NHS Direct is the latest victim of the Tory cuts. The phone line was, itself, set up as a money-saver. People can ring up with minor ailments and speak to qualified nursing professionals so they don't use the more expensive 999 calls or A&E admissions. The plan is to replace it with a line staffed by people who've had 60 hours training. The opportunities for misdiagnosis - costing more money as well as misery - are vastly multiplied.
This is not like John Major's Cones Hotline that was trumpeted by government yet only handled a dozen calls a day (including pranks). NHS Direct receives nearly a million calls a month. Its abolition is just a further gratuitous dismantling of the NHS. The replacement system is still being piloted, yet they've decided to decided to roll it out nationally and permanently. Andrew Lansley has a novel definition of 'piloting'.
The new government's continual excuse for the cuts as essential cost-cuting is an outrageous decoy. Just as they're axing the Sustainable Development Commission even though it saves tens of times its cost, so they're claiming their NHS cuts all save money and improve efficiency.
They tell us they're cutting layers of NHS bureaucracy, such as abolishing Primary Care Trusts. Leaving aside the fact that the Tories invented the internal market of the NHS and fertilised the culture of outsourcing, the new government is actually bringing in a new layer of NHS bureaucracy in GP's fundholding. Indeed, it seems likely that the bureaucrats we sack from PCTs will be rehired by GPs (doctors are hardly going to do all their own accounting), but with all the added waste of bringing in a new system.
Beyond all these giant cogs and gears of Tory spending cuts, there is a simple test to apply to claims of necessary cuts. They cannot credibly talk of saving money by cutting waste and things that don't get used whilst they're planning to replace Trident.
These WMDs are so terrible that they cannot be used. Their effects would decimate populations and poison land far beyond the target, quite possibly affecting the UK.
Here's the deal; if your enemy knows you won't use a weapon, it is not any kind of a deterrent. Every penny of the tens of billions of pounds spent on them is a pointless waste. The cost of Trident replacement is commonly cited as £20bn - coincidentally the same amount the NHS has been ordered to cut between now and 2014 - though a Greenpeace report estimates £97bn over its 30 year lifespan.
You expect Tory papers like the Mail and Telegraph to toe the government line, but the supposedly impartial BBC and the lefty Guardian use the phrase 'nuclear deterrent' too. That is not neutral descriptive language, it is the militaristic opinion that nucelar weapons deter. Trident is not a nuclear deterrent, it is a nuclear weapons system.
Frankly, I can't see any defensive element to the British military. If we abolished our armed forces, who exactly would invade us? But certainly, long before we reach such issues, there is no credible argument for nuclear weapons. Those who say we should keep them talk of being 'left defenceless'. Take a look at what we've done in Serbia, Iraq and Afghanistan lately, all without nukes. See how many mighty non-nuclear states around the world go about their business unattacked.
Farting around making what are, financially speaking, comparatively tiny cuts to services people actually use and rely on in order to have the cash to spend on something that will never be used would be laughable if it were just an idea. It means we take away quality of life for our citizens in order to pretend to threaten ugly death to citizens of other places.
The fact that such ideas are at the forefront of the minds of the people running the country is frankly terrifying, and makes you wonder with dread what they'll do next.
I'm doing a two-week run at the Edinburgh Fringe
2 weeks ago