My two euro cents worth.

The Curse Of The Plastic Bag

Friday, August 28th, 2009

Cycling home from work on Thursday I suddenly noticed my gears behaving strangely. This was particularly odd as I’ve just had my bike serviced and it’s been riding like new. When I finally got a chance to look at the back wheel, I saw I had a plastic bag lodged in between the chain and the gears. Extracting it wasn’t too difficult but it was messy…Later the same night we drove down to my Dad’s in Dorset. When we stopped at the services, I noticed that the car smelled a bit funny – there was a smell of burning plastic. When I mentioned this to Ilka later she said ‘yes – there’s a plastic bag stuck to the bottom of the car’. What are the odds of that?
I got rid of as much as I could of the plastic bag that got wrapped around part of the exhaust and then melted to it this afternoon. I have a feeling the car might smell of burning plastic for another couple of days though.
As a result of all this, I have suddenly developed a pathological hatred of plastic bags. They seem to me to epitomise everything that’s wrong with convenience culture. I’m going to try and live without them.

NHS waiting lists eliminated?

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

So Andy Burnham claimed this morning that there are no more waiting lists in the NHS. My jaw dropped. I know the government is in trouble, but saying things like this is not the answer. I’m listening to Radio 5 and they are talking about this story – not surprising given that Burnham made the comments on 5 Live Breakfast this morning. He made them in the context of the launch of a new website,, which aims to give people information about their local hospital. This is a very welcome development, and starts to address the most obvious problem with Choose and Book – how on earth are we supposed to make informed choices about healthcare if we don’t know how the providers are performing? However Burnham’s claim has overshadowed this – someone has just released a stamement saying his words “weren’t meant to be taken literally”. Oh dear.
I’ll have to dust off the rest of the Choose and Book odyssey now – I will probably give it a page of its own. Bet you can’t wait…

Useless statistics

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

I’m sat in a queue of traffic waiting to get into the recycling centre. They have one of those scrolling matrix signs, and one of the messages is “Islington’s recycling rate is 28%”. 28% of what? What does it mean? I have no way of knowing if a recycling rate of 28% is good or bad. Grrrrr.

The Curse of Blog

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Lord Darzi has resigned. I think he must of heard about this blog and my devastating (if yet to be finished) attack on Choose and Book, and decided to go before I delivered it to him…
OK, so officially he’s going “to devote more time to his clinical role and academic research”. Fair enough, if it’s true.
UPDATE – Continuing the Private Eye theme: Lord Darzi – An Apology
Readers of this blog may have formed the impression that I hold Lord Darzi responsible for the calamity that is the NHS Choose and Book system. This is of course very far from the truth. Choose and Book (hereafter C & B) predated his investiture and appointment as a minister, so it can’t be his fault. Some digging reveals that it’s more likely to be Alan Milburn or John Reid, both of whom were Health Secretary in 2003 which seems to be when C & B got the green light as part of the disastrous NPfIT. So maybe I should be aiming my ire at Richard Granger (NPfIT architect) instead, or maybe some nameless policy wonk at the Department for Health, or the big boss at the time, T. Blair?
The reason I focussed on Darzi while experiencing the lunacy I did at the hands of C & B was that he was conducting his high profile review of the NHS as part of Gordon Brown’s ‘Goverment of all the talents’ (GOATs). I thought it might be a good idea to see what he had to say on C & B – but when I looked at his wikipedia page, the links to his reports weren’t working…The timing of the announcement was interesting, too – late yesterday (14th July 2009), and as of today it seems to have completely disappeared from the news agenda, despite the fact that he is the last but one of the GOATs to leave government. No mention of it today at PMQs, despite the chance to score some cheap points for the opposition.
Having read a couple of articles on the BBC, it looks like Darzi wisely avoided talking about C & B or the NPfIT, and that most of what he recommended makes sense. So sorry, Lord Darzi, you should never have been in my sights.
I found some real gems while poking around on the net for this post, including this wonderful survey from last year. OK, it’s a small sample, but it did conclude “In this study, patients did not experience the degree of choice that Choose and Book was designed to deliver”. I will try and find the time to read the rest of the report, which I’m sure will be hilarious; after all, they found that “32% [of C & B sample] reported not being given any choice of hospital”. Some choice.

Choose and Book, part III

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Now where was I? Ah yes, I was going to tell you all about what happened when I rang the Choose and Book helpline, to see if they could give me an appointment. I’m sure you can guess the answer. I spoke to a delightful young lady, who tried to book me an appointment. She too came up against the same problem: no appointments available. Trying not to vent my frustration on her, I asked if it would be possible for someone to just send me an appointment, as I wasn’t really that fussed about Choosing and Booking it myself. OK, she said, in that case, what you need to do is this: ignore the next letter we send you, and the one we send you after that. Once you’ve ignored those two letters someone will get in touch and send you an appointment. I found this rather peculiar and queried it; she was adamant – ignore the letters, then you’ll get an appointment. She did point out that this could take a while – the first letter would be sent out after a month, the next one even later. I wasn’t too worried about having to wait as long as I got an appointment, so I decided to forget about it until I’d received the letters.
At least some of what she had told me was true – I did eventually receive both letters, which urged me to go online and Choose and Book my appointment. I ignored them, happiily thinking that before long I would get a letter telling me where and when I needed to present myself. Of course this never happened, and eventually I decided to do what I probably should have done right from the beginning: I rang my GP practice. After all, when they sent me through the details of how to Choose and Book they also gave a number and said ‘If you have any problems Choosing and Booking your appointment, please give us a call’, so I did. I explained to the secretary who took the call what had happened, and she said ‘OK then, I’ll fax it through for you’. Fax. You read that right. After all the time and money that had been put into building a modern online booking system, what was actually going to make the difference was a form of communication that ought to have disappeared around the turn of the century. Sure enough, a few days later I got a letter from UCH with an appointment. You might think that this would be the end of the story, but there was more madness to come.

Work is the curse of the blogging classes

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Typical. There’s so much to write about today – another ministerial resignation, Call Me Dave paying back more expenses, Hazel Blears surviving a no confidence vote from her constituency, the Iraq war inquiry – and that’s without getting near the sports stories: the F1 breakaway, the Wimbledon draw, the US open golf…But I have more work than I can feasibly ignore. So all these topics will have to wait. Grrrr.

Choose and Book, part II

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

It’s worth pointing out at this stage that I have nothing but praise for the people who work at the sharp end of the NHS – I wouldn’t want people to get the wrong idea. So having said that, I’ll pick up where I left off…
My GP asked me which hospital I would like to go to for the gastroscopy – The Whittington (my local hospital), UCH, The Royal Free – which would I prefer? If I’d had my wits about me, or better still had I read one of M.D.’s columns in Private Eye in the waiting room, I would have asked him all sorts of stuff about clinical outcomes and how many procedures each unit carried out a year. As it was, I made my choice based on convenience – it would be easiest to get to UCH for the appointment as it is close to where I work. I was also swayed emotionally towards UCH as I happen to have been born there. My G.P. put the necessary details into his PC and printed out the details of how I could Choose and Book my appointment. Being somewhat geeky, I thought this was rather cool – log on, log in and book – what could be simpler? More fool me. That evening I tried to Choose and Book my appointment. No problem logging in, but when I clicked on the link to see the available appointment times, I got a message saying ‘There are no appointments available at the moment, please try again later’ or words to that effect. Which seemed odd – I didn’t expect to be offered an appointment the next day, but I did expect to be offered an appointment. I tried again the next day, and the same thing happened – no appointments available. At this point, patience not being one of my strong suits, I started to get annoyed. I realised that I wasn’t actually that fussed about which hospital I went to, or about being able to choose a time- all I really wanted was to have an appointment. In fact, I would have preffered just to have recieved a letter saying ‘Your appointment is at hospital X on day Y at time Z’. I had a look at the documentation and saw that there was an 08 helpine number, so I decided to give them a call and see if I could get an appointment that way. At this point, things began to get distinctly Kafkaesque…

Choose and Book, part I

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

I expect this is going to take me a while to complete, and will probably come in several instalments. It’s too long a story to be able to tell it all in one go. Eventually, I hope it will form the majority of a letter I plan to send to Lord Darzi about the madness that is the NHS Choose and Book system.
Choose and Book is, in my experience, the most inaccurately named system in the known universe. It enables you neither to choose nor book an appointment. Here’s a brief history of my interaction with it.
I have suffered with gastric problems since sometime around 2001 – nothing life-threatening, just bad reflux apparently brought on by stress. “Big deal”, I hear you cry, “you’re not the only one”. Amen to that. At first I just more or less ignored it, then I started trying to minimise it by avoiding things that I could be fairly sure would exacerbate it. Pizza was the first thing to go, after I woke up at 3am in agony following a pizza dinner. Lager was the next thing on the list, followed by champagne and sparkling wine – I ended up only drinking white wine, thinking I’d be safe with that. It would be a long time before I discovered that I wasn’t, but that’s a much later part of the story. Sadly, I wasn’t able to give up the biggest stress factor – working.
At some point I started waking up feeling like I’d had five pints of lager the previous night when I’d had nothing at all to drink, which is when I decided to go and see my GP. He prescribed some Losec (omeprazole) and told me to try and relax a bit. He also gave me a test for Helicobacter, which came back negative. After a month’s course of Losec I was feeling much better, but a few months later the symptoms began to reappear so it was back to the GP for another course of Losec and another (negative) Helicobacter test. Inevitably this only kept things under control for a few months, so I went to the doctor once more. This time I saw a different GP, who decided to refer me for a gastroscopy, which is where my Choose and Book odyssey began…
More anon.

Time, part II

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

The obvious corollary to my earlier post is: When do people get time to read these things! I don’t read that many blogs – in fact, all the blogs I read are on the BBC site – Nick Robinson’s political blog and Phil McNulty’s football blog. The latter is worth reading for the comments alone, though once it gets past 100 or so it can take a while to wade through the dross to find the occasional gem.
Thanks to Keely for posting my first comment – and laying down the Lunchtime Domestic Challenge: What’s the most complex or difficult thing you’ve managed to do in your lunch hour to free up some of that valuable ‘me’ time after work? I fear that writing a few words on a blog doesn’t really count, so I’m going to have to get my thinking cap on…

Party Election Broadcasts

Monday, June 15th, 2009

The reason I started this blog in the first place was to comment about politics, so that I could earn the epithet ‘political blogger’ and thus appear in the media. After all, I often hear people being interviewed on Radio 5 described as political bloggers – if the only qualification you need in order to be interviewed about the burning issues of the day is to have written something on a blog then so be it.

What prompted me to actually get moving was accidentally seeing all three party political broadcasts from the main parties in the run up to the local and European elections. In hindsight, perhaps it wasn’t exactly accidental – I’m sure they put them on right after the weather report as they know that’s when they’re likely to get their biggest audience, given our national obssesion with meteorology.

First up was the Lib Dem effort. I was actually a little taken in by this one – I didn’t realise it was an election broadcast at first. Of the three, it has the best production values by far. Once I realised what it was and my natural cynism reasserted itself, it lost a lot of the gloss, but I suppose it did its job in that it got my attention and more or less held it. I was a little worried though that the thought of Nick Clegg doing what looked a lot like a midmorning talk show a la Kilroy was considered a good tactic. I was waiting for someone who had slept with her boyfriend’s sister’s husband’s brother to start a fight with Clegg, and a little diasppointed it didn’t happen.

The very next day it was the turn of the Conservatives. Sadly for them, their brilliant idea to show Dave going round the country doing his ‘Cameron Direct’ hustings was rather undercut by the fact that the Lib Dems had already done it the day before, only slightly better. I thought ‘Cameron Direct’ was a very lazy and inappropriate choice of name too – it sounds like an insurance company or online brokerage.

To complete the triumvirate we had Labour’s effort, which was the worst of the bunch by far. It looked as though it had been hastily cobbled together in response to all the problems the government have faced recently, when they realised that the expensive and carefully crafted one they prepared a couple of months ago was going sit very badly with the current political climate. I squirmed in a manner reminiscent of watching The Office. Very, very poor.

In order to complete this post I went and searched for the clips on Youtube (links below), and interestingly found an earlier incarnation of the Labour one which featured a voiceover by G. Brown, rather than the female ‘ordinary voter’ voiceover that was broadcast. So clearly the PR wonks had decided that Gordon wasn’t going to get the core vote out.

The only message I got from any of the broadcasts was ‘vote for us, we’re better than that other lot’. None of them persuaded me to vote for the party in question. Of course, the irony is that I had to go away on business on polling day and thus wasn’t actually able to go and cast my vote. Had I beed able to, I would have voted Green this time. I think I’ll register for a postal vote in future.

Those broadcasts in full:

Liberal Democrat