Every so often, I read an article or hear a soundbite that makes me so angry, I decide I must blog about it, instantly. In reality, blogging is not typically the best option when I am so angry. The most useful response would be to bang my head off a wall while screaming 'WHY?!' over and over again. If I was desperate to use the Internet to express my anger, I could bang my head off a wall while screaming 'WHY?!' over and over again, film it, and post it on YouTube. I've decided, however, that doing this wouldn't be a good use of my time, so - blog.
I read today that the health minister for Northern Ireland, a gentleman by the name of Edwin Poots, says it might be a good idea to charge people who turn up to A&E and need help while drunk or on drugs.
The response, again, is WHY?!
Gah! Where to start with this nonsense? I don't know, but I have to start somewhere, or my brain will buckle under the pressure and make a leap for freedom from my skull.
How do we pay for A&E services? Through the tax system. Do people who use drugs or drink alcohol pay tax? Yes. Yes yes yes. Even if they don't have jobs - they pay VAT on the things they buy. They pay road tax if they drive. They even pay tax on the alcohol that they've used to get them into their drunken state. They pay tax - they contribute. We all contribute. Even a radical hippy who's living in a commune in the forest somewhere probably paid tax on the wheelbarrow they used to move their stuff out there. Drunks and drug users have paid into the system too, so if that's your criteria (I should add - it is NOT my criteria), then you can be quiet - they've paid for it, so they can use it.
But, I hear you cry, these people might not have paid anywhere near what I have paid into the system - me, with my respectable lifestyle and prompt income tax receipts. This complaint raises two issues. The first is a simple one - should we therefore perform tax audits on everyone who passes through A&E? Should we check exactly how much money they've paid in tax throughout the course of their lives? Should they only get medical care up to the value of the tax that they've paid? No, of course not - that's totally insane! The second issue - should the amount of tax that you've contributed even matter to the level of care that you receive? Again, the answer is no! Not even a little bit! The great thing about our NHS is that it is free - free at the point of use to everyone. It's a wonderful system. That principle is what raises us above other countries - specifically, America, where care is assigned to those who can afford it and where the poor live in fear of falling ill. Essentially, the reason why we shouldn't charge for healthcare is because we should value life above money.
Another argument that I've read on this issue is that drunks and drug users who find themselves in A&E have only themselves to blame. Of course, this may not be the case. If you're out having a few drinks, in a perfectly legal and respectable fashion, and some maniac decides to hit you with a baseball bat, should you not receive care because you've failed a breathalyzer test? Furthermore - should Accident and Emergency staff be so strict on what constitutes an 'accident?' If you go skiing and you smash yourself up because you took a risk on a slope, are you not responsible for the ill that has occurred? No treatment for you, then. Of course, I don't hear anyone making that argument, because skiing injuries are a particularly middle-class way of getting yourself into A&E. Not like drink and drugs, which is how the riff-raff end up there.
Finally - what happens when they can't pay? These junkie, alcoholic scum that we've decided not to treat? Well, they'll stagger back out onto the street in a state. How many of them will get into further trouble? How many will die? How many will die specifically because the A&E system was forbidden from taking them in? What's the value of those deaths in contrast to the money we saved by not treating them? Hell, if your motives are purely financial - won't it cost more to transport their dead bodies to the morgue from wherever they ended up?
Mr. Poots is a moron who is chasing cheap headlines and who doesn't understand the gross lack of human empathy that resides in his argument. If you charge for care, you bar the vulnerable from receiving care, and you open them up to further pain and suffering. What good does that do? No good at all. What money does that save? None - it causes greater problems further down the line. If we took the time to stop demonizing people and looked instead at the real issues - why people feel the need to use alcohol and drugs - then we might actually reduce these problems in our society, saving lives and saving money. Right now, we're just trying to find ways to milk a few extra pennies out of people who we find unpalatable, and that isn't going to get any of us anywhere - not even to our local A&E.