What price human life? Overworked NHS staff have to answer this every day | Rachel Clarke

Politicians turn a blind eye to the Covid-ravaged NHS, but as winter hits, we’re forced to ask how many deaths are acceptable

  • Rachel Clarke is a palliative care doctor and the author of Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a Time of Pandemic

A cynic, wrote Oscar Wilde, is somebody who “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. Nowhere do those words appear truer than in the matter of human life itself. What could be more distasteful than attaching a price tag to a person – as though their worth can be measured in pounds and pence? A human life, surely, is priceless; no amount of mere money or stuff comes close.

The pandemic has destroyed such simple certainties. First, we stared in collective disbelief as Covid ravaged northern Italy. Next, we recoiled at the grotesque implications of achieving “herd immunity” by allowing the virus to race unchecked through the UK population, culling those deemed expendable by covert decree and government inaction. Quickly though, counter-narratives emerged. Lockdowns were pernicious and caused more harm than good. Economic Armageddon was deadlier than allowing older and economically unproductive people to die. The nation’s mental health mattered more than anything. This death was worth it, to avoid that one over there.

Rachel Clarke is a palliative care doctor and the author of Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a Time of Pandemic

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An effluent tide awaits Cop26 guests. They should see the state of our rivers, too | Marina Hyde

Our sewage-spewing PM fronts a party that has just voted for literal sewage-spewing. Environmental conference, you say?

To the £2.9m Downing Street briefing room, and a Monday matinee performance by dissolute children’s entertainer Boris Johnson. Johnson always looks nervous talking to kids, as though he’s afraid one of them might ask for a hair sample or his discarded coffee cup. Still, here he is, Climate Santa – holding a Q&A with some youngsters in a show that never felt more than four seconds away from a slurred, “I’m sorry kids, I just threw up a little in my prime minister’s costume.”

We already know that many children live with a sense of powerless anxiety about the climate crisis – and these ones had presumably been handpicked for being particularly committed to the cause. So really, just a very special outreach effort from the PM. Let’s take a look at some of the lowlights. “Recycling isn’t the answer, I’ve got to be honest with you,” the prime minister told their little faces, as the WWF UK chief executive next to him suppressed another thousand-yard stare. “You’re not going to like this. It doesn’t begin to address the problem”; “We need to have municipal toothpaste, something or other, we’ll work this out later”; “We have to encourage [cows] to stop burping”; “It’s going to be very, very tough, this summit, and I’m very worried because it might go wrong. We might not get the agreements that we need. It’s touch and go, it’s very, very difficult … It’s very far from clear that we’ll get the progress that we need.”

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Simply throwing money at the NHS won’t solve all its problems | Simon Jenkins

Billions will be wasted as long as the health service remains hyper-centralised and disconnected from local authorities

Watch the news each day and you might regard Britain’s NHS as a black, swirling pit into which ever vaster sums of money constantly vanish. All it does is answer back with screams of hospitals near collapse, queueing ambulances outside hospitals, year-long waiting lists, postponed tests and staffing crises. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, obsessed with daily headlines, hurls billions of pounds at it, to no obvious effect.

Those who know the NHS all say the same. The NHS relies on the public thinking it wonderful, and as a result all it needs to do is demand money from the government. In 2007, the businessman Gerry Robinson made a celebrated documentary about trying to run an NHS hospital. At the end of a working day, the camera caught him getting into his car and collapsing into tears of frustration. The reason was not money. It was the opposition of the entire senior staff to any measure that might improve their performance or render their work more efficient.

Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist

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