Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Nanny goes to work

Quick! Hide your lunchbox. The boss is coming. Put that donut down and pull the reserve apple out of your desk drawer.

Sounds like some sort of Orwellian nightmare, doesn’t it? However, this sort of thing could be happening to you at work if the coalition government gets its way. Despite pledging to butt out of our business and roll back the nanny state, it appears that our politicians have been hijacked by the usual bunch of self-serving busybodies who infest the third sector these days.

Under the sinister sounding Health at Work Network, companies and other organisations are being urged to sign up to ‘guidelines’ to help employees get fitter. The actual words used are: ‘help employers use the workplace to improve the health of their employees’ and ‘help people at work lead healthier lifestyles’. These days the word ‘help’ is pregnant with threat and euphemism.

So, as well as managing your work, your line manager could soon be responsible for monitoring the food you eat, the alcohol you drink or even whether you smoke. These guidelines, as with all government guidelines, are there to change people’s behaviour. But if companies don’t enforce these guidelines vigorously enough, the government menacingly hints that laws could be introduced to make sure that we’re all poked and prodded into doing physical jerks and never sampling a bacon sandwich ever again.

If you think it sounds far fetched, you only have to look east, in the direction of Japan. There the government has charged companies with making sure that employees lose weight and get fit. Companies that fail to literally slim down their workforce face fines and sanctions. Presumably all employees are weighed weekly, in much the same way that a farmer might weigh his cows to gauge when they're ready for slaughter. Well, now it’s about to happen here.

So what sort of things could we expect from this nonsense? Free gyms in the workplace? Possibly... but far more likely we’ll see cheaper options such as workplace vending machines stocked with apples and mineral water rather than Cola and crisps. Expect to see limits on the amount of alcohol served at the company Christmas party or even physical fitness playing a part in your annual performance appraisal. For instance, the proposals call on companies to offer ‘responsibly-sized portions’ in works’ canteens. Only government can make the word ‘responsible’ sound sinister.

How on earth have we arrived at the situation where the government is now poking its corporate nose into the grown-up relationship between employer and employee? We already have companies laying down government inspired rules on things like jokes in the workplace or other behaviour in the office, and it’s about to get worse. Perhaps we’ll soon have a government sponsored spook in every office in much the same way that the SS had a man on every U-boat during the war.

All I can say is... thank goodness I’m freelance.

Monday, 21 March 2011

The figures speak for themselves

Prisoners get more money spent on their meals than NHS hospital patients, shocking figures have revealed. The average prison meal costs £2.10 but cutbacks mean some NHS hospitals allocate as little as £3 per person a day - just £1 a meal.

Figures suggest the food budgets overall have dropped by as much as 62 per cent at hospitals in England compared with five years ago. The NHS spends around half a billion pounds on catering every year, but it has been hit by a welter of complaints about poor-quality food and malnutrition, especially among the elderly. Around one in five trusts has reduced spending on food since 2004-05, with 36 out of 191 cutting back, according to figures analysed from NHS Information Centre data.

At least 20 trusts spend less than £5 a day feeding each patient, with St George's Hospital, south London, spending least - just £1.04 on each meal or £3.11 a day. It used to spend £6.67 a day, but a spokesman said the figure did not include snacks or late meal requests. Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust spends £1.11 per meal.

The biggest percentage drop in spending took place at the Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in West Sussex, where there has been a 62 per cent drop over the past five years. The amount spent per day went down from £10.97 in 2004-05 to £4.11 last year.  A hospital spokesman said the cash only covered the cost of providing three main meals and a drink.

There was a 61 per cent cut at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospital, down from £23.67 to £9.06 per patient per day and at Ealing Hospital, London, down from £10.37 to £4 last year.

Roger Goss, co-director of Patient Concern, said the problem would only get worse as hospital struggle to make efficiency savings. He said: 'Hospital food is a disaster. Each hospital is allowed to decide how much it spends but the Department of Health should set a minimum amount and ringfence the budget.' A spokesman for the British Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (BAPEN), said it was 'outrageous' that NHS hospital patients fared worse at mealtimes than criminals. She said: 'Nutrition care in hospitals is about more than just the food quality, and not enough is being spent on it.'

She said screening, assessment and support were all vital, as patients needed to be treated as individuals and where necessary given help to eat the food put in front of them. We're wasting money in the long run because of a failure to get these policies right. This isn't a new problem, there have been disjointed attempts to address it but the problem remains that it's an easy target for the finance team,' she added.

TV chef Lloyd Grossman, who headed a £40million revamp of NHS menus in 2000 that was shelved after he quit five years later, revealed last month that he was blocked by a 'chronic lack of common sense'. The former presenter of BBC's Masterchef, who was not paid for his involvement in the initiative, said patients were suffering unnecessarily because of poor hospital food. He was continually frustrated in his efforts to get healthy and tasty recipes into hospitals and blamed lack of political willpower.

The Daily Mail's Dignity for the Elderly campaign has repeatedly highlighted abuses caused by underfeeding and poor nursing practice in hospitals and care homes.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: 'It is important that patients are fed well so their health improves. Hospitals make their own decisions about their food and therefore, over time, the amount spent will differ between hospitals. Patients must not be left without enough to eat or drink. The Care Quality Commission has tough enforcement powers for cases where proper standards are not being met.'

© Daily Mail

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

That's one way to make them take notice

A patient who took controversial hospital caterers to court has won a £200 compensation payment. Michael Cooper branded Medirest’s meals a “disgrace” and said he would not have fed them to pigs after a 14-day stay in Southampton General Hospital. Instead he defied the pain from a knee operation to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in the canteen racking up a £200 bill. When Mr Cooper left hospital he asked Medirest to reimburse him but the firm refused.

So the 59-year-old from Millbrook launched a county court case and won a legal judgement ordering the contract catering company to pay him back the money. Now Mr Cooper hopes other unhappy hospital diners will follow his lead and force catering and health bosses to take action to improve the food. But Medirest bosses dispute Mr Cooper’s claims and say they did not defend the case because “the relevant personnel” did not receive the court papers until after the deadline for response – despite Mr Cooper delivering them by hand a fortnight earlier.

Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust (SUHT) awarded private company, Medirest, the five-year £17m contract in 2009, to supply meals that are pre-prepared in St Albans, Hertfordshire and then steamed in microwaves in ward kitchens. Hospital bosses insisted that a four-week action plan early last year had improved standards. But disgusted at the food offered to him in October, retired lorry driver Mr Cooper made the trip down to the canteen every mealtime.

Mr Cooper, who is due to return to hospital for another operation in 12 weeks, said: “If I had pigs I wouldn’t even feed them the hospital food I was given. I would have rather starved than eat anything they served up for me. It is a disgrace.

“I’m not looking forward to going in again but I have told my wife to get the rolls and sandwiches ready because I will not eat what they have to offer.”

After serving the Southampton County Court papers to Medirest himself last month, the company failed to respond. Now the court has ordered the company to pay Mr Cooper the full £200 he had claimed.

Mr Cooper  said: “I hope I have started something here and that other people might follow in my footsteps. If Medirest gets a flurry of people claiming against them I am sure they will be forced to take action.”

Medirest claims that the latest survey revealed more than 70 per cent of patients were very satisfied with the food. A spokesman said: “We dispute Mr Cooper’s claim and had the relevant Medirest personnel been aware of the claim being issued we would have taken the necessary steps to defend this. However, on the basis that the judgement has been entered we will abide by the court’s decision in this particular case.”

© Southern Daily Echo

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Out of sight, out of their minds

Those nasty smelly things that really make many of us sick have decided to ban displays of cigarettes. Yes, MPs have decided that we need to have temptation put out of our way by hiding fags. As I've said before, I'm not a smoker but these knee-jerk reactions that result in banning anything that offends or could be a bit dangerous leaves me feeling really uneasy.

Cigarettes are still legal. The government doesn't have the balls to ban them because it's too addicted to the taxes they raise. However, the government has decided to ban smoking in enclosed spaces and is now going to ban displays of cigarette packets by making shops keep the evil weed under the counter. Experts believe this will stop people smoking.

Let's think about this logically, shall we? Illegal drugs aren't displayed or even available for sale anywhere legally and yet drug consumption has risen exponentially for the past four decades. So how will hiding cigarettes help stop smoking? Won't it just make them even more exciting and mysterious to kids?

By all means, let's discourage smoking which is, after all, a disgusting, smelly and unhealthy pastime. But where does all this banning end? How about alcohol? What about meat? Should we ban butter? Where do we stop?

If we carry on like this there won't be any displays in shops and everything will be under the counter. Shopping is soon going to be as mad and hilarious as the Two Ronnies sketch involving fork handles. We'll have to play charades to get what we want. Won't someone treat us like grown-ups?

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Ihre papieren, bitte

The country may be in the grip of a fierce recession as public services are being cut back to the bone, but thank goodness there are some frontline public sector workers out there still carrying out vital work. For example, the brave council wardens and officers of Essex Police who are planning random inspections and roadblocks across the county to look for evidence of illicit cigarette use. They will even hunt for cigarette butts in the ashtrays and smell the air inside vehicles in order to clamp down on people smoking in commercial vehicles..

When the Health Act was introduced in 2006, workers were banned from smoking in their company cars. Vehicles used primarily for business purposes by more than one person must be smoke-free zones. Anyone caught breaking the law faces a £50 fixed penalty fine or a possible court conviction, which carries a £200 fine. The culprits’ employers will also be informed and also be heavily fined.

Chris Kitchen, acting head of environmental services at Tendring District Council in Essex said: “Police together with council officers will be stopping lorries, vans, company cars and public transport vehicles on the highway. We have noticed that people are smoking in commercial vehicles where in fact it's banned and we will be looking for evidence that people have been smoking." He added: "We will be looking for ashtrays and whether the vehicle smells of smoke."

Ian Wilkins, environmental officer at Tendring District Council, explained that the scheme was intended to raise awareness of the law. He said: "When the new legislation came into force on July 1 2007, it became illegal to smoke in virtually all enclosed public places and public and work vehicles.

"I think it is fair to say that most people understood the rules when it came to public buildings, but there was some confusion over the rules about smoking in vehicles. We will use the month of March to carry out inspections, offer advice and generally try and make sure people are aware of and compliant with the legislation. This is primarily about raising awareness but, if we feel the case is appropriate, we will take action where contraventions are observed."

The scheme which is being carried out throughout March has been organised to coincide with National No Smoking Day which takes place on March 9.

I'm not a smoker but this sort of thing makes my blood run cold. How long before we hear those words: "Halt! Ihre papieren, bitte"?