‘All livestock auctions should have drop-in medical centres’

May 19, 2019

RURAL HUB: “Given that we are having to work even harder to achieve the same prices we were getting 20 years ago and the additional demands that places on our time; and given the fact that there are probably dozens like me with undiagnosed physical health issues I believe every major auction centre should adopt Derek’s idea.” – David Handley – president of Farmers for Action.

GIVING SUPPORT: Sally Field, The Royal Benevolent Agricultural Institute’s regional welfare officer at the New Forest Show in 2015. This is one of the organisations that helps farming families who are struggling financially or afflicted by health. They are also one of the organisations that helped set up the Derek Mead Health Room at Sedgemoor Auction Centre.


A MAJOR voice in the rural community for the past 20 years has been revealing how the strains of being in the present-day agricultural industry can physically take its toll.

Farmers For Action chairman David Handley was speaking about physical conditions and mental health crises triggered on his members and others in the supply chain due to the increasing pressures facing this sector of industry.

‘Derek and David had no-nonsense approach to press’

When I was writing the farming and countryside column for the Western Gazette in Yeovil and occasionally for two Somerset editions, I met David on several occasions along with late Derek Mead, from North Somerset, who is also referred in his recent column with the Western Daily Press, the sister paper of the Gazette.

At the time I wrote for this publication and having attended Seale-Hayne Agricultural College myself in the early 1990s, I went out of my way to seek them put for their no-nonsense approach to various issues affecting the area at the time, which included dairy prices, countryside management, supermarket practices, and the handling of the Foot and Mouth crisis and the 2000 Fuel Protest. I remember meeting David at the Dairy Show and at a Farmers For Action meeting in Dorset particularly.

In his recent column David revealed that he is suffering from Type 2 Diabetes having visited his local GP and he was not particularly unique amongst farmers and then with constant demands on their time, what appear to be mild health concerns tend to be sidelined.

‘I expect to be functioning normally soon’

He said: “I’d had a persistent and mildly irritating cough for a couple of weeks but like most people so afflicted tended not to worry about it too much and kept telling myself it would clear up and eventually go away.

“My father had the same condition and on that basis I suppose I should really have been. My condition can be managed and I fully intend and expect to be functioning normally soon. But the episode has brought me up somewhat short.”

David also highlighted how mental health of farmers can deteriorate through the loss of social contact due to working on their own for hours or days at a time, cashflow worries and the potential fear of being a business failure.

He also suggested that current NFU president Minette Batters should push this issue higher up her priority list for her members too.

‘Health is vital for efficient and profitable farmers’

David said: “Support organisations are working overtime to help hundreds of farmers caught up in conditions like these – and I suggest this would have been a far worthier issue for the NFU president to have dedicated her London marathon appearance to rather than the business of sending yet more aid to Africa. But good physical health is just as important to a farmer if he is to carry on working efficiently and profitably.

‘Sedgemoor facility was set up in Derek’s memory’

Derek Mead, who was formerly a National Delegate on the NFU Council for Somerset, set up a medical centre at Sedgemoor Auction Centre so that stressed out farming families could get treatment there rather travel into town to see a GP, bearing in mind the constant pressures on their time and resources. It is called the Derek Mead Health Room in his memory and was launched in April last year.

David suggests that these drop-in centres should be rolled out nation-wide so that anyone who is suffering physically or mentally when faced with continual pressures can be picked up more quickly.

‘Have a quick MOT while attending the market’

He said: “Run in conjunction with the NHS it (the Sedgemoor Auction Centre) allows not merely farmers but all those who work with them, such as hauliers, to drop in for a quick MOT while they are attending the market. It’s a brilliant concept and one which, I understand, is already achieving excellent results in identifying problems at an early stage.

“But given the scale of mental health problems now being experienced across the farming community; given the fact that since we are having to work even harder to achieve the same prices we were getting 20 years ago and the additional demands that places on our time; and given the fact that there are probably dozens like me with undiagnosed physical health issues I believe every major auction centre should adopt Derek’s idea.

“If a farmer literally hasn’t got the time to go to the NHS for help then we should be taking the NHS to the farmer.”

  • ANYONE who is reading this who is not in the farming community, a conversation with those for instance who are at the farmers or community markets to show your support as one of their customers and buying their local produce, may only be a small step in contrast to what has been referred to in this article, but it is extremely important that we do not take for granted the food that ends up on our plates. For those in the conservation movement (rangers, foresters, wardens, Vederers, commoners, artisan craft makers), which I studied, who are regularly in the countryside (suppliers etc), please ensure you link up where possible with the farming guys. We are all the rural community


  • FOR the information of readers, the Royal Benevolent Agricultural Institute is one of the main charities and support organisations referred to above that helps those on the bread line in the industry. Best wishes to David and his wife Marilyn, and for David, a complete recovery to full fitness.

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