Thursday, 13 October 2011

Too late, minister

Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State for Health, is all over the media today criticising findings by the Care Quality Commission that has found 20% of NHS hospitals mistreating the elderly and failing to feed and hydrate patients properly. The minister speaks as if it's a bit of a shock to him.

And yet, last February I made a film for Channel 4's Dispatches that highlighted this problem. After the programme was shown I sent the minister a petition signed by 4000 people asking him to do something about the issue. I did not receive even the courtesy of a reply from Mr Lansley. And yet, today, the minister claims he wants to encourage whistleblowers and to stop patients being starved when in the care of the NHS. Incredible.

Only now that the minister's position is threatened is he willing to do anything. It's shameful behaviour.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

On yer bike!

Yesterday I was watching a rerun of Francesco’s Italy, a charming programme following the journey of Francesco da Mosta around his home country. Last night he reached Naples. The busy streets were packed with mopeds and pushbikes. No one was wearing a crash helmet and often there were three to a bike or even young children riding on the crossbar of the pushbikes. As far as I could tell, no one was injured and the population of Naples hasn’t been decimated by this cavalier attitude to road safety.

Contrast this with the news that a father of a two-year-old boy was fined £200 for carrying his son on a crossbar seat on his bicycle in Burton, Staffordshire. The seat was bolted to the crossbar and further fastened using duct tape. The child was wearing a cycle helmet. Ghulam Murtza was handed a fixed-penalty notice by a police officer for the offence which he duly ripped up and threw on the floor in disgust. He was then handed another fixed penalty notice for littering.

Technically Ghulam was in the wrong as, according to the Highway Code, the bicycle hadn’t been adapted to carry a passenger, although one could argue that as the seat was bolted to the cycle frame, it was an adaptation. At court Ghulam was fined £100 for the cycling offence, £85 costs and the pathetic £15 victim surcharge that automatically gets slapped on any fine in this country, just so a bunch of quangocrats can enjoy fat pensions and gilded salaries by pretending to care about crime.

Meanwhile, cycling groups throughout the country are supportive of people being able to carry children on bicycles, as we’re all supposed to be going green and reducing our carbon footprints by using cars less.

However, the most chilling aspect of the story for me was the Orwellian weaselspeak from Chief Inspector Phil Fortun, commander of East Staffordshire Local Policing Team, which covers Burton. He said: 'It is our duty to protect people and ensure the safety of the communities we serve.

‘The bicycle was not made to carry a child in that way and officers took action to protect the young child from potential injury or worse, should the bike have been involved in a collision. The bike's owner was well-meaning in his efforts, but misguided with regards to the safety of himself and his son. Road safety is a priority for Staffordshire Police and we will continue to take the necessary action to keep all road users safe.’

They're only doing it to keep us safe. They could have had a quiet word with Ghulam if they really felt it was their business, but no... far easier to get the fixed-penalty ticket book out.

Makes you proud to be British, doesn’t it? Which way is Naples?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Make your mind up

Barely more than a week ago the liberal-minded citizens of Hampstead and other leafy enclaves of progressive thinking were demanding that rubber bullets and tear gas be used to quell rioters and stop total anarchy sweeping the nation. Fast forward a week and some 3000 miscreants have been arrested and hauled up before the beak. Exemplary sentences are being handed down in order to show how serious society takes the matter of civil disorder. The courts have been sitting around the clock and magistrates have discovered that they do in fact have a backbone if the Department of Justice tells them they can impose tough sentences.

The latest hardline sentence to be handed down from the Crown Courts is a prison term of four years for two boneheaded youths who posted details of a riot they wanted to start, using Facebook. The riot which never happened thanks to the apathy of the good people of Northwich, was advertised on Facebook by the two youths with a time and a place for the mayhem being suggested. The two chaps who clearly are a little bit short changed in the intelligence department didn't even disguise their identity and so plod was able to track them down after members of the public became alarmed at a mob uprising in the commuter belt of Cheshire.

So now the two young men are starting a four-year sentence for inciting riot and already the good people of Hampstead are wringing their hands and muttering that the courts have been too harsh and that this is wholly disproportionate. The depressing thing is the inability of the liberal elite to make the connection with their softness and unwillingness to make examples of wrongdoers with the riots that broke out a week before. They seem totally unable to connect the two. It's no wonder we have so many problems when the great and the good that still largely run this country are so prone to panic and so quick to reverse their hardline views once the moment of danger has passed. No wonder our young people are confused about what behaviour is and isn't acceptable.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Yobbery knows no age or class

There's a marvellous piece in today's Telegraph by Peter Oborne pointing out how moral decay has set in to our society at its so-called top end as much as at the bottom. The article perfectly captures the sod-you attitude that seems to pervade our sick society. I got a taste of this for myself on Wednesday during a routine visit to the hospital...

I was due for an appointment at my local hospital's physiotherapy department. Fortunately there's a car park for people who are disabled and who can't walk very far to get to the hospital. As you'd expect, many of the people who visit the hospital are disabled and have a disabled parking badge. They vary in the severity of their disability and the demand for spaces is high. For this reason I set off early and arrived with at least 35 minutes to spare before my appointment.

I joined the queue of cars waiting for a space and turned my engine off. A couple of minutes later a car drove past me and the car in front and took a space that was being vacated. As you can imagine, I was incensed. I wasn't bothered about waiting I was just really angry that someone should  jump the queue... let's face it, until recently, jumping a queue is just about the worst thing you can do in Britain.

I got out of my car and walked with some effort over to the car driver who had just stuck two fingers up at the rest of us waiting for a space.

"Excuse me... What do you think you're doing?" I asked the rather prim and austere-looking woman who was doing her utmost to avoid my gaze as she rooted around for a wheelchair in the back of her car.

"I'm late for my mother's appointment," she said as if that was some sort of an explanation. I looked at the woman to try to see whether it was worth reasoning with her. She wasn't tattoed or pierced; she didn't look like she was a member of the much maligned underclass. She was (and I'd bet at least £200 on this) a retired school teacher in her late 50s.

"We're all waiting for a space and we all have appointments," I said.

"Well I had nowhere to park and I was blocking the road waiting for a space," she reasoned with a hefty helping of irritation in her voice.

I tried to explain that what she'd done was unfair and she just huffed and puffed and kept repeating that she was late and hadn't been willing to wait in the queue. I got nowhere with her and, in the end, just told her she was no better than a rioter.

"Oh get over it!" she snapped at me before marching off, pushing her mother in a wheelchair that she'd just pulled out from the car.

That woman was the epitome of the nasty, snarling and snappy middle class sense of entitlement that's every bit as ugly and selfish as the looters of London. Is it any wonder that the young look at the selfish ways of some of the baby boomer generation and take their cue from them?

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Time for change

Last night’s rioting in London and elsewhere in the UK was truly shocking. It wasn’t just shocking to see the devastation, the burning buildings and the total lack of public order, but it was shocking to see kids as young as 10 motivated to get out on to the streets to steal things as shallow as a new pair of trainers, a bigger plasma tv or the latest smartphone. Is that really the pinnacle of this generation’s aspirations? To get their hands on some tacky gadgetry! Is that what it’s worth smashing up your community for?

What really concerns me is the potential for further unrest and violence. If this is what these very young individuals are capable of at such a young age, what on earth are they going to be doing in ten years’ time? Ten years during which they will have gained little or no meaningful education, virtually no engagement with their communities and zero prospect of employment. This is surely a social menace waiting to happen.

And how has it come to this? How have we managed to create a society where pockets of people have no interest or respect for the place they live? How have we managed to produce a generation that’s happy to defile its own doorstep?

Part of the problem must surely be the chronic overcrowding of our cities; the transient populations and the breakneck speed of immigration that mean successive waves of newcomers have had little time to put down sustainable roots. We live in an age where many people don’t know their neighbours and have little wish to do so. The tyranny of multiculturalism which has created ghettos rather than communities may have been well-meaning, but the failure to create a cohesive society where everyone speaks a single language and shares a common standard of ethics and behaviour has brought us to the point where our streets are burning, shops are being looted and the vast silent majority is afraid to venture out from behind their heavily barred and locked front doors. This is no way to live. Something has to change.

We now need leaders with vision, optimism and hope. People who can take their snouts out of the trough for more than five minutes and who can help us build a more decent place in which to live; where those with courtesy and concern for their communities are rewarded and encouraged. It’s surely time for change.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Total bull

Long-time readers will know that I have a healthy disrespect for authority and an intolerance to bullying and overbearing officialdom. Imagine then how much I enjoyed receiving this from my friend Sam.

A Drugs Enforcement Administration officer stopped by at a ranch in Texas  and talked with an old rancher.

He told the rancher: "I need to inspect your ranch for illegally grown drugs."

The rancher replied: "Okay… but whatever you do don't go in that field over there," as he pointed to the field behind the officer.

The DEA official verbally exploded and screamed: "Mister… I have the authority of the Federal Government with me!"

He reached into his rear trouser pocket and removed his badge and shoved it under the rancher’s nose.

"See this badge? This badge means I’m allowed to go wherever I want… on any land I like! No questions asked or answers given! Have I made myself absolutely clear? Do you understand?"

The rancher nodded politely, apologized, and went about his chores.

A short time later the old rancher heard some loud screams. He looked up, and saw the DEA officer running for his life and being chased by the rancher's big Santa Gertrudis bull.

With every step the bull was gaining ground on the officer, and it seemed likely that the official would be gored before he reached safety. The officer was clearly terrified.

The rancher threw down his tools, ran to the fence and yelled at the top of his lungs…

"Your badge! Show him your BADGE!"

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Get a life!

Another day… and yet another slagging-off story about the BBC’s Top Gear motoring tv programme, courtesy of The Daily Mail. Now, I know Jeremy Clarkson can be a boorish buffoon at times but he’s undeniably funny and a breath of fresh air in the stultifying tyranny of political correctness that we’re subjected to in this country. Since when did people start having their funny bones removed? Has the whole country lost its sense of humour?

The latest nonsense from the Top Gear knockers involves the latest episode of the show, which was screened on Sunday evening. Presenters James May and Jeremy Clarkson were testing electric cars and in a very informative feature explained many of the drawbacks of these ridiculously impractical milk floats. Part of the film showed the evil pair discussing their findings. But rather than parking in normal parking bays, the diabolical duo parked in spaces reserved for disabled people - causing 'a storm of protest' from disabled motoring groups who said it was 'typical' of Clarkson.

Cue the demented rantings of complete nitwits with a humour bypass castigating ‘the evil Clarkson’. According to The Daily Mail: "It was as they stepped out of their cars - with Clarkson and May even standing on top of a disabled road marking - that shocked viewers realised they had parked in disabled bays."

Now the Mail doesn’t make it clear how many of these viewers were shocked, or how much medical attention they required following such a heinous crime. I'm more likely to believe that some bone idle journalist noticed the faux pas and decided to call up some professional offence takers who would supply a suitable quote to beat Clarkson with. The Mail clearly has it in for the overgrown schoolboy.

Clearly having sucked on a very unripe lemon, Jim Rawlings, of Disabled Motoring UK, was quoted in the article saying that he was sure that Clarkson 'wouldn't have cared' about parking up in a disabled bay. He said: ‘I'm sure the last thing on Jeremy Clarkson's mind was that he was parked in a disabled bay.’

Yes, Jim… and you’d know exactly what was going on in Jezza’s head, wouldn’t you?

He went on to say: 'The abuse of non-disabled people parking in disabled bays is rife, and with people like Jeremy Clarkson and James May doing this other motorists will just think they can just park wherever they like.

'People who are patently not disabled, like Clarkson and May, obviously didn't have a passing care that a disabled person might have needed those spaces.

'I'm sure Jeremy Clarkson especially would not feel contrite about parking in a disabled bay - it shows a lack of feeling and care and a total lack of compassion.'

Peter Lyne, of the Disabled Motorists Foundation, said it was 'extremely frustrating' watching non-disabled people park in disabled parking bays.

Clearly both Peter and Jim aren’t getting out often enough in their Motability chariots; certainly not often enough to get a reasonable perspective on life.

A Top Gear spokesman said: "Top Gear does not condone the misuse of disabled parking bays. The programme had permission from the owners of the car park to use the bays for a short period of time to enable filming to take place unhindered, and members of the production team were with the cars at all times. There were other disabled spaces available, and of course had anyone needed to park in one of the spaces occupied by Top Gear, we would have moved immediately."

Technically, I am a disabled motorist (although I don’t feel the need to belong to Disabled Motoring UK or the Disabled Motorist’s Foundation in order to drive my car) and I found the Top Gear item hugely amusing and wasn't offended in the slightest. Shame on The Daily Mail for this nonsensical piece of 'journalism' and as for the disabled motorists... they haven’t got a leg to stand on!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Hello again

Thank you for the lovely messages asking me to post again and to give you an update on how I'm faring. Things are going pretty well on the health front. My broken leg has finally fused and is now a single piece after two years of being 'non union'... I presume I can expect it to go on strike fairly soon now that it is 'union'.

The bad news is that I've lost nearly five centimetres of my leg left which means that I now walk round in circles unless I wear my special shoes to level me up. Now the long slog back to work begins. I am hoping to make another tv programme but these things take such an unbelievably long time to commission and arrange but I'm hoping something will turn up. In the meantime I need to turn my efforts to getting back to my writing and broadcasting work. It's not the easiest sector to get back into, particularly in the depths of stagflation, but I'm hopeful.

As far as the hospital food campaign goes, I managed to collect just over 4000 signatures for my petition which was sent to the Health Secretary. Unfortunately no reply from the government even though they've had it for five months. I suppose that tells us how important nutrition is to the people who manage our health service. It's probably time for me to embarrass the Health Secretary but I thought I'd wait until he started his holidays. Doesn't do any harm to keep them on their toes once they've departed for the beach.

I'll let you know what happens.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Hang your heads in shame!

Anyone who's spent more than a couple of days in a modern British hospital will recognise the symptoms: the stench of unemptied bedpans, the emergency buzzers deliberately left out of reach, the unfilled drinking water jugs and the moans of patients who have gone too long without pain relief. I make no apology for saying this. I know that not all hospitals are the same, but there's too much of a pattern of familiarity running through a report released today that says elderly patients are having to have water prescribed because staff aren't ensuring their patients are adequately hydrated. This is a scandal. There's no other word for it. And to all those doctors from the BMA complaining about the government's plans to improve the health service... you should be ashamed of yourselves. Not content with taking telephone number salaries and treating your patients like Medieval serfs, you spend your time blocking basic improvements to patient care while the people you're supposed to heal are dying of thirst. Physician heal thyself!

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"?

Monday, 28 February 2011

Jurassic thinking

The idea that, one day, dinosaurs might roam the earth again is no longer fiction. Step forward Bob Crow, leader of the RMT trade union. Mr Crow has suggested that we can deal with the UK’s budget deficit by putting a 1p tax on every email sent in the UK. That way we can avoid making any pubic sector workers redundant, including no doubt our highly efficient and very courteous railway workers.

The man’s a genius - an absolute bloody genius! That crafty little plan is going to be just the ticket for promoting inward investment and increasing business communication. It’s amazing how Mr Crow hasn’t managed to become prime minister. Why the hell didn’t anyone else think of that idea? It makes you realise that he’s really worth the £95,000 a year he’s paid, up a mere 12% on last year.

In other news, drivers could soon be required to employ a man in with a red flag to walk in front of their cars in a bid to cut road accidents.

Dying to get home

Tonight's Dispatches exposes the heartbreaking way that elderly folk are being denied the dignity and peace of dying at home, surrounded by loved ones and the things that are familiar to them. The shocking undercover footage of elderly patients being treated with cruelty and disdain will break your heart.

Death is the last taboo in our society and yet it is something we must all face. We strive to live a good life and yet some people are being denied a good death. Despite government promises to allow everyone the right to choose to die at home, half of primary care trusts are still not providing the 24-hour nursing care required to make that a possibility.

Channel 4’s Dispatches uncovered the case of 80-year-old Ken Rasheed, who spent his last days in East Surrey Hospital with Parkinson’s and pneumonia. Nursing staff seemed to have no idea he was close to death, and are filmed telling him off for not swallowing his pills – even though he was so ill he could only swallow them with yoghurt rather than water.

One nurse is filmed telling him impatiently: ‘This is a busy ward; [other] people need some care as well’, as her colleagues callously discuss the impact of spending cuts while leaning over Mr Rasheed to change him. To make things worse, he contracted E.coli and septicaemia while on the ward. He eventually died in hospital – despite wanting to die at home in front of a Manchester United game or a cricket match.

Dispatches, Secret NHS Diaries is on at 8pm tonight on Channel 4.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Something for the weekend

I've had so much response to the clip of me eating Braised Liver & Bacon Hotpot that I've decided to print the recipe here so that you can make your own version of this recipe from the Better Hospital Food recipe vault.

Now, this version feeds rather a lot of people so you may need to ask a few friends round. Unfortunately the recipe doesn't have any tips on how to make it taste as bad as the one I had. A good place to start would be to buy the oldest and toughest slab of ox liver that you can find and then some mechanically recovered slivers of connective pig tissue. Serve with waterlogged cabbage and unseasoned mashed potato. Here's the recipe. Let me know how you get on.


Braised Liver and Bacon Hotpot Leading chef's recipe
Ingredients For 100 Servings
9kgLiver Sliced
350mlVegetable Oil
1.8kgBacon Back
1.5kgOnions Diced Fresh
2kgSwede Diced
2kgCarrots Diced
180gFlour Plain White
370gMustard Whole Grain
7ltChicken Stock
120gSage
8kgPotatoes Cooked Sliced
250gButter
10gBlack Pepper Ground
Method
Texture:Slices of liver and pieces of bacon with lots of diced vegetables all under a crisp sliced potato topping. The stock/sauce element should be quite thin.
Colour:The top will be a golden brown and the stock will be pale and will have a slight orange/golden tinge to it. The colours of the vegetable should be seen.
Flavour:Lots of strong flavour to the stock from the vegetables, bacon and liver. The dish contains grain mustard, which should be noticeable but not overpowering.
1.Heat 200ml of the oil and fry the liver browning well on all sides. Remove and drain well. Arrange the liver in trays
2.Heat the remaining oil and fry the bacon pieces till it starts to brown, add the diced, onions, swede and carrots and cook for 3 minutes without colouring the vegetables. Sprinkle in the flour and stir in well, cook for a further minute stirring often. Stir in 250g of the mustard and then gradually add the hot stock stirring in well till smooth.
3.Add the sage then pour the vegetable and bacon mix over the liver.
4.Par boil or steam the slices of potato. Allow to cool arrange the slices over the liver ensuring a complete and even covering.
5.Melt the butter and mix in the remaining mustard. Brush the sliced potatoes with it. Season with the salt and pepper and bake in a preheated oven 180ºc/350fº/gas 4 until the potatoes are fully cooked and golden brown


Calories
314
Protein
23 g
Fat
20 g
Carbohydrates
16 g

Thursday, 24 February 2011

This can't be right

Sshh... listen carefully. Can you hear the unmistakable noise of heavy breathing, chomping and snuffling? It sounds just like a pig eating out of a trough. But no... it's only the nation's new breed of fat cats helping themselves to even more public money to fund their engorged lifestyle.

Top NHS managers have enjoyed an average 50% pay increase over the past five years. In health trusts up and down the country these glorified paper shredders are now earning more than the prime minister while wards are staffed by medically qualified individuals on salaries that are below the national average.

The NHS has to cut spending by £20 billion in the next three years and the way this will be achieved is by sacking 50,000 frontline workers. Actually, I'm so pleased that they aren't axing any managers. I mean, when I was in hospital I know I could have managed without the nurses and healthcare assistants on the ward, and at a push I probably could have done away with the doctors, but if you'd taken my managers away I would have been just left there in a room, on my own, without any managerial support of administrative backup of any kind. I would never have been able to get better and get out of that hospital.

It's time the public stopped carping on about people like the chief executive of The Heart of England NHS Trust who receives a reported £240,000 a year. In my view he's worth every penny. Oink!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Watch it here

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/4od#3164059

It's all part of the problem

The hospital that I spent ten weeks in has hit back at the programme I made for Channel 4. Now let me get this straight from the start: I love the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre. Do you want me to say it again? I love the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre. It's a fantastic hospital with the most amazing staff. Everyone from my surgeon to the healthcare assistants on the ward were absolutely brilliant. Even the catering staff did their best. But the problem is the food supplied by the outside food contractor.

Sadly, the Nuffield has responded with the same sort of denial that every hospital trust issues by implying that somehow I must have been mistaken. Well, I'm sorry chaps. Just look through my blog again and ask yourself if you would serve some of that food to your family? No, I didn't think so. Burying your heads in the sand and pretending this didn't happen is silly. You won't improve things and you end up looking silly. Embrace the criticism and improve things. Make a positive out of a negative. Here's the statement issued by the hospital

“We are sorry to hear that Mr Sparrow’s experience of hospital food during his time as a patient did not meet his expectations. We recognise that patients with extended stays in hospital, as in Mr Sparrow’s case, may result in menu ‘fatigue’. During his stay at the hospital between September and October 2009, Mr Sparrow was provided with a variety of meal options in addition to the daily menu choices. Our records show that he received regular visits from catering staff to ensure his needs were met.”

So the blog and my video diary was a complete fantasy brought on no doubt by a fevered imagination fuelled by excess quantities of morphine. Barmy! Look, guys, I'm on your side. I love your hospital, I love your staff but your catering supplier is letting you down. Most places would take that sort of criticism constructively and would do something about it. Would the chief executive really eat my liver and bacon hotpot? I'd pay really good money to see her try.

Until this denial in the NHS is dealt with, nothing will change. Anyone who saw Heston Blumenthal's documentary filmed at Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool can see the problem. The defensive caterers refuse to see there's a problem. The staff eat better food than the sick children and the poor kids are left at the bottom of the pile. Meanwhile the majority of the chefs are used to cook food that's sold in the hospital's cafe and restaurant in order to pull in £2 million a year. Is it me or does anyone else find this upside down logic baffling?

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

What is it?

Absolutely vile but what is it? Thanks to Kelly for sending the photo in

Thank you

Thank you to all of you who posted here or emailed me after last night's programme. Some of your stories were heartbreaking and I will try to get round to replying to you but I am snowed under with the response and there is only me to deal with all the correspondence.

Thank you too to the people who posted some fairly vile comments about me personally and my ingratitude at the state for honouring my National Insurance contributions. All I can say is that some of the more rabid posters neither listened not digested the full argument. I wasn't moaning about my healthcare. I had excellent nursing and surgical care and I would do anything to support the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre. It's a fantastic hospital and I am more grateful than I can ever say for the love and support that many of the staff showed me. However, I feel under no obligation to be grateful to Sodexo or the catering contractor. They are paid money to do a job. If the money on offer from the hospital is insufficient to provide decent and nutritious food then I suggest they turn the contract down. It's not difficult.

The NHS has faults and the programme uncovered some disturbing information about how vulnerable groups are cared for and fed. For those who blindly defend the system as it stands, all I can say is that you probably haven't been in hospital with a serious illness yet. It is, of course, always possible for friends and family to help feed a patient, but sometimes patients don't have family living locally or they may be at a specialist hospital some considerable distance from home. Then there is the argument that they should pay for the food. Overlooking the fact that medical insurance normally covers food costs, it can be difficult if you fall seriously ill and can't work. Money becomes tight or non-existent. The last thing you need is the financial worry. That's why the NHS was set up. If you pay for food, then how about drugs? What about dressings? Maybe personal care too? Where do you want to stop?

I could go on but I'm really tired so forgive the shortness of the post.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Let's make a change

I've been writing here for the best part of 18 months, lamenting the dreadful state of hospital food in some of our hospitals. On Monday 21 February (Channel 4, 8pm) the documentary I've been making for the past year finally reaches the tv screens of UK viewers. I think it takes a fair and balance look at nutrition in our hospitals and how it affects different types of patients. I hope you all get a chance to watch it and let me know what you think.

In the meantime, I've started a campaign to push for better hospital food. If you're a UK registered voter then please visit the campaign site and consider signing the petition.

I'd also like to point out here that although my experience of hospital food wasn't very good, I have only the highest praise for the medical care I received at my hospital. NHS workers take a lot of criticism, much of it deserved, but there are still thousands of dedicated and wonderful people who care for the sick and go the extra mile to make their patients comfortable, often in the face of amazing obstruction from petty regulators, managers and consultants.

To the frontline workers of the NHS who really do try to make a difference... thank you.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Can we sink any lower?

Just when you think the world can’t get any more insane you read another story about the NHS and realise that the lunatics really are running the asylum. Take today’s announcement that hospitals are to start using trespass laws to evict elderly patients whom, in the hospitals’ view, are bed blocking.

Anyone who has ever had to take care of an elderly patient or relative will know that the provision for home care is patchy at best. Sick elderly people who live alone and don't have any close family are not able to take care of themselves. What home care there is available is about to become even rarer than hens' teeth with local councils determined to slash frontline services before reforming their gold-plated pensions and stratospheric salaries. Dave Cameron’s Big Society will have to take up an awful lot of slack to fill the void.

My own experience of care of the elderly in their homes includes a 79-year-old lady being left to nurse her sick husband , including having to change his catheter bag, administer drugs and deal with washing the bed linen once a day and changing bed sheets with her husband still in the bed. There was an offer of some care workers to pop in on a daily basis, but these individuals were pathetic excuses for help. They often arrived late, spent most of their time texting friends on their mobile phones and refused to do anything that involved lifting the patient or cleaning him up. Frankly, I don’t know what the point of sending them round was.

The same lady needed help herself last year. Her husband had died and now she needed nursing. The same useless bunch of poorly educated young girls turned up with one aim in mind: to get their time sheet signed – complete with falsified arrival times – and then to push off to the next ‘client’. All they did was microwave the old lady’s dinner and make her a cup of tea. In the meantime, she was left to sit in a chair that was soaked in urine.

And now our hospitals want to use the law to throw out people who need nursing and send them back to their homes in the care of useless carers, which, incidentally, the elderly must pay for. The number of spaces in council run homes or funding for places in private care homes has reduced dramatically so what's to become of these vulnerable people?

Is the NHS really proposing that we throw out elderly patients and let them fend for themselves? Because that’s what these proposals will mean in practice. Once again, words fail me that we can be such a barbaric and uncaring society that we can't even manage to feed, bathe and care for the elderly and give them a little bit of dignity.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Proof at last

I’ve been banging on for ages about the poor treatment of our elderly at the hands of the NHS. I've heard first-hand reports from patients’ families who've told me how their loved ones were often left untended and unfed. Tales of dehydration, of being left in soiled bedlinen and denied kindnesses the rest of us take for granted meant their final days were spent in misery. The families’ complaints were brushed aside with callous disregard as the NHS damage-limitation machine cranked into action.

Since raising the matter on my blog I’ve also had a few abusive posts from NHS supporters or people who work for our health service, but the truth remains that some of our elderly are treated worse than animals when admitted to some of our hospitals. There is an endemic culture in some sectors of the NHS that sees the elderly as simply not worth saving or worthy of dignified and caring treatment.

Fortunately, at last, the establishment is grudgingly admitting the truth. The Health Service Ombudsman has published a report today that says the reasonable expectation that an older person or their family may have of dignified, pain-free end of life care in clean surroundings in hospital is not being fulfilled. NHS provision is failing to meet even the most basic standards of care.

It goes on to say: “These often harrowing accounts should cause every member of NHS staff who reads this report to pause and ask themselves if any of their patients could suffer in the same way.”

According to the Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, the patients in the ten cases that she studied had all been loving, active people of a generation that didn’t like to make a fuss. She goes on: “They had simply wanted to be cared for properly and die peacefully – but they all suffered unnecessary pain, indignity and distress while in the care of the NHS. As a result, they were transformed from alert and able individuals to people who were dehydrated, malnourished or unable to communicate.”

Shocking examples of lapses in care contained in the report include:

• An 82 year-old who died alone because staff did not realise her husband had been waiting to see her for three hours.

• A woman was not washed during 13 weeks in hospital, did not have her wound dressings changed and was denied food and drink.

• A woman who was discharged from hospital covered in bruises, soaked in urine and wearing someone else’s clothes.

•  The life-support system of a heart attack victim was switched off despite his wife asking to leave it on while she contacted the rest of the family.

In response to the report, Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “It is of course important to put these 10 examples in perspective. The NHS sees over a million people every 36 hours and the overwhelming majority say they receive good care. But I fully appreciate that this will be of little comfort to patients and their families when they have been on the receiving end of poor care.”

He still doesn’t really get it, does he?

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Words fail me

What on earth is it supposed to be?
A friend sent me this photo last night. It's a 'meal' that was served up yesterday to a child who had just undergone an appendectomy. Poole Hospital should hang its head in utter shame. I don't even know what it's supposed to be.

Since my upcoming documentary on hospital food was announced, the propaganda machine of the NHS and the Hospital Food Caterers' Association has swung into action. I've experienced smear tactics and a robust response from the hospital caterers on the possible content of my programme, even before it's been shown! Some feathers have been seriously ruffled.

I make absolutely no apology for naming and shaming hospitals that serve muck like this or where patients aren't even afforded the dignity of receiving adequate food and drink. The more these vested interests and arrogant forces have a go at me, the more I shall do to make sure they are held to account for the scandalous waste of public money and the nutritional neglect of patients. I won't be bullied or intimidated into shutting up.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Racism is everywhere

Sometimes I get the overwhelming urge to rush back to hospital and place myself back in traction. At least when I’m safely tied to a hospital bed there’s less chance of me seeing things that will send my blood pressure to dangerously high levels.

Today my blood pressure has been needlessly cranked up thanks to one Sonia Carr of Warminster. This humourless and sour individual has cost the taxpayers of Wiltshire thousands of pounds by reporting a chairman of a local health watchdog for racism.

Mrs Carr was at a meeting of Wiltshire Involvement Network (that’s WIN, in case you hadn’t already got it) when the chairperson of the group commented that rumours of pending changes to the NHS were likely to spread like wildfire. The expression the chairperson actually used was: ‘You ­cannot help the jungle drums.’ The 70-year-old responsible for uttering such a viciously racist comment was one Anna Farquhar, a former bigwig from the Citizen's Advice Bureau and a lifelong member of the St John Ambulance service.

Incidentally, the meeting was held in the notorious ghetto of Potterne Wick, a mere petrol bomb's throw away from the dangerous inner city of Devizes, in the hideously multicultural county of Wiltshire. Mrs Carr immediately challenged Mrs Farquhar at the meeting for the dreadful faux pas. Mrs Farquhar then apologised and carried on with the meeting.

Unfortunately, Mrs Carr, who just happens to be a member of Wiltshire’s Race and Equality Council, wasn’t satisfied and wouldn’t let things go. She decided to report Mrs Farquhar to the local council and a six-month investigation ensued, resulting in a ten-page report on the incident. At an estimated cost of £10,000, the report is an absolute bargain at just a grand per sheet of A4. Tsk... anyone would think we were in an age of austerity or something.

Mrs Farquhar and her fellow committee members were then asked to accept the report’s findings that the language had indeed been racist. It seems that for something to be racist, all that’s needed is for one person to be offended by something someone says: that’s all it takes.

Because Mrs Carr thought ‘jungle drums’ was a racist comment, the law says it must be racist by virtue of the fact that she thinks it is. In effect, Mrs Carr has acted as judge, jury and executioner. She claims she wanted a more fulsome apology from Mrs Farquhar and for her to be subjected to equality and diversity training. No doubt she’d also like her to wear sackcloth and ashes just so she can feel morally superior. According to council sources, Mrs Carr has plenty of ‘form’ for this sort of thing having raised allegations of racism against against the police, the fire brigade and council officers.

I daresay that Mrs Carr’s chums at the Wiltshire Race and Equality Council were very pleased with her as they could end up delivering the race and diversity training. I mean, what else do they do for the staggering £113,463 of public money they receive to spread this sort of poison? By the way, a mere £216 of their funds were donated by private individuals... that's not exactly what I call a ‘grass-roots’ organisation.

Mrs Farquhar quite sensibly refused to accept the legitimacy of this McCarthyist nonsense; as a result, the invertebrates running Wiltshire County Council have now banned all members of Wiltshire Involvement Network from all council premises and meetings – after all, they're practically members of the Klu Klux Klan, aren't they? The group’s funding has also been withdrawn.

How could such a ridiculous situation arise in a country that’s supposed to be a developed nation of intelligent people? How does someone like Mrs Carr manage to persuade an entire county council to partake in her hideously distorted view of the world? It’s political correctness gone mad, I tell you.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Oldham weighs in with fat tax

According to The Sun newspaper, health-conscious councillors in Oldham want to slap a £1,000 ‘fat tax’ on takeaway outlets – in an effort to tackle obesity.

Can we just be absolutely clear about something here? Councillors don’t want to ‘slap a fat tax’ on anything... the meddlesome, unelected council officers do. I’ve never met a councillor of any political hue who ever had an original policy thought in their life. The vast majority of ‘initiatives’ that come from local councils are dreamed up by ambitious council officers anxious to be the first to introduce triple roundabouts, gay maths lessons, healthy eating programmes or any other fashionable nonsense that happens to take their fancy or will give them a step up to the next rung of the career ladder.

Anyway, back to the local council in Oldham, a town in northwest England, where the local council is reported to be considering charging takeaways a levy of £1,000 a year, which the council claims will go towards healthy eating initiatives. In other words, as local council budgets are cut, the local nomenklatura who run our councils are desperately looking for ways to stop their empires from being cut back. There must be hundreds of five-a-day coordinators and diversity champions quaking in their boots right now. Their bosses will be most upset at the prospect of losing staff; in the world of local government, having your department downsized is worse than having your private parts cut off.

Apparently not all food outlets will fall foul of the tax as the council is considering exemptions for takeaways that serve healthy options such as ‘smoothies’. Obviously, the town hall gauleiters don’t realise how much sugar, flavourings and other crap reside in the average smoothie. I doubt very much if any obese residents living in Oldham need fortifying with a smoothie.

This isn’t the first time that a local authority has tried to enforce healthy eating. Last year a number of councils distributed new salt dispensers to their local chippies. These new shakers have fewer pouring holes and therefore deliver less salt than the conventional shakers. This concern for our health is all very touching but it might be an idea if the jobsworths made sure our bins were emptied regularly and that local rat populations were brought under control before they turn their attention to salt and fat levels in our diet.

Frankly, the foodie in me doesn’t really care if these proposals to tax takeaways serving lard and other vile food are introduced. However, the libertarian in me certainly does. This Orwellian nudging and interference in our food choices is no business of local councils.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Dying for a drink

Two patients a day die in our hospitals for want of a drink of water. According to figures released by the National Office of Statistics and reported in the Daily Mail, some 800 patients die of dehydration in our hospitals every year. That’s a higher figure than those dying of dehydration in elderly people’s homes. And those figures are just the officially recorded cause of death. The actual number of patients who die from dehydration could be far higher.

The figures for deaths through malnutrition in our hospitals stand at 284 in 2008, that’s up from 175 deaths recorded back in 1997. The squeeze on NHS food budgets and a lack of money made available for extra help feeding frail and elderly patients could be to blame. However, some of the problem may, according to anecdotal evidence, be due to an increasing reluctance by some nurses to attend to basic needs such as feeding and hydration of patients. Often this work is left to unqualified healthcare assistants.

These figures are for deaths attributable to malnutrition and dehydration. The true figures may never be known but we do know that a large number of elderly patients have their health impacted by poor nutrition. If these official statistics are true, then the NHS is owning up to more than 1000 people dying every year in our hospitals through lack of food or fluids. That’s one third of the number of people killed in road accidents each year. Unfortunately, unlike road deaths, where enormous sums of money are spent on speed cameras and other traffic calming measures, little appears to be done to address these entirely avoidable deaths.

There’s no other way of saying this… deaths caused in our hospitals through neglect in feeding and hydration need to be made a serious offence. It’s nothing short of state sponsored murder when patients die of thirst or hunger. Until someone takes responsibility and is jailed for this, patients will continue to die needlessly.

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.