DOCTORS should be able to prescribe Spotify to dementia patients instead of just dishing out drugs, our new Health Secretary has said.
Matt Hancock is a fan of “social prescribing” which means you could be sent to the gym or a yoga class if your GP thinks it would boost your wellbeing.
And it’s not just going to fitness clubs that could become doctor’s orders.
Medics could pack you off to bingo or tell you to join a knitting club if it could improve your health.
Mr Hancock wants to create a National Academy for Arts on Prescription and says these type of community interventions should be available to all patients by 2023.
Having worked as a cardiologist in the NHS for 17 years, I’m right behind him on this.
Right now, modern medicine is the greatest threat to public health. Many doctors are too quick to dish out pills.
Often they come with nasty side-effects, increase your risk of an early death and reduce your quality of life. I’ve seen thousands of people on statins when they would be better off cutting out junk food and taking a daily 30-minute walk.
By accepting a pill, they are not dealing with the root cause of their health problems. And they are unhappy.
Not only can these lifestyle measures and community-based prescriptions help deal with serious health problems, they will make you happier and boost your quality of life, too.
Exposure to arts and culture could improve a wide range of conditions, including mental health problems, ageing and loneliness.
Going to the library can beat stress, a condition linked to a whole range of illnesses from obesity through to depression and diabetes.
Reading a book is more relaxing than watching telly or checking your phone. It’s a quiet, calm environment that is great for mental health.
Volunteering to help others or give something back to your community is good for you.
Gardening is good for both mental and physical health.
Writing or cooking classes can help you relax and they combat loneliness.
Who wouldn’t prefer this to popping a pill?
I have started prescribing meditation to many of my patients.
Those with chest pain or heart disease find it helps with their symptoms. I have been advocating lifestyle medicine for many years.
It has been proven to lower your risk of chronic illness but it also makes you feel happier in the short term.
Perhaps we should include a prescription for time off social media. You may feel better if you actually meet a friend for a coffee as opposed to spending hours chatting to them via the net.
I tell my patients to switch off for two to three hours before going to bed. It helps sleep and getting a good night’s rest can reduce your chances of many illnesses, including cancer and heart disease.
Acupuncture might not cure cancer but perhaps it will ease the symptoms, and an hour of yoga might take your mind off it for a while.
Owning a pet can help your physical and mental health, so don’t be surprised if your GP advocates buying a dog.
It may sound airy fairy, but it really isn’t. There is good science behind it.
The town of Frome, Somerset, has seen a dramatic fall in hospital admissions since it began a community project to combat isolation.
Set up by GP Helen Kingston in 2013, the Compassionate Frome project employed “health connectors” to help patients plan their care and “community connectors” to help them find support.
Sometimes this meant handling debt or housing problems, sometimes joining choirs or exercise groups.
They found it reduced loneliness, which can exacerbate illness.
Preliminary results from the area have found it may lead to fewer hospital admissions and allow savings to the health budget.
Diabetes costs the NHS £10billion a year. But research has shown that those with type 2 diabetes can put themselves into remission by taking up a healthy diet and exercise.
If doctors prescribe this, rather than pills, the NHS would save hundreds of millions that is currently spent on medications to treat the disease. And patients would not be having the nasty side-effects they get taking pills.
Lifestyle medicine should be at the forefront of the NHS.
If we do that, I have no doubt that within a few years we can make a real difference to our NHS crisis.
We will make the population healthier, happier and more productive from an economic perspective.
It is good to know Matt Hancock is fully on board with making this happen.
But there is a caveat.
Our environment and social circumstances also have to be conducive to helping people live healthier lives.
At the moment we have a discrepancy where doctors may give you a social prescription, which involves going to the gym or a slimming club, but then you walk out of the hospital corridor straight into a vending machine full of chocolate bars and fizzy drinks.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, has promised to sort this out, but the Government must address it as a priority so patients can swim with the current rather than against the tide.
If it doesn’t, these wonderful changes that Mr Hancock advocates will only have a limited impact.
- Dr Malhotra is an NHS cardiologist and best-selling author of The Pioppi Diet.