs.

In the same way climate change isn't a sole country's problem, our wellbeing shouldn't be seen or treated in fragments. From surgeons right the way through to art therapists, they're all working to mend, heal and conserve our healthcare climate.

If we keep treating with healthcare in fragments, we will continue to exacerbate the flaws of what we're doing until the whole thing fractures.

That might seem as abstract a problem as climate change does. But people are dying, one microfracture at a time, from the lack of treating health as the single issue it is. As the government says on its website: "This is a problem within and across NHS services, and between the NHS and social care services". Fragmentation sucks.

There are plenty of academics and experts brighter than me beavering away on solutions. But like climate change groping its way to an expert consensus over far too many years, my concern is that solutions, if fragmented, won't let us hold the note we need to belt out better health without running out of breath.

Just like recycling the packaging of your air-freighted wonderberries from Turkmenistan might not be the best climate change contribution, so patching up a patient and releasing them without due care doesn't seem very sensible either.

It's easy to find fault. It's better to offer a solution. And this solution starts with seeing health as the single thing it is, much as the Qur'an points out that "mankind is a single nation".

Going back to your perch overlooking the health garden, you can now see lots of people trying, and sometimes arguing over, the best way to care for people. What might help them out is clear recognition that they are, in their own way, working for the same thing.

What we should do is identify the parts of healthcare as parts of the same thing. And we already have that label: the NHS. It's NHS social care. It's NHS health care. It's NHS cleaning. It's NHS dementia nursing. Or at least it should be. Look at the largest brands in the world. They use one identity because it's clear to communicate. Clarity is vital to a brand's value. Everyone knows L'Oréal's tune as it's the same song sung around the world: because you're worth it. Our health is worth it too.

There's a reason why 'out of sight, out of mind' exists as a phrase. By recognising our health for the whole patient it is - and clearly identifying it as such - we put any problems directly in our sight. In a new, fully integrated care world, professionals of a complete NHS healthcare system could join you on your perch and see the whole thing. No longer would the social care of released hospital patients be seen as a solo act. Fused together like armour wrapped around the giant frame of Henry VIII, this single identity can focus minds to end fragmentation; and, in doing so, our healthcare's frailty.

Unifying everything and ending fragmentation might seem about as tricky as uniting the Seven Kingdoms under the Iron Throne in Game of Thrones, but it can be done. And it should be done.

Just like climate change requires a unified solution, so healthcare requires a unified solution. What that starts with is the right perspective.