Owain Holland

Owain Holland

Owain Holland is an environmental worker in Cornwall, a shop steward and trade union activist and a member of the Cornish language community.

The Profit Motive
Tuesday, 30 January 2018 11:16

The Profit Motive

Published in Fiction

The Profit Motive

by Owain Holland

I speak to you from a secret Government facility named 'Arthur's Grave' on Lundy Island. My name is Doctor Cynthia Doyle. The Government rounded us up. All the healthy, uninfected medical professionals they had left, and sent us here. I'm the only one left. It's taken three days to kill everyone else.

Someone must have picked something up, undetected. I'm now coughing blood. The rest didn't last long once they became ill. My guess is that someone already had an itch at the back of their throat when they came in. They should have known the risks coming in here with even the slightest hint of an illness. The facility is on automatic lock-down. No-one had the clearance required to open the outer doors. Even if I could find a way out there is nothing available I can use to navigate the Bristol Channel. This is my tomb.

As far as I can tell, everyone on the mainland is dead. We were sent to the Island because they believed the isolation from everyone else would save us. Humanity's only chance lies in the hope that there are some communities that are isolated enough, and perhaps have a robust enough public health strategy to escape the crisis. But there aren't many of those.

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Of course it didn't begin with the Government announcing they would privatise the National Health Service. It happened slowly at first. The started by outsourcing the odd service. By introducing a few slight charges. 'Free at the point of use' was the constantly offered phrase. Of course some people did cotton on. There were protests organised by trade unions, disabled action groups, those generally considered 'on the left'. There was even a doctors' strike. But so long as the changes remained small the public at large took little notice.

Gradually the services began to deteriorate. Several winters' worth of hospital alerts and national emergencies followed. Slowly the public support for the Service was ground down. The message from Government and the media was that the Health Service no longer fit for the modern age. The idea of a free public health service no longer was no longer suitable. It didn't fit in with the idea that an unregulated market was the best way in which to distribute goods and services. So they privatised the National Health Service. They took what we owned. Then they sold it back to us. Those of us who could afford it at least.

If you were ill you needed to be rich, or own a credit card. If you weren't rich, you were more likely to be ill. At least everything was for sale. You had the opportunity, in theory at least, to buy whatever you wanted. Which means equality to a very warped mind. In reality it only served to deepen inequality.

Hospital conditions got worse. They squeezed as many of us as they could fit into hospital wards, so that profit margins could increase. Those born with medical conditions found that they couldn't pass fitness tests for health insurance providers. People were forced to take huge loans from the banks. They lost their homes when they needed operations. Overall mortality rates increased. Life expectancy plummeted. Still they continued chanting the mantra 'the freer the market, the freer the people. The freer the market, the freer the people'. I didn't see any freedom.

With the majority of the world now living the ideology of the market even death was the natural state of being. Life had been reduced to a commodity many couldn't afford. Many were aghast, and yes, there were large-scale protests, demonstrations and political rallies. But never for one second did we consider that our subjugation to the market could be so damaging. Yes we saw the worst affects we thought neo-liberalism had to offer us. The sad thing is, there was worse to come.

I was a part of it myself. I followed the company's orders. I prescribed medicines left, right and centre. I could hear my patients rattle like barrels of pills. People are suckers for an easy cure. That's exactly what medicines were. Tablets for psychological disorders. Those who were unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel could pay my big-pharma company and I'd prescribe them some substance that would make them see lights. If they died in a car crash because they'd been hallucinating on the meds their doctor had given them well, that was just nature's way of saying, only the fittest survive. For those who neglected their health, I could give weight-loss pills. Don't change your diet, just supplement it. Considering the global obesity epidemic these made a mighty profit for the company. If you were addicted to nicotine you could switch cigarettes for a nicotine substitute. Highly addictive. Highly recommended by your doctor. More importantly, highly profitable. If you were anorexic you were prescribed appetite-inducers. These cases were considered gold mines by the Company. They would be paid again when the obese former anorexic returned again in a few months time for a packet of weight-loss tablets. These yoyo-dieters were good for a lifetime's worth of transactions. My pension pot has the addictive substances added to every pill to thank for that.

In short, I would prescribe pills for anything and everything. The market demanded it. I had ceased to be a medical professional and had become a glorified shopkeeper.

I too, became depressed. Company training officially warned us not to 'get high on our own supply' but I took to swallowing handfuls of pills at a time. I became a zombie. A listless medico in a white overcoat using the great blank palette of my mind to tick-off medical prescriptions for every ailment.

They came into my surgery as blank and meek as I was. Before they even sat down I had placed a tick in several different boxes on my form for medication they would have to buy. The whole world was a morass of listless, mindless creatures. I was one of them. Meekly obeying the demands of the Market. We had no idea what we were shuffling into.

It made sense really. When we came around from our collective medically-induced coma.

People were dying everywhere Sneezing and then just dropping down dead in the street. There were no roses. No pockets full of posies to turn to for a quick cure. Years of medicine abuse was taking its toll. Millions were falling sick with what had once been relatively minor ailments. Never to rise again. We saw the return of old epidemics not witnessed since the Middle Ages. Colera, plague and typhiods.

Nine billion. Nine billion have perished. The bacteria of many common infectious diseases evolved and developed resistance to our anti-biotics. The Market has failed to find a solution to the greatest threat we've ever faced. More than that. Our ideological faith that the unregulated, unshackled 'free' Market would provide solutions to our problems was so wrong. The Market had been the problem all along.