Six billion plastic bags

27th September 2016

“A stitch in time saves nine!”

It was encouraging recently that since the imposition of the 5p charge on plastic bags; the number of bags used in the first year had reduced from 6.8 billion to fewer than 5.79 billion. I am sure like me you have noticed less plastic bags everywhere you look – in the street, on the roadside and up in the trees. It clearly demonstrates the significant impact of small changes at a universal governmental level.

What can we learn from this in health?

The effect of the Government smoking ban brought in by the previous Labour Government in ….had a significant impact in the number of patients coming to smoking cessation services and stopping smoking, as well as a dramatic decrease in passive smoking for the rest of the population. The Paracetamol packing changes and severe restriction on Co-Proxamol has similarly been the only action that has had a significant impact on suicide prevention, particularly targeting those impulsive overdoses in younger people.

We have seen locally  how  system wide  approaches can help with  prescribing  and   avoid  difficult  conversations  for individual GPs    – such as  stopping prescribing  gluten free  products  to adults and   sip feeds in care homes.

It is baffling therefore similar approaches have not been used to address other significant health problems, such as:

  • Obesity continues to be a major health problem and will only get worse in the foreseeable decade
  • We are seeing that first hand with increasing numbers of diabetics being diagnosed in our North East Essex Service with an increase in diabetics of 2500 in two and a half years (15%). The lack of any meaningful Government policy in terms of addressing unhealthy food with high fat and high sugar fizzy drinks is inexplicable

Similarly with alcohol, despite clear evidence from a large University of Sheffield review published last year that minimum alcohol pricing would have a significant impact on alcohol consumption, specifically targeting problem drinkers has been ignored. At a time of considerable strain on police services and emergency departments, often in the frontline of alcohol fuelled problems, it is hard to comprehend.

We all recognise we work in a political NHS but sometimes you think these actions would be no-brainers, even for politicians.