Equitable Access to Healthcare: Why ‘Art’ has every right to be annoyed that ‘Life’ isn’t listening

Lately I’ve been indulging in an activity which can probably act as a depression-barometer, that is, watching lots of science fiction. It has surely been written many times how science fiction abstracts the complexities of our world and cleanses them of our emotional attachments, providing us with the objectivity that modern life otherwise robs us of. If it hasn’t, you are reading an article that might be quoted a lot in the future.

The Hitchikers Guide To The Galaxy was written by Douglas Adams in the late 1970’s and has reappeared in various guises, namely the original radio series, novels and most recently a movie (2005). Adams was without question a superb humorist and visionary science fiction writer. In this piece of work, through the destruction of the Earth, he provides protagonist Aurthur Dent with perspective; his home being demolished seemed less important when he contemplated the loss of his entire home planet.

DON'T PANIC! Well, maybe a bit...

DON’T PANIC! Well, maybe a bit…

This abstraction of an ordinary man from all he knew paves the way for bigger questions such as what ‘it’ is all about. There are the classic lines such as ‘isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it?’. His musings about ‘Life, The Universe, and Everything’ must have been cut short when he was told of how a bunch of highly intelligent pan dimensional beings had spent 7.5million years waiting for an answer to that very question, only to realise that it was the question itself that was more interesting and challenging to discover.

The eponymous book within the book tells us that Dolphins are the more intelligent species because they simply got on and enjoyed their existence, all the while mankind was missing the messages from the dolphins and being manipulated by lab mice. For me, the book is almost an allegorical introduction to the suggestion that we all ought to turn our minds to what is truly important, and possibly consider a life based around Buddhism.

More recently, I have enjoyed other sci-fi works such as ‘District 9’ which seems to be about apartheid (South African accents, and all). The enjoyable movie ‘In Time’ “uncovers” societies inequalities by transferring wealth into life expectancy which can be traded, and in the case of the film, stolen. This, you would think is a pretty unsubtle (if dramatically pleasing) abstraction, in that you really are, in the real and painful world you switch on your TV to avoid, actually going to live for less time if you are poor than if you have money. This is something which is likely to become more pronounced as healthcare becomes a luxury and the life-expectancy of a working class person drops to the point that the wheezing, allergic, ill-fed proletariat are unlikely to waste any of their few years planning any sort of revolution.

My most recent sci-fi indulgence was ‘Elysium’. Some call this an example of Hollywood pushing its liberal agenda, others have said that the film is a dystopian ‘worst case scenario’ of what ‘Obama Care’ will result in, i.e. necessary rationing of resources. The film, if you have not seen it, shows a future Earth where the rich live on an orbiting space-station (called Elysium) on which exists the technology to non-invasively cure any disease. On Earth, health care understanding is advanced, and for example, death is accurately predictable; at one point Matt Damon’s character is told that he should take some pills he is given for a radiation overdose for 5 days when he will die of multiple organ failure.

There are many takes on what Elysium means, but for me the bottom line is that care exists but is not shared. Access to care is not equitable and given the simplicity of treatment (which involves getting into a static machine which detects and fixes your illness) the explanation can only be one of ideology.

In the UK we pride ourselves in the NHS and even Nigel Lawson, a Conservative MP who served as Secretary of State under Margaret Thatcher, called the NHS “the closest thing the English have to a religion” (presumably, apart from religion). The system itself was first proposed in 1909 but didn’t materialise until 1948 and has arguably never quite got it right. What it has done though, albeit imperfectly, is provided care to all, whether you’ve a bean in your pocket or not. This system is currently being eroded through underfunding and subtle ‘not-quite-free-at-the-point-of-delivery’ changes and so we Brits probably have as much cause to sit up and pay attention where Elysium is concerned, as our trans-Atlantic cousins do. It might not have ever been perfect, but the idea of it not being there is unimaginable and gives us a true sense of ownership of the notion that the measure of a civilised society is how it treats it’s weakest members.

It would seem therefore that in the sci-fi genre at least, art is not so much imitating life as it is placing a pair of firmly gripped hands around life’s throat and shaking it from the frustration at it not being able to see the blindingly obvious.

Sit up and take note, although do it selectively; if ‘Sunshine’ is on your watch-list, I have it on good authority that flying a space ship into it will not revive a dying sun.


“NEW YEAR – NEW YOU” …What is this all about?

During what we, even in the UK are calling the ‘Holidays’ I managed to catch up with a number of people I might ambitiously call friends.  That is, during the moments of clarity which punctuated the near death experiences brought about by winter viruses and helpful advice such as; “…seriously, brandy is really good for the flu”.

As the New Year approached, like drugged guard dogs from an episode of ‘Knight Rider’ we might have occasionally attempted to rise to our feet.  Failing, we resigned ourselves to the inevitable; laying suggestible on our sofas in front of the TV trying to work out what day of the week it was.

Flashing back, I remember Boxing Day in the early 1980’s as being the day of the year where 50% of the adverts on TV (by which I, of course, just mean the one commercial channel, ‘ITV’) still had snowflakes on and urged us to go shopping.  This seemed silly, as we had just been brought a load of stuff from Father Christmas, and anyway, all the shops in the Town I lived were shut.

The other 50% of ‘ads’ seemed keen to alert us to the fact that Summer was a mere 6 months away and that we should take immediate action if we were to end up water-skiing, like the lady on the telly.

What is unchanged is that each year, around the 30th December, we emerge.   Veterans of Christmas, replete with the kind of camaraderie that only a truly traumatic shared-experience can instill.

New Years Eve
At this point though, we know there is one last celebration looming – New Years Eve.  Like a call to arms, placing a million further unrealistic expectations on us and attempting to overshadow its own true point, New Years Eve can distract all but the eagle eyed from what really matters:  The new-dawn of new-dawns, New Years Day.

As if in some sort of Tesco Club Card conversion offer, I choose to translate most of my assorted painful experiences of life into admittedly dark but occasionally humorous cynicism rather than giving into the bitterness, which, lets face it, I would get so much more of for my points.

Much as I might want to rain on everyone else’s parade, a softer soul inside me still holds a glimmer of hope when I see a child smile, or an estate agent survive a near-fatal accident, in order that they might live on to have another in the future.

So what does New Year mean to me?
New Year is arguably the one meaningful event on the calendar, yet at the same time it does nothing and means nothing in itself.  It is an opportunity for all things to start anew.  Everything is, it can be said, new.

Got a problem?  Picture someone new stepping in and dealing with it.  They would set aside old emotional attachments and deal with the problem pragmatically in order to efficiently get on with the next one.  To the old us, this problem might have seemed insurmountable, but to this new person, its just something that has to be dealt with, however tricky and whatever the outcome.  The outcomes may not have changed, but the resignation to get on with it arrived with this new you.

Whether you want to stop smoking, or take up an outdoor pursuit – like smoking (?). Lose weight, or learn to deal with insults better? Be better with money, or perhaps give up being Chancellor of the Exchequer altogether; these are all things you can do on any one day of the year.  What is different is that New Year is like an amnesty for tough decisions; a giant metaphorical kiss of positivity on the lips, and a warm, invisible, yet ephemeral hand that will hold yours just long enough to set you on the right path.

Everything else, as they say, is up to you.

Happy New Year.