Back in 2009, at the height of the MPs’ expenses scandal, there were plenty of hilarious, infuriating and odd examples of politicians wasting taxpayers’ money. Some have become immortal – duck houses, moat repairs, Jacqui Smith’s porn claim and so on.
Sadly, one of my favourites has largely been forgotten – the case of David Tredinnick MP, who charged the taxpayer for the software and tuition required so he could become an astrologer. No, not an astronomer like Brian Cox or the much-lamented Patrick Moore – an astrologer. Think Nostradamus, carnival sideshow con artists and newspaper horoscope columns that say things like “As the new phase of Venus enters the Cancerian optimum, consider buying a scratch card – or a second hand Vauxhall.”
I wrote about it for the TPA at the time, suggesting the public might like to email Mystic Tredinnick and request he read their future, given that they had paid for his so-called education. He didn’t take it very well, and as far as I’m aware he never did agree to give out any lottery numbers in advance – though he did later agree to pay back the money he had claimed.
This wasn’t a one-off. As well as his taxpayer-funded foray into the territory of Gypsy Rose Lee, the Member for Bosworth has also pressed the NHS to fund homeopathy, claimed that “remote healing” via telekinesis works despite the total absence of evidence and argued that surgeons and police officers should plan their work according to the cycle of the moon.
Now it has come to my attention, via The Geek Manifesto, that not only is the Parliamentary equivalent of Paul Daniels still going, but he has been elected onto the Science and Technology Select Committee. This is an MP who not only believes in just about every debunked alternative therapy going, but who openly and repeatedly places anecdotal evidence above statistical studies. The ability and the willingness to assess and weigh evidence is the foundation of science – and yet science policy will now be studied by someone who rejects the very concept of what is and is not evidence.
One of the Select Committee’s upcoming Inquiries is into the way clinical drug trials are carried out in the UK. Will the people really be best served by someone who rejects the evidential proof that homeopathy does not work?
It doesn’t take David Tredinnick’s crystal ball to see that this is a car crash waiting to happen.
The media is understandably giving a lot of coverage today to the shameful fact that many hospitals operate such poor rotas that patients are more likely to die if admitted at night or at weekends, because not enough senior doctors are working antisocial hours.
This is not the only way in which scheduling failures cost lives in the NHS, though. Disturbingly, it has been proven that death rates also rise by about 6% in the first week in August, when newly qualified junior doctors arrive en masse onto our wards. Causality has yet to be fully established, of course, but there is a more than sneaking suspicion that the rise is related to doctors being “thrown in at the deep end”, in the words of Action Against Medical Accidents.
Can anything be done to reduce the problem?
Perhaps the NHS and the medical profession can learn some lessons from the Army. At Sandhurst, the officer training college, there are three batches of cadets studying at any one time, each staggered a term behind their predecessors. This means there are three smaller influxes of new junior officers into the Army during the year, rather than one massive batch arriving all at once. Part of the reason for this is that it makes it easier for the regular army to integrate new officers into their organisations.
Why not restructure medical schools to do the same? It would reduce the impact of the mass arrival in the first week of August, and allow for more supervision of newly qualified doctors in their first few weeks – which could save lives.
Organ donation is back in the news, with the creeping advance of so-called “nudge” theory resulting in the introduction of a question in the Driving Licence application process (to which the only answers are “Yes” and “Maybe later”). Would-be organ recipients are understandably keen to see more organs donated while libertarians fear that the state may move towards compulsory harvesting of organs to solve the shortage – both of which are perfectly legitimate points of view.
There is a clear problem, in that there aren’t enough organs for all the people who need them. The question is how best to increase the supply to meet the demand.
Unsurprisingly, I think “compulsory donation”, ie organ harvesting, is unacceptable. My body belongs to me in the most fundamental way possible, not to the state to do with as it wishes.
Nudging, as is being tried with the new Driving Licence question, is insidious in its approach, pushy and – I suspect – will prove to be either ineffective or only effective for a short time.
The ASI’s Sam Bowman has raised what is widely viewed as the only other option – a free market for the sale and trade of human organs. The PR problems around the idea are endless, though – the first mention of it makes people freak out and become hysterical, citing flawed assumptions about the richest getting help rather than the sickest or the idea that the poor could be somehow forced into making sales that would harm them in the long run.
But what if there was a different, less risky and more publicly acceptable way to increase the levels of organ donation?
Let’s call it the Organ Mortgage (or perhaps the Orgage, if you enjoy a portmanteau word).
You’re an ordinary Joe, or Jane. For whatever reason, you want or need some more money – perhaps to go to University, or to send your kids to University, or to go on holiday or whatever.
So you take out an Organ Mortgage, signing up to donate your kidneys, or lungs, or the whole lot at the point of death. What do you get? You get given a wad of cash there and then. What do you give? Well, literally nothing at all until you die, at which point however many of your organs you’ve mortgaged are donated to someone else who needs them to stay alive.
You can increase the amount of money you get if you are willing to enter a contract to live to a particular standard of health – for example, to not smoke or take heroin.
What would the practical results be? Financially, the payouts would be somewhat smaller than in a pure sell-my-live-organ-right-now situation, because the NHS would be taking a gamble that you wouldn’t live until you were an untransplant-worthy 126 years old, or that you might get so badly splattered by a falling piano that nothing could be salvaged.
However, the argument about the poor and needy harming their health in return for money would be irrelevant, because you would keep all of your organs as long as you were alive. For that matter, the incentive to get a higher payout if you agree to avoid particular unhealthy activities would have a knock-on positive health effect for the donor without the need for the compulsion or nannying that our society currently resorts to.
It may well be a slower solution that would take slightly longer to solve our supply problems than the unpalatable idea of allowing the state to pillage people’s bodies might, but it seems to me a far preferable one. It offers the opportunity to treat and heal more people, to provide new assets and opportunities to those who are poor without harming their lives or health, and potential to improve the health of the nation through free will rather than bans, taxes or bullying. So why not?
Guido drew attention yesterday to the new Andrew Lansley Rap, a viral hit that is storming its way across the internet thanks to the unexpected marriage of Grime and the politics of NHS reform:
As much as I disagree with its message, it’s a brilliant example of a pretty complex issue being communicated well and amusingly through Youtube. This is the shape of political campaigning to come.
While we’re on the topic, this is the perfect opportunity to plug the best example of a geeky topic being communicated in this way – the John Maynard Keynes vs F.A.Hayek rap battle:
Definitely the quickest and most catchy way to learn all about the economic divide…and worth it just to hear someone rhyme “Austrian perspective” successfully.