Argus title : NHS funds wasted on weapons

My husband has to have an operation next week and he’s likely to be off work for at least a fortnight. He should have had the operation earlier, but he says he’s been too busy to drop everything.

Now, in the normal run of things, if someone needs medical treatment I’d say their work should just wait – especially in the case of someone like my husband who is rarely ill and works long hours. However, in this case I’m more inclined to understand his point of view. That’s because, unusually, over the past three months, he’s had to take quite a bit of time off. He’s already had 2 operations – all for the same thing.

Each time the wound site has become infected and he’s had to return. What he hears from professionals is that “this happens” and “it’s just one of those things.”

It may be that there’s some systemic health problem which makes my husband more prone to infection, but that wouldn’t explain why we keep hearing that “it recurs”.

It may be that this is another ‘men’s complaint’ which has flourished because men don’t talk about their health. No doubt there’s a measure of truth in that. However, it’s also true that my husband was misdiagnosed, given inadequate pain relief, admitted too late and kept in hospital too short a time. And each time it happened it reduced his capacity to fight off infection. And that’s because of budget cuts.

During the time he’s been ill, I’ve read reports in this newspaper of new mothers being returned home from a Brighton hospital just six hours after giving birth – because of a shortage of skilled nursing staff. Their own mothers and even their grandmother’s remember a time when women who had been through the painful and exhausting process of labour would have received many days of rest. Now they look on, helpless and bewildered, as a new generation of mothers is discharged without adequate care.

People who recall a time when NHS hospitals were spotlessly clean, listen in despair to health professionals who now routinely warn that “it’s better to keep patients out of hospital because of the risk of infection”. It’s not as if community services are well resourced. The newly rebuilt children’s hospital in Brighton is already subject to cuts – and it is community nurses whose jobs are in the firing line.

Just the other day the Argus described how a bereaved local family learned for the first time from a hospital-issued death certificate that their deceased mother had had MRSA when she died. Two days later I was approached by a serving nurse at the same hospital who spoke of her grave concerns about present levels of care. She said she “wouldn’t blame anyone for being frightened to go into hospital”. The Argus’ campaign to “Save our Sussex Hospitals” was never more urgently needed.

Gordon Brown may protest that he has invested huge sums in the Health Service. This is true. But it is also true that the sums provided go nowhere near restoring levels of funding lost during years of Tory underinvestment.

We have to cope with an inadequate heath service not just because it is being mismanaged, but also because it continues to be seriously under funded. And one of the reasons is that we as a nation are engaged in costly war games.

Our government has gone a-soldiering in Iraq with disastrous consequences and is sinking ever deeper into the military mire of Afghanistan. The cost in terms of money and lives is astronomical.

Last week the Ministry of Defence quietly secured a £1.7 billion increase in its budget. As the journalist George Monbiot said “….another billion or two doesn’t make much difference when we are already sloshing out £32 billion a year on a programme whose purpose is a mystery.”

In 2003 the MoD admitted that “there are currently no major conventional military threats to the UK or NATO….we no longer need to retain a capability against the re-emergence of a direct conventional strategic threat.”

A leaked policy document to be discussed at NATO’s summit this week acknowledges that “large scale conventional aggression against the Alliance will be highly unlikely.” Instead it speaks of “a wider range of expeditionary tasks, at greater range from the UK..” and accepts that these foreign wars “could only conceivably be undertaken alongside the US”.

In short, we do not need to arm ourselves to the teeth to defend ourselves against a conventional enemy. We are tooling up to fight aggressive, not defensive, wars, and to do so yet again as the poodle of the USA.

Not content with engaging in conventional war on two separate fronts, and preparing for other similar conflicts, this government also plans to update its nuclear weapons. Undeterred by the carnage unleashed by the Iraq War Tony Blair is desperate to get a firm commitment to update Britain’s Trident Nuclear weapons system before he leaves office. Early estimates suggest this will cost between £25 billion and £76 billion.

The US developed Trident system consists of 4 nuclear-armed submarines. Each submarine carries 48 warheads, each one of which has the explosive power of up to 100 kilotons, 8 times the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Each has the capacity to kill well over a million people and injure many more, destroying the entire infrastructure of the bombed community and leaving the land contaminated for generations.

Trident went into service in 1994 and has a 30-year lifespan. A replacement for the system is likely to take around 14 years to develop. Therefore there is time for a considered public and parliamentary debate on the issue. However, Blair has insisted that the decision be made within 3 months – while he still serves as Prime Minister.

Last year, the government promised that there would be a full and open debate on the future of Britain’s nuclear weapons. Since then, the government has done nothing to ensure that this takes place.

In advance of consultation and parliamentary discussion, the Labour Cabinet has already backed Blair’s decisions both to replace Trident and to deny Labour MPs a free vote on the matter. Cameron’s Tories will, predictably enough, support renewal, so, even if some Labour MPs rebel, the decision will be a shoo-in.

It seems the UK government, despite the fact that it is legally committed to nuclear disarmament under the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and loudly condemns states which attempt to acquire nuclear weapons, has already made its decision.

Billions of pounds of public money will be wasted on a system which isn’t needed, and depends entirely upon US support. Our so called ‘independent’ deterrent is anything but.

Proponents of nuclear weapons argue that such a deterrent is necessary to ensure our continuing security. In fact, it is now widely accepted – even by senior members of the military – that the UK faces no nuclear threat from any other state. What it does face is the threat of terrorist activity – against which nuclear weapons would prove useless.

The May 2006 report of the Defence Select Committee on Trident replacement concluded that “The most pressing threat currently facing the UK is that of international terrorism. Witnesses to our inquiry overwhelmingly argued that the strategic nuclear deterrent could serve no useful or practical purpose in countering this kind of threat.”

Blake Lee Harwood, Campaign Director of Greenpeace said “Building new nuclear weapons at a time when the UK faces no foreseeable nuclear threat and when the international community is trying to prevent other countries developing their own is incredibly inflammatory….How can we preach at Iran when we have our own secret weapons programme?”

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) Briefing Paper states: “If the UK envisages at least another 50 years of British security being based on threatening other populations with mass destruction we encourage other states to do the same and thus paradoxically we increase our security risk rather than decrease it.”

Hans Blix, who led the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission investigating possible weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, agrees. In the past he pleaded with Bush and Blair not to invade Iraq, cautioning that there was no evidence of WMDs and warning of a bloodbath.

Now he has advised Blair that a decision to replace Trident will undermine the NPT and make it more difficult to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

Against all reason, Blair will not heed his words. He hears his master’s voice in Washington and once again sits up and begs. It is we who will have to sort out the mess.

Sussex Peace Alliance (CND) welcomes new members. Contact George Farebrother on 01323-844269.

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