Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ian's child-care advice for the prime minister

The BBC is a unique institution. Its bosses may at times be the corporation's own worst enemies but it's staffed by heroes. Where else could you find MHF president Dr Ian Banks giving childcare advice to the prime minister?

Yes, any blokes getting into a misty eyed, nappy-changing mood now that David Cameron has become a father again, should look no further than Ian's terrific Baby Manual. It combines his medical wisdom, unique writing style and experience as a father of four to create pretty much the perfect book for the new Dad. I hope Sam has bought the prime minister a copy.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Speed camera debate suggests public know where to draw the line

Saying you'll 'end the war on the motorist' ticks so many boxes for the new government, it's like the Cones Hotline never happened. Cynics say it's the only war they can end but I won't be going there. My concern is road safety. Fast cars kill kids. It's not a fact we're keen to accept but fact it is.

In theory stopping people driving too fast by fining them when they do it is an idea we can all sign up to. The debate has been distorted by the perception that speed camera partnerships are a licence to private companies and the individuals that run them to extort money from the motorist. The cameras are placed not in the dangerous places where accidents have occurred but nearby where they can catch the maximum number. I have no idea if this is true but suddenly the debate is not about the real issue: safety. This is what happens when you blur the line between public and private. The speed cameras debate suggests the public instinctively understands what the state should be doing and what it shouldn't.

That being so, motorists who don't like private companies profiting from their occasional zeal on the gas pedal should ask themselves how they feel about private companies profiting from their next doctor's visit or their child's education as health and education services are contracted out. If you don't like speed camera partnerships will you like 'free' schools (when the private sector steps in for the local authority) or a GP-run NHS (when the private sector steps in for the primary care trusts and strategic health authorities)? Governments who want to be reelected should think about it too.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ian Banks: Cuban Heals

A guest post today from the Men's Health Forum's president, the wonderful Dr Ian Banks. He's just back from a well-earned holiday in Cuba. Like me, he's blogging in a personal capacity here not on behalf of the MHF:

Ian BanksThere is an old saying in Cuba. In fact just about everything in Cuba is old especially the cars. I sat behind the wheel of a pre war Pontiac. This was just about as far as I got as there was no engine and the horse power was too busy eating grass. Forget the Tardis, travelling back in time you need no more than a Virgin Atlantic ticket to Havana, mind you Dr Who probably enjoys a tad more leg room. Immigration was swift until I was mistaken for a Cuban, beards are common not least because you can’t get hold of a half decent rusty razor blade. I wondered why they were so keen to make sure I was not ‘native’, all would come clear later in this most amazing journey into the past but also paradoxically the future.

Cuba is economically blockaded by the USA. So OK, common knowledge but the impact of this misguided and vicious action extends to far more than beards, women cannot get sanitary towels until the age of 14 and then they are rationed to 10 packets per year, the moon seems to skip a beat.

Everything is recycled, and I do mean everything, horses are a major form of local intra city transport yet streets are completely free of any dung. This is collected and resurfaces as courgettes. Although the economy revolves around sugar they actually import it along with oil. A favourite sport is to stand in the clear blue sea with a bottle of Havana Gold while getting jelly fish stung and eaten alive by mosquitoes. Please do note that you cannot get mosquito repellent or fly spray even from ‘international health’ (the private sector for tourists). I followed the Cuban custom and most mosquitoes in my vicinity lived on Bloody Marys.

So why was it so exhilarating? Well for starters they were the most literate people (even in English) I have met despite such an externally imposed poverty but ironically their average life expectancy exceeds that of the country denying them access to modern medicines. Unlike the UK or the USA which import fully trained doctors and nurses they actually export doctors and import medical students sending them back home fully trained. Doctors pay is the same as for plumbers but at least you can get one out at night.

There is no shortage of people wanting to train for medicine and women have equal status. The reasons are complex, being a doctor provides respect but also the potential to travel internationally denied to almost all other Cubans. Even so there is a very real pride in simply being a doctor in Cuba, perhaps something eroding in the UK under past and especially present administrations.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Back to the 1980s

When David Cameron packaged himself as the heir to Blair and dragged his party kicking and screaming into the modern world, many assumed it was for political expediency. Then he went into coalition with the Lib Dems and even the most hardened cynic softened.

So what should we make of a leaked letter in which public health minister Anne Milton suggests she'll be abolishing free school milk? Milton could not have evoked the spectre of Margaret Thatcher more directly if she had waved her handbag around her head like a mace and despatched a task-force. The press coverage resonates with the screeching and hissing of a thousand cats coming out of the bag. Former Tory health minister Stephen Dorrell tried to put former nurse Milton in her place this morning on the Today programme by asserting that the proposal had only been discussed at a 'junior level'. Hmmm.

In yesterday's Observer a gentlemen described by the paper's subs as Britain's leading GP (actually Steve Field, the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners) lays it on the line to patients: Don't take offence if we lecture you on how to stay alive and healthy. He is arguing for folk to take more responsibility for their health care. That's a fine idea - one men's health campaigners have always championed - for those who can afford it. But in some of Field's hardline populism (let's call obese people fat), there is another chilling echo of the past. Remember when the poor were blamed for being poor? Victorian values they called it.

The MHF often describes its goal as it own redundancy - that a nation of healthy men will render us obsolete. With male life expectancy improving under the last government and the gap with female life expectancy narrowing that day was not impossible to imagine. It is less easy now. Things are changing and some terrible ideas that we thought were dead and buried seem to be back among us.

There are apparently sane men walking around the streets with mullet haircuts. Is it back to the 80s in politics too?