17 Jun 2008

How peak oil will affect health care and what we should do about it

This is from the new International Journal of Cuban Studies, which is happily online, must academic journals are not online and are enclosed (which is why I rarely bother writing articles for them any more!).

Copyright for this work is held jointly between Stuart Jeffery and the
International Journal of Cuban Studies under a Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-No Derivative 3.0 Licence

It's from Stuart Jeffery the very impressive Green Party health speaker...we need by the way to really develop a whole cabinet of strong speakers like him.

Pdf here

He argues that peak oil will make for very tough times economically, yet Cuba survived a huge oil shock and maintained a highly effective health care system. We can learn from it.

The International Journal of Cuban Studies Volume 1 Issue 1 June 2008
How peak oil will affect health care and what we should do about it
Stuart Jeffery

(Print) ISSN 1756-3461 (Online) ISSN 1756-347X
Stuart Jeffery

This paper explores the concept of peak oil, its relationship to health care in the
UK and suggests that the Cuban model of health care may provide a framework
for future UK health care provision. The rate of extraction of oil is reaching a
plateau, yet demand for oil continues to rise. Simple economic theory dictates
that the price of oil will rise rapidly as demand outstrips supply, and this is
demonstrated by the recent price of oil exceeding $100 per barrel. Oil underpins
the UK National Health System, as well as the functioning of wider society, and in order to prevent a collapse of the NHS, radical change is suggested. The key to societal survival of peak oil is a drastic reduction in reliance on oil, and Cuba
provides a model of how this had to be achieved in health care when the 1990s
‘Special Period’ saw a dramatic fall in the supply of oil, and yet Cuba managed to maintain health indicators on par with and in some cases exceeding those of the UK. The paper suggests that the UK public, clinicians and media are not ready for the challenge of change required, which would effectively move health care away from cure and from increasing profits through privatisation, to prevention and to state provision, and there are lessons that can be learnt from the Cuban experience.

In January 2008 oil hit $100 a barrel for the first time and in the UK pump prices
now exceed £1 per litre, with diesel and unleaded petrol prices rising by around
18% during the last 12 months (Automobile Association, 2008). Many believe
that the world is experiencing a phenomenon known as peak oil. ‘Hubbert's Peak’
is the point at which oil extraction rates are at their maximum: in other words,
the supply of oil cannot be speeded up. As oil fields are exploited, the rate at
which oil can be extracted increases over time and then declines; typically, the
maximum rate of extraction is achieved 30 years after the discovery of the oil
field (Mobbs, 2005). The early extractions of oil from fields are characteristically
quick and over time these slow down as the oil becomes heavier and harder to
extract (Tooke, 2005). Thus, oil extraction is very different to the usual 'petrol
tank' analogy which implies a tank full of very accessible fuel.

Existing oil reserves are not fully audited, leading to overestimations of supply
(Mobbs 2005). However, oil fields can be mapped together to show overall
production rates of oil and future trends can be predicted. Figure 1 (you need to go to the pdf to see this!http://www.cubastudiesjournal.org/londonmet/library/a44329_3.pdf) shows the
mapping by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (2008) and suggests that
peak production of oil is happening now.
Figure 1: The general depletion picture (Association for the Study of Peak Oil, 2008).
(Gboe = Billion barrels of oil equivalent)
The graph shows that oil does not run out immediately but will be extracted
more slowly in the future. Demand for oil, which has kept pace with the
increasing supply, is not predicted to fall as supply plateaus and then drops.
Demand is increasing at around 2% per year (Tooke, 2005) and, as it overtakes
supply, prices will rise rapidly. Oil demand is relatively inelastic (Cohen, 2007)
and this further exacerbates the price rises.
We have lived the last 100 years as though oil was an infinite resource and have
behaved as if continued economic growth will last forever. Collectively, as a
species, we are starting to realise that infinite growth on a finite planet is not

The effect of peak oil will hit the poorer members of society first and it will hit
them hardest. The impact will be felt at a very basic level with the core needs of
food, shelter and security being challenged. Currently there are around 17%
percent of people in the UK in ‘fuel poverty’ (Webb, 2008), a number that will
increase rapidly as prices continue to rise (‘fuel poverty’ is considered to apply
where a household needs to spend more than 10% of its income on domestic
fuel use). With the mild winter of 2008, the effect is yet to be felt in terms of
lives. In addition, petrol prices have hit an all time high (The Automobile
Association, 2008).

Peak oil will not only affect direct fuel costs such as petrol, it will also impact on every other aspect of modern life. Food, with its current reliance on intensive
farming, agro chemicals and long journeys to the plate, will become scarcer and
more expensive. Intensive farming methods that rely on high inputs of energy
have not only led to poor animal welfare but also to cheap food; however as
energy prices rise and greater human labour is required in food production, the
low prices we currently pay for our food are likely to end. The impact will not just
be felt on tangible products and services. For example, national security will be
under threat unless a managed solution to energy is found quickly; the fuel
protests of 2000 were an indication of what might happen.

Impact on health care
While such effects are documented and now beginning to be felt, one aspect that
has yet to be explored in any depth is the effect of peak oil on health and health
care. There seems to just one major researcher into the effect on health care,
Dan Bednarz, an American who generally focuses on the US healthcare system.
In the UK the Transition Towns Movement (2008), set up to provide a localised
plan for managing energy decent, is just starting to consider health and health
care implications of peak oil (Transition Town Totnes, 2008).
While the ecology of health care has been considered to some degree, ranging
from public health (Lawson, 1997) to the co-creation of health (Tudor-Hart,
2006), peak oil presents a stark and specific challenge. It also presents a great
opportunity for both health and health care - provided there is a strong vision
and the political, clinical and public will exists to meet the challenge.
When we consider health care, a sector that accounts for around 8% of our
economic activity and employs over a million people in the UK, it becomes clear
that the current model of provision is unlikely to survive.
Firstly, as regards pharmaceuticals, there are great risks to costs of production
and therefore prices, with the development and transportation of medicines
almost entirely dependent on oil and energy. Currently the UK’s National Health
Service (NHS) budget for drugs is rising at about 7% each year (Department of
Health, 2007). This is a long-term trend, despite a diminishing return on
effectiveness and with increasing concerns over polypharmacy (people taking
more than three medications regularly – a level where the interactions of the
drugs on the body and on each other render medications far more dangerous
than they are on their own). Currently the drug industry receives over £10 billion
of the NHS funding (Department of Health, 2007) and with the rise in oil prices
having a direct effect on the cost of medicine, it is only possible to speculate
what would happen if these costs were to double over a two to three year period.
Whatever the outcome of this, it is likely to be dramatic.
According to the Department of Transport, 5% of all car journeys are connected
to healthcare (Department of Health, 1996) and are estimated at 25 billion
passenger kilometres, 83% of which were by car or van (Best Foot Forward,
2004). Again, these journeys are reliant on oil and therefore will become much
harder to fund. Staff will struggle to afford to get to work, patients will struggle
to afford to get to hospitals for appointments and people will struggle to afford to visit relatives. The complaints about car parking charges will fade into the
background as the cost of fuel exercises minds. The knock-on effects of staff and patients needing to travel to predominately out-of-town hospitals will be
enormous, yet this will be dwarfed by the needs of people in more remote areas.
Developing countries often have an urban / rural split in their health care
delivery and it is easy to see how this could happen in the UK as driving becomes
increasingly expensive.
A third issue is that hospitals and General Practice (GP) surgeries are themselves
often inefficient users of energy. The existing stock of Victorian hospitals are
draughty and costly to heat. National tariff offers no extra money for heating bills for specific hospitals and has been designed to disadvantage hospitals with high overheads, as the Private Finance Initiative hospitals are already aware.

need to be nursed in warm, therapeutic environments rather than in hospitals
that are too expensive to heat. In this respect, investment in NHS estate has not
been adequate during its 60-year history - and the last 10 years of Private
Finance Initiatives will only serve to exacerbate the cost of running hospitals
under peak oil. In addition is the embodied oil use within the daily workings of
health care. From plastic syringes to dressings to the energy in ambulances, it is
likely that the running costs of healthcare will become unsustainable, with a
possible doubling of expenditure in the short-term, if we are to continue with the
current model of health care.

There is a real and urgent need to address the way healthcare is organised,
administered as well as to reduce the amount of energy that healthcare
consumes. Radical change could not just reduce our costs and improve equity,
but could also make a marked difference to the UK's carbon emissions. Ensuring
continuity of universal health care would also help society to remain cohesive
and supportive, rather than descending into barbarism (Power of Community,
2008). Radical change could be a win-win solution for climate change, peak oil
and society.

The Cuban example
Cuba is only one country that has successfully managed an energy descent
similar to that required by peak oil. The Special Period in Cuba in the early 1990s
saw oil imports fall by almost 50% (Power of Community, 2008) yet it retained
its position as having first world health care and first world public health
outcomes. Their infant mortality rate is comparable with the UK and better than
the US. With life expectancy at birth around 75 years for men and 79 for women
(World Health Organization, 2007) Cuba has managed a health service that could
easily have been brought to its knees by the oil shortages. There is clearly much
to learn from Cuba if the UK wants to have a health service in a post peak oil

Despite the NHS having been the envy of the world for much of its 60year life,
public perception and government treatment of the service is changing.
Successive UK governments have fragmented and privatised parts of the service,
pushing the NHS towards a market-based system and away from community and
clinical control. The internal market introduced in 1990 has given way to an
external market with private health care providers increasing supplying small
parts of care to patients. Recent developments include the payment by results
system of funding - which both drives the fragmentation of care and greatly
increases administrative costs. In short, the current approach to health care in
England is rapidly approaching the US model and moving further away from the
Cuban one. The US model spends almost twice as much as the UK as a
proportion of GDP (World Health Organization 2007), yet leaves over 50 million
people without easy access to health care (Marwick, 2002).

Cuba manages to run a health service with a ratio of one doctor to every 174
people, whereas the UK has one doctor to every 600 (Pietroni, 2001). Cuban
health care takes just 6.3% of the nation’s GDP to run, compared with around
8% in the UK and 15% in the US (World Health Organization, 2007). Cuba also
runs large training schools and exports doctors to other countries. However,
Cuban doctors are not paid disproportionately to others in society, typically
earning $240 (Carroll, 2007) to $300 per annum (Bernal, 2007) - about twice
the national average wage (BBC, 2005a). This can be contrasted with the UK
where GPs typically earn 4 times the national average: £100,000 compared with
£24,000 (BBC, 2005b and National Statistics, 2007).
The focus on public health and primary care is core to Cuban health care. The UK
favours large GP practices, and increasingly large practices run by large health
care companies, whereas the focus in Cuba is on primary care doctors working
closely with their communities. A doctor will typically work in a single-handed
primary care practice based at the heart of the community and have a strong
connection with their patients.

Cuban doctors are trained to use 'triple diagnosis'. They will consider patients
physically, psychologically and socially in their approach to health care, often
visiting patients unannounced at home to get a real feel for patients' lives. While
the better GPs in this country will also use a more holistic model of diagnosis,
many do not, and even the better GPs do not have time to visit their patients at
home. GPs may have 2000 patients on their books, some GPs have many more,
and it is questionable how good preventative care can be provided with such low
levels of staffing in the community. The disproportionate pay of UK doctors in
comparison with their Cuban counterparts is a limiting factor as regards the
number of GPs that the NHS can afford to employ. Conversely, halving GPs’ pay
would have a disastrous effect on moral and recruitment and would increase the
problem of low doctor numbers. The UK suffers from a cultural problem that
currently prevents us from moving from the high pay / low number of doctors
model to the more community focussed and egalitarian perspective
demonstrated in Cuba.

Polyclinics and public health

The next level of care up from primary care has been referred to as intermediate
care: here again there are parallels and differences between the UK and Cuba.
The UK government has talked about moving care closer to home, and has
invested in community matrons as part of this initiative. However this policy has
been grossly under-resourced and focuses efforts on the chronically ill rather
than preventing chronic illnesses developing in the first place. There is little
support to counter the obesity epidemic within the NHS and arguably no effective
policies to encourage people to eat better food or take more productive exercise.
One Cuban idea that has broken through into English public policy is that of
polyclinics (Batty 2007). In Cuba, polyclinics act as an intermediate service
between primary care and acute hospital services. Cuban polyclinics are an extra
layer of health care serving smaller populations, providing outpatients,
diagnostics, social services, emergency services and out of hours family doctors.
The Darzi report on the future of health care in London also proposes polyclinics
(NHS, 2007); however the Darzi model of polyclinics differs widely from the
Cuban model. Darzi's polyclinics are likely to be run by private healthcare
companies paid for out of the public purse, which will fragment care and increase
costs to the taxpayer. They are also likely to replace GP surgeries, centralising
primary care provision and thus increasing distances to access them. Coupled
with the registration of patients with GP practices rather than individual GPs, this
will diminish personalised primary care; in other words, there will be a reduction
in the continuity of care and a negative impact on the ability of GPs to know and
understand their patients.

The role of acute hospitals in Cuba seems broadly similar to those in the UK,
which suggests other key factors influence Cuban health more strongly: these
could be put down to diet, exercise, a strong immunisation programme and
primary care services. During the Special Period (Franco et al, 2007) there was a
halving of obesity rates among Cubans. Cuba now has a far higher reliance on
locally grown in-season produce and a lower meat intake. Cuban travel also
radically altered during this period with a large increase in bicycle and public
transport use (The Community Solution, 2007).

The Cuban health care model has shown itself to be effective in the face of
drastic cuts in energy and oil supplies and therefore could serve as an example
for the UK and the rest of the world as we face peak oil. It could be argued that a reversal of primary care policy in order to move the UK's primary health care
system towards a Cuban model may be necessary.
Perhaps the fundamental issue facing British society is not that a new NHS able
to withstand the ravages of peak oil cannot be built - but whether the medical
establishment, pharmaceutical companies, politicians and the public would accept
a different model.

The Cuban model is not the Rolls Royce that the public expects when it comes to
treatment and cure: it is one of keeping people healthy as long as possible and
could be considered more of a Ford Escort model. It implies the need for society
to accept that there are limits to the curative side of health care. Treatment must
take second place to good public health (prevention is better than cure) and
there will be hard choices to make over expensive care to save one life or using
that money to benefit people more widely. Newspaper headlines often put
pressure on any manager, politician or clinician taking a pragmatic stance when
faced with cost effectiveness decisions. However, many British people are
unaware of the 3000 deaths each year that pharmaceuticals cause in the UK or
the thousands of deaths through other iatrogenic routes - although these issues
have been gaining prevalence in the media of late. The role of the media in
shaping society cannot be underestimated and presents one of the greatest
challenges to building a health care service resilient to peak oil. The necessary
sea change in the attitude of society is more likely to come through grass roots
movements and a stark realisation of the challenges facing the country than
through the media.

There was certainly political will within Cuba to ensure the continuation of health
care as a stabilising factor for society during the Special Period. However, in the
UK, political will for such a change seems lacking at present. Primary care and
public health are perhaps not considered as exciting as the treatment of illness.
Given the market ethos and the drive for the private sector supplying health care
services to the NHS, the current fragmentation of UK health care seems set to
continue: a reversal of policy seems unlikely.

Bednarz and Bradford (2008) talk of the need for clinical leadership in the
transformation to a lower energy health service and it may be an endearing
legacy of Guevara within the Cuban health care system that supported this
process during the Special Period. Under a different model, UK clinicians would
be paid at a level that was closer to the average wage and would not be able to
top it up from private practice. Furthermore, there would be no role for GP
surgeries to remain as small businesses, technically outside the NHS. To ensure
that profiteering is minimised, a state owned and state run health care system is
essential. If the UK wanted to reach the level of clinicians that Cuba enjoys there
would need to be a far higher contribution of taxation to the NHS; clinicians
would need to be paid less; or government spending would need to be diverted
from other areas. As each of these options requires sacrifice, perhaps an increase in clinicians would be most fairly achieved using all three options to share the pain.

It remains to be seen whether the majority of clinicians are ready to give up
many of the new treatments they have spent years researching or to switch their
efforts to understanding the role of preventative health care and the wider
implications of poverty, pollution and stress in society on health. Yet I would
argue that, with political, public and clinical will, a post peak oil health service is possible. Not only that: it would be a far better health service than the one we
currently have.
Stuart Jeffery is Health spokesperson for the Green Party.

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The International Journal of Cuban Studies Volume 1 Issue 1 June 2008
How peak oil will affect health care and what we should do about it
Stuart Jeffery
Copyright for this work is held jointly between Stuart Jeffery and the
International Journal of Cuban Studies under a Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-No Derivative 3.0 Licence
IJCS Volume 1 Issue 1 June 2008
Please contact the Assistant Editor at patricia.daniel@cubastudies.org

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting article and I agree that fuel prices are increasing more and more. But one man in Wales isn’t complaining at all and has managed to find his own fuel. I read about it on http://ffermio.tv/en/blog/farming-business/tomorrows-consumers and the way he’s managed to produce fuel is amazing.

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