The Plastic Health Crisis

We’re publishing an original essay today by Dr. Sinéad Murphy, an Associate Researcher in Philosophy at Newcastle University and Daily Sceptic regular. She writes about how ‘health’ has become a plastic word, over-used and meaningless. Here is an extract:

In his book Plastic Words, Uwe Pörksen described how certain concepts come to acquire infinite flexibility and dominance, enveloping our powers of describing and understanding in their apparently profound ubiquity.

Plastic words are not technical words, Pörksen advised, which are often strictly limited to contexts and therefore of more or less restricted relevance. Plastic words are ordinary words, which have been taken from common parlance, refracted through one or other field of science, and returned to everyday talk with a new, broadened application and a new, somewhat ambiguous, authority.

Examples of plastic words are: “development”, “progress” and “communication”. Banal terms plucked from their historical parameters of use and conferred with a quasi-technicality that is not the less effective for being vague and accommodating.

Unlike jargon words, we can and do use plastic words freely and easily, Pörksen argues. We say that “progress in strategies of communication supports social development”, or that “development of communication styles is linked to progress”. In so saying, we have said very little – these statements do not mean anything, really. But we have also said very much, tapping into a seam of apparently scientific understanding that is sophisticated and worthy of being considered. We have given our talk a modern aura, and availed ourselves simultaneously of the unobjectionableness of common sense and the force of expertise.

Plastic words denote nothing, as Pörksen expresses it – the statement “progress in communication aids development” is nonsense. But plastic words are richly connotative. So much so that they suck the life from more specific, more nuanced, vernacular words, which are overshadowed by the apparent sophistication of plastic words and gradually fall out of favour.

There is an underbelly to using plastic words, however. The air of modern sophistication with which they infuse our descriptions is a thin one. Having revelled in its effect, we are bereft of any real appreciation of the stakes in whatever it is we have used them to describe, and must rely on professional analysis and advice for any substantial judgment. Using plastic words remakes us into clients of experts, Pörksen observes.

For this reason, the more we have recourse to plastic words, the less we are able to accurately describe and understand ourselves, each other and the world around us. Until at last we are at the mercy of expert analysis and advice, even for understanding events and negotiating situations that are quite concrete and personal.

Worth reading in full.

Fall in Child Dental Checks During Lockdown Sparks Fears of Generation With Poor Dental Health

The number of child dental checks halved during the past year of lockdowns compared to 2019, sparking fears that millions of children could now face a lifetime of rotten teeth and may need operations. The Telegraph has the story.

NHS figures show the number undergoing check-ups fell by 50% during the first year of the pandemic, with the worst trends seen among the youngest age groups.

In total, the number of under-15s who saw a dentist fell from 5.8 million to 2.9 million – a fall of half in just in one year.

This means less than three in ten children underwent checks, compared with nearly six in ten the year before.

The youngest children were least likely to have had check ups, with many likely to have never seen a dentist at all, experts said.

There were just 468,000 appointments for under-5s in 2020, a 60% fall from almost 1.2 million the year before, the figures show. This means just one in seven children under the age of five saw a dentist last year – compared with one in three in 2019.

Dentists said the lack of check-ups in the early years could leave a generation at risk of tooth decay, and forced to endure hospital operations, which could have been avoided with preventive care.

Tooth decay is already the most common reason for children aged five to nine to be admitted to hospital, with many enduring surgery under anaesthetic for want of preventive care earlier.

Latest annual figures show the number of admissions are twice those for acute tonsillitis, among children aged five to nine.

The new figures show millions of children have missed basic dental checks and treatment since the start of the pandemic.

“The current situation is truly shocking.” says Dr Saul Konviser, from the charity Dental Wellness Trust.

“Even before the pandemic, tooth decay amongst children was extremely worrying but the events of the past eighteen months have exacerbated things massively.

“Amongst some of the children that needed fillings, they now need extractions. The list of emergency appointments is growing by the day as we are scrambling to catch up.”

Worth reading in full.

People in England Waiting to Start Hospital Treatment Hits Record High

The number of people waiting to receive hospital treatment continues to rise, with 4.7 million people stuck on a waiting list by the end of February in England. This is the highest number since 2007, highlighting the impact of a year in which the NHS focused on Covid patients at the expense of many others. BBC News has the story.

Around 4.7 million people were waiting for routine operations and procedures in England in February – the most since 2007, NHS England figures show.

Nearly 388,000 people were waiting more than a year for non-urgent surgery compared with just 1,600 before the pandemic began.

During January and February, the pressure on hospitals caused by Covid was particularly acute.

NHS England said two million operations took place despite the winter peak.

However surgeons said hospitals were still under huge pressure due to the second wave of Covid, which had led to “a year of uncertainty, pain and isolation” for patients waiting for planned treatment.

Tim Mitchell, Vice-President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, has asked how much longer those whose treatments have been delayed can be expected to wait.

Although the most urgent operations for cancer and life-threatening conditions went ahead, hundreds of thousands of patients waiting for routine surgery such as hip and knee operations, cochlear implants and vascular operations had their treatment cancelled or postponed.

People have been patient as they’ve seen the battering the pandemic has given the NHS, but how much longer can they be expected to wait?

This news again highlights the importance of Professor Karol Sikora’s oft-repeated, yet consistently ignored proposal for a Government press conference to be held which is entirely dedicated to non-Covid related illnesses.

Worth reading in full.

Physical Inactivity Doubles Risk of Covid Death, Study Suggests

US researchers have linked physical inactivity to an increased likelihood of Covid leading to hospitalisation and, ultimately, death. Their study suggests that the odds for death were 2.49 times greater for patients who were consistently inactive compared with patients who were consistently active. The Telegraph has the story.

Inactive coronavirus patients are more than twice as likely to die from the disease compared to people who exercise for the recommended 150 minutes a week, a new study suggests. 

Researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center in California, studied the medical records of nearly 50,000 people who were diagnosed with coronavirus between January and October last year.

They found that being consistently inactive more than doubled the odds of hospitalisation compared with being regularly active.

Patients who were consistently inactive were 73% more likely to be admitted to intensive care than fit patients. 

The odds for death were 2.49 times greater for patients who were consistently inactive compared with patients who were consistently active.

The researchers found that inactivity was the biggest risk factor for the disease after age, and having a history of organ transplant. 

Even patients who were inconsistently active had lower odds for severe Covid when compared to those who were consistently inactive, suggesting any amount of physical activity has benefit.

Dr Robert Sallis, a sports medicine physician at the medical centre that conducted this research, said that the findings should act as a “wake-up call”.

This is a wake-up call for the importance of healthy lifestyles and especially physical activity…

People who regularly exercise had the best chance of beating Covid, while people who were inactive did much worse.

Walk 30 minutes a day, five days a week at a moderate pace and that will give you a tremendous protective effect against Covid.

Around half of those studied had no underlying health conditions.

Worth reading in full.

The Measure of Man

We’re publishing a new essay today by Sinéad Murphy, a Research Associate in Philosophy at Newcastle University, about the light that the work of the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer can throw on the Government’s handling of the pandemic over the last 12 months. Here are the three opening paragraphs:

One year later, and the Coronavirus Act that has enabled much of the UK Government’s lockdown has just been renewed for another six months. Debate in the lead-up to its renewal has included admissions from the Prime Minister of his failure last year to introduce measures early enough and ‘hard’ enough, submissions from Tory opponents of the Act showing that cases of COVID-19 are now so low as to make continued measures unnecessary, and ongoing concern by the bravest Tory of them all, Charles Walker, about the health of the population when measures continue in defiance of falling cases.

All of these aspects of the debate are important. But it is well past time for scientific analyses and disagreements in respect of measures, cases and health to be supplemented, perhaps even undercut, by a philosophical perspective. These concepts – measure, case, health – have this year been our bread and butter. We have bandied them endlessly, sometimes desperately. But are we fully aware of what they mean?

In a short essay from 1990, entitled “Philosophy and Practical Medicine”, the German philosopher, Hans-Georg Gadamer, provides us with just what we need: a philosophical account of the concepts of measure, case, and health, which reveals just how truncated has been the understanding and application of them during the past year.

Worth reading in full.