From Ultra Processed People to Sherston’s Surgery Woes

I’m reading Ultra-Processed People: Why Do We All Eat Stuff That Isn’t Food … and Why Can’t We Stop?

It suggests that rather than referring to products like fizzy drinks, snacks, and fast food as “food”, it would be more accurate to call them “Industrially Produced Edible Substances”. Yum.

Because they’re not food. They are reassembled chemical structures that fool our brains into thinking that they’re food, but have negligible nutritional content, and disrupt our body’s natural systems in ways that lead to obesity, diabetes, and general ill health.

But they are highly, highly profitable. And are aggressively marketed to children, and predominantly consumed by people on low incomes.

Here’s something I didn’t know – ice cream snacks are too cold when they come out of the freezer to smell of anything. So manufacturers put caramel-scented chemicals in the seal of the packaging. As you open your ice cream bar, the chemicals evaporate to tickle your nostrils with the alluring aroma that gets you hooked on their product.

How manipulative is that?! I don’t know about you, but I resent these drug-pushers using all the tricks of the trade to make me an addict.

This is one of the reasons that I get excited about community gardens. If communities can find pieces of land to grow fruit and vegetables, they can improve access to decent food (many people live in “food deserts”, with no shop selling fresh food within easy walking distance). Gardening provides exercise, and getting your hands in the soil is good for mental as well as physical health. Shared gardens allow people to share skills and improve the sense of community. What’s not to love about that?

Surgical Procedures

Last Thursday I was in a jam-packed village hall in Sherston for a meeting about the doctor’s surgery and its proposed amalgamation with a surgery 6 miles away in Malmesbury.

This local issue perfectly highlights several broader national (and possibly international) issues.

(Photo: with Cllr Martin Smith at the proposed site of the new Sherston surgery)

  1. Ignoring the wishes of local communities

Sherston knows that its old surgery needs to close. The building is no longer fit for purpose, and it belongs to the retired doctor who wants to sell it to fund her retirement.

So the community had taken the initiative and created a neighbourhood plan that included a small housing development to provide much-needed additional homes. And the developer was happy to include a building for a brand new surgery at no cost to the community or the NHS.

Seemed like a fantastic win-win, and the plan passed a referendum with 93% support.

But the regional NHS Integrated Care Board (ICB) said no.

  1. Bureaucracy

The ICB took several months to reply to each communication from Sherston. Replies like the “PCN Toolkit Briefing” were so full of bureaucratic jargon and acronyms that they were virtually unintelligible. With its nice little diagram of boxes and arrows illustrating “core”, “flex” and “tail” categories, it appeared to have been written by management consultants.

But no matter how prettily (if incomprehensibly) presented, its substance still made no sense in the real world.

  1. Cost-benefit as the only measure

ICBs across the country have been instructed to cut their running costs by 30% over the next two years. For an NHS that has already been cut to the bone, it’s hard to see how this is can be possible.

Doctors’ surgeries are not like other businesses. In some businesses it makes sense to centralise and consolidate to get economies of scale. But when the business is helping people who are sick or in pain, time and distance matter.
Given the surgery’s catchment area, some patients would have to travel 12 miles to get to Malmesbury. Many patients are elderly and don’t drive any more, and rural bus services have also been cut. How are they meant to get there?
Plus the Malmesbury surgery is already at capacity, with long waits for an appointment, which will only get worse as new houses are built and occupied.

The emphasis on efficiency and profitability has gone too far. This plan puts people’s lives at risk. Surely this is obvious to anybody with an ounce of common sense.

I’m not blaming the ICB. They have an impossibly small budget. I’m sure they’re doing the best they can with the resources they have.

Our government needs to decide whether it wants a functional NHS, or if it wants to go down the route of the US, with a predominantly private healthcare system, and where 80% of bankruptcies are due to medical bills.

Roz at Large

I’m writing this newsletter from Bristol where I’m speaking at the Blue Earth Summit, described as “Two days of inspiration and action forging a closer connection to the natural world for those who want to live and work more sustainably”.

This Saturday I shall be heading to Mid Beds with a carload of local activists to campaign for our fantastic Lib Dem candidate, Emma Holland-Lindsay, in the by-election triggered by Nadine Dorries (long-awaited) resignation. Would be great to take a second carload – ping me on if you want to join us.

Our new full-time campaign organiser, Poppy Evans, joins us on Monday, fresh back from her honeymoon. Join me in welcoming Poppy to the team!

On Wednesday 18th I’ll be joining a Parents for Future roundtable in Stroud to explore ways to strengthen community bonds and build resilience for the future.

We may also be doing a press event with Drinkable Rivers this coming week, to support their campaign to galvanise citizen scientists, clean up Britain’s rivers and stop the dumping of sewage. (Check the Rivers Trust real-time map to find out when you need to avoid sewage spills near you.)

On Saturday 21st October I’ll be at the Lib Dem dinner in Cheltenham, with deputy leader Daisy Cooper as the guest speaker.

On the afternoon of Sunday 22nd October I’ll be in Kemble for the community gardens fundraiser – very much looking forward to that and hope to see many of you there!

In the meantime, if you live in the Cotswolds you’re likely to see me out and about on a frequent basis. Look out for the yellow hat – and I’ll be under it!

Quote of the Week

“You are what you eat AND the information that you digest.”
― Frank Sonnenberg
Have a great week!


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