He was on BBC1 last week making his point to Dr Chris van Tulleken, presenter and title character of The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs. He was dangerously sitting down as he spoke – and so, presumably, were most people watching.
Van Tulleken, who is rapidly becoming one of the most compelling characters on telly, was on a mission. He wants the country’s GPs to provide a real “health service”, not what he calls a “drug-prescription service”. And he wants us all to cut down on the drugs we take – an estimated 100,000 tablets in an average life.
Towards the end of his two-parter he offered a group of chronic pill-poppers a “miracle cure” for just about everything. Well, for obesity, joint pain, heart and stroke risk, type 2 diabetes and depression. Walking. A daily good brisk walk.
Hooray for me. Because I get that already. But most people, it seems, don’t. Most people would rather get a pill from the doctor to tackle their aches and pains.
But here’s the thing Dr Chris and his selected experts found. Painkillers don’t work. Not for long, anyway. Over time they actually make things worse.
In episode one we met Wendy, who had been taking pills for 20 years for shoulder pain. More and more pills – but she still had the pain. Over a two-week trial she took a mix of real and dummy pills. There was no corelation at all between the ups and downs of her reported pain and the fact that after a few days she was taking only placebos. She couldn’t tell the difference. Her drugs were costing the NHS a bomb and doing nothing to help her. After a few weeks off the pills and on a course of exercise she started showing real improvement.
Then there was Sarah, addicted to antidepressants after being on them for eight years from age 16. Still stuck in a grim life of depression. Living, as she put it, “in a chemical fog”. Dr Chris started weaning her off the pills and put her on a course of invigorating wild swimming in cold water. Which is great as long as she can get child care for the delightful toddler who is also a key component of her treatment, as well as a potential impediment to it.
Crystal had a life ruined by unexplained pain. After 20 years of dependency on a 30-a-day pill habit she could hardly walk and had real difficulty with stairs. Dr Chris’s unlikely prescription was a course of kung-fu training – which seemed to be working a treat.
All this miracle-working takes time and attention from the doctor. And when you only have 10 minutes at most for each consultation, that’s not possible. It’s so much quicker and easier just to write out a prescription.
And then there’s the constant advertising pressure from the drug companies, applied both to the GPs and all the rest of us.
Drug research is expensive and it’s done a lot to make our lives longer and more comfortable. But it’s also got us hooked on a massive dose of things we don’t need – at best.
The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs was first-rate telly, but a tiny prick in the arm against the might of the pharmaceutical industry. It opened such a can of worms that I’ve only scratched the surface in my synopsis here. And I want to know a lot more.
If he’s to do any real good, Van Tulleken needs a series of Bake Off longevity and popularity. Real reality TV. That’d be worth sitting down for.
So will Labour now set aside its internal bloodletting and get back to the real job? We can but hope. The need for an effective Opposition has never been greater.
Meanwhile, the view from Scandinavia is interesting. It’s a part of the world renowned for being saner, happier, politically smarter than most others. And much of the Brexit talk has been about whether Britain should follow the Norwegian model.
So here’s Dr Jonas Fossli Gjersø, a historian at the London School of Economics: "From his style to his policies Mr Corbyn would, in Norway, be an unremarkably mainstream, run-of-the-mill social democrat. His policy platform places him squarely in the Norwegian Labour Party from which the last leader is such a widely respected establishment figure that he became the current Secretary General of NATO. Yet in the United Kingdom a politician who makes similar policy proposals is branded an extremist and a danger to society.”
Norway has had 50 years of Labour government in the 71 years since World War II. According to the United Nations it has the highest human development of any country in the world.