Over recent years The National Healthcare Service (NHS) in the UK has faced intense pressure to provide treatment to an ageing population while finding ways to cope with the growing prevalence of chronic conditions throughout the population and yoga is increasingly being viewed as part of the solution for the provision of modern healthcare.
With yoga recognized by many of the doctors and nurses of the NHS as a way to work smarter, to deliver better healthcare, all while increasing efficiency and reducing costs, here are a number of ways that the further integration of yoga into the NHS could be beneficial for everyone.
Tackling the growth of chronic disease
According to the UK House of Commons Health Committee, 70 percent of the total NHS budget in England is spent on treating people with long-term chronic conditions. A reflection of how modern healthcare treatment has changed over the years.
Initially set-up to treat acute conditions, the NHS is now faced with providing treatment for a variety of chronic conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory disorders – often requiring ongoing care at great expense.
The sheer volume of credible research into the effect yoga has on these conditions is becoming increasingly hard to ignore, and has provided the catalyst for active debate around the role yoga can play in the healthcare system.
Many of the overarching themes suggest that yoga might benefit patients by decreasing their distress, improving their functional performance, lowering blood pressure, reducing glucose levels and improving the immune system.
With many chronic conditions often associated with lifestyle behaviors and stress, empowering people to change any unhealthy habits they may have, and using yoga as the motivation for people to look after their own health, is an important first step to addressing the prevalence of chronic disease throughout the UK.
Stress, staff shortages and Brexit
The number of nurses from the EU registering for employment has fallen by 92 percent since the Brexit referendum in June 2016. The uncertainty surrounding Brexit has raised concerns among nurses from the EU around job security, with no one sure at this stage whether the same freedom of movement and employment opportunities will still exist at the end of the Brexit negotiations.
While the creation of a special NHS passport is being touted as a potential solution, the timing of Brexit coincides with a severe staff shortages among NHS doctors and nurses. The Royal College of Nursing states that England is currently short of at least 20,000 nursing staff, and the resulting stress when coping with an ever increasing workload is costing the NHS £2.4bn per year in absenteeism.
Considering mental health and musculoskeletal problems are the two biggest causes of sickness absence across the NHS, the question is how to best support the existing NHS staff during this challenging period.
The integration of yoga into wellbeing initiatives for NHS staff was introduced by Chief Executive Simon Stevens in 2015. The role of yoga was to help alleviate the stress and musculoskeletal problems that are contributing to absenteeism, compounding the effect of staff shortages that are currently being faced.
At a time when so many challenging questions remain unanswered, it’s undeniable that yoga can play an important role in not just looking after patients, but the staff that strive so very hard to care for them.
Biophysical care: both mind & body
Over the last decade, research into biophysical care has started to change perceptions of modern medical treatment. Traditionally, healthcare in the west has focused on the biological structure of the human body, with illnesses treated by modern medical science and prescription drugs.
While there is an undeniable place for modern healthcare provision, biophysical care contends that our behavior, thoughts and feelings also play a vital role in our physical health.
In 2016 the UK government announced almost a billion pounds of investment to improve mental health services across the country. Commenting on the announcement, Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of the NHS stated:
“Putting mental and physical health on an equal footing is a far reaching idea whose time has now come. A sea change in public attitudes coupled with an increasing range of effective mental health treatments mean that now’s the time to tackle the huge unmet need that affects families and communities across the nation.”
Yoga is starting to make inroads in conventional health care settings, and the growing body of research is encouraging Western doctors to prescribe the ancient practice to patients. Ultimately the combination of yogic exercise and mindfulness is addressing both the mind and body at the same time.
Ultimately using a combination of yoga practices and medical science to find the best form of preventative or curative treatment would incorporate the best tenants from both eastern and western medical philosophies. This could be to address physical conditions, or to improve the mental health of those living with depression, anxiety or stress related conditions.
Yoga makes financial sense
A large study at Harvard found that those who practiced disciplines like yoga decreased healthcare costs by as much as $2,434 per person per annum. Backed by further research from the Harvard affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital who found that relaxation response techniques (including meditation and yoga) could potentially reduce the need for health care services by 43%.
Boston Medical Center has also been successful in getting health insurance to cover the cost of yoga for those suffering chronic conditions. Considering one of the primary objectives for many businesses is to make a tangible impact on the bottom line, there appears to be a strong correlation between “investing in yoga”, and the relative expense of covering the healthcare costs for the treatment of chronic conditions.
The relative ease of practicing yoga, its accessibility and its suitability for people of all ages, is now seriously being considered as a relatively risk averse solution to the challenges faced by the NHS.