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Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Right to be Fat

Yesterday I found myself reading a Guardian article about the state of the healthcare system in the US – probably a lot more where that came from once Michael Moore’s movie gets its UK release, and not before time.

People’s lives are being lost in the richest country in the world, because they have no health insurance. While it’s clearly not a laughing matter, the case of the man with amputated fingers who was told he could have his ring finger reattached for $13,000 or his index finger for $60,000 was sickeningly funny.

I felt – and not for the first time – proud and relieved to live in a country with a free national health service. To my mind, the NHS is probably this country’s greatest achievement and I loathe the constant bashing it gets in the Nazi end of the media spectrum.

So it’s particularly saddening when the NHS makes decisions to reduce the availability of life saving – or in this case life enhancing – drugs without sufficient explanation. I’ll admit to having a personal bias here (both my grandmother and my mother suffer from AMD) but it really doesn’t make a great deal of sense to restrict AMD sufferers’ access to drugs that can help them keep their sight where otherwise they would almost certainly lose it.
And it’s not human compassion I’m talking about, although a little more of that in society would be nice. As the Scottish health service managed to work out (in their usual good judgement as compared to that of England and Wales), the longterm cost of managing and caring for the needs of 20,000 blind people is FAR greater than…erm…preventing them going blind in the first place:

“Some 20,000 people will be condemned to blindness each year because of a government proposal to allow a vital drug to be restricted on the NHS, it has been claimed.
Draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) suggests the use of Lucentis (ranibizumab) and Macugen (pegaptanib) should be restricted.
The drugs treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of sight loss in the UK with 26,000 new cases each year.
Patients in Scotland can already get both drugs, although there is concern that ruling will be overturned in light of Nice's decision.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) said it was "outraged".
A final ruling on the drugs is expected in September.”

What’s worrying about all of this kind of stuff is that it illustrates the squeeze that is being put on the NHS. The service is creaking under the weight (literally, when you consider how many of us are obese) of the expectations placed upon it. Something has to be done to preserve and secure the future of the National Health Service, because British society would be vastly diminished without it. The creeping privatization of the NHS exercised by our “Labour” government is not the answer. Nor is it to fall back on Daily Mail-inspired oversimplification and blame immigration.
What we do need to do, however, is begin asking ourselves some uncomfortable self-examining questions. Like, for example, whether we should be feeding our children such utter crap that they’re fat by puberty; whether, actually, it IS unfair for treatment for smoking-related illnesses to be treated only upon the patient kicking the habit.

The NHS should remain a free service for everyone who contributes to British society – but maybe it is time that we stopped thinking about self-inflicted illness being among our rights and freedoms?

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