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Dr Phil's Health Revolution

21 February 2017

Sunday 5 February, Tobacco Factory Theatre

A review by a Changes member

Phil Hammond is an NHS doctor, a writer, campaigner, comedian and last but not least a BBC Radio Bristol presenter. I first became aware of him as Private Eye's medical correspondent - he broke the story of the Bristol Heart Scandal in Private Eye in 1992. I'd always intended to go and see one of his stand-up shows and somehow never managed to, but his latest show combines two of his Edinburgh Fringe shows and I never could resist a BOGOF offer. Much of what he said made me realise quite how valuable Changes is to people in so many ways.

In the first half Dr Phil used his own family history as a way of talking about life, death and grief and how important it is to talk about all of these things. I suffer with health anxiety and these are topics that I can find really difficult but they were dealt with in an honest but entertaining way. The examples from his own life were heart-warming without being sentimental and were treated with humour without being flippant. I found it was half comedy and half therapy. Changes is such a useful space to talk about these subjects in a world where it can be hard to find a place to have these difficult conversations.

The second half talked about the NHS. The underfunding and creeping privatisation can be quite a demoralising subject, but Dr Phil talked about it in such a passionate way that it somehow managed to be a really positive experience. He spoke about the fact we're living longer so demands on health and social care keep increasing while funding doesn't. One way to help support the NHS, and the reason I really wanted to write this review, was Dr Phil's guide to staying well and not needing to visit the Dr so much. It made a lot of sense to me and it also made me realise how much Changes helps in all of the areas he mentioned. On average about 70% of what we can do to prevent illness is nothing to do with the NHS but is to do with how we live our lives. To stay healthy you need pleasure, plus passion plus purpose. With a shout out to Oliver Postgate's Clangers and their happy community on the moon, Dr Phil came up with this acronym for living well, with or without illness:

Changes has provided me with the opportunity for most of those things. Social isolation can be as bad for you as 15 cigarettes a day. Changes meetings have been a way out of isolation for me, as have the Boiling Wellness activity days and the secret Changes Facebook group. More widely I've established enduring friendships through Changes which have also developed outside of the meetings; these provide me with companionship and help to stay well as well as the chance to help others stay well.

People who learn and keep their curiosity alive, even when life is very difficult, are generally happier people and Changes has given me the opportunity to learn, to train as a facilitator and provided other volunteering positions which have meant constant learning and researching.

Activity is something everyone is aware helps to keep them physically and mentally well but I'm one of the many people find any sort of exercise regime really hard to maintain. The trick is to do something you enjoy. For me, attending Boiling Wellness days has helped me reconnect with the outdoors. It keeps me physically active one day a week but it also makes me want to get out and explore my surroundings more which I have done, just for fun, but exercise has been a side benefit.

Notice the world around you and savour the moment is really just mindfulness, which is something else I discovered through Changes. Being able to slow down and notice what is going on around me can push anxiety, depression and pain to one side, even if just momentarily and there are regular opportunities for Changes members to practise this in Vicki’s mindfulness sessions.

"Give back" is something fundamental to Changes and its peer support model. If you attend a meeting and you're able to give someone a smile or an empathetic comment you're giving back. And if you feel up to it at some stage you can train to help run a meeting or volunteer in another capacity. One of the things I've always liked about Changes is that even if you just attend a meeting and don't speak you are still part of that meeting; you are listening, so you are giving back. However small that may seem, in a bad week, if you're isolated and your days are empty, feeling heard by others can make all the difference.

Eating well is something else we all know we should do, but I was surprised to hear that the microbes in your gut are probably as important to your health as your DNA. Processed food and sugary snacks means a less diverse range of gut bacteria and the more diverse our diet the better. Every week we cook a healthy meal at Boiling Wellness and it's meant I have tried lots of new foods that I would never have done left to my own devices and it's really helped increase the variety in my diet.

Relaxing and sleep are probably the two "Clangers" I struggle most with and they are both difficult at times when you're dealing with anxiety, depression etc. But one of the main messages I took away was as well as trying to do these Clangers daily for yourself, try to help someone else with theirs, which is really just another way of saying peer support.

You can see this show at Komedia Bath on Thursday 9th March.

You can hear Dr Phil Hammond on BBC Radio Bristol on Saturdays at 9am.

You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Health Campaigns Together are organising a march on Parliament Square in support of the NHS on Saturday 4th March information at