Davos Newbies Home

Get me the doctor 

When I was involved in Davos, one of the regular programming dilemmas we had was with sessions about healthcare. Everyone cares deeply about the subject, but at a global event it’s very hard to have either a dialogue of the deaf or a discussion dominated by the very particular problems of one system (in the Davos case, usually the US).

These conditions may be changing. The future of the National Health Service is probably the biggest running story here in the UK. Last week, both chancellor Gordon Brown and prime minister Tony Blair indicated that the recently increased funding for the NHS was not a one-off blip, but would continue. Speculation that tax rises to fund this would be essential has continued.

What’s new to the debate is the more informed awareness of other systems. Very few people here want to follow the US path, even though elite care in the US is recognised as the best in the world. There is a very European concern for equity across the system, and the number of uninsured and underinsured in the US offends most political sentiments here.

Nicholas Timmins has an excellent list of myths about healthcare that could, were Davos so minded, be a good basis for a cross-cultural discussion of the issues. The most interesting to me was number three: “demography and technological advance, combined with patient expectations, will push up healthcare costs, bankrupting the system”. I have never believed in a bankrupted system, but I did accept the truisms of the pressures. Timmins is persuasive that technology advances generally lower costs rather than raise them. And the demographic challenge (although more real than he suggests) is mitigated by the fact that the vast bulk of costs are incurred in the last year of life.

I’m not so sure, however, that Bill Gates is going to help the situation very much. Apparently Gates is going to speak at a Department of Health conference this week on the future of IT systems in healthcare.


The only time in my Davos experience that someone was virtually apoplectic with rage was when I suggested, over dinner, that London had five newspapers that were the equal of the two or three best in the US. An editor of Newsweek at the table couldn’t stop spluttering.

I could have qualified my statement, of course (and I would happily admit that the popular tabloid papers here, although great examples of the craft of journalism, are woeful in just about any other terms). The best US newspapers (I’d make that The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times) have unrivalled resources. Their articles are done with a rigour for fact-checking and source-verification that no UK newspaper approaches.

But none of the US papers treat the rest of the world with the regularity that papers from a relatively insignificant island nation do. And there’s a pithiness and edge to good British journalism that has been erased from US papers. More profoundly, there’s far less respect exhibited by journalists here to the supposed icons of the age.

So I was pleased to see Roy Greenslade’s take on US journalism in the aftermath of 11 September. “How odd, I reflected, that these same tamed journalists spared no effort in their relentless search for muck about the former president’s sex life. Yet they have failed utterly to apply the same energy to hold this president to account over infinitely more serious matters. And they think we’re trivial!”

A modest proposal  

Like anyone active on the Internet, the volume of junk email I receive seems to go up daily. I actively use the screening filters Microsoft Outlook provides me, but it’s a battle not unanalogous to Dave’s against the ants (another emergent, complex adaptive system).

I thought I was clever by filtering out messages with exclamation marks and/or the word free in the subject line or the text. But too many messages I want to receive use the word free in a valid context. On the other hand, I don’t think any message I receive needs exclamation marks. Yet there are still intelligent people out there who feel impelled to use exclamation marks more than once in a decade. Stop, please, and I can have an effective filter against dreck.

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