Not a great time to become a health minister
The results of an authoritative study were announced this week to the effect that those taking antidepressants long term are 30% more likely to suffer from dementia: the same apparently goes for Parkinson’s drugs and several others classes of medicine. Great. But I suppose we should not be surprised. We are all aware that few treatments are free from damaging side effects, whatever the claims of those who develop or market them. All of this forms part of an emerging picture of healthcare as a series of interlocking, more or less vicious circles. As technology goes on apace and keeps us alive longer, it will become increasingly expensive and labour intensive to look after us. As new ways emerge to treat cancer and for example, previously fatal heart conditions, we will see a sharp upward trend in highly distressing and still largely untreatable diseases of the central nervous system. Likewise, technological advance is taking us closer to the day when medicine becomes truly personal, and treatments will depend on our individual genetic make-up: health services will suddenly find themselves less able to afford the latest life–prolonging therapies, and the temptation will be to make these available only to those able to pay for them. We are not quite there yet, but the resulting ethical issues for democratic governments could become unbearable. Add to all this the massive lobbying power of the pharma industry, compliance with the latest fashions in patient confidentiality, the race to keep up on AI and Big Data, and pressure through the internet to roll out untried miracle cures, and you have the first rumblings of a perfect storm. Not a great time to become a health minister.