Putting The Heart Back Into Politics

Prevention is better than cure, or so doctors always say. I must confess that although I am not an expert on the politics of healthcare, equally it would be remiss of me, given the importance attached to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, St Mary’s Paddington as well as Harley Street and Wimpole Street (all located in my constituency) if I didn’t take more than a passing interest in developments in state of the art health provision.

Like many people I don’t think I could ever have been a doctor myself. I am fairly squeamish at the sight of blood (certainly whenever I have blood tests I always insist on lying down as the needle goes into my vein, just in case I feel a wee bit too queasy). This is slightly strange as most of my mother’s family were doctors and surgeons. I have the greatest admiration for all those who work in our health service dealing with the sick and injured on a daily basis.

My interest in preventative medicine goes back many years. Instinctively I have a strong belief in the notion of individual responsibility and this should equally apply to taking care of one’s body and doing everything possible to ensure that disease and illness are kept at bay. I notice that governments (of all political persuasions) often find it difficult to draw a balance between providing helpful advice and appearing to be nanny-like in their concerns. Certainly people in this country (following the American lead, as so often) have become almost hysterical about smoking in public spaces as well as general dietary concerns.

However, I noticed that my weight had begun to rise in the first year or so of becoming a Member of Parliament ? all too easy given the limitless range of opportunities to eat and drink at receptions, especially at the various dinners that I attend in the City of London. I had a medical at the beginning of last year and for the first time my cholesterol level registered just slightly above the recommended norm. As a result I decided to eat a little less sweet food, drink a little less alcohol and exercise more vigorously with the result that over the past year or so my weight has come down to the same level it was when I left university in the late 1980s.

Accordingly, I was very happy to assist the British Heart Foundation, based in Marylebone, in promoting their recent campaign which you might have seen advertised on the underground and billboards here in London. This charity is keen that people should not make radical changes to their lifestyle but should instead walk a little more, use stairs rather than lifts for short journeys at work and generally keep themselves in trim.

I was also privileged to go to Harley Street to see with my own eyes some state of the art medical equipment which may play a revolutionary part in warding off heart disease. At least thirty thousand people per year die from heart disease and many others suffer from heart attacks, angina and breathlessness going about their everyday lives. The machine I saw in Harley Street is one of only three such machines in the UK at the moment but it allows you to lie fully clothed as you are X-rayed by an electronic beam laser scanner. Within minutes the doctor is able to identify by computer imaging whether your heart suffers with calcium deposits, the surest sign of furring up of the arteries.

It was with some trepidation a week or two ago that I went over to Harley Street and underwent this procedure. I was very impressed by the professionalism shown by all the staff there and within less than an hour I was walking out having been given a clean bill of health. In the meantime it was somewhat awe-inspiring to see three dimensional images of my heart and its arteries all pumping away furiously. Inevitably like any new fangled technology, this is currently pretty expensive and could not universally be afforded by the National Health Service. However, on the basis that prevention is more desirable than cure and given the tremendous track record of this new technology in identifying problems early ? thereby saving enormous sums of money, not to mention peace of mind for patients and their relatives ? I suspect it will only be a matter of time before the health service is in a position to provide care of this quality to many high risk potential heart disease sufferers.

I must confess admit it should be a matter of great pride for us all here in central London that we find ourselves at the forefront of so much technology that stands to improve the quality of life for so many of our fellow Britons in the years ahead. It so happened that later that day I had the opportunity to meet up with the Minister for Health in London, John Hutton, and I was able to tell him that at first hand how this treatment could be used to complement normal medical procedures.

Whether squeamish or not, we should all be proud of the amazing innovative work that goes on here in central London. Truly on medical advances we live at the forefront of world-class research.