‘Tis the season to be wary
Exclusive to NHS Networks: a leaked draft of a ‘Dear colleague’ Christmas message from the chief medical officer for England.
As we enter a period of heightened public health risk I know you will be eagerly awaiting some more advice from me.
The so-called festive season is fraught with danger. Now, more than at any other time of year, excessive consumption will contribute to the growing problem of obesity, which is a major factor in diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other life-limiting conditions, and costs the NHS £X billion. (Please insert latest figures)
Like most people, I enjoy a good, hearty meal, but as a very senior national medical officer I like to approach every course with all the facts I need to make an informed decision about the associated health risks.
When I hold a dinner party my guests always comment on my instructive menus, which contain clear warnings about potentially lethal ingredients and helpful advice to take away about healthy eating. Many of them leave early, no doubt to put the guidance into practice in their own homes.
Whilst I myself shall be “letting my hair down” with a small glass of mulled wine and a gluten-free low-sugar mince pie this Christmas, I shall also drink plenty of water and go for a jolly good walk to work it all off afterwards! (Insert web links to guidance on hydration and healthy exercise)
Turning to drink
As you know from my most recent letter, which you may wish to keep and re-read from time to time, excessive alcohol consumption remains a huge problem for the NHS, contributing not just to health conditions such as cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease and cancer (insert full list), but also to domestic abuse, public disorder, unemployment, deprivation, homelessness and other social ills. (Insert latest estimate of total cost to taxpayer of the alcohol burden)
That’s why I keep the guidelines for safe drinking under constant review and always advise people to keep a copy with them at all times, particularly at this time of year. When you’re raising a glass over the holiday season, it’s worth reminding yourself that the next drink may very well be your last.
I like a “good night out” as much as the next chief medical officer, but I always take sensible precautions and urge you to do the same.
For example, avoid places where smokers congregate. The dangers of smoking and passive smoking of tobacco are well known, but the new habit of “vaping” introduces the further risks of electrocution, serious injury from exploding e-cigarettes, addiction through exposure to fumes, and going on to use even more dangerous drugs (insert link to my paper ‘E-cigarettes: the Gateway to Smack, Crack and Crystal Meth’).
Pleasure – just say no
Always carry a copy of Public Health England’s Eatwell guidelines. If you must visit restaurants, avoid the fat, sugar and salt-laden carcinogenic items on the set menu and insist that the chef brings you a plate of simple leaves and grains or any of the other tasty alternatives set out in the guidelines.
After the manager has declined to serve you and asked you to leave, the Eatwell booklet itself makes a simple, nutritious snack to sustain you on your way home.
Senior figures in public health such as myself are sometimes accused of being “killjoys”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nevertheless, it is my job to help you weigh the benefits of ill-informed short-term gratification against the long-term risks of pleasure.
Of course a “little of what you fancy” probably won’t harm you immediately. It can however lead to serious illness and premature death.
If you really must have a merry Christmas, remember that moderation is always the best policy.
(Feel free to insert something about a happy new year.)
Public health editor: Dame Julian Patterson