Golf on the NHS? Are they trying to kill us all off! RICHARD LITTLEJOHN on the NHS’s ‘gimmick’ plan to prescribe social activities to battle loneliness and depression

Never mind interminable waiting lists, the annual winter flu crisis and ‘savage Tory cuts’. The NHS has come up with a wizard wheeze to improve the health of the nation.

Golf lessons.

The theory is that patients with heart and respiratory disease will become less dependent on expensive drugs if they exercise more.

Middle-aged men taking part in a ‘golf on referral’ programme are reported to have shown significant improvement in fitness. They developed stronger muscles and ‘grip strength’, which is said to be a surefire indicator of overall health and longevity. Middle-aged men taking part in a ‘golf on referral’ programme are reported to have shown significant improvement in fitness Middle-aged men taking part in a ‘golf on referral’ programme are reported to have shown significant improvement in fitness

Patients, average age 68, are also said to have boosted their levels of ‘satisfaction, self-esteem and happiness’.

Trebles all round!

A six-week pilot scheme in South London proved so successful it is being extended to other areas, including Birmingham and Hampshire.

From April, it will also be available to those suffering from diabetes, depression and arthritis.

The NHS is in the process of recruiting 1,000 ‘social prescribers’ across England to see one million patients a year, suffering from an assortment of ailments, including alcoholism and loneliness.

As well as golf tuition, they will be able to refer people for dancing and painting classes.

I don’t want to sound callous, but since when has it been any business of the National Health Service to treat loneliness, or teach you to bossa nova?

You don’t need a ‘social prescriber’ on £25,000 a year to tell you to join an art class or take up ballroom dancing. Still, it’s only taxpayers’ money. A six-week pilot scheme in South London proved so successful it is being extended to other areas, including Birmingham and Hampshire. Stock image A six-week pilot scheme in South London proved so successful it is being extended to other areas, including Birmingham and Hampshire. Stock image

Look, I know it’s easy to mock. But someone’s got to do it. I’m sure these alternative treatments do some good, but they’re merely gimmicks designed to distract attention from the everyday reality of the NHS.

Let’s say you’ve got up at the crack of dawn to book an appointment with your local GP. You start ringing the surgery at 8am, only to get an engaged tone or a recorded message telling you that you’re being held in a queue.

When, if, you eventually get through you’re told the first available appointment is three weeks on Thursday.

After turning up ten minutes early and discovering they’ve treble-booked, you spend two hours thumbing through a dog-eared copy of Take A Break magazine before finally being allowed to see your doctor.

Only it isn’t your GP, it’s a locum. Your regular doctor takes Thursdays off to treat his private patients. Never mind, you’re grateful to see someone, anyone . . .

Good morning, Mr Jones, what seems to be the trouble?

It’s my lumbago, doctor.

I see. What’s your handicap?

Oh, I’m not handicapped, doctor. Just a bit of backache, tingling in the leg, the usual. Although, if you could see your way clear to one of those disabled parking badges, it would come in double-handy . . .

No, I meant: what’s your golf handicap? I’m guessing high teens, low twenties?

Eh?

How’s your grip?

Grip?

Do you overlap, or interlock?

Interlock?

You know, like Tiger and Rory.

Sorry, doc, but you’re not listening to me. I’m here about my lumbago.

Backache, tingling in the leg, you say? My guess is that you’re not rotating from the belt buckle on the backswing and you’re overcompensating with your right knee on the downswing. That can play havoc with your lower lumbar region. How’s your follow-through?

I beg your pardon? Look, doctor, I just want something for my lumbago.

My advice is to keep your head still and don’t lean back when you’re trying to get more loft on the ball. The club will do the work for you. Have you tried a sand-wedge?

No thanks, I’m not hungry, I’ve just had one of them new Greggs vegan sausage rolls. Bloody horrible, it was. I’m here about my lumbago.

Not sandwich, sand-wedge.

How many more times, doctor? I don’t play golf.

Well, then. There’s your problem. Hole-in-one. I’m writing you a prescription for six, one-hour lessons at the William Beveridge Memorial Golf Course.

Can’t you just give me some painkillers or something?

No need, Mr Jones. A couple of hours on the driving range should do the trick. You’ll be right as rain in no time.Fore!To be serious for a moment (don’t worry, not for long), most doctors would rather their patients addressed problems like high blood pressure through lifestyle changes, such as diet and taking more exercise, rather than relying on drugs. To be serious for a moment (don’t worry, not for long), most doctors would rather their patients addressed problems like high blood pressure through lifestyle changes. Stock image To be serious for a moment (don’t worry, not for long), most doctors would rather their patients addressed problems like high blood pressure through lifestyle changes. Stock imageBut where did anyone get the idea that advising middle-aged men to take up golf was the answer? It’s not just the money, even though whatever this scheme is costing is a mere drop in the water hazard protecting the 15th green, compared with the £127 billion we’re splurging on the NHS in the coming year.No, I’m talking in clinical, not financial, terms. Unless you have ice in your veins, or the patience of a saint, golf won’t lower your blood pressure, it will send it through the roof.Never mind the bacon banjo before teeing off or the sausage and egg baguette at the ninth. There’s the nips from the hip flask on the way round and the plate of chips at the 19th Hole, washed down with a few pints or a couple of bottles of something red.Or was that just me?I tried golf for a couple of years. Believe me, there’s nothing healthy about it, especially if you’re as useless as I was.OK, so you’re in the fresh air and, if you’re any good, you get a brisk walk of just over five miles on the average course. That’s if you don’t take a buggy because your knee’s playing up.But when you’re hacking the ball all over the shop, a bracing five-mile stroll becomes an exhausting Falklands-style yomp.There’s the ever-present risk of incurring any one of a whole host of common golf-induced injuries, such as tendonitis, rotator cuff damage, dislocated hips, tennis elbow etc.A 60-something friend of mine, who’s a good golfer, snapped his ankle in a rabbit hole. I tried golf for a couple of years. Believe me, there’s nothing healthy about it, especially if you’re as useless as I was. Stock image I tried golf for a couple of years. Believe me, there’s nothing healthy about it, especially if you’re as useless as I was. Stock imageWhen his operation on the NHS was cancelled, inevitably, he was forced to go private, costing him a small fortune.But the real danger is precisely that which this latest NHS gimmick is allegedly designed to prevent — an early death.If you’re rubbish at golf, you spend most of the time up to your vitals in the rough searching for the ball, blood pressure steadily rising to Farenheit 451.Take a look at most of the ruddy-faced middle-aged men on any golf course near you. Half of them seem to be on the brink of a fatal myocardial infarction.That’s probably because they are. The popular modern insult ‘Gammon’ could have been minted for them.According to a report from the American Heart Association, golf courses are among the most common places where people suffer a sudden heart attack. And only seven per cent survive.That might explain why golf clubs in Britain are investing heavily in defibrillators. They’d be better off getting rid of the caddies and hiring stretcher bearers.Maybe that’s the cunning plan. By prescribing golf lessons, the NHS aims to kill off thousands of middle-aged gits like me, thus saving billions in geriatric care down the road.Meanwhile, in late breaking news, yesterday’s Mail reported that researchers at Georgia State University have discovered that rigorous sex lowers blood pressure far more effectively than medicine. I don’t suppose there’s any chance of getting that on the NHS, but we live in hope.It would certainly be a far better way to go than pegging out up to your neck in sand, clutching your chest with one hand and a golf club in the other.

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