Content editor, Joanna Lowy, comments on all things health-related, and gives you a sneaky peek into her news-based medical musings of the week. Sometimes controversial, other times humorous, always straight from the heart; here you get to know the girl behind the facts! Enjoy!
Comments welcome and invited!
One of the first articles I ever wrote was in defence of the London Underground. An English Literature undergraduate student commuting to the East End, a total journey time of about an hour and a half, I could have joined the masses in slating the overpriced, often delayed, air-stifling collection of carriages.
But I didn’t. Having returned from a holiday in New York, in which my best friend and I – not especially famed for our sense of direction – spent two weeks battling their unnecessarily confusing excuse for an underground system, I came back wearing rose-tinted glasses. I’d never been particularly scathing of it before, but experiencing a significantly more shambolic system than our own made me truly thanking for what we have.
And shambolic it really aint, no matter what we Londoners like to profess. Yes, there are sometimes delays, and true, it may not always be the most comfortable of journeys, standing under the sweaty armpit of a fellow commuter, but when we take a step back and weigh up the pros and cons, I expect we’d be hard-pressed to wish for anything else.
Especially when we compare it to its humble beginnings in 1863. Today marks the 150th anniversary of the little steam train that travelled three and a half miles from Paddington to Farringdon – a journey which took two and a half hours and carried almost 40,000 passengers in its first day alone. Now, the third longest system of its kind in the world spanning 249 miles, it boasts 10 lines, 270 stations, four million journeys a day and carries more than a billion people each year.
Not bad for 150 years, eh?
Except for one tiny little detail. The absolutely obscene fares.
For some reason, I seem to be out of sync with my London counterparts. For whilst I now think it’s time to perhaps jump on the proverbial wagon (or carriage in this case) and start questioning the London Underground, everyone else has exited via the sliding doors.
It’s a bit like the Olympics; the only other event known to mankind to completely remove the cynicism from the Brits.
The London Underground turns 150, and we turn gaga.
Reading the vast celebratory articles penned in honour of the special anniversary, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that as of January 1st this year, i.e. eight days ago, TFL increased their fare charges by 4.2%, which is five times the rate of inflation, for the fifth year in a row. That means an annual travel card for the London Underground, depending on where you live and how far you’ve got to travel, can cost from anything between £920 and £3,168. And that’s not all. Tube station car parks, as of four days ago, went up by a whopping 18.73%. Put into perspective against the backdrop of a measly 1.8% increase in the adult minimum wage, you’ve got a truly shambolic situation – regardless of how neat and tidy the easy-to-use system appears.
But that hasn’t stopped people in their droves paying anything from £50 to £180 to experience the original ride on an original steam train. If that’s not encouraging an already ridiculously priced service, that soon, after the celebrations die down, will resume normal service, then I don’t know what is.
The London Underground might want to heed its own advice. For when it comes to what is being charged versus the service that is being received, I think it’s time they mind the gap.
The NHS has been under immense pressure this week, what with a leading surgeons group claiming that more consultants and senior doctors need to work on weekends to improve patient safety as well as the expectation placed on GPs to increase opening surgery times for appointments. It all comes under plans dubbed ‘24/7 healthcare’.
The NHS has been advised to take a lesson from Tesco, who, through its extensive and amenable opening hours, has built itself up into the go-to supermarket for the majority of the British public.
The NHS is probably sick to death of being told to model itself on a shopping chain. It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that it was told to test a John-Lewis management style.
I can’t imagine that John Lewis is going to be too happy (think its elite Waitrose brand) to be compared with the cheap and cheerful Tesco. And equally, I can’t imagine Tesco – being the most popular British supermarket - being over the moon at the comparison with the more niche alternative.
But perhaps more importantly is the resistance which has understandably come from doctors’ leaders who have warned that the NHS has little in common with a supermarket.
In the row that has sparked these new proposals which asks whether patients or staff should come first, the answer must, of course, be the former. 24/7 healthcare is a must. But surely we must take one step at a time.
After all, in a week that staff are continually facing the axe because of mass budget cuts, a continuation of bed shortages, highly-trained ambulance paramedics being swapped for £12,000-a-year first aiders because of budget cuts and fee cuts leading to GP waiting lists, is it really the time to start preaching the simply unattainable?
If there’s one, and only one, thing we should take from Tesco, it should be that every little helps.
I must be honest, I’ve never thought that people and fish are all that similar. Aside from the popular “Men and fish are alike - they both get into trouble when they open their mouths” and the other similarities that people have drawn between women and aquatic vertebrates including being attracted to shiny objects, travelling in protective groups and the importance of scales, there really isn’t all that much in it.
I mean, they’re hardly the most of intelligent creatures, are they?
But some research out this week is making me think again.
Apparently, according to scientists in Germany, a certain type of male tropical fish become more attractive to female fish by displaying homosexual behaviour. The explanation for this is that female fish, among many other species of animal, apparently, get ‘turned on’ by copycat mating. They like to see that their intended is capable of fulfilling their needs; try before you buy, if you like.
And it got me thinking. We women are not all that different. We, too, love gay men, because we can enjoy spending time with them without the fear of being hit on, whilst gaining insight into the male mind. A key difference, however, lies in the intention: female fish are attracted by homosexual behaviour because it shows them what they can hope to get from that specific fish, whereas women are attracted to gay men for precisely the opposite reason.
But who’s the winner here, us or them? I am inclined, I’m afraid, to go with the fish on this one.
The viral campaign ‘Gay men will marry your girlfriends’ which was created in support of gay marriage in America this month makes some scarily true points in its threatening address to straight men, significant, also, for us here in the UK as a similar argument is now taking place. “Have you seen us? We’re ripped. Because we love going to the gym. You know who else goes to the gym? Your girlfriend. We also dress better than you. You don’t wanna go dancing? We teach a dance class. We could listen to your girlfriend for hours just reassuring her that she’s not the crazy one. Her dad loves us cos he’s not threatened by us.” They’ve got a point.
Maybe fish are smarter than we give them credit for.
Either that or they’re just responding to their own campaign for same-sex marriage.
Like many, I’m sure, I’ve been quite disgusted at the level of intrusion the Duchess of Cambridge has had to endure since being forced to announce her pregnancy this week. Every woman who brings a new life into this world should be afforded, at the very minimum, the luxury of having three months before letting her friends and family know that she’s expecting, let alone the entire world. A wedding is one thing, but the unpredictable, uncontrollable, extremely sensitive nature of managing to carry full-term without any problems really should be left where it belongs – in the mother’s womb. Even if that mother is the future Queen of England.
And so, the shameful prank courtesy of one Australian radio station yesterday understandably caught the attention of the entire world.
I could happily continue on this fashion, slamming not only such a disgraceful action but the continued obsession and intrusion into the #royalbaby, which isn’t even a baby and won’t be for another six months.
But yesterday’s prank actually highlighted a more serious issue.
King Edward VII hospital, the leading private hospital and the long-standing, go-to place for the Royals, should, quite frankly, be ashamed of itself. For anyone who's listened to the 4.26 clip will know that the light-hearted duo boasted the most appalling, supposedly posh English accents, referred to “my granddaughter Kate’s ‘little tummy bug’”, had a third person barking in the background and spoke about walking the corgis. In short, they used every possible stereotype they could use. And both the receptionist and the nurse fell for it.
And fell for it hard. Giving basic details of her condition and answering questions about visiting hours – you couldn’t make it up.
It actually came at a rather significant time, clashing with yesterday’s Autumn Statement and the Prime Minister’s Question Time which preceded it. Cameron was left red-faced after his maintained claims that NHS spending is going up was challenged by Ed Miliband, claiming this did not represent reality as spending is actually lower than it was in 2010.
The situation, in my opinion, is further compounded when we look to the private hospital at the centre of the scandal. For the NHS need nothing less than an excuse for why they’re not actually doing too badly, after all. “But that private hospital, with all the money in the world, still screwed up royally. You wouldn’t catch us falling for a prank like that.”
It may be easy to view yesterday’s controversy through the rose-tinted glasses of the NHS, arguing that money be may not be the hard-and-fast solution so many claim it to be. But if this is to teach us anything, other than the common decency to leave a pregnant woman alone, it should warn us against becoming as complacent as London’s leading private hospital obviously has become.
Last week saw the release of an online calculator which supposedly predicts a baby’s probability of becoming obese during childhood.
Using data such as birth weight, number of household members and parental BMI, the tool which has been developed by researchers at Imperial College London has been hailed as some sort of preventative measure to getting fat.
And so, obesity, apparently, will come down to the six questions which comprise the two-minute questionnaire.
Call me a cynic, but there is one question they failed to take into account: ‘What effect will the results of your prediction have on your relationship to food?’
In a scenario reminiscent of the chicken and egg, you see, the researchers have clearly forgotten that any sort of prediction is likely, in fact, to impact on the said outcome.
Because let’s be honest - even if the results of the online calculator were accurate, what are the implications of supposedly ‘knowing one’s fate’? What effect would this have on the poor babe-in-arms who has merely cried out for milk?
Those who are deemed to have a high-risk of becoming obese, because of things like how rich their parents are and how many siblings they have - things that, one may argue, are completely out of their control – are fated to have an overbearing, miserable childhood with no chocolate. Because no parent is going to stand by and allow their child to fulfil their less-than-desirable fate, if they can help it. Any innocence and implicit compliance which accompanies a baby on entering this world will pass the second that baby learns the word ‘why’. And God help that poor baby who one day becomes an insecure teenage girl, perhaps with an eating disorder, who need not even ask if she looks fat because she’s been programmed to know that yes, she is more likely to be obese than her best friend at school.
And what about her best friend at school, who received the miraculous news on the day of her birth that she is not likely to become obese? She’s been laughing all the way to the Sauvignon Blanc – that is, until her relaxed attitude to food because she is deemed to remain slim for all her days catches up with her and – shock horror – she’s suddenly overweight.
I get that there is an obesity epidemic which is witnessing more and more people reach an unhealthy weight and of course it is important that we tackle this. But surely it’s a better idea to proactively target everyone with healthy eating and lifestyle as opposed to reacting to a prediction based on nothing more than a two-minute questionnaire.