Sunday, 30 January 2011

Richard's lunch

Friend Richard is back in a BMI hospital for another op and here's his Sunday lunch. Not bad at all. Pass the Burgundy!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Pooling resources

Times are hard for all of us but perhaps none more so than our local councils. In the past they may have been profligate, wasteful and careless but a swingeing budget cut of 20% is a wonderful way to concentrate the mind of even the most highly paid chief executive.

In an effort to save money, Redditch Borough Council in the West Midlands is the first local council to use gasses from a crematorium to heat water for the local swimming pool. The heat given off by the crematorium’s incinerators can reach a scorching 800 degrees C, and at the moment the heat just goes up into the ether, warming up the atmosphere and doing no one any good.

One or two squeamish residents don’t really like the idea all that much but it sounds eminently sensible to me. Smart thinking like this is essential if we’re to maintain enough cash in the coffers to keep those five-a-day coordinators in work.

Channel 4

If you've arrived here from the Channel 4 Dispatches website and want to read some of the posts made from my time in traction then click here

A fruitless task

Could it be possible that the five-a-day madness that has spawned an army of outreach workers is load of old codswallop? Do we really have to eat five pieces of fruit and vegetables every day? Well, no… some fibre zealots reckon we should now crank up our intake to eight a day. God knows what that’s going to do for methane emissions and global warming but no doubt the five-a-day coordinators will now be renamed eight-a-day and will have a corresponding increase in salary, bonus and gold-plated pension. Carrot juices all round.

However, according to a growing band of nutrition experts, the whole five-a-day fallacy may be a load of old rubbish. Apparently the original campaign was dreamed up in America (but you knew that) by a group of fruit and vegetable growers working with a cancer charity. Recent research points towards the advice being utter nonsense and that excessive consumptions of fresh fruit and vegetables doesn’t significantly reduce the chances of developing cancer and heart disease.

According to obesity expert, Zoe Harcombe, the health lobby would have been far better off urging us to eat foods that are more beneficial. She says: “I don’t agree with the ­prevailing view that we should all eat more fibre in order to help us feel full and keep our digestive systems moving.

“The fact is, we can’t digest fibre. How can something we can’t even digest be so important to us, nutritionally? We are told that we need to ‘flush out’ our digestive systems. But essential minerals are absorbed while food is in the intestines, so why do we want to flush everything out? It is far better to concentrate on not putting bad foods into your body.

“The biggest tragedy of all is the lost opportunity from this misguided five-a-day campaign. If only we had hand-picked the five foodstuffs that are actually most nutritious and spent what the Department of Health has spent on promoting fruit and vegetables over the past 20 years on recommending them, we could have made an ­enormous difference to the health and weight of our nation.

“If you ask me, these foodstuffs are liver (good for all vitamins and packed with minerals), sardines (for vitamin D and calcium), eggs (all-round super-food with vitamins A, B, D, E and K, iron, zinc, calcium and more), sunflower seeds (magnesium, vitamin E and zinc) and dark-green vegetables such as broccoli or spinach (for vitamins C, K and iron).

“Add milk (good for calcium, vitamins A and D), porridge oats (magnesium, zinc and B vitamins) and cocoa powder (magnesium and iron) and, hey presto, you’re provided with the full quota of every vitamin and mineral our bodies need.”

That sounds like sensible advice to me, and a hell of a lot easier than munching your way through a pile of tasteless vegetation that’s mostly water and fibre.

More liver, anyone?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The NHS juggernaut rolls on

Few people can deny that the NHS needs to change in order to make it more responsive to the people it’s supposed to serve, rather than the people it’s currently serving: mainly management bigwigs and staff.

So, on the face of it, the government’s move to slash bureaucracy seems like a good idea. Around 30% (or 21,000) NHS pen pushers are due to be wheeled away in their office chairs, to the local Job Centre, stopping on the way to cash their redundancy cheques for £1 billion. A mere 40,000 will remain in post to provide vital management functions; after all, policy documents and gender monitoring reports don’t write themselves, do they?

However, before you get the Champagne out to celebrate this bonfire of the bureaucrats, temper your joy with the fact that much of the work these managers were doing is now being passed to GPs; and we all know how generous and public-spirited our doctors are. With the average GP scraping by on just £105,000 a year (not including evenings and weekends) these front-line angels of the health service will no doubt take on this extra work for a very reasonable sum and we shall all be better served.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? We’re going to swap one bunch of paper pushers for another grasping faction of the medical fraternity. This is all going to go swimmingly. Dare I suggest that the health secretary's plans are going to be as easy to implement as pushing manure back into a cow with the aid of a paperclip.

Why do we seem to have so many problems running healthcare in the UK? I know other countries have their problems, but there’s something seriously amiss here. Are we sure that mucking around with a crumbling structure is going to make any difference at all? If we were talking about something like a sports club or a large corporation then I’d say give it a shot but this is people’s lives and pain we are gambling with.

On one hand politicians are trying to save money and stretch budgets while, on the other, the unions and medical profession are trying to stop any erosion in their members’ interests. In the meantime the poor voiceless souls in the middle – the patients – appear to have been entirely overlooked. No one has asked us what we really want. Still, the NHS wasn't set up for the exclusive benefit of the sick and the frail. Perhaps it’s time for a far more fundamental reform.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The party's over

I like a drink, occasionally; although I’m not dependent on the stuff. I managed to eschew alcohol throughout the six months of my incarceration. I sometimes drink a glass of Rioja with a meal at the weekend or maybe a flute or two of Champagne, when it’s on offer but I'm not, and nor will I ever be, the type of person to settle down behind the bins at the back of my local Asda with a bottle of White Lightning cider or a can of Carlsberg extra strength lager for company. They’re simply not my tipple.

However, just because I don’t choose to guzzle own-label alcopops from Lidl, doesn’t mean I should try to ban or price it out of someone else’s reach just because I happen to think it’s not good for them or that I know better how to protect their health by placing booze on the top financial shelf.

So, the news that our illiberal and nannying government, consisting of well-heeled Eton and Bullingdon types, has decided to introduce a minimum price for alcohol fills me with dread. I honestly thought that when Commissar Brown was exiled to a gulag in Fife, we’d pass into an altogether sunnier and more enlightened place where government would finally start behaving like the servant of the people rather than it’s cross and humourless governess. Alas, it was not to be.

But surely, these new price controls will only affect that nasty cheap booze that could so easily double as Toilet Duck or Domestos? Well, that may indeed be true, but don’t think for a moment that the illiberal meddlers behind this move will stop there. Once they've tasted the right to interfere with our personal liberty, these puritans will set up base camp and start lobbying for the price to be pushed up to a point where we have as healthy a relationship with alcohol as the Finns and Swedes do.

Do Cameron and his advisors not understand, as they quaff their Dom Perignon in the subsidised bars of the Houses of Parliament, that the Trojan lobby horse they’ve so convivially welcomed in will soon be eyeing up all types of booze, food, tobacco and other substances that might offer the tiniest crumb of comfort during this endless night of austerity?

No, thought not.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Bank teller narrowly escapes death

A brutal and savage murder was narrowly avoided this morning in my local town centre, thanks to a quick thinking member of the public who intervened. Step forward Mrs XTM and take a bow for managing to avert slaughter in my bank.

Allow me to explain, I’ve been meaning to go into my local branch since receiving a scrap of paper explaining that my Individual Savings Account (ISA) had matured. I thought I’d better pop in to find out if the account had been rolled over for another year. The letter was deliberately hazy and poorly worded. It probably should have said something like this instead:

"Dear Sucker

Your ISA has matured. It's now earning virtually zero per cent interest and we're currently loaning it to some hapless sod at an extortionate rate of interest. If you wish to renew your ISA and place it on a derisory rate of interest for another year, then please call in at your local branch on any Wednesday afternoon between the hours of 3.15 and 3.30pm when one of our surly and uninterested customer service harridans will attend to you. Please bring two forms of photographic ID, a DNA swab and one of your first born's kidneys.

Yours faithfully

A Swindler
Branch Manager"

I approached the customer service assistant who was slumped at the front desk looking like a bored bunny. She had all the presence and dynamism of a tranquilised sloth.

“I’d like to talk to you about my ISA,” I told her. She looked at me as though I’d just asked her to unblock the u-bend of an elephant’s toilet.

“Got any ID,” she growled.

I passed her my bankcard and politely inquired if she could tell me how much interest the account was paying. I used to be able to look up this information online but the sneaky bastards have removed it as part of their new Smoke & Mirrors Customer Charter.

“You’re getting 0.1%,” she told me, with the merest hint of a smirk on her deeply unattractive countenance.

“That’s outrageous,” I replied. “Why do you automatically have to drop the interest rate from 2.6% to nothing? How would you feel if I did that with my mortgage? What if I made you come to me every year and renegotiate the interest rate you charge me? Would you lend me that money for just 0.1%? It’s sneaky, underhand and unprincipled.”

The woman sighed before gleefully telling me that all the banks are the same.

“So, you’re all sneaky, underhanded and unprincipled. That makes me feel a lot better. You’re nothing but a cartel,” I said. She responded with the uncomprehending, bovine stare of a cow with learning difficulties. “I’ve a good mind to move my account,” I snapped. She looked at me with a withering mixture of pity and insolence.

“It will take a long time to transfer your account to another bank,” she spitefully hissed.

By this time I was incandescent with rage… as incandescent as a scotch bonnet chilli or a jalapeno pepper. I wanted to lean over the counter and throttle this deeply unpleasant individual with the highly misleading word 'service' on her name badge.

She looked at me as if to say: 'you’re screwed and there’s jack you can do about it.'

The fact that the government now owns my bank just made things worse. Not content with ramping up charges and slashing services, these unprincipled bonus-awarding vermin are now raiding my savings to keep their own inflated lifestyles afloat.

It was at this point that Mrs XTM managed to bundle me out of the bank saying: “Leave her! She’s not worth it!”

An hour and a half later and my blood pressure is slowly returning to normal as I sit here concocting evermore beautiful and exquisite ways of wreaking revenge on the bank from hell.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Charge of the tight brigade

Insurance companies aren’t noted for their sympathetic approach or philanthropic nature, but even these vultures of the financial world understand that people who are sick or terminally ill with cancer have special needs and deserve a little consideration.

One health insurance provider is now including up to £300’s worth of parking fees in its policies for anyone who has to go to hospital for chemo or radiotherapy.

Hospital parking charges can really impact on cancer sufferers, many of whom routinely have to pay up to £6 a day to park their cars while receiving life-saving or life-prolonging treatment.

As usual in the United Kingdom, cancer patients of the NHS in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland get special concessions for parking but the stupid English must cough up (poor choice of words, I know) for their hospital parking.

The Health Top-Up cash plan from Western Provident Association covers parking costs and incidental expenses incurred by other family members. Insurance being a competitive business, we can expect to see this sort of cover becoming more widespread. But our healthcare is publicly funded, it's part of the reason we pay tax at 20% and an additional 12.8% National Insurance. We pay these things so that we don't need to go out and buy some private insurance to top up the ever decreasing public provision.

Mike Hobday, of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: ‘If insurance companies can recognise the distress and high cost of parking charges to patients why can’t NHS hospitals? ‘

Quite simply, Mike, because they’re run by a bunch of hard-hearted, pencil-pushing imbeciles who are far more concerned with ticking boxes, reaching targets and triggering bonus payments than caring for patients.

Mark my words; the bureaucrats will be be introducing hospital charges for food and medicines before we know it. Pay more, get less... that seems to be the way ahead these days.

Monday, 10 January 2011

First they came for the drinkers

Since 2008, when the recession began to bite in the UK, British retailer, Marks and Spencer, has been offering its customers something called ‘Dine in for a Tenner’. In a time when fewer people can afford to eat out, the classic British clothes and food store bundled a main course, vegetables and dessert for two along with a bottle of wine - all for a very reasonable £10.

It was a generous gesture offering exceptional value to those who’d been hard hit by the economic downturn. So what could there possibly be to complain about? For once a major British business wasn’t ripping off its customers and was trying to offer a chink of cheer in these austere times.

Unfortunately, despite millions of Britons taking advantage of this fortnightly offer, alcohol campaigners complained that Marks and Spencer was tempting people with the demon drink. “What,” they asked,  “would happen if people bought the promotion and ate it every night of the week?”

Well, ignoring the fact that M&S only run the promotion every other weekend, what’s so wrong with two people sharing a bottle of wine? Will the earth stop spinning on its axis?

The British Liver Trust claimed such deals should carry health warnings, as they encouraged heavy drinking among middle-aged professionals - yet were promoted in sections of stores away from the alcohol department.

The charity made its claim as official statistics showed 22 per cent of the middle classes drink at least five days a week - compared to just 11 per cent of manual workers.

British Liver Trust spokeswoman Sarah Matthews said: 'These meal deals are prominently advertised and make regular drinking at that level seem like a perfectly acceptable everyday habit. They are totally wrong.'

'If a couple share a bottle of wine every night, the woman would be more than double her limit by the end of the week and the man would also be way over.'

Marks and Spencer decided to give the promotion a try by excluding the bottle of wine. The result... a total flop. Guess what? People actually enjoy a glass of wine or two with their food, in common with most people in Europe. For years we’ve been lectured and hectored by the nut cutlet brigade, imploring us to be more like continental Europeans and to drink with our food rather than swilling ale in pubs. But now that pubs are closing at record rates because we’ve choosen to stay home and drink wine with our food, they’re trying put a stop to that too.

The term puritan springs to mind. And the definition of a puritan is: Someone who is haunted by the thought that someone, somewhere might be having a good time and enjoying themselves.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Let's tell nanny where to stuff her five a day

Oliver Letwin MP
I thought our last lot of power-crazed politicos had taken the nanny state to new extremes but the coalition appears to be vying for the prize of legislators with the most intrusive and impertinent policies. It would appear that our new overlords are looking at ways to 'nudge' us into being healthier. They want to nag us into buying healthier food at the supermarket.

Oliver Letwin MP is in charge of the sinister and odious-sounding Behavioural Insight Team based in the Prime Minister's office. This nasty little group of snitches and sneaks has been set up to 'nudge'  us into behaving in the way the government would like us to behave - such as eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day or not exceeding our recommended number of units of alcohol.

In order to nudge us into healthier eating the gastro-fascists would like to see unhealthy food placed on supermarket top shelves in much the same way that porn is in newsagents... er... or so I'm told. Of course this would discriminate against short people but as they are perhaps more prone to put on weight there may indeed be some logic in the suggestion.

Other brainwaves from the propeller-headed policy wonks at Number 10 include these nauseating little morsels from their nasty little policy document:

"Visual prompts are already widely used by supermarkets and food manufacturers. But there is potential for visual prompts to be introduced in more ways that help people make healthier food choices. Examples include experimenting with the design of trolleys and considering the order or height of healthier options on supermarket shelves.’

I don't want to be 'helped' to make 'healthier choices' and if I do choose to make healthy choices then that will be a decision I shall take for myself without anyone else's help. Why do politicians insist on treating us like small children with learning difficulties? Why don't they go and do something useful like making sure our rubbish is collected or that our airports can still function when there's a heavy frost?

The Behavioural Insight Team claims that action needs to be taken because of the UK's obesity problem. With six out of ten adults apparently being overweight it claims that the cost to the economy is £7 billion a year. Presumably this report wasn't written by the other set of idiots who reckon our poor eating habits are costing the NHS an unbelievable £13.5 billion a year.

Here's my message for the Behavioural Insight Team: When Ollie Letwin manages to slim down his porcine frame so that it can be squeezed into a 34-inch pair of Levi 501s, then I'll start taking healthy eating advice from him and his posse of policy prats. Until that day arrives they know exactly where they can put their five a day.

Rant over.

Friday, 7 January 2011

A large weight on the NHS

Malnutrition costs the NHS (according to the Department of Guesstimates) a staggering £13.5 billion a year. Like me you’ve probably just skipped over that figure without really registering the amount. It’s almost impossible to visualise that much money. Well, if you consider that the coalition’s welfare cuts are going to save a paltry £3 billion, then £13.5 billion is an astronomical sum. So, can the NHS really be spending that sort of money sorting out the fallout from poor dietary habits?

I’m assuming this figure is encompassing the cost of medical care from every person suffering from heart disease, dodgy joints, diabetes and any other illness however vaguely connected to food. Obviously the figure also includes treatment for bulimics and anorexics as well as the case of one Paul Mason.

The 50-year old is now a relatively sylphlike 37stone (235kg) down from a staggering 70stone (445kg) and obviously a dead cert for Slimmer of the Year. Mr Mason didn’t lose weight all on his own, however. He was fortunate enough to have been fitted with a gastric band (or should that be an orchestra?) when his weight threatened to kill him.

Now Mr Mason is suing the NHS for compensation because he feels he wasn’t given the dietary advice that he asked for soon enough. At one point Mr Mason was hovering up an astonishing 20,000 calories a day and funding his compulsive habit by stealing money from letters at a sorting office. He then persuaded his mother to take out a second mortgage to keep the larder topped up.

A typical day's food for Mr Mason included a breakfast of an entire packet of bacon, four sausages and four eggs complete with bread and hash browns. Lunch was four portions of fish and chips along with a couple of kebabs while his evening meal would consist of roast dinners, curries, pizza and more chips. Daily snacks of 40 packets of crisps, sausage rolls and pasties damped down his hunger and helped his weight to balloon.

Mr Mason claims that any compensation he receives from the NHS will go towards helping other obese people to control their eating habits. Perhaps they’ll all go out for a curry to swop bingeing tales.

The care that Mr Mason has received so far from the NHS has cost the public purse an eye-watering £1 million, around £100,000 a year. When he originally asked for help, Mr Mason’s GP apparently suggested he ride his bike more often. By the time he was tipping the scales at a gargantuan 64 stone, Mr Mason was sent to a dietician.

And before anyone accuses this larger-than-life character of being a whinger, Mr Mason told The Sun newspaper: “I want to set a precedent so no one else has to get to the same size - and to put something back into society.”

Very public spirited of him, no?