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Media Watch: An irreverent look at some of the biggest health stories in the media

By Valeria Fiore
24 May 2019

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Valeria Fiore takes an irreverent look at some of the biggest health stories in the media

‘Saving’ smokers one cigarette at a time

In 2017, free-market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) – aka the NHS nemesis who wants to see the health service scrapped – published a report called Smoking and the Public Purse.

This analysis argued that smoking is good for public finances, with tobacco duties bringing in £9.5bn a year. It also stated that the Government in 2015 saved £9.8bn in pension, healthcare and other costs as a result of the premature deaths of smokers.

So it comes as no great surprise that an investigation by the British Medical Journal, published in May, found that the British American Tobacco (BAT) is one of IEA’s funders.

Waiting for smokers to take one step closer to ending their lives prematurely with every puff of their cigarettes seems to be the IEA’s preferred measure for tackling smoking – given that they have also criticised public spending on smoking cessation services. I guess you can say they are fighting fire with fire.

Earlier this year, the NHS pledged additional support for smokers – including for expectant mothers and their partners and for smokers admitted to hospital – as part of the long-term plan.

However, research published in March by public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Cancer Research UK found that cuts to public health budgets now mean that just over half of local authorities have a specialist smoking cessation service.

The Government has so far turned a deaf ear to calls for appropriate funding to smoking cessation services, with ASH and Cancer Research UK arguing that big tobacco companies should be asked to pay for evidence-based measures to reduce smoking.

We hope that the Government’s cuts to public health grants, which have resulted in a drop in the number of local authorities offering smoking cessation services, have nothing to do with the close links between the IEA, the Conservative Party and health and social care secretary Matt Hancock.

Between 2010 and 2018, Mr Hancock received £32,000 in donations from IEA board of trustees chair Neil Record. However, we’re still prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt on this one, Mr Hancock. This time.

Traffic England… NHS edition

We all want to avoid getting stuck in traffic jams for hours. Why should we feel differently about waiting to see a doctor?

We shouldn’t, and we don’t. That’s why the creators of the WaitLess app – which, unsurprisingly, has been endorsed by out techy health secretary Matt Hancock – have come up with a solution that will give people live A&E waiting times updates at the touch of a button.

The app also allows patients to check how long it will take them to get to their chosen hospital, and it is hoped it will help hospitals tackle overcrowding at A&Es.

We know that Mr Hancock’s ardour for technology knows no bounds, but isn’t it a bit ambitious to imagine that an app will be able to address a situation created by years of workforce planning mismanagement and scarce resourcing?

As nurse Martin Rowland said on Twitter, ‘over-crowding in emergency departments is down to a lack of staff [and] hospital and community beds’.

‘If there was a long queue at the Tesco checkout would you expect Tesco to release an app showing all the other shops with shorter queues in the local area? No, they would open another till.’

There are other things the NHS and politicians should probably make sure we have to ‘WaitLess’ for instead – the workforce implementation plan and the social care green paper, to name just two.

See you never again, Kolo

Southmead Hospital in Bristol has ousted one of its most frequent visitors, Kolo the cat, from the A&E department.

North Bristol NHS Trust, which manages Southmead Hospital, said it will be ‘stepping up’ its efforts to make sure the tabby – who regularly visits the hospital – never sets paw in the A&E department again.

The cat is a real celebrity in the area – he even has its own Facebook page, where the owner shares pictures of the cat’s encounters with patients and NHS staff.

Following news that the cat will no longer be allowed to wonder around the hospital, some patients shared anecdotes on the Facebook page of how the pet had helped them feel calmer while waiting at A&E.

Although it is understandable that the hospital decided to ban the feline from its site, the positive response from patients to the cat is proof that animals are welcomed on wards.

This could be taken as a suggestion to introduce more pets across NHS hospitals. But hold your horses.

Before flooding our hospitals with animals to keep patients company while they wait to be seen, please consider staffing the NHS properly instead.

Shortening waiting times so patients don’t have to wait endlessly to see a medical professional and have less need to be entertained while they hang around hospitals for hours is probably a better idea.

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