Death 107 billion. Humans 0. Colonel Maurice Buckmaster, the head of “F” Section, Special Operations Executive, needed to replace his man in Berne, and Ernest van Maurik(always known as “Van”) was selected for the mission. In January 1944, he was dropped by Halifax bomber into the Ain district about 40 miles from the Swiss frontier. His equipment included a Colt .32 revolver and a code sewn into his belt.
Van survived the war and joined the Foreign Office where he served across the world from Rio de Janeiro to Stalin’s Russia. Fast forward 60 years, two children, five grandchildren and eight great grandchildren, Van died at the ripe old age of 95. Except he didn’t. He was resuscitated at the expense of several broken ribs to live out his days unconscious in the intensive care unit of his local hospital while family prayed for the end around his bed. No rules, guidelines or edicts were broken. It was a bad end but a far from rare one.
Dan L’Heureuxis the full-time town manager of China, Maine. In the past 10 years, healthcare spending in China increased 152% while the town’s overall budget grew just 41%. When any part of the budget consumes an increasingly greater portion of the community’s resources, there is less money to spend in other critical areas. “Town spending for road maintenance, street lights, police, fire, and recreation has remained flat as healthcare spending has increased,” says Dan.
Road safety is a priority for China’s town manager. About 85% of the community’s employed residents work outside the town and drive day and night. Roads need to be in good condition to ensure their safety. Traffic loads, combined with snow and ice conditions in winter, cause the roads to deteriorate more rapidly than in warmer climates. Dan stopped road resurfacing some time ago and is now plugging holes with cheap sealing emulsion. He is just hoping nobody he knows dies as a result.
There is a tired joke that healthcare is our national religion. But underneath this is an unspoken driver that it can somehow bring eternal life. The consequence of this is a perverse incentive to promote quantity of life over quality, at all costs.
From the painful, toxic, mechanical deaths of the elderly, to the asset stripping of every other part of society to fund healthcare, and public health measures that brook no argument over pleasure or liberty, we are losing sight of the quality of our lives.
While life expectancy has soared in recent years, healthy life expectancy has only nudged up. One US study estimates that 25% of government health spend goes on the last year of life, largely to terminal cases. If the figure carries at all to the UK that means £30 billion. This is money that could plug Universal Credit cuts 10 times over. It could build 1,000 schools. It could eradicate homelessness many times over.
The balance of healthcare and healthcare spending has completely lost sight of improving quality of life, lost in the wilderness of quantity. And the current tally of success is Death 107 billion, Humans 0. It’s time the health service had some frank conversations that accept the inevitability of death and stopped stripping money from the rest of society in its futile drive for immortality.
Ed Davies is the Director of Policy at the Centre for Social Justice.