Linda Mizun, A&E Doctor at Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust, and Erica Lin, GP in the West Midlands
Shaking up the core of UK healthcare to spark a health revolution through 'Afternoon Tea With Docs'
Linda Mizun, an emergency doctor in Rotherham, and Erica Lin, a GP in Birmingham, met over Instagram. Doctors, friends, colleagues, board certified in lifestyle medicine and definitely one-of-a-kind, the women form a powerful duo.
In 2019, during the pandemic, they set up Afternoon Tea with Docs - a non-profit, online community, and educational platform where world experts talk informally with the general public on how to practise evidence-based lifestyle medicine to prevent, manage and reverse lifestyle related chronic health conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes, Heart Disease and obesity. It’s open to anyone with an Internet connection, every Sunday at 5pm.
"We fell in love with each other's ideas"
“Linda shared with me a letter she wrote to herself and we fell in love with each other's ideas,” laughs Erica. They dream of returning to a holistic form of medicine, and the two women believe it is possible to address the root cause of chronic disease and “solve the problem of the NHS”.
As well as bringing renowned medical experts to the living rooms of normal people, Afternoon Tea with Docs was established as a way of creating a evidence-based lifestyle medicine Hub, community, and delivering coaching and education (LMHCCE) free of charge to all NHS patients. “Once we became board certified LM doctors, we started prescribing lifestyle medicine to our patients," affirms Linda. "But we found ourselves quickly without the time and inability to follow up in the community. Knowing that we could save people from years of chronic suffering and early death, which would in turn reduce the burden on our NHS, but not being able to apply our knowledge due to lack of infrastructure, was unbearable. We urgently needed something that our secondary and primary care colleagues could refer to for chronic disease prevention."
"We decided to base it on the most British social activity we could find"
"We decided to create a Lifestyle Medicine Hub that translated all the steps of the Change Cycle into practical offerings, that was available free of charge to our patients, accessible on demand, with minimal barriers. We decided to base it on the most British social activity we could find, and 'Afternoon Tea with Docs' was born."
The doctors emphasise that medicine today works at such a fast pace that it’s almost impossible to get to know their patients. “They’re not a list of labels,” says Erica. “They're individuals with unique lives. And without actually knowing them as people, we can't adequately help them or support them to make the lifestyle changes they need to crush lifestyle related underlying health conditions.”
"Studies have shown that every 3 months more than 500 genes can be switched on or off with our lifestyle choices"
Like many other Westernised nations, the UK has become largely disease focused with the health service mainly treating the acutely sick. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the top cause of death was infections, for both men and women. Now, the top cause of death is heart disease or cancer, both of which are largely preventable through lifestyle. Linda explains: “People talk about genetic predisposition. But we know that we share more than just genes with our family. We also share eating habits and cultural background. So, it's not just genetics that contribute to these illnesses because studies have shown that every 3 months more than 500 genes can be switched on or off with our lifestyle choices.”
"As a result of lockdown, we saw isolated patients, loneliness, increased weight, increased alcohol intake. Coming out of lockdown, we’re seeing a huge, monstrous exacerbation of what we’d seen before"
We have, say the doctors, been in the midst of a pandemic for a very long time: the pandemic of chronic illness and disease, and the Covid-19 pandemic compounded the effects of the already existing pandemic. “During lockdown,” says Linda, “we could have addressed lifestyle related diseases, which affected people’s response to Covid. But we failed to do this. As a result of lockdown, we saw isolated patients, loneliness, increased weight, increased alcohol intake. Coming out of lockdown, we’re seeing a huge, monstrous exacerbation of what we’d seen before, where 89% of deaths were estimated to be related to underlying health conditions. And they are largely preventable.” She declares, “We have to do something about this!”
A new initiative, Walk Tea Talk is a natural progression of Afternoon Tea with Docs. During weekly walks, the doctors talk with their patients about the 6 pillars of Lifestyle Medicine while practicing two of the pillars: movement and community. Both doctors feel the need to get to know their patients. And what could be better than going on a walk, thermos in hand, to drink tea in the great outdoors?
"We started walking in the Peak District ... with staff, patients, patients' friends and family"
In Linda’s case, her walking sessions started during the pandemic as it was the only way to do something socially. “We started walking in the Peak District, in Sheffield,” she says, “with staff, patients, patients’ friends and family, and then the whole of the Rotherham community started coming.” Erica also started a walking group in her area of the Midlands at around the same time.
Left to right: Dr Kiran Agarwal , Dr Erica Lin, Dr Linda Mizun, Dr Wendy Stammers, Dr Adrian Jeyakumar
For the future, the women want to see lifestyle hubs emerge nationwide. The idea is that local communities will support one another to combat chronic disease and loneliness, and this will alleviate stress on the NHS. They would also like to see lifestyle medicine, instead of drugs, prescribed routinely within the NHS, so that people admitted to A&E with obesity, for example, are prescribed whole foods and exercise. This will then be broken down into “how much broccoli, cauliflower, grains, beans and lentils you have to eat for the next three months, as well as activity levels – 15 minutes of exercise per seven days.”
"The NHS and our colleagues are doing an incredible job carrying the nation on their shoulders."
Definitely inspiring, Linda and Erica are on a unique mission to change UK healthcare. “We need to shift the whole of NHS and put Evidence Based Lifestyle Medicine prescriptions at the heart of healthcare” states Linda. “And once we identify patients with the need for this improvement, now our colleagues have the opportunity to refer their patients for complete health transformation through Afternoon Tea with Docs. The NHS and our colleagues are doing an incredible job carrying the nation on their shoulders. We need to do everything we can to support the NHS and alleviate the burden!”
Find out more at Afternoon Tea with Docs.
Genevieve Shaw, Editor