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Editor's Letter

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20 February 2016

9:00 AM

20 February 2016

9:00 AM

Welcome to the latest issue of Spectator Health, where we also welcome our new partners, Benenden. They are a very different kind of private health provider, specifically designed to work alongside the NHS. They also cost a mere £8.45 a month, with no medicals required and no upper age limit. They aim to relieve the worry of long NHS waiting lists and I am delighted to have them on board for a very personal reason.

My family have been members for years and I am very grateful for the help they have given to my mum in particular. Several years ago she visited her regular optician for a routine check-up. Usually they just chat about their families and the goings-on in the village. But this time the optician became very business like and said an urgent letter to my mum’s family doctor was required.

The GP was clearly very concerned and said my mum needed an urgent brain scan and referral to a neurologist. She phoned me that evening and my heart sank when she told me she had quadrantopia, meaning she was blind in the upper outer quarter of her eyes. This was not good news. It suggested a number of serious neurological conditions, including stroke or a brain tumour. The ‘urgent’ NHS brain scan was a month away and the neurology appointment a month after that. I knew two months was unlikely to make much difference to the outcome, but the idea of my mum sitting there worrying for so long was unbearable.

She telephoned Benenden and explained the situation, and they agreed to fund her going privately. Within a few days she’d had the scan and was sitting in the neurologist’s clinic. It transpired that she’d had several strokes. Mercifully, they had not affected parts of the brain involved in speech or movement. The neurologist surmised that her brain had compensated for the loss of sight, which is why she hadn’t noticed any symptoms. ‘You’re a very lucky lady,’ she was told at the last appointment. ‘We’ve caught this in time before any debilitating damage was done.’

She is now on medication to thin the blood, reduce blood pressure and reduce cholesterol. And I’m eternally grateful to Benenden for saving our family months of anguish. And all for a few pounds a month. To me, it’s more than worth it.

In this issue of Spectator Health we are lucky to have articles by several world experts in their fields. Professor James Malone Lee is an internationally renowned incontinence expert and one of the few doctors treating patients with chronic urinary infections. His groundbreaking London clinic made the news last year after managers tried to close it down because it was deemed too innovative and cutting-edge, going outside conventional guidelines to treat some of the most badly stricken patients in Britain. This attempted shutdown was sensationally reversed after a huge public outcry.

We also have a fascinating essay on the sugar vs fat debate that has been in the headlines. Like many others, I have been very confused by contradictory stories. Is saturated fat really so bad? And is sugar really the true dietary villain? Professor David A. Bender, a leading academic in biochemical nutrition at University College London, gives us his expert analysis.

Then there’s Professor Edzard Ernst, the country’s leading expert on complementary medicine and a regular Spectator contributor. His verdict on chiropractors and their work might surprise anyone who has sought their help over a bad back.

We are also honoured to have a cover essay by Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists as well as professor of psychological medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry and director of the King’s Centre for Military Health Research. His writes on the fascinating topic of war veterans’ mental health.

And of course we have our regular columnists, including Tom Chivers, Theodore Dalrymple, Christine Webber and David Delvin, Ian Marber and Maureen Lipman. In this issue Maureen has been quite cheeky and asked me a series of medical questions that have been perplexing her. I’m sure many of you can answer them far better than me, and I encourage you to do so on the comments section online. While you’re there take look at our portal, which has regular health news updates, information and expert analysis. You’ll find it at

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