Friday 10 February 2017

If in doubt, blame the fat kid

The NHS is in the depths of its annual winter crisis, with waiting times and demand at record levels, as the Telegraph reports:

The number of people waiting more than two months to start cancer treatment after an urgent referral was 25,157 in 2016 - the highest on record and almost double the 13,191 in 2010.

Official figures for December reveal just 86.2 per cent of A&E patients were seen within four hours - the worst figure on record.

One of the few benefits of the annual NHS crisis is that it focuses people's minds on the reasons why demand for health care is rising. Most of the time, people are happy to blame the usual scapegoats of smokers, drinkers and fatties, but this is rhetoric designed to pursue political objections. Most of the people in the health service know that it is nonsense and that the real cause of rising demand is the rapidly ageing population. When the winter crisis hits, this has to be acknowledged, because you stand no chance of solving a problem until you know what it is.

But there's always one chump who cannot see beyond 'public health' mythology. I hereby nominate Dr Ian McColl as my Moron of the Month...

Lord McColl, a former shadow health secretary and former professor of surgery at Guy's Hospital hit out at the dietary habits of young people during a House of Lords debate about rising pressures on the NHS.

"It's not so much the old people getting older - because old people have always been getting older," he said.

"The difference in the last 30 years is the grotesque increase in young people getting fatter and fatter."

This is so mind-bogglingly stupid that it barely requires rebuttal, but here are some facts. The graph below shows usage of A & E by age group.

The oldest age groups, along with infants, are most likely to attend A & E - and their numbers are growing rapidly. As the Telegraph notes:

Health officials say the service is coping with "unprecedented" pressures amid a rising ageing population, with an extra 1 million people aged 65 and over since 2010. 

Here are the reasons why people go to Accident and Emergency:

Unsurprisingly, they are mostly accidents and emergencies, not chronic obesity-related conditions. In any case, you would have to be extremely obese to suffer from an obesity-related condition as a teenager.

And even if people were turning up to A & E to have their obesity-related conditions treated, teenagers have a lower rate of obesity than any older age group. 11 per cent of 16-24 year olds are obese, compared with 34 per cent of 55-64 year olds or 29 per cent of 75-84 year olds.

Yes, it is true that 'old people have always been getting older' (actually, it isn't, but let's be charitable and assume he means since the NHS was created). It is also true that the NHS budget has always been rising. It takes wilful ignorance or flat-out imbecility not to see that these two facts are connected.

It should go without saying, but let's say it anyway: the winter crisis in Accident and Emergency is not being caused by a glut of fat teenagers needing urgent treatment for their (largely non-existent) obesity-related diseases.

PS. In not entirely unrelated news, I call for the abolition of the House of Lords in today's City AM.

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