The NHS prioritising those with a ‘healthy lifestyle’? I think there's enough stereotyping already

Bit tubby? Back of the queue. Smoker? Back of the queue. Drinker? Back of the queue.

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The Independent Online

Yesterday it was announced that a ‘think-tank’ has recommended that patients who have a ‘healthy lifestyle’ are prioritized for NHS care.

This is a nonsense, ludicrous, doomed-to-failure strategy and yet the (usually) right wing, body-fascist, smug, holier-than-thou, huffer puffers have leapt upon the suggestion, smacking their lips together with barely-contained glee.

Here’s why they’re wrong:

Anyone who has had the misfortune to visit an A&E department recently will know that they aren’t just stretched to capacity, they are stretched far beyond it. Medical professionals simply do not have time to conduct an in-depth health assessment of every patient who enters the building. Which inevitably means they’ll have to rely on stereotyping, assumption and, ultimately, misdiagnosis.

And there’s far too much of that going on already, as I recently discovered.

Last month my spleen ruptured for, as far as the doctors could make out, absolutely no reason whatsoever. This is, admittedly, an extremely unusual medical occurrence. However, I was shocked at the extent to which, during my week in a London hospital, assumptions about my health and lifestyle were made on a perfunctory, inaccurate and often purely visual basis and the words which actually came out of my mouth were completely disregarded.

I am almost six foot tall and a size 16. Whilst I’m not drastically overweight, the antiquated BMI chart tells a different story - I do have an absolutely almighty and disproportionate bosom. I have an active lifestyle (not rock climbing, marathon running type active, but I’m always dashing about at high speeds and rarely sit still), I eat a very healthy and balanced diet and I do not smoke. My vice-of-choice is that I’m partial to a tipple and, prior to my hospital visit, I drank about two large glasses of wine on an average night. The latter is a fact I was foolish enough to share, in a moment of ill-advised candour, with my A&E Doctor.

When I was admitted to hospital with extremely severe abdominal and shoulder pain, difficulty breathing and a visibly bloated stomach, the aforementioned doctor was quick to inform me that I had ‘indigestion’ because I ‘drank too much’ and gave me a little tiny pot of anti-burp medicine. When this, unsurprisingly, proved to be an inadequate remedy for my symptoms and scans revealed I did not have gall stones (from ‘drinking too much’) or appendicitis, I was placed ‘under observation’.

Another doctor in the ward helpfully informed me that my stomach was not, in fact, as I had been insisting, bloated. Apparently she knew my body far better than I did. ‘Just……you know’ , she said. (She followed this vague statement with a hand gesture I took to mean ‘you’re a little bit fat’). She recommended I remained under observation. I insisted on having a diagnostic procedure. At no point during any of this was I considered to be ‘urgent’.

I was put on a not-particularly-high-priority list. Two and a half days after being admitted to hospital I finally went in to have what I thought was a routine keyhole procedure to look inside my tummy with cameras.

Eight hours later I woke up. They’d found a litre and a half of internal bleeding in my abdomen (that’ll explain the bloating, then) and had to perform an emergency laparotomy (where they slice you down the middle like a pirate would) to determine the source of the bleeding and eventually fix my broken spleen.

After my operation, I was told it would take me ‘longer than most’ to begin walking again because I’m a ‘big girl’. I defied that broken logic and astounded my doctors and nurses by walking, lifting stuff and leaving the ward in record time. A month later I am back to work, dashing about endlessly once more.

Despite the lazy stereotyping I was subjected to, my recovery proved that I am strong in both mind and body. Endless blood tests revealed me also to be in tip-top health.

Quite simply, if this proposed regulation is put into place then I and millions of others like me will be wrongly disadvantaged. Bit tubby? Back of the queue. Smoker? Back of the queue. Drinker? Back of the queue. Anyone who isn’t a lean, glowing, gym-frequenting whippet who eschews anything known to reduce life-expectancy (including, presumably, stress), BACK OF THE QUEUE, because your ill health is clearly your own fault.

It’s difficult enough trying to conquer the judgements already made about your lifestyle in medical circles, without it being enforced by official guidelines.

Two things stuck with me after my health-scare. The first is that had I listened to the initial advice I was given, or not been fortunate enough to be able to passionately stand up for myself and demand further investigation, I would now be dead.

The second is a comment by a family friend after the event, who said “do you think perhaps the doctors didn’t take you seriously because you have pink hair?”.