Deflation – where things don’t add up any more

Front pages from two of today’s papers illustrate where we’ve got to on our journey to a post industrial society.

Metro runs with the NHS story that’s been at the top of the agenda since Christmas:

Metro newspaper headline - A&E is now worse than a ware zone

The Independent posts a cheer-leading headline that looks awfully like the pharma-oncology complex trying to stage a fightback against a recent outbreak of common sense stories about treating incurable cancer:

Independent headline - Deaths from cancer to be 'eliminated'
I’m old enough to know, or have known, several people who did or didn’t survive encounters with cancer. Aside from one case of prostate cancer, the survivors all received treatment for breast cancer. The non-survivors died from liver, bowel, lung, brain and breast cancers.

The striking thing about the fatal cases was how many of the people were treated to round after round of chemo or radiotherapy after their cancer was clearly diagnosed as incurable. In some cases, a terminal diagnosis came within days or weeks of the cancer been confirmed. Yet the medical establishment did everything it could to persuade the patient and their families to endure what was – medically at least – a hopeless course of action.

Sometimes people need to buy time to put their affairs in order, of course. Some just want to live as long as possible by any means available. But others I knew felt that the last weeks or months of their life were subordinated to the establishment’s desire to gather data about survival time or try out new drugs, instead of their being helped to die with as much dignity and little pain as possible.

Meanwhile, the funding crises consequent on our long-term steady-state-to-shrinking economy are playing havoc with services like A&E. Something has to give and, reading the recent spate of suddenly-realistic stories about treating imminently-fatal cancer cases, it’s been looking as though common sense was getting the upper hand.

Hence the Indy’s front page banner proclaiming the imminent arrival of unicorns sliding down rainbows with cures for every kind of cancer in the next 30 years – if only we keep on taking money away from every other sector of health and giving it to the cancer arm of Big Pharma and the (doubtless well-intentioned) charities more or less tied to it.

One has to ask whether the pharma companies and the increasingly-privatised health service are really trying to recreate the US model over here: where vast sums are extracted from citizens by pointlessly prolonging their final weeks into final months with endless interventions and resuscitation. If so, they’ve probably left it too late although one should not underestimate the clout their vast advertising and lobbying budgets buy with politicians and the mainstream media (or ‘govermedia’ as they’ve become).

But cheerleading has its limits. A dozen pages in from its blue skies ‘n’ roses puff coverage of the cancer investment story, the Indy carries a damning report from an under-resourced, under-funded, overstretched A&E department. Staff are coping with the fallout from the closure of two nearby casualty departments while the funding that was promised to expand their facility never materialised.

That’s the way things are in an advanced industrial economy when the indispensable tide of energy it floats on starts to ebb. There are tough choices and tougher choices.

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