|Swansea city centre last Friday night. NICE!|
I'm not going to rant too much about this latest here - haven't got the time this morning - but I will say two further things. NICE is the same quango that regularly fails to take on big pharmaceutical corporations to get the price of, for example, life saving cancer drugs down so they are affordable. Instead it simply rations them, but never objects when the NHS iniquitously refuses further free treatment to patients who opt to buy the drugs for thousands of pounds privately. Why does NICE behave like this? Well, I was unsurprised to find out from Private Eye not that long ago (no links, sorry) that a suspicious number of "experts" who work for NICE also have strong connections with big Pharma. Surprise surprise. So it is hardly surprising that I do not trust them when they start pontificating about how people should live their lives. Sure, drink related illnesses kill 10,000 people a year (so they say). But you know what? About 500,000 people died last year, many after prolonged periods of treatment for things like heart disease and cancer and most of those diseases were the product of old age rather than any specific, chronic lifestyle problem.
Of the 500,000 dead, most were over the age of 75 (some 66% of all deaths for 2009, says the ONS). So the real "problem" for the NHS is that better diets, hygiene, sanitation, inoculation, peace, affluence, antibiotics and yes, medical technology, means that Britain's annual death rate is plummeting. And that means the NHS is having to cope with tens of thousands more elderly and infirm bods each year - and guess what, it can't. But it can't talk about that so it allows one of its quangos to go into displacement activity overdrive by talking about binge drinking which, let's face it, is far more a social ("Broken Britain") issue than it is a health issue. Ask anyone who lives in any town centre anywhere in the UK.
That's the general point. The second point is that while there are lots of good reasons to encourage people to live healthier lifestyles, especially if they are drinking too much, smoking, not getting enough exercise and/or taking drugs, you have to give them a reason why. Attempting to force people to drink less by hammering them in the pocket and saying that a) it's for their own good, and b) it's for the good of the NHS (as if some patients are somehow more 'deserving' than others) has never worked, won't work today and will never work in the future. All it will do is hammer the poorest and those millions in Labour heartlands up and down the country living on benefits while annoying the hell out of the middle classes who have done nothing wrong generally speaking (although NICE or that moron Liam Donaldson will doubtless come up with another spurious, anecdotal study on middle class binging), but who will be forced to stump up another chunk of money to fund the biggest bottomless pit the world has ever seen - the NHS.
But that's what this is really all about, isn't it? The National-bloody-Health Service. Well, at least Andrew Lansley, the new health minister, has seen some sort of sense.
"Regarding Nice's recommendations... it is not clear that the research examines specifically the regressive effect on low income families, or proves conclusively that it is the best way to impact price in order to impact demand."
He went on: "The root causes of social problems lie not just in Government policies - although 24-hour drinking legislation has severely undermined clinician and police efforts to get to grips with this problem - but in social norms and peer influence.
"We must work across Government, society, communities and families to challenge negative social norms and promote the positives."Between the sociology-speak lines, this is more or less a comprehensive rubbishing of the report and a libertarian reading of the causes of the binge culture. A cause for hope, then, if not for celebration. We finally have a health minister with a brain. Next thing he can do is use that brain again to save his department, and us, about, oh, potentially £70 million in 2011 by abolishing Labour's drug-rationing, talkative, 1999 brainchild altogether.
the Institute [has grown since 1999] from an organisation with no staff, premises, or bank account and a nominal budget of £8.5 million a year, to a body now employing over 270 people, with offices in London and Manchester, and an annual budget of £35 million which is set to more than double over the next few years....said one of its talking heads last year. Well, there's been an election since then and there will be no need for a shadow, unelected Department of Health, inventing work for itself and expanding its remit daily, from now on thanks all the same. Abolition should be imminent. Well, you decide. Here's its website. It looks suspiciously like another Department of Health to me. So, and I say this with unabashed relish, this report should be that particular expensive quango's swan song.
'NICE' to have known you as they say.