Friday, 26 February 2010

The scandal continues

What would you do if you were a government minister and a report landed on your desk highlighting the scandal of malnutrition in hospitals? Would you do something immediately in order to reduce the estimated 50,000 deaths that are linked to malnutrition of hospital patients each year? Would you take immediate action in order to save lives? Or would you sit on the report for six months because it was so damning and might embarrass you or your colleagues?

That’s exactly what’s happened here in the UK with the delayed publication of a report by the Nutrition Action Plan Delivery Board, a panel of medics and academics set up to monitor the problem. The report claims that 239 patients died because of malnutrition in English hospitals in 2007. The report comes a day after the publication of another report into 1,200 deaths that occurred through the neglect of patients at the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust.

The report’s authors said the figure of 239 patients represents less than 0.5 per cent of the total number who died in hospital from malnutrition. They added: “We know that malnutrition predisposes to disease, it delays recovery from illness and it increases mortality. It follows that the effect of malnutrition on mortality rates is substantially greater than the number reported to have died because of malnutrition.”

The report has been seized by the Tories who claim that if extrapolated, the number of hospital deaths resulting from malnutrition could be as high as 47,500 a year. Naturally, the government isn’t taking this lying down. Care services minister, Phil Hope, claims that only 239 people died from malnourishment in Britain’s hospitals in 2007.

So, that’s okay, then! Only 239 people died from lack of food or water in our hospitals in a single year. That’s a drop in the ocean. Nothing to worry about. Move along, nothing to see here. Get back to your plasma screens, people. The government will take care of this. Crisis, what crisis?

Meanwhile the scandal of dire nutritional standards in our hospitals continues while big businesses carry on making a fortune from supplying cook/chill muck to sloppy, cost-cutting, target-driven NHS trusts.

Read more on this at The Daily Telegraph

I'm ill

This morning I woke and immediately knew that there was something wrong. There was a tightness in my chest and pain racked my whole body. It was clear that all was not well. I asked my wife to call an ambulance and then waited for the paramedics to arrive.

I was right to summon help as the paramedics agreed with my diagnosis… I do indeed have man flu. Yes, I know what you’re going to say… what a cruel irony after all I’ve been through this past year for me finally to be struck down by one of the most virulent and debilitating illnesses known to man.

Of course, there are a few people who dismiss man flu as some sort of psychosomatic disorder. Well, they used to say the same about ME. What I’d like to know is what is the World Health Organisation doing to eradicate this vicious ailment? It’s all very well fighting AIDS, TB and malaria but there are people suffering every day with man flu. If women got man flu there would be huge pressure to increase research and spending in order to combat the disease. I mean, women complain about childbirth and period pains but these things are nothing compared to what we men go through when we get a cold. If you don’t believe me then watch this… UPDATE: Proof at last

Thursday, 25 February 2010

More slacking

Sorry, everyone... but it's another day and another hospital. This time it's the recalcitrant leg that's being manipulated, twisted, x-rayed, poked and prodded. My life is a full and busy one; I have no time for work. Anyway, that's my excuse for light blogging. It's a 60 mile drive to the hospital (that's a long way in this overcrowded and gridlocked island) so it may be later today before I am back online. In the meantime, why not enjoy yourself with this little tale of everyday life in the National Health Service...

Makes you proud to be British, doesn't it?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Monday, 22 February 2010

Bully for you

“We’ve been expecting you, Mr Bond.”

Gordon Brown claims that he’s never hit any of his staff. And he says it almost as if it’s the norm for some people to go around clouting their employees. What a compassionate leader we have. Mind you, I doubt Hitler ever hit any of his co-workers… although he probably got Goebbels to do it for him.

I’m afraid to say that there’s something about our Dear Leader that I’ve never liked. He always comes across with an insincere sickly demeanour when he’s being interviewed and knows he must be on his best behaviour, but I’ve seen him speak to rallies and trade unionists when a threatening stentorian menace comes into his voice and he sends a shiver down your spine. He wouldn’t break your fingers but one or two of the chaps around him might.

So it comes as no surprise to me that Christine Pratt, the chief executive of the National Bullying Helpline, claims four workers from the Prime Minister’s office have called for help as a response to their treatment by the Bone-cracker Brown. Ms Pratt doesn’t say whether the callers were secretaries, tea ladies or cabinet members but she is quite adamant that a culture of bullying existed in No 10.

The bullying claims have surfaced in a book written by political journalist Andrew Rawnsley who claims how volcanic and foul-mouthed eruptions of temper by the Prime Minister left Downing Street staff cowed and terrified. And just in case anyone is thinking that Rawnsley may be a stooge for David Cameron, the Tory Party leader, it’s important to point out that the journalist is very much ‘left of centre’ in his thinking. Sure he has a book to sell, but I doubt very much that he would make such claims unless his sources were 100% reliable. In fact, his political pedigree is what makes the story so believable and so disturbing.

Bullying is not a recent phenomenon but it does seem to have become more prevalent and more tolerated in recent years. When the leaders of one of the G8 nations is accused of workplace bullying then it’s probably time something was done to bring an end to such destructive and menacing work practices.

Happy Anniversary

Dr Jane reminds me that it is one year since I was carted off into hospital and so nearly met my maker. It's been a titanic struggle since with eleven operations, months in hospital and some extremely painful treatment but I'm still here to tell the tale. Even better, my sense of outrage and grumpiness is still wonderfully strong and fuelling my blog. Writing each day has been great therapy but there wouldn't be much point to it without you, the people who visit, comment and sometimes enjoy the things I have to say. The months in traction would have been unbearable without the great debate, conversation and friendship so many of you have provided. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Snouts in the trough

Another busy day at the Council of Europe

We’re a lucky nation to be ruled by such wise heads. We have the cream of society to look after our interests and make laws for us that are just, fair and wise... people like left-wing MP Bill Etherington. This paragon of political virtue is featured heavily in today’s paper for having taken part in an edifying spectacle involving a Champagne drinking contest with fellow Labour MP, Geraldine Smith.

The honorable member was keen to prove his manliness by drinking so much fizz he was forced to projectile vomit the contents of his stomach across a table at a banquet where many senior European politicians were dining at the same publicly funded trough.

The anti-monarchist and former union leader is well known for his love of European junkets. Last year MPs spent an eye-watering £800,000 on little jaunts abroad. Each trip is made on business class transport and each MP has £236 a day shoveled into their bank accounts for undertaking the arduous task of guzzling Champagne at the taxpayer’s expense.

At the grand dinner in Paris, arranged by the Council of Europe, the member for Sunderland North managed to rearrange his food and drink artistically across the top table in front of astonished European dignitories. Mr Etherington was so bladdered that he then passed out and colleagues feared for his life.

Mr Etherington is described as a 'low-profile figure' at Westminster… presumably because much of his time is spent under a table. For five of the past seven years he has taken part in fewer than half of Commons votes.

The Council of Europe junkets are widely regarded as little paid holidays for MPs and membership is handed out as a reward for loyalty and good behaviour. According to attendees, most of them are just publicly funded eating and drinking competitions and just another little perk of being part of the grand European slurry machine.

One Council of Europe member describe 90% of the council’s work as “swanning around with no aim or ambition apart from to have free drink, free food.”

Nice 'work' if you can get it.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Saints preserve us!

My local National Health Service has kindly pushed a leaflet through my letterbox today telling me how to keep healthy this winter. Now, aside from the fact that we're halfway through February and snowdrops are trying to pop their little heads up through the warming soil, I have to say this tardy piece of propaganda is a complete waste of time.

For starters it tells me that if I have a hangover, grazed knee, sore throat or a bit of a cough I should not dial 999 and summon an ambulance but that I should try to self care. In other words, retire to bed with plenty of fluids and some paracetamol.

However, the leaflet tells me that should I fell unwell or experience diarrhoea or vomiting then I must pick up the phone and call NHS Direct. If things should worsen, though, then the trained nurses at NHS Direct should be dumped in favour of my local pharmacist who can handle my back ache, runny nose, painful cough or headache. Are you with me so far? Now, should I discover any lumps, bumps, constant aches and pains then I'm told it might be advisable for me to toddle off to my GP.

So far so good... but if I were to cut myself, strain a muscle, get and itch or sprain an ankle then I need to hotfoot it to an NHS Walk-in Centre or an MIU (that's a Minor Injury Unit, apparently). Finally, if I choke, develop chest pains, black out or lose a significant quantity of blood then I have the NHS's blessing to call and ambulance or proceed directly to my local casualty/A&E unit.

I don't know what makes me angrier... the waste of time, money, paper and ink on this sort of nannying shite or the fact that such a leaflet may actually be necessary because a few window lickers choose to call an ambulance every time they sneeze or get an itch. On second thoughts, my leaflet says I need to go to the Walk-in Centre for one of those.

Foot-in-mouth disease

Should you ever find yourself in a hole then my advice is to stop digging. It’s a pity that 71-year-old Tory party grandee, Sir Nicholas Winterton, didn’t do just that following a recent foot-in-mouth episode when the politician complained bitterly that MPs were no longer allowed to travel first class on Britain’s railways at the taxpayer’s expense.

The crusty old bugger has been milking the parliamentary expenses along with is MP wife for quite a few years. Their claims include rent of £80,000 on a flat owned by their own family trust. When asked to explain why he felt entitled to travel first class for free, Sir Nicholas replied that passengers travelling by standard class were a ‘different type’ to him and that they have a different outlook on life. He added: “They may be reading a book but I doubt whether they're undertaking serious work or study, reading reports or amending reports that MPs do when they travel.”

Sir Nicholas then rammed his foot further into his elitist mouth by adding: “Very often they have a different outlook, of course they do, because they are in a different area of activity. They may be travelling just because they are on holiday or they are going to London to visit somebody  -  MPs are going to London to work.”

Poor Nicky really is terribly upset by all this unpleasantness over MPs’ expenses. “I am angry. I feel MPs are being treated extremely unfairly. I believe matters on expenses have been misrepresented,” wailed the knight. “It’s not for the public' to decide how politicians travel,” he added.

I can’t really understand why he’s making such a fuss. Sir Nicholas and his wife have been the sole passengers on their own little gravy train for a very long time.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Burnt at the steak

Not a day goes by without some academic arse coming up with yet more crap to frighten us. Being an alarmist must be somewhere near the top of core skills required when applying to be a scientist these days.

The latest hysterical nonsense to be unleashed by the mad men in white coats is that cooking steak on a gas hob could be more dangerous than cooking steak on an electric hob. According to a team from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in Trondheim, eating overcooked or burnt red meat increases the risk of tumours due to the creation of carcinogenic compounds called acrylamides. However, the article also stated that the measured levels of total particles were far below Norwegian occupational exposure limits. The particles have been judged 'probably carcinogenic' by the International Agency for Research on Cancer but it’s not yet known what level of exposure to these components is safe, the researchers said.

The Norwegian doom-merchants believe that the higher temperatures reached by gas flames give off higher levels of mutagenic aldehydes and heterocyclic amines. This astonishing news was published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Obviously my subscription for that organ has expired or else I would have brought you this staggering research sooner.

However, a report published two years ago by the University of Porto claimed that frying steak in beer or wine could cut the cancer risk by 90%. That’s a good and practical Portuguese solution to the problem but probably far too wicked and wanton for the abstemious Norwegians to endorse.

Of course, the release of a report like this can never be complete without some gratuitous input from a UK-based health charity. Step forward Dr Deborah Jarvis, of the UK’s National Heart and Lung Institute, who said the study could help shed light on previous research that sought to link frying with gas to breathing problems - such as coughs, infections and asthma - but proved inconclusive.

She added: ‘The health message to the public remains the same - keep your kitchen well-ventilated when cooking, and make sure all your gas appliances are well maintained.’

I wonder if she’s got a degree in stating the bleeding obvious!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A penny for your thoughts

Government ministers constantly tell us that our public services are run efficiently with the minimum of waste and the lowest staffing levels possible. There isn’t an ounce of fat left on the public sector bone… or so we’re assured.

However, I refer you to the case of Mary Gibson, a fabric cutter from Nottingham who received a demand this week for 1p. That’s right, Mrs Gibson was asked to pay off a debt of £0.01 that was still outstanding from a crisis loan she took out from the Department of Social Security eight years ago. The loan was paid off in 2006 but apparently there was still a penny left on the books.

Mrs Gibson received a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions (the successor to the Department of Social Security) asking her to settle the debt by February 18. It helpfully offered to let her pay the outstanding amount in installments!

A spokeswoman for the DWP said: “While we will always pursue outstanding Social Fund loans to make sure they are fully paid, clearly on this occasion a letter should not have been sent.”

Clearly the government is still employing the wrong kind of people in parts of the public sector. Whatever happened to common sense? I suppose it’s just not that common any more.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


NHS bullying

Proof, if proof were needed, of the moronic and bullying way in which the NHS is managed came last week during a Fatal Accident Inquiry, held in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. The Sheriff’s hearing was held to establish why an NHS records officer, working at Gordon Brown’s local hospital in Kirkaldy, took his own life following a botched disciplinary procedure carried out by his incompetent managers.

Brian Gilfillan was a conscientious records officer who often worked long hours, covered for his colleagues and was wedded to his work. His initiative kept his department running smoothly. And yet Brian made the mistake one day of forging his manager’s signature on a requisition order for more maternity forms. Presumably his manager, Anne Starkie, was away on a diversity course when Brian felt it necessary to scrawl her signature on an order for some forms which had run out.

Instead of praising Brian for his initiative, his vindictive petty minded boss decided to launch a disciplinary hearing. Brian was sent a template letter telling him that he was being charged with fraud and that he could lose his cherished job. No doubt drunk on power, three of his superiors appeared intent on hounding the 36-year-old. Mr Gilfillan, who lived with his parents, had earned a reputation for his astonishing commitment to his job. He was known to take work home and correct mistakes made by colleagues and was once reprimanded for working beyond his required hours.

Rather than face a kangaroo court held by a self-appointed tribunal of jobsworths, Brian chose to hang himself from a tree in the hospital grounds. The petty and spiteful action of his managers had, in the words of his parents, ‘ripped his heart out’.

NHS Fife expressed its condolences to the dead man’s family and friends, and said it would consider the sheriff’s findings in detail.

Words fail me.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Follow the money

Rushed science is bad science… and if proof of that were needed, the latest revelations in the global warming scandal show us that scientists aren’t always the perfect white-coated boffins we believe them to be.

American meteorologist, Anthony Watts, has produced a report that may explain why global temperatures were recorded as rising in recent years. Watts has discovered that many of the weather stations used to report temperature readings used by the Intergovernmental Panic on Climate Change (IPCC) are sited in areas that have become urbanised and therefore warmer. It was also discovered that some of the stations were located next to air-conditioning plants or heating flues. One station at Rome Airport was even in the direct path of hot exhaust being expelled by passing jets. Could this be a partial explanation of why an increase in temperature of 0.7 degrees Celsius has been recorded in recent years?

But something bothers me about the whole global warming debate. Why has there been such a scramble towards adopting the orthodoxy of climate change? What’s the big rush? It couldn’t have anything to do with money, could it? You don’t think the trading in carbon credits could be responsible, do you?

For example, the UK Government has just spent £60 million on buying carbon credits to enable it to heat government buildings, including the Ministry of Defence. So, financial resources are being withdrawn from troops on the frontline in Afghanistan so that civil servants can be kept in comfortable, guilt-free warmth. The government used carbon permit traders to buy the £60 million of carbon credits and those traders skimmed off 15% in commission. Why couldn’t the government buy its own carbon credits? Why did it have to use a carbon trader? How much longer will it be before we begin to see ex-politicians and gangsters becoming carbon traders? The whole thing reeks of corruption

History may well conclude that global warming was the biggest scam since the South Sea Bubble or Tulipomania. To find out more, read Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles MacKay.

Friday, 12 February 2010


At last there’s a chink of light just bright enough to wipe the smug smirk off the face of some of the more militant tofu-eating vegetarians. I’d like to point out that I’ve nothing against vegetarianism, in fact some of my best friends are vegetarians, but I do get royally hacked off by ‘campaigning veggies' lecturing me in hectoring tones about how I’m despoiling the planet, ruining my health and just being plain selfish by eating meat.

Now research carried out by Cranfield University and funded by the WWF, no less, claims that vegetarianism may not be the most environmentally sound diet after all. The report says that meat substitutes such as soy, lentils and chickpeas are grown overseas and must be imported in large quantities if they are to replace home-grown red meat in the British diet. This will result in more foreign land being cultivated and raise the risk of forests being destroyed to create farmland. Meat substitutes also tend to be highly processed and involve energy-intensive production methods.

If there were to be a significant shift to vegetarianism in the UK it could actually increase the quantity of arable land needed to supply the UK. Donal Murphy-Bokern, one of the study authors and the former farming and food science co-ordinator at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “For some people, tofu and other meat substitutes symbolise environmental friendliness but they are not necessarily the badge of merit people claim. Simply eating more bread, pasta and potatoes instead of meat is more environmentally friendly.”

The study also concluded that some of the guesstimates about how farting cows and sheep damage the environment are fundamentally flawed because campaigners have not taken into account the impact the changes would make to the use of land overseas.

So, yet again, bad science causes another wheel to come off the climate change bandwagon and career headlong into militant vegetarianism. I’d call that a double whammy, wouldn’t you?

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Sweet lies

What are the two biggest lies in the English language? The first is “the cheque’s in the post” and the second is “We won’t close your factory down once we’ve taken over your company”?

The news that Kraft is now going to close Cadbury’s Somerdale factory just outside Bristol comes as no surprise to some of us. However, to the workers who were assured by Kraft that it would keep the factory open if it succeeded in taking over Cadbury, this hasty about turn is a cruel blow.

Kraft took over Cadbury last week and assured the workers and investors that it would do its best to keep the factory open and the 400 jobs of those who worked in it. What a difference seven days can make. Did Kraft ever have any intention of doing its best to keep the factory going or was it just the lies of a spiv eager to get its greedy hands on a well-loved British company? I think we know the answer to that one, don’t we?

Cadbury itself doesn’t come out of this whole sorry mess with any honour either. It was Cadbury’s board that made the decision to invest £100 million in new production facilities in Poland, thus increasing the pressure on the Bristol factory.

Last week Cadbury’s boss Todd Stitzer was criticised by the unions when it emerged he would personally make £30million from the deal. Stitzer also cashed in stock options worth £4.6million. He acquired 1,363,520 shares at £5.03p each, selling them for £8.41p a share. Perhaps Mr Stitzer will be distributing some of his thirty million pieces of silver amongst the workers of Cadbury’s Somerdale factory.

I shall now to take great pleasure in boycotting goods made by Kraft. It shouldn’t be too hard. I wouldn’t buy Hershey chocolate, Dairylea cheese triangles or any of the other unappetising chemical concoctions that Kraft tries to peddle in the UK. As for chocolate, well there’s plenty of great Swiss, German and French confectionery to be had.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Everything must go

Roll Up! Roll Up! Everything must go in our massive clearance sale. Brown’s Emporium is flogging off anything that will raise a few quid to get us out of the monumental financial scrape we’ve managed to get ourselves in.

The UK Government is selling off the highly profitable Port of Dover and first in the queue for this bargain of a lifetime is the Port of Calais. As is usual in the UK, if it’s profitable then we’ll sell it. On the other hand, if its haemorrhaging money then we’ll buy it. That’s the perverse way that life works in this wacky corner of northwest Europe.

This led me to think about a few other things we could flog off to balance the books…

A force to be reckoned with

There are times when I pick up a newspaper and read of an incident that makes me wonder if I haven’t been transported to some parallel universe where the bad guys always win and the dice is loaded against decency. One such incident is a story concerning a carjacking and a police bill for £150.

Sarah MacDonald-Lee was dropping off a package when her car was stolen and driven off at high-speed with her daughter still in the back. The poor women stared helplessly as the carjacker sped away with her three-year-old daughter still strapped into her car seat.

Sarah raised the alarm immediately and within 20 minutes the police had located the abandoned car with Sophie stood next to it. The Nottinghamshire Police Force then towed the car away for forensic examination.

The next thing Sarah heard about the incident was a letter from Plod demanding £150 if she wanted to get her car back because it had been 'abandoned'. It also warned her that she could be charged £20-a-day storage. Once again, the innocent get clobbered while the guilty go free.

However, what really disgusts me is the statement from the faceless police spokesman who claimed the force had a policy requiring owners to pay when abandoned vehicles were recovered from the roadside. The spokesman added: ‘These matters are set down in legislation.’

That statement has the same oily property as the classic wartime expression: “I was only following orders”. And if I hear the word ‘policy’ once more I’m going to scream. Since when were policies set in tablets of stone? Whatever happened to common sense and compassion? Is everyone working in the public sector a complete moron? Private business wouldn’t do this to a customer for fear of the backlash from bad publicity, but the public sector, which is supposed to be on our side, couldn’t give a toss.

Personally, I’d like to see the Chief Constable of Nottingham charged with demanding money with menaces. Perhaps it’s time I replaced my ‘Prats of the Week’ award with the even-more-prestigious ‘Fuckwits of the Month’ trophy!

Monday, 8 February 2010

One-armed bandit

A one-armed thief is being hunted by police following a robbery at a jewellery store in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. The robber pretended to be looking for a gift for his mother but proceeded to knock over some boxes before making off with a single gold cufflink in the shape of a boxing glove.

The cufflink was valued at £120 and so the police were called in to investigate. When viewing the CCTV images, the shop staff noticed that the thief only had one arm. A man fitting the same description was acting suspiciously in other shops so jewellers in the area had been alerted.

The thief is described as white, bald, wearing a dirty navy blue bomber jacket and blue jeans. Personally, I think he must have been working with an accomplice… After all, how on earth is he going to put the cufflink on by himself?

Horse trading over meat

It sounds like a long overdue and poular move… but the Italian government’s plans to ban horse meat has met with fierce resistance in a country that consumes more horse than virtually anywhere else in the world.

According to the Daily Telegraph, horse meat is popular with young people for its high iron content, and the fact that it probably tastes a lot nicer than liver. A staggering 213,000 horses are slaughtered for meat each year in Italy. The country imports some 20,000 animals from Poland and Eastern Europe in order to satisfy demand. So important is the meat in Italy’s cultural cuisine that Mussolini passed a law that only permitted horses to be butchered and sold through specialist equine meat traders. As far back as the Middle Ages, Pope Gregory III tried to ban its consumption without success.

My knowledge of Italian dishes covers pasta and fish but I can’t recall that last time my local tratoria served up a piece of pony escalope, and yet the recipes for horse meat are legion. For example, in the Veneto region salami, sausages and bresaola are often made from horse flesh. Horse fat is used to flavour stews and soups. The use of horse is deeply engrained in the local culture.

Supporters of a bill now before Parliament calling for the ban say that the "dignity of horses should be respected". Italy's agriculture minister Luca Zaia claims horses should not be eaten and instead "considered just like cats and dogs".

This all sounds fine but there’s something about the move that worries me. Most of us who don’t eat horse can see no harm in banning something that we don’t consume, in much the same way that non-smokers were happy to support a draconian ban on smoking. Today it’s horses that are no longer for the chop, but what if vegetarians begin agitating for rabbits, cows or sheep to be treated with dignity and respect? I can forsee a time in the future when the sale of meat is driven underground by a vocal but militant minority.

Today people may happily support the outlawing of horse meat but they should do so on the understanding that they’re possibly taking a step closer to enforced vegetarianism.

Friday, 5 February 2010

A load of old cobbles!

It’s been a while since I handed out my prestigious ‘Prats of the Week Award’, but I’m pleased to say we have another winner. This time it’s the managers at Bideford’s post office. They have decided to make complete prats of themselves with the help of our dear old friend Elf & Safety.

Residents in a quaint cobbled street in Bideford have been told by the Post Office that their lane is too dangerous for them to continue receiving postal deliveries. The lane has been deemed to be far too hazardous for posties to walk on. The poor dears must have limbs as brittle as a gazelle and they simply can’t risk walking on the lane in case they fall over. Oddly enough, courier drivers, fruit-and-veg deliverers and electricity meter readers can all manage the lane… it’s hardly Pony Express territory.

Resident Sally Bellamy was told by her regular postman that he could not cross the cobbles for ‘health and safety reasons’ and now the local Royal Mail managers have backed him up and all the post is being delivered to one home at the bottom of the road.

I particularly like the weasel words from the postal authorities: ‘We are in contact with residents and continue to seek a solution with them.’

God knows how we ever managed to run an empire and win two world wars!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Peace be with you

Tony Blair and Cherie Blair must have seen something special in each other. Well, let’s face it, no one else has ever seen anything special in either of them, not unless you count their special talent for making money, pissing people off and being just about the most venal couple on the face of the earth.

Now Cherie has outdone herself by managing to offend the National Secular Society of Great Britain. The gobby fishwife has for some years now been sitting as a junior recorder in London’s Crown Court. With her well-publicised habit of defending underdogs and wastrels, Mrs Blair hardly seems to be the ideal choice for the job of sentencing serious offenders.

If evidence were needed of her unsuitability, then Cherie’s latest faux pas has really set the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons. As a devout Roman Catholic, Mrs Blair decided to empathise with Shamso Miah, a Muslim who broke a stranger's jaw in row over a bank queue. Because he was a religious man, Cherie decided to suspend Miah’s prison sentence for two years instead of sending him off to the cooler for six months.

Sentencing Miah, Mrs Blair said that violence had to be taken seriously, but added: “I am going to suspend this sentence for the period of two years based on the fact you are a religious person and have not been in trouble before. You caused a mild fracture to the jaw of a member of the public standing in a queue at Lloyds Bank. You are a religious man and you know this is not acceptable behaviour.”

A mild fracture! Oh that’s all right, then. Punch a stranger in the face and as long as it’s a mild fracture and you believe in some sort of deity, you can be set free to roam the streets again. On the other hand, if you’re a filthy non-believing infidel, you can jolly well eat porridge for six months and break out in a cold sweat every time you bend over to pick the soap up in the shower block.

Thankfully, the National Secular Society has complained to the Judicial Complaints Office about Mrs Blair’s outrageous behaviour. However, I wouldn’t advise anyone to hold their breath while they wait for Cherie to be torn off a strip.

Couch potatoes of the world unite

I’ve never managed to go jogging or take regular exercise at a gym and now it seems I no longer have to feel guilty. In mitigation, I’d like to say that I’ve always walked a lot and been careful not to eat and drink more than I need. And now the scientific community has endorsed my common sense approach to health with the publication of a report into the benefits of aerobic exercise.

According to the study conducted in association with the Human Genomics Laboratory in Louisiana and the Centre for Healthy Ageing at the University of Copenhagen, around 20% of the population derives no benefit from aerobic exercise. Apparently, it’s down to our genes. Some people can benefit from exercise, while we special 20% can’t, no matter how much we sweat. The study suggests that those of us with the couch-potato gene would be much better off giving up the exercise that can destroy knee and hip joints and concentrate on improving our diets and taking medication to ward off diabetes and heart disease.

So that’s settled then. I’ll just sit here in the warm and read a book and I’ll see the rest of you when you get back from your jog.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

For the love of quiche!

Recently I promised myself that I would stop posting stories about silly things like 70-year-old men being asked to show ID when buying a bottle of wine. Whenever I post a story like that I get emails from Guardian readers telling me that all these ‘political correctness gone mad” stories are a lie and a fabrication. Well, I lied… because here is another.

When 24-year-old Christine Cuddihy visited her local branch of Tesco supermarket in Coventry, she decided to buy a slice of quiche from the deli counter for her supper. However, when Christine arrived at the checkout, the till operator asked her for some ID. That’s right… you apparently need ID to buy a piece of quiche!

Christine thought it was a joke or a wind-up but the assistant told her: “You don't look over 21. I need to see some proof of age,” before adding “We have to be really strict now and this applies to quiche bought over the counter.”

Naturally there’s either something being added to the water cooler in Tesco staff rooms up and down the country, or else Tesco really has lost its corporate marbles.

It’s not just Tesco that has got itself into a public relations mess with this sort of nonsense. Recently, Tina MacNaughton-Jones, 47, was told she could not by a bottle of wine from her local Waitrose supermarket without ID. Tina asked her 22-year-old daughter to use her driving licence as proof she was over 18 but the shop assistant wouldn’t budge. The impeccable logic for the refusal was that Tina’s daughter might pass the wine on to her mother… who couldn’t prove that she was over 18!

Perhaps one reason why supermarkets are perhaps getting themselves in a real panic over things like this is the tendency of the government to introduce nannying restrictions on so many items that used to be bought quite freely. Local trading standards departments frequently set out on entrapment and fishing exercises using very mature-looking 17-year-olds to buy alcohol in order to hit their quota of prosecutions.

Has our society become so infantilised that individuals are unable to muster an ounce of common sense? Have we become so disabled and feeble? On second thoughts, don’t answer that!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

No time to say goodbye

Today’s Daily Mail carries a very sad story concerning the death of Lai-Mai Pang-Cheung, a 58-year-old grandmother who was seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver just before Christmas.

Lai-Mai was rushed to King’s College Hospital, London, but her serious head injuries were so extensive doctors said she had no chance of recovery. Lai-Mai’s husband called the couple’s sons, who live in Hong Kong, and they immediately booked flights so they could be with their mother.

Unfortunately, according to Lai-Mai’s husband, the hospital insisted on switching off the ventilator and life-support system that was keeping Mai-Lai alive because of ‘tight resources’. The husband begged that Mai-Lai be kept alive until her sons could arrive the next day to say goodbye to their mother. Sadly, the hospital was apparently unable to accede to the request and Mai-Lai’s machinery was turned off only a matter of hours before her sons arrived to bid her farewell.

On the face of it, this sounds like a tragic story of a heartless hospital administration. However, having spent five days in intensive care myself last year, I know from my own family’s experiences that the nursing staff are highly skilled, dedicated and sensitive.

The report sounds uncharacteristically harsh and uncaring. But could it be true? I really hope not. However, if it does turn out to be the case, then reform of the way the NHS is both financed and managed must be the top priority for the next government.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Pick up thy bed and walk

More than 500,000 hospital patients are sent home from their sick beds each year before they’re ready to leave hospital, according to figures released today.

About 1500 patients are readmitted to A&E department each day having been sent home too soon. Now, to be fair, I’m not putting all the blame on the doctors. If you’re a medic and you have some humourless automaton with a clipboard breathing down your neck every hour of the day, you will make mistakes, panic and mess up. Seeing patients in pain on long waiting lists must contribute to doctors’ understandable wishes to push more people through the healthcare sausage machine.

And before some smart arse asks me how I know this to be true, allow me to recount my own experience. Last year I was fitted to with an external fixator to my left femur in order to help my fracture to heal. After four months the doctors decided to take it off and insisted that it could be done with day surgery. The operation was carried out under general anaesthetic but I had to stay in overnight because the blood loss was too great for me to go home. However, I was packed off the next day even though I didn’t feel too great. Three days later my leg had bent like a banana and the fracture clearly hadn’t even started to heal despite my leg having been x-rayed and manipulated. I was then readmitted as an emergency and spent ten long weeks in traction.

So, I think I can claim that I’m one of last year’s 500,000 who suffered the fate of being pushed out of their hospital bed too soon. Come to think of it, my leg broke in the first place because I was sent home too soon after my attack of osteomyelitis. I really needed a month or two more of complete bed rest and monitoring to be certain my leg was more stable. As a result of that blunder, I have one leg that’s now 4cm shorter than the other.

The figures for emergency readmissions have been rising for the past ten years, and this is the direct collateral damage from reducing waiting lists. Also, during this time, 20,000 beds have been taken out of the healthcare system, about 10% of the total beds available.

For those of us who’ve witnessed the NHS close up, it’s clear that the bed capacity is too low. During my stays in hospital I never saw a bed that was empty for more than an hour or two. Nurses were run ragged cleaning and changing beds as more and more patients turned up on the NHS conveyor belt of care. Surely, there must be a better way than this ‘just in time’ system of medical care.