While people in the affluent world are living longer and healthier lives than ever before, they have become more and more fearful and worried about their health. Iona Heath untangles the distinct yet overlapping fears of patients, doctors, bureaucrats, politicians and society at large.
In about 1848, while writing his famous poem The Bells, Edgar Allan Poe invented the wonderful word 'tintinnabulation' to capture the sound of a ringing bell that lingers after the bell has been struck to mix with the sounds of succeeding bells.
I want to talk about what we might describe as the tintinnabulation of fear that is driving the huge profits of the medical industrial complex—each fear reinforcing and interacting with the next, just like bells.
Everyone is afraid of serious disease and its capacity to subvert and destroy hopes and lives, and so fear lurks, mostly unexpressed, within almost all symptoms, however apparently trivial.
Iona Heath, retired GP
These are very dangerous synergies and they are jeopardising the great projects of medical science and medical care. Firstly, there are the distinct yet overlapping fears of patients and of doctors, then of the bureaucrats and politicians who control the healthcare system, and of society and the culture that supports it. And secondly, there are the profits—the enormous amount of money that is made from inflating those fears, much of which is supported by good people trying to stop people dying of horrible diseases, but who succumb to a dangerous degree of wishful thinking.