Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The NHS, the Charlatans and the Care of Cthulhu

What's the best way to defang a normally mouthy science and politics blogger? Short of permanently severing their internet connection, giving them sore hands and a hazy inability to collect ideas should do the trick. It also carries the additional benefit of frustrating the hell out of them when there are so many bizzare, terrifying and entertaining news stories out there, ranging from the pasty tax fiasco to the downright sinister internet surveillance proposals.
It's been nearly two months since I last created a blog post (and I apologise to anyone who was annoyed at the lack of new content) but I have an entire folder of attempted drafts about all sorts of subjects, all of which were lost in a thick cloud of brain fog after gathering various items of source material. Shortly after my blog post back in February I started feeling quite unwell: varying levels of muscle and joint pain, insomnia, facial rashes, impaired short-term memory and near constant tiredness have become common features of my day-to-day life since then, making even simple tasks such as cooking or writing feel like wading through burning treacle on bad days.

The muscle pain and rashes I'm learning to adapt to after several weeks but the main symptoms which have been annoying me are the needle-like pains I often feel in my fingers and wrists and the inability to assemble anything but the most basic of arguments when I attempt to write an article. On a regular day I could think freely about possible angles for approaching a news story, with ideas leaping around at will and being struck by the occasional creative bolt from the blue. These days it feels like an effort of epic proportions, like a massive serpent-like creature trying to summon up enough effort to slowly drag its bulk through the wild lands of speculation and questionable claims: exhausting and probably not worth the effort if you end up blending into the surroundings unnoticed.

Speaking of snakes in the grass, David Cameron recently went against that huge election poster he had people plaster all around the country in 2010 and allowed the hugely unpopular NHS bill to progress through Parliament, aided and abetted by several Liberal Democrats. The reforms are being carried out with the aim of saving £20 billion over the course of this parliament but there isn't any guarantee that this will happen - in fact, the risk register for the project suggests that the reforms may have a negative impact on patient care, namely the service's ability to cope with emergencies and control its finances.

The Department of Health's snippy reply was simply that it didn't comment on leaks. Mind you, they also said they "have always been open about risk and have published all relevant information in the impact assessments alongside the bill" when we're only able to read this report because it was leaked to a health writer. It's not surprising that Andrew Lansley didn't want us reading it but it's largely ineffectual now that the bill has been passed. Like being given a golden ticket the day after the event has been and gone.

NHS Scotland services are thankfully unlikely to be affected by the reforms but the risks this bill places other NHS services in still appalls me. It seems like madness to place such an important organisation in what is essentially a high-stakes gamble, especially when the bet involves people's health and wellbeing. Sure, the NHS isn't perfect but they still carry out sterling work which I'm extremely thankful for - I'm receiving treatment for various conditions and having a lot of blood tests carried out while the staff investigate my symptoms, something I wouldn't be able to afford if I had to pay for healthcare as many people in other countries have to consider. Illness and injury are not situations which we can anticipate, they are events which can happen regardless of how careful we are in our daily lives - if anything the right to free healthcare should keep costs at a minimum, given that early treatment can reduce the chance of complications and absences from work. The NHS is one of the things I'm proud of in this country and it still shocks me to see how politicians can throw it around so carelessly when there are a large number of us who are reliant on it simply to survive normal day-to-day living.

Not to worry though, those clever politicians have a cheap alternative for those of us who are ill and unhappy with the NHS reforms: we can grovel to God instead and hope he hears us over the 7 billion other people on this planet. Last month three politicians wrote a letter to the Advertising Standards Authority to challenge their ban on advertising for faith healing, providing the example of God taking the time and effort to heal one of the politicians of their sore hand as evidence (all very well and good but he did also miss out a lot of cancer and HIV patients along the way).

The letter itself and the Healing on the Streets of Bath website are both rife with fallacies which I'll address in more detail in another post but for now it'll suffice to say that I'm reluctant to trust anyone who uses the appeal to ignorance argument with a position of authority in government - 'you can't prove otherwise, so it must be true' is an argument I'd only expect to see presented seriously by young children, not by people who are supposed to be our elected representatives.

Various members of government have been telling us to get off our arses and get a job in recent months, especially us malingerers who have the temerity to be signed off ill from our places of study or employment. So I thought I'd make lemonade out of otherwise bitter lemons in the unlikely event that the very sensible ASA ban is overturned and cash in on the privatisation of the NHS by introducing my own faith healing procedures. I'll advertise the tradtions of the Asclepions from Ancient Greece, offering people who have self-limiting illnesses like colds with a bed in a room full of snakes who will provide them with a divine vision of their cure. These used to be dedicated to the god Asclepius but we'll need a more modern image, one which projects authority and strength while emphasising the classic reptilian imagery. And who better to do that than the Dark Lord himself, Cthulhu? Don't read too much into the fact that he tends to symbolise terror or evil or that the centres will not willingly inform the general public of their failures, all you need to remember is that we're always open about our risks and we'll publish any information which we deem relevant. We've been learning from the experts, you see.

It goes against every political idea I hold to mislead and provide potentially disasterous healthcare but that's pretty much what the government appears to be advocating lately. After all, the main priority isn't to help people these days but to pursue financial profit at the expense of people who encounter misfortune in any of its various guises. I don't know about any of you but I'm feeling extremely uneasy about the government we currently have in charge of this country - valuing nothing but profit and apparently blind to evidence.

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