• 'Restructure' our streets to make them safer. Then we'll talk about banning the school run

      The UK’s public health chief, John Ashton, has caused quite a commotion with his comments yesterday claiming that parents should be banned from dropping their children off at the school gate.
      Of course we can see where he’s coming from. A mere quarter of a mile each day, he claims, will make a real difference in the fight against childhood obesity. And with childhood obesity-related hospital admissions quadrupling in the past 10 years, there is no denying that this is a very real, very dangerous reality.
      Aside from the fact that I feel ‘ban’ is a very strong word, particularly in this context (after all, this is hardly a punishable crime), I think Mr Ashton is somewhat short-sighted.
      Yes, cities, I am sure, can be ‘restructured to tackle problems with modern life’, as he has suggested, but unless he restructures the streets to keep paedophiles out, it’s just not going to happen.
      I am all for government action to improve child health, but I just don’t believe this is the way.
      I don’t mean to sound young, but streets nowadays are just not what they were 50 years ago (from what I’ve heard). Tales of 50-somethings of when they were younger, playing in the streets without supervision and walking to school alone are, unfortunately, just that – tales. As a 26-year-old, it is not even something I can reminisce over. And let’s be honest, obesity is a lesser evil than the unmentionable alternative.
      Parents on the whole will not, I believe, allow their young ones to walk to school unaccompanied as it is simply just not safe.
      Then again, with teachers like Jeremy Forrest around, it might not even make a difference anymore.

      Joanna Lowy
    • Why updating Monopoly to reflect today's housing prices is a waste of time

      A perhaps light-hearted news article out today based on some research from Halifax mentions updating Monopoly to today’s London house prices.
      On reading the headline alone, you may – like me – become horrified at the thought of changing the classic game.
      True, on closer inspection it seems that there are no such calls for this to actually take place. But the research alone, which seems to compare house prices in 1936 – when the game first came out – to house prices now, and jiggles the sets around respectively, is really rather meaningless.
      It claims that although the highest and lowest properties are still Mayfair and Old Kent Road respectively, the properties in all the other colour categories are no longer accurate. Whitehall – originally the seventh cheapest – has gone up 10 places to the sixth most expensive area to buy, whilst Vine Street has fallen eight places from 11th to third least expensive. Fleet Street has also fallen seven places, from 13th to sixth, according to the Halifax experts.
      Which is all well and good. But let’s be honest. If we’re really concerned about the game being a true representation of reality, there are other things we should probably change first.
      Like the fact that income tax is a flat rate of £200 – no matter how much you are worth in the game. Free parking? I would comment but I’ve never heard of it. And let’s be realistic here, with house prices spiralling in London at 6% a year, you’re probably going to need more than £1,500 to start with and longer than a couple of hours to play – probably more like 14.5 years, if recent figures are to be believed.
      In fact, the only thing that seems to be accurate is the rule about houses – once the 32 have been built, no substitute is allowed – somewhat reminiscent of the housing shortage we have now.
      Want to be more realistic? Throw in some homeless shelters and a couple of council estates.
      But then, it wouldn’t be much fun, would it? And playing games is supposed to be fun, after all.
      Let’s be honest – if Monopoly really was an accurate depiction of the housing market, I doubt any of us would want to play anymore.
    • Superman: Now at a cinema near you, not your local GP surgery

      A poll by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) released today has revealed that 85% of GPs believe general practice is in crisis and that they can no longer guarantee safe care. Ninety-three per cent believe working in general practice is more stressful than it was five years ago and 84% believe their workload has increased substantially.
      It’s all too easy to pile the pressure on the good ol’ family doctor. It seems convenient, somehow, to take our frustrations out on what is so often our first point of contact with the health service.
      But then again, general practice only receives 9% of NHS funding, so what can one expect?
      Apparently the world.
      Following weeks of less-than-subtle hints that GPs are somehow responsible for the current crisis in A&E departments, and despite the above figures, Sir Bruce Keogh has now intimated that GP’s should be expected to provide 24/7 care; what the medical director has coined ‘decision support’.
      But does the fact that 22% of those polled admitted to seeking support, guidance or advice for work-related stress not mean anything? Not even for the sheer pity of it, but for the very obvious implications this is then going to have on the already overworked system? Because if GPs are expected to be on call every hour of the day, 22% is going to become laughable; a mere drop in the ocean.
      There will be no GPs left.
      If you’re looking for Superman, try Man of Steel. You can get tickets here. Supposedly it’s very good.
      Unfortunately, as far as I know GPs are not yet super humans. I’m sure we’ll be informed if that changes.

      Joanna Lowy
    • Breast cancer: To screen or not to screen?

      Like many, I am sure, I was rather intrigued by reports out yesterday which claimed that breast cancer screening does not actually reduce mortality rates. Although the number of women who die from breast cancer is steadily decreasing, the study from Oxford University suggests, there is no evidence it is because of the mammograms that every woman between the ages of 50 and 70 are invited to attend.
      In fact, the research reveals, the largest drop in mortality is actually in women under 40 who are not routinely screened, factors such a better treatment are likely to improve survival and screening is dangerous anyway because it raises the risk of unnecessary surgery and treatment.
      Yet I am intrigued by these claims, and not only because of the limitations to the study which many have pointed to.
      I am intrigued because I do not generally understand how, in this day and age, screening could be anything but positive.
      And I am not alone. The other side of the coin – namely via the NHS – paints a strikingly different picture. According to an analysis by the Department of Health last year, breast screening led to a 20% reduction in deaths. The statistic residing proudly on NHS Choices estimates that screening saves around 1,300 lives a year and that a third of breast cancers are diagnosed as a result.
      Yet it is here that I stumble. You see, when breast cancer screening was introduced in the 80s – as in Pacman, Michael Jackson and dodgy perms – health chiefs then predicted it would cut deaths by a third. And an article on the BBC website from 1998 cites the same number of lives saved as the NHS does today. So why has this not progressed in any way?
      It is not that I believe screening to be unworthy, but I would have expected it to have progressed over the last 40-odd years.
      Maybe then, the reality that screening leads to three times as many deaths as it saves would no longer be a reality.
      Maybe then false positives would be a thing of a past; unnecessary treatments an unthinkable reality.
      And why are doctors operating on or treating a woman who they deem to have breast cancer when there is a chance that they might not, anyway? Surely screening is a first step, a mere indication of the need for further testing. I struggle to believe that in this day and age, the results of a mammogram are taken as gospel without any further investigation.
      And if they are, then perhaps it is time we start questioning that, instead.

      Joanna Lowy
    • Nicholson's pension pot is sickening, but the fact he is resigning is much worse

      Pension pots are not clad in iron.

      You might be mistaken for thinking they are, seeing as any time a well-known member of society becomes disgraced, the media jumps on the gluttonous pot of gold that still sits at the end of their rainbow. Which, invariably, is suddenly a lot shorter following their forced resignation.

      But we need only look at recent events, such as ex-Halifax Bank of Scotland chief, Sir James Crosby - said to hold a central role in its demise - giving up his knighthood and 30% of his pension, as of last month. Denis McShane, former Labour party politician and one of the worst culprits of the MPs’ expenses scandal, had his pay and pensions suspended for a year, and a disgraced police officer, who was found to have sold seized guns, had his pension reduced by 25%. Initially, reports claim, he was due to have it stripped by 65%, but a judge ruled this as unfair, following an argument by his lawyer that his actions, whilst unlawful, did not put anyone at risk.

      So what about good old David Nicholson, who last week announced he would retire next year to the tune of a £1.9 million pension? Nice work, if you can get it.

      Being in charge of the scandal-hit Mid Staffordshire Hospital Trust for two years, during which countless numbers of avoidable deaths took place as a result of shocking levels of care, his actions certainly did put many people at risk.

      So what of his pension pot, I hear you ask?

      Mr Nicholson served the NHS for 35 years. And, for all the furore surrounding his involvement in Mid Staffs at the time of its demise, and, indeed, the bitter legacy he leaves behind, “the man with no shame” is said to have done a lot of good for the health service, too. The fall in NHS waiting times, the reduction of infection rates and mixed sex accommodation being at an all-time low are the accolades Jeremy Hunt has chosen to bestow on the outgoing chief executive.

      Yet whilst no one, I am sure, feels as though he shouldn’t get a penny of his hard-earned retirement, I’d be shocked if anyone actually supports the likely reality that he should pocket the lot.

      But he will, and the reason behind it is a lot worse than the stomach-churning image of the ex-chief executive of the NHS sunning himself in the Maldives, draped in gold and diamonds. Of course he does not deserve £1.9m – especially the taxpayer funded part of it - but he also should not be choosing the terms of his resignation in the first place. In fact, he should not be resigning at all. He should have been fired. Months ago.

      And it’s because of this that that pension pot is probably going to remain untouchable. After all, how can the NHS take away from a man they maintain, through their inaction, has done nothing wrong?

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