In hospitals around the nation, and across the world, one can find an impressive collection of machines. Complex, expensive and health-creating – and as the famous Monty Python sketch goes, even the odd machine that goes ‘bing’!
Machines that clean our blood. Machines that help us breathe. Machines so intricate and advanced that they can deliver the tiniest doses of medicines at a perfectly constant stream as to keep us asleep for hours but not let us slip away, nor wake-up.
These machines are essential. They represent decades, some even centuries of technological advancement and they should be admired and valued with respect.
In short, these machines save lives.
An unhealthy reality
But one type of machine, found in our publicly funded institutions of health, represent something very different. They do not make medical miracles possible and they most definitely do not go ‘bing’.
These machines do not improve the quality or quantity of life for patients. In fact, it could be argued that these machines do the opposite.
They provide ill-health, they encourage unhealthy living and they run against the very mission of the institution they reside in.
They are vending machines.
In 2013, it is absurd that we continue to have snack vending machines selling chocolate bars, corn chips and sweetened drinks in the corridors and lobbies of our hospitals.
Often just metres from the entrance to the Emergency Department or in the stairwell of wards and in plain view, patients can literally take their morning medication to control their blood-sugar and then pass by the sweets-machine to undo all the good done.
And as a doctor who has worked in a major public hospital, I can tell you that it happens.
Isn’t it time this changed?
A place of health
It is not about controlling people. If friends want to bring a bottle of cola with their bunch of flowers – then go ahead. If loved ones want to visit with bags of corn chips and sweets – well I am not excited but I am not about saying no.
But why encourage people to drink and eat foods that are unhealthy, inside institutions charged with making us well? Institutions and care that are often paid for, might I add, by our collective taxation or by a private pool.
I am not suggesting we ban vending machines altogether, nor should we decide what people eat or do – but we make hospitals smoke-free. Why not make these venues of health promotion, striving to reduce collective disease, free from machines vending quite the opposite?
Why not acknowledge that snacks filled with sugar, fat and chemicals have no home alongside our healthcare professionals – doing their best to get us well?
Not to mention, do we really want people to associate the bright blue or red of these vending machines, with the environment of health, welfare and public good?
Moreover, if this is an economic issue (noting the financial remuneration to hospitals for housing vending machines must be marginal), then we have to find another way to fund our healthcare. Acknowledging the inherant false-economy of subsidising health through the sale of junkfood.
Let me say it one more time, I am not saying we should ban fat, or sugar, or snacks! But surely the notion of selling these in machines on the wards of our hospitals is a little absurd.
Time to go?
So let’s keep the machine that helps us breathe, and the one that cleans our blood – and as a fan of Monty Python, let’s even get more of those machines that go ‘bing’.
But whether it is to support the work of our doctors and nurses; or due to the absurdity of collectively and individually paying for healthcare to have it potentially undermined by machines vending nutrient-poor, calorie-dense snacks; or because we believe in the sanctity of the hospital environment as being one of health-giving and not snack-vending…
Isn’t it time to lose the vending machines?