It might have passed you by but, as of 2014, medical students no longer study nutrition, which has two concerning implications. The first is the welfare of patients, as many medicines and treatments depend upon the support of a healthy diet to work effectively, allowing symptoms to persist and worsen, even inducing further preventable disease. Secondly, as a result of this poor health care, the cost of additional prescriptions, hospital admissions, surgery, and doctors’ appointments will only add to the financial pressures currently plaguing the NHS.
Heart disease accounted for 12.1% of all UK deaths during 2014; studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits, vegetables and olive oil, is capable of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease CVD, which includes heart disease. Blood cholesterol is reduced, preventing blood vessels becoming blocked, inducing heart attacks, and strokes. Since it is estimated that strokes cost health and social care services £4.38 billion each year, reducing the numbers of cases of stroke would have massive financial benefits in both the NHS and social services.
In 2012, it was estimated that 850,000 people suffered from type 2 diabetes in the UK, costing the NHS £8.8 billion a year. Diabetes induces many complications which are expensive to treat, including visual impairment, kidney failure, CVD, and lower limb amputations. It may not always be possible to prevent the onset of diabetes using diet alone, however, diabetes medication will be ineffective if the diet is not controlled, wasting funds on prescriptions. Giving patients the guidance they need on how to obtain an enjoyable diet rich in all the nutrients they need, while reducing the amount of sugar they consume, will optimise the efficacy of the treatments given by doctors, saving the NHS even more money.
Another prevalent disease in the UK is cancer, with up to 42% of cases being preventable, and 5% being due to BMI’s exceeding 25. Since diet plays a significant role in weight control, helping patients to choose a suitable diet could reduce the numbers of cancer cases, again saving funds for the NHS. Bowel cancer in particular is sensitive to diet, and is highly prevalent in the UK. Encouraging the consumption of a high fibre diet is known to reduce the risk of bowel cancer, and once again, the NHS could reduce their expenditure by recognising nutrition’s importance in today’s society.
Other concerns as to the absence of nutrition on the medical syllabus lie in the diagnosis and treatment of nutrient deficiencies, as many deficiencies have similar symptoms, and can even co-exist; assigning the correct supplements in an appropriate dose becomes difficult. Similarly, diseases like anorexia nervosa and bulimia require careful treatment, not just psychologically, but also in the provision of all the nutrients they need during recovery.
Undeniably, the progress of modern medicine means that doctors are pressured to understand more and more information, and therefore some aspects of the medicine syllabus must be prioritised over others. However, with the NHS poor funding, finding ways to reduce expenditure while maintaining effective health care is essential. it is even possible that reducing NHS expenditure in this manner would allow a suitable contract to be drawn up for junior doctors, stopping the strikes that also present a burden on current finances.
Image courtesy of NHS Wales