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Farmer’s Tan

As a nation we love to talk about the weather and in my experience we do so often. It can be a way of starting a conversation with a stranger or a way of breaking an uncomfortable silence with a friend, family member or loved one.
We can’t even escape it if we pick up a newspaper or switch on the television and radio to listen to the news. It can unite us and it can divide us. In fact, so significant is the impact that the weather is having on people that it is no wonder it features regularly as a topical item for discussion.
In relation to healthcare, most professionals dread the winter months, as during this period our elderly and most vulnerable are at the greatest risk from the extremes of the weather.
Primary and secondary care nearly buckles under the weight of unprecedented demand year after year and each winter takes longer and longer to recover from.
Indeed, many who work in healthcare are already bracing themselves for this year’s winter onslaught.
There is already panic spreading into every boardroom of every Hospital and CCG across England, as the sudden realisation dawns upon us that all of the winter pressure wards are still open from last year, so where will we put our patients?
But it isn’t just the cold that we need to concern ourselves with. This year has seen severe snow, lots of rain, flooding and not enough sunshine.
The lack of sunshine becomes even more problematic, especially if we consider sunshine in relation to Vitamin D. Small amounts of Vitamin D can be obtained from food such as oily fish, eggs and fortified cereals, but mostly it is synthesized by the body through exposure to sunshine.
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to bone and muscle problems – yet another impact of the unpredictable weather patterns here in England.
The question therefore is, “should everybody in England be on Vitamin D supplements at certain times of the year?” Previous advice suggested this should be the case, particularly for pregnant women, people who are not exposed to the sun regularly and ethnic minority groups with dark skin.
New guidelines from Public Health England extend this advice to cover everybody in the UK during autumn and winter months.
The advice from Public Health England is supported by research carried out by the University of Manchester and Salford Royal Hospitals.
In a study of white children aged 12-15 it was found that 16% of those involved had lower than required levels of Vitamin D in their blood by the end of the summer period. This study focused on one season of the year and when it was extended to cover all four seasons, the study concluded that 75% of those involved failed to reach the level it should be by the end of winter.
As such, future studies are now underway focusing on people aged 65-84. The impact of poor muscle and bone health will be another significant health concern and financial headache for the NHS in the future, especially with an ageing population.
If 1 in 5 of the population will not get the necessary Vitamin D from the sun that is required to prevent bone disease, then action must be taken.
Regardless of how impractical or undesirable it is, the only course of action is to consider supplementation for all. At first glance, this may seem like yet another thing for GPs to do in their already busy day. But, if Vitamin D was prescribed to all during autumn and winter then these recommendations have the potential to alleviate some pressure on services, at the very least by avoiding the need to refer patients for screening for Vitamin D deficiency.

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Fallout from EU Referendum.

On the 24th June 2016 the people of the UK made the decision to leave the EU, a decision that has since sent shockwaves across the entire global community. Politically, this has sent the country into chaos with changes and challenges of leadership across the three main political parties. Economically, the impact is widely expected to result in recession in the UK, which could then have a knock on effect and force other EU countries down the same path.
With the decision to leave predicated on strong views concerning NHS Funding and Immigration policies, it now seems ironic that these two issues, along with economic gloom, once again plunge the future sustainability of the health service further towards uncertainty. Furthermore, with the ‘Leave’ campaign distancing themselves from claims that were made indicating that funds previously sent to the EU could be reinvested into the NHS, this is an uncertain time for many of the 110,000 EU healthcare workers who already work tirelessly to deliver more with less resources.
Previous estimates relating to shortages in both the future Medical and Nursing workforces may potentially pale in comparison to the reality, especially when one considers that the UK has traditionally tried to fill existing gaps in healthcare workers from abroad. A huge majority of these workers – 10% of Doctors and 20,000 Nurses, have come from other EU countries. With already rising social unrest and concerns over existing immigration policies the current challenge of motivating, recruiting and retaining an already disenfranchised GP profession will continue to escalate, especially if no help is perceived to be coming from anywhere other than inside the UK. The GMC is currently exploring how doctors from the EU will be granted access to the UK medical register once the UK is no longer a member state. As it stands, the EU vote will have no impact on the current registration of any doctor on the register, but there may be implications relating to regulation in coming years.
In the aftermath of a heavily sensationalised and manipulative leave campaign, many of us now ask if it was right to trust such an important decision to the people, especially when the outcome now stands to jeopardise so much. Should this have been left in the hands of people with the power, knowledge, experience and understanding to assess the impact on our services, our economy and our health care system? It’s too early to be able to ascertain with any great certainty, but one thing is for certain there is an ageing population. By limiting free movement of skilled workers, we are widening the gap concerning demand and supply for our health care services and we are pushing our already heavily burdened finances a step closer to the brink of destruction.