Friday 17 July 2009

Health porkers

14st 10lb, 2.4 units. One of the reasons we had to return from Northumberland was to receive a visit from the “health visitor”. Well, she certainly visited, so that’s one box ticked. But, when it comes to health, I could not help noticing that she was – how can I put this politely? – amply proportioned. I suppose it could have been worse. She was not actually eating a Scotch egg or a box of Black Magic during her visit, nor did she knock the dottle out of her pipe on the doorpost before she entered, start swigging from a hip flask or look around for a glass-topped table from which to snort cocaine. But it still seems strange to me that so many of the fighters on the front line of the nation’s health service are distinctly on the porky side. One of the midwives Mrs H consulted before her delivery bore more than a passing resemblance to the late pub pianist Mrs Mills, and the female support staff at the hospital would be a shoo-in at any tug-of-war contest they felt minded to enter.

One of the finest examples of this double standard I ever encountered was at a country show, which was graced by a double decker bus emblazoned with slogans and filled with displays promoting health in Northumberland. It was staffed by young women wearing jolly T-shirts. All were markedly overweight. Even better than that, when I happened across them they were standing in a line by the side of the bus, enthusiastically smoking fags. Sadly, as I raised my camera to capture this arresting image for posterity, they noticed me and scuttled inside the vehicle. I think they might have ditched their cigarettes before they did so, though at this distance of time I cannot be entirely sure.

Which reminds me of one of the many supportive e-mails I received after writing a newspaper column that was less than ecstatic about the NHS. This particular one related the story of the writer’s great aunt, who had suffered a fall, as the elderly do, and been admitted to a Tyneside hospital which had rapidly managed to give her both MRSA and c. difficile. Her nephew, seeking to relieve his stress with a soothing cigarette in the car park, was instructed to stop immediately as his behaviour was endangering not only his own health but that of all the hospital’s patients, staff and visitors. Really? I thought that was the NHS’s job. I wonder whether it remains the case that all nurses are furious smokers, as they were in my Cambridge days nearly 40 years ago, and all medical students and junior doctors hopeless drunks?

Anyway, back to that health visitor. I happened to be at home when she called (though she flattered herself that I had arranged it deliberately) so I was able to watch as she whipped out a set of scales and told us that The Baby weighed 8lb 9oz, which was 15oz more than when she last weighed him and therefore a Good Thing. I think this is right at his age, and not an opinion coloured by the fact that she is clearly predisposed to put on weight herself.

She also gave us the benefit of her advice on the great BCG controversy. The NHS in its wisdom thinks that The Baby is at heightened risk of contracting tuberculosis because Mrs H’s parents come from outside Western Europe and North America, viz Iran, even though they have lived here for almost 30 years. They have therefore summoned him for a vaccination despite my unequivocal assurance to the young paediatrician who first raised the subject that “There won’t be any bloody wogs coming into my house.” The health visitor said it was “up to us”. Which is something these days, I suppose. So we cancelled his appointment, feeling that we were striking a small blow for individual freedom against the overweening power of the fascist State.

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