HRH The Prince of Wales writes in praise of the healthcare profession’s response to COVID-19 in an article published in Future Healthcare Journal (FHJ) and calls for the same integrated approach which has been applied to the crisis, combining science, public policy and personal behaviour, to be applied to tackling more chronic health issues.
Such an approach, The Prince of Wales says, needs to go beyond integrating treatment for individual patients - whether combining conventional, complementary or lifestyle approaches - to connect fully with local communities. This “systems approach”, he points out, should be taken in all health-related areas, from social inequalities to climate change and the planning and design of the built environment.
The Prince of Wales writes: “No-one who has witnessed the events of the past year could fail to be profoundly impressed with the dedication and selfless commitment of all in our National Health Service.
“Researchers have devised pioneering vaccines and treatments under conditions of the most pressing urgency. Public authorities have responded with patient persistence to an ever-mutating threat. Volunteers have given their time and their talents to assist those less fortunate than themselves. Communities have shown their willingness to make costly sacrifices to help society tackle its greatest-ever peacetime crisis. And the importance of taking regular exercise has been specifically built into Government guidelines.
“This whole experience has shown the transformative effect on health outcomes that can be achieved with an integrated approach combining science, public policy and personal behaviour. In this case, it has been the necessary response to a sudden acute threat. I have long wished for a similarly integrated approach to the more chronic health issues our society experiences.”
The Prince of Wales writes that he wants to see a better balance between short-term economics and the long-term good of the planet. He cites food, with its importance to good health, as an example, acknowledging that while an increasing number of people are seeking to buy good food, many may not be able to afford a healthier diet. This is due in part, he writes, to the “perverse economic forces” that encourage farmers, producers and retailers to offer less healthy food because it is cheaper.
“Doctors have a crucial role in affirming the importance of good quality food just as they do good quality medicines,” The Prince of Wales writes.
He also describes being a long-time advocate of social prescription, which he believes may be key: “Social prescription enables medicine to go beyond pills and procedures and to recognise the enormous health impact of the lives we lead and the physical and social environment within which we live.”
Issues facing young people are among those demanding such an approach, says The Prince of Wales: “When we hear that a quarter of 14-16-year-old girls are self-harming and almost a third of our children are overweight or obese, it should make us realise that we will have to be a bit more radical in addressing these problems. And though social prescription cannot do everything, I believe that used imaginatively it can begin to tackle these deep-rooted issues. As medicine starts to grapple with these wider determinants of health, I also believe that medicine will need to combine bioscience with personal beliefs, hopes, aspirations and choices.”
He writes: “I believe it is more important than ever that we should aim for this middle ground. Only then can we escape divisions and intolerance on both sides of the conventional/complementary equation, where on the one hand, the appropriate regulation of the proven therapies of acupuncture and medical herbalism is opposed, while on the other we find people actually opposing life-saving vaccinations.
“Who would have thought, for instance, that in the 21st century there would be a significant lobby opposing vaccination, given its track record in eradicating so many terrible diseases and its current potential to protect and liberate some of the most vulnerable in our society from coronavirus?”
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Future Healthcare Journal is a triannual publication providing a forum for debate around the delivery of healthcare, with a focus on improving patient care and management through process and system change. It is published by but editorially independent of the RCP.