Sunday 3 July 2011

Windfarms or cancer treatment?

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne states that:

A low-carbon economy presents an opportunity, not a cost. Investment in our clean energy future should not be mistaken for a cost to the economy, or the public purse…Globally, the low-carbon goods and services industry is worth £3.2 trillion, and employs 28 million people.

In a withering response, Tim Worstall, takes Huhne’s arguments apart and shows, yet again, the idiocy of current climate and energy policy. In passing Worstall makes the comment that:

…an economist would point out those are costs. 28 million people not curing cancer but faffing about with windmills. This is a cost of getting windmills, for we get windmills not the cure for cancer.

Some would argue that a blog about cancer and cancer-research is not the place to be discussing either climate change, energy policy or economics. I strongly disagree. At every stage, from screening, to diagnosis to treatment, economic decisions are at play. And those decisions can be the difference between life and death. We live in a world where there are not endless resources, there is no bottomless pit of money, therefore decisions about where money is spent have to be made, no matter how distasteful or hard those decisions are.

We are not having a grown up discussion of these issues in this country. We are not presented with choices that say spend money on windmills or on health care, on subsidising solar versus paying for new treatments. Yet these decisions are being made all the time. Instead we are told to focus on the distant future when climate change might or might not be a problem. We are told that we have to save the planet, that our grandchildren’s children will thank us, that we owe it to planet Earth.

Worstall is right, but it’s not just that those 28 million people could be working on cancer cures. It’s that the money that subsidises windfarms and other vanity energy projects is money that is not being spent on saving people now. People need those resources to have the treatments, here or abroad, that may save them.

This is not just an academic discussion, we know from our own recent experience how the system works. When first and second-line treatments had failed, George was still fairly fit and healthy. He had tiny metastatic spots of disease that barely registered on the scans. He could walk, go to school, do most of the things that other 16-years old could. Our consultant at the Royal Marsden decided that there was enough evidence of efficacy to try a new chemotherapy protocol, but needed to get Kingston PCT to agree. No deal. They decided that at around £2000 per cycle, this was too much to pay. The implication was that my son was going to die anyway, so why spend the money on him. At 16, George was smart enough to know that the refusal to cough up the money was effectively a decision about whether he was going to live or die.

We argued the case and that took time. In the end we were able to get private health insurers to pick up the tab. Through that we learned about the fiction that is termed ‘co-payment’ (a subject for a future blog). We got the treatment in the end, but it took weeks, during which time his disease carried on progressing. The new treatment did show signs of working, but unfortunately caused massive side-effects that meant it had to be stopped. It was the last treatment that had some curative intent that we were able to have in this country.

I write this as a way of putting in real terms the outcomes of decisions that are made by politicians, so focused on fighting future phantoms that the day to day struggles of cancer patients in the here and now can be ignored. And it’s not just health care. The billions spent now on stopping a predicted temperature change decades in advance is money that is not being spent on fighting problems here and now.

If I sound angry, it’s not just because my son died. I am angry because there is no sign of this situation changing. If anything our politicians are becoming more and more obsessed with saving the planet and not saving people.

Don’t believe me? The NHS is having to spend millions on carbon credits and emissions policies. That is millions not being spent on delivering health care. And it will get worse, as the NHS has:

pledged to reduce to cut carbon emissions by at least 80% by 2050, with a minimum reduction of 26% by 2020 across the UK.

All of that will cost real money, there is no magic fix that can get that sort of CO2 reduction. That means the NHS will be paying our money on carbon off-setting instead of investing in new treatments, or improving the existing treatments.

Angry? We ought to be bloody furious.

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