Saturday 18 June 2011

The Monetisation of Health

One of the tragedies of modern society is how being ill has been shamed. If you are ill, then “there is something wrong with you”. If you are ill, then you have to grovel to your boss to be given the day off, or you have to “work through it”, “soldiering on” because you need to “get on with it”. We congratulate those who have managed to fight against it and have come into work anyway, heralding them as heroes for “not letting it beat you”.

NO! You are ill! The tiredness you feel is your body telling you you need rest! The processes you go through, like vomiting or having the runs, that’s your body protecting you from the organisms that are attacking you! There is nothing “wrong” with you. Your body is doing its job. It’s the germs that are wrong. It’s the germs that need sorting out, so give your body a helping hand by giving it the time and energy it needs to recover.

Tom Hodgkinson, editor of The Idler and best-selling author goes one step further. “Being ill…”, he writes in How To Be Idle, “should be welcomed as a pleasure in adult life, as a holiday from responsibility and burden.” (UPDATE 7/9/11: My book review can be found here.)

So much medicine, whether pills from the pharmacy or alternative remedies, tends to relieve the symptoms, covering up the underlying problem rather than dealing with it. There are exceptions of course, but even those can disrupt our bodily processes in ways we don’t even know about and, in my opinion, should be a last resort.
What makes this attitude difficult, however, is the monetisation of health, and the monetisation of time. “Time is money”, as the overused and really quite inaccurate cliché goes. Well, if you’re ill, then that time is being wasted! That’s what your employer would say, anyway. I agree more with Tom Hodgkinson, when I am ill, in thinking “Oh great, I can lie in bed, watch old movies, stare at the ceiling, read books – in short, do all those things that I am always complaining I don’t have the time to do.” But that is not the view of the corporations, the government or even, by extension, your doctor. When was the last time your doctor told you to “have a week’s rest”, rather than “take this pill and you’ll be back to work in no time!”? It’s as though by being ill you’re committing some crime, which you will have to serve your sentence for unless you remain in denial and keep going as though nothing happened.

From both sides we are bombarded with expectations from the people who control the money – the employers on one side, the multi-billion pound health industry on the other. Both have monetised your health so that you’re a cog in their money-making machines. It’s sickening, and it’s disgraceful that our government has ever let it happen.
Why has no health organisation proposed the following: only work 21 hours a week, as the new economics foundation suggests? It would reduce stress levels on the one hand and also leave more time for us to look after ourselves and those around us on the other. Perhaps because this goes against the prevalent economic mantra of continuing growth at all costs?

Here’s a practical suggestion: When you’re offered a promotion by your employer, rather than taking a pay increase, why not take an hours decrease? It will save the company money in pay-rises, and give you more time to do what you want with your life!
Our economy is so much set up in favour of unsustainable corporate expansion, that issues that don’t have an increasing economic value just don’t get a look-in. Thankfully, our health system is in public hands, but we need to keep on the ball to prevent it from slipping into private hands. The Private Finance Initiative is one of many schemes which are already having this effect, and need to be reversed. As always, corporations are cunning creatures, and still have unprecedented power in the area of health, which guides policy and NHS expenditure. This power must be claimed back by those who should be really controlling the NHS – us!

Your health is not a commodity, for others to buy and sell, it is yours! So take responsibility for it yourself, and that includes taking responsibility for your healthcare provider. Be honest when you’re too ill to work. Work with your body, rather than against it in your recovery, and don’t fall foul to corporate interests who would take advantage of your illness for their own gain.
Images: "Strength to Last All Day" slogan from Aleve painkillers; 21 Hours report from New Economics Foundation.

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