By Rob Verkerk PhD, ANH-Intl founder, executive and scientific director

In re-imagining what form a truly sustainable health system might take – as we have in our blueprint project – we’ve got to look beyond the individual and his or her ‘ecological terrain’ that we’ve discussed in a previous piece.

In this article, we look at the second key component of our blueprint model, the sustainability hallmarks. This is about finding a core set of principles that link together the diverse, varied and often complex ‘health systems’ that surround each individual with a view to ensuring that these systems work not only in the interest of the individual, but also in society’s interest. While the overriding language that determined the form of the ‘ecological terrain’ was ecology and systems biology, the overriding language that links together the wider health systems with which an individual engages is sustainability. That’s why we refer to these guiding principles as the sustainability hallmarks.

The 10 sustainability hallmarks – the video

For whom are the sustainability hallmarks relevant?

Healthcare delivery systems are failing, especially when it comes to dealing with downstream, multifactorial, chronic diseases that now represent around 70% of the burden in industrialised countries.

Most people want something that works better for them – and that will work for future generations. They want sustainable and effective health systems, not unsustainable ones that apply some ‘band-aid’ plasters here and there, that don’t deal with the underlying causes of their health issues.

In our blueprint model, we’ve identified 10 hallmarks to which health and fitness professionals, clinics and other healthcare providers who wish to engage with sustainability principles can sign up. In our forthcoming working groups, described in the final section of our UK blueprint report, we will be dissecting each of these and agreeing criteria and metrics that will allow healthcare providers to be accredited according to these standards.    

The 10 hallmarks of sustainable health systems.

So, who might these apply to? They are relevant to all the health professionals a person may choose to encounter, including doctors, other therapists, hospitals and clinics. Some of the hallmarks also apply to professionals in the fitness, movement and recreational sectors, from personal trainers to yoga and meditation teachers. Included is the incredibly diverse network of health and fitness related professionals out there who help individuals in communities along their health journeys. The more who are signed up to a common set of sustainability principles, the easier it is for individuals to participate with a collaboration of health and fitness professionals who are going to be working in their interest, for the benefit of communities and future generations.

Getting political

Presently there is a surprising dearth of principles that ensure healthcare providers work in the interest of the public. In actuality, the UK’s National Health Service’s Constitution for England is one that does exist, particularly with respect to its fourth principle (of seven):

The NHS Constitution for England, Principle 4. Source: UK Department of Health and Social Care.

Unfortunately, these are only words and there are no clear metrics that underpin it. There is not nearly enough being done to “support individuals to promote and manage their own health.” Nor are NHS services always tailored to “the needs and preferences of patients.”

Staying with the UK and the NHS, there’s also the ambitious Long Term Plan – that shares some principles with our own blueprint, including the need for greater individual autonomy over health, better collaboration and integration with community health services.

Download full 136-page NHS Long Term Plan

Download summary of NHS Long Term Plan

Our concern is that so much of the NHS – like other mainstream healthcare delivery systems elsewhere in the world – is still tied up with delivery of drugs and surgery. These systems are deeply entrenched in pharmaceuticals as primary interventions for most conditions and are a very long way from delivering the kind of healthcare support needed to foster balance across the multiple domains of an individual’s ecological terrain.

Transformation, not incremental reform

Our ten hallmarks aren’t a pipe dream. There are already many private healthcare providers who, in the way they provide services to the public, meet their essential tenets. Our blueprint project aims to evaluate their practical application in a diverse range of communities. We fully expect opposition in some quarters not least because our first and second hallmarks necessitate much lower levels of pharmaceutical dependence. There will be pushback on ensuring meaningful informed consent for any type of medical intervention – because this means information on alternate options must be provided when a given intervention is offered.  Often, that just isn’t the case. 

Increasing adoption of these hallmarks is going to be as much about changing the political and economic debate around healthcare as it is about the medical sciences and what’s best for the public, and what approaches are likely to be more sustainable than others.

We believe passionately that the pressure for change needs to come from the bottom up, not the top down. We also believe that change must be transformative and systemic, given the urgency of the spiralling chronic, autoimmune and mental health crises.

There has been ample time for governments and corporations to find ways of delivering healthcare products and services that are for the public benefit, that work with, rather than against nature. In healthcare, possibly more than in any other sector, profits have consistently been put before people. It’s now time for people power to weigh in and turn it around.  

Sharing means CARE-ing

Please share this article and associated video widely among those in your circles or networks who are passionate about fundamental healthcare reform – and are interested in seeing the principle of sustainability applied – albeit belatedly – to healthcare.

If you haven’t already, please also sign up for our free weekly Heartbeat newsletter from our homepage and find out more about our work, under the banner of our unique CARE strategy, that represents our Campaigns, Activism, Research and Education.