Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas 2012 - business as usual?

So how was it for you? I hope the festivities went well and you had a happy time with friends and/or family. My day started well – just the way I like it – some peace and quiet before the hoards arrived. The halls were decked, table was looking beautiful – fitting of any stylish home magazine, the log fire burning, carols playing, turkey safely nestling in the oven as I prepared the vegetables.

And then disaster struck. Careless as ever, and not concentrating on the task - and sharp knife - in hand, I managed to gauge a deep wound between my thumb and forefinger. Ow! And then the blood started to flow. And flow. And flow some more. As various scenarios played in my mind, typically more worried about the mountains of food that threatened to spoil rather than the injury temporarily slowing me down, I suddenly realised that wasn’t sure what to do next. I knew this wasn’t a 999 (or on the US, 911) job. My life wasn’t hanging in the balance, but I did have an injury that may need medical attention. Should I go to casualty (emergency room)? I seemed to remember that my local Accident and Emergency unit was closed and I thought I knew where the nearest one was. But I also had a vague recollection of a leaflet coming through my letterbox mentioning a minor injuries centre that had recently been opened. But where was it? Was it open on bank holidays? Should I ring NHS direct – the free health information line? But where was the  number for that? Or how about my GP out of hours service? Where was that damned leaflet?

Luckily by the time all options had been fairly unsuccessfully explored, vast amounts of kitchen roll and pressure stemmed the flow and the mini crisis over.

But now as I reflect on these events on Boxing Day I realise several points. Yes, I must be careful with sharp implements. But as importantly – how come a healthcare geek like moi, who professes to live and breathe the business of health – failed so miserably to understand my local health services? Some quick research on line demonstrated that it is easier to find out where to recycle my Christmas tree (2 clicks) than to find out where to go with a bad cut (7 clicks and to be honest I’m still not clear and I still don’t know if it’s open 24/7). One thing is clear – the NHS needs to up its game on the information stakes. Minor injuries services are only effective if people know how to access them.

One thing I didn’t have to worry about was ’where’s my credit card? will my insurance cover the bill?’ I knew that if I needed it and once I could find it, the treatment would be available at no direct cost. The NHS is still ‘free at the point of delivery’ and this is something we should continue to cherish as another stressful year in healthcare draws to a close. Some things never change, the concept is still great, the majority of services excellent but stratgey and clarity still lacking.

And the leaflet? I found it wedged between two books ‘Excel for Dummies’ and ‘Communicating Effectively’. Go figure….


Sunday, 2 December 2012

Pat on the back for the Aussies and their anti-smoking initiative

Australia and Australians are a bit like marmite or republicans – you either love ‘em or hate ‘em. I am firmly in the middle – admiring their weather, their positive attitude, their sportsmen and their wide open spaces but not so keen on the fact that my step daughter has been lured to sunnier climes and now resides in Brisbane.

But this weekend I salute the Australian government and their health ministry in sticking to their guns with their anti-smoking strategy. Australia is the first country to make it compulsory, by law, to sell cigarettes in plain packaging. Except it’s not actually plain packaging – the lethal drugs are now being sold in packs emblazoned with gory pictures representing the various diseases caused by smoking. A supermarket’s cigarette cabinet down under now looks like the horror section of a DVD rental store. Manufacturers have no choice but to place these graphic images on their merchandise and they have no choice of colour for their packs either – they must be green. The only nod to brand is the ‘brand variant’ being listed in small print at the bottom of the front of the pack.

Will this work and should a country seek to restrict industry in this way? In my opinion the answer to both is yes.

The tobacco industry is vehemently against this initiative, saying that it won’t work and will increase tobacco smuggling, forcing them to decrease their prices in order to be more competitive, hence leading to increased smoking. Mmm – a rather tenuous argument methinks. Of course they are against this move because it is bound to have a detrimental effect on the glamour associated with smoking by the young. Maybe there is an odd approach to smoking in Australia. My step daughter has told me how surprised she is that many of her peers, mainly young(ish) housewives smoke – usually in secret – to the extent that they wear rubber gloves when they nip outside for a quick fag so there will be no tell-tale marks on their fingers – bizarre!

I suspect that the immortal youth who already smoke will mentally distance themselves from the upsetting images on the packs, believing that such health nightmares could not happen to them. But maybe the horror pics will stop the next generation from starting in the first place – it’s got to be worth a try.

The pictures on packs in the UK do have some effect – a young friend of mine who used to smoke said he was tempted to ask for a pack not by brand but instead he would try to pick the pack with the least upsetting picture! I wonder in the future whether Australian smokers will ask for ‘the pack with the rotting teeth and ulcerated mouth’ rather than ‘the one showing a young women in an oxygen mask’.

It will be very, very interesting to see if this bold move makes any difference in the number of cigarette packs sold in Australia, and hopefully a long term study will prove that this has gone some way in reducing the number of smokers in the next generation. If this does work, and Australia reach the targeted reduction in smokers from 16% of the population in 2007 to less than 10% by 2018, then here in the UK we should take note of hard evidence and follow their lead.

And to the pro-smoking lobby and accusers of a ‘nanny state’ regime I have one thing to say – carry on smoking if you must, but don’t expect anyone to make it easy for your peers, or more importantly your children, to take up this lethal habit.