The promotion of “awareness” – of the risks of diverse forms of cancer, heart attacks, strokes and numerous other conditions – encourages individuals to monitor closely their own bodily functions and to submit themselves to regular medical inspection, screening and investigation. This intensified consciousness of physical symptoms is making people ill – from anxiety, and from overdiagnosis and overtreatment. It is also making doctors ill – from the stress of meeting the unsustainable demands they have assiduously fostered. A retreat from the medicalisation of life would reduce the vulnerability of both patients and doctors.
A little kindness goes a long way in the health service
The spirit of surgeon Dame Clare Marx, who has died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 68 offers an alternative to the misanthropic narrative of the BMJ. A pioneer throughout her career, Dame Clare was the first female consultant in the notoriously macho world of orthopaedic surgery, the first woman to chair the British Orthopaedic Association and to become president of the Royal College of Surgeons. As the first woman to chair the General Medical Council, in July 2021, she issued a moving valedictory message following her diagnosis with pancreatic cancer.
Dame Clare paid tribute to the colleagues who had helped her overcome the petty prejudices that she encountered in her stellar career. She also acknowledged the response of the health service to the Covid pandemic, indicating that “perhaps the greatest triumph is not what has been done, but how it has been done – through camaraderie, communication, and collaboration”.
Her wish for the future was that this spirit should continue, “so that every doctor and every patient experiences the compassion that defines first-class care”. Her heartfelt parting message to the medical profession was that “in a service short on time and short on resource, there is no excuse for being short on kindness and politeness”.