The Social Market Foundation, a UK policy think-tank, have published a report calling for fitness trackers to be issued to the poor and disabled to minimise the divide in healthcare between rich and poor. This is based on their belief that these groups may be left behind by the technological revolution in medicine because they cannot afford fitness trackers and they lack digital skills.
On the surface, this may seem like a good idea; if healthcare is moving in a technology-based direction, then it’s important to ensure that everyone has access to these resources. While it’s clear that technology is important for all medical advancements, it’s worrying that what the study has taken from this observation is that these advancements mean a future of ‘self-management’. As we see increasing NHS waiting times, a substantial lack of hospital beds, and more and more patients being advised to seek private healthcare, this advancement completely ignores the fundamental needs of the disabled and poor.
It should be obvious that these groups don’t need Fitbits, they need a healthcare system that’s available whenever they may require it. They need food, electricity, affordable social housing. They need a Universal Credit system that gives them enough money for these basic living requirements.
It shouldn’t need to be reiterated that the point of a national health service is to help everyone regardless of their medical condition or issue. Keeping an eye on fitness is one aspect of maintaining good health, but for most medical problems and disabilities it is certainly not a solution.
The report paints the poor and disabled with the same brush. It’s a panacea attempting to solve everyone’s health problems through ‘self-management’ without considering an individual’s needs. If this idea were implemented, the government would have to think carefully about why they were giving fitness trackers to individuals and what message this could send out. For example, a disabled person may feel patronised if they have tried to exercise but cannot. Also, those who live in poverty may find it very difficult to stay active; they may suffer from depression or personal difficulties. This reform is supposed to stop marginalised groups from being left behind by advancements, but it could in fact marginalise them further if their individual circumstances are not considered.
Since the NHS is struggling because of cuts, it seems that the report’s emphasis on personal responsibility is a way of cutting corners when it comes to medical treatment. Technology is great, but it’s not a replacement for the professional care that medical staff provide. They should both be improved alongside each other: a sufficiently-funded health service enhanced by inclusive technological advancements.
To issue fitness trackers but leave the NHS to crumble will not solve inequality. It will widen inequality as the rich turn to private healthcare and the poor are left with a health service struggling to cope. Oh, but at least they have a free Fitbit. If the goal is to ensure that healthcare is accessible to all then the first step is to pump more funding into the NHS. Necessary support comes from fully-staffed hospitals and sufficiently funded public services.