Random absurdities in primary care medicine and beyond.

  • Date: 15 November 2010

NOTHING better than a little greenery around the place or so we’ve been told – the only vegetation within Diary desk range being a few curious islands of blue-green fungus in an old Costa go cup.

A RECENT report from the organisation Plants4Life suggests that houseplants in the workplace can boost productivity and slash sickness rates. The report cites a study of 51 offices showing that houseplants can reduce fatigue by 20%, headaches by 30%, coughs by 40% and dry facial skin by 25% through emitting oxygen and acting as natural air purifiers. They also have excellent listening skills – though not reported in this particular study. Following an article on the findings, the magazine Management in Practice asked its online readers “Do you have plants in your surgery? Do they make a difference do you think?” One correspondent indentified only as Marie from Northwest England replied: "Yes we do, but they die a long, slow and dehydrated death as nobody ever remembers to water them. They also collect dust and no one cleans them.” Maybe cacti would be a viable option?

KEEPING to the topic of sickies – one half of Diary (at least) is gratified to report that the phenomenon known as ‘man flu’ is no joke. Researchers at the University of Cambridge are proposing that men have weaker immune systems due to evolutionary factors and hormonal differences. Their theory is that high levels of testosterone make males more susceptible to coughs and colds thus leading to a trade-off between a strong immune system and reproductive success. But a leading flu expert (probably a woman) says there is no difference in men's immunity.

IN THESE lean economic times, it’s reassuring to see the NHS continue to invest in that great British institution – the cuppa. NHS Grampian in the north of Scotland has spent £75,000 buying 27 tea trolleys. Despite facing spending cuts of around £100million, the health board has given the go-ahead to pay £2,500 each for the trolleys which will serve patients with food and drinks. A spokesman for the board argued the move will yield important medical benefits, reportedly saying: “They are equipped with hot-water boilers which enable staff to safely provide freshly-made beverages to each patient,therefore improving fluid intake.

AUSTERITY measures of a different kind have been affecting vending machines in Wales where health bosses have imposed a sugar ban, amid claims the substance poses a “risk to health”. The order has gone out for coffee and tea machines in hospitals across the country to be cleared of sugar. And if that wasn’t enough, the Welsh Assembly has banned fatty cheddar cheese sandwiches. Vending machines will instead be loaded up with healthy alternatives such as dried fruit, juice, seeds and water. An Assembly spokesman reportedly refused a compromise deal involving lower-calorie “Half Spoon” sugar and said hospitals should set an example for visitors.

FOR those in search of more imaginative prescribing options, then Dutch scientists Simon Rietveld and Ilja van Beest may hold the answer. They recently won the Ig Nobel Medicine Prize at a glittering “bacteria”- themed ceremony at Harvard University where judges rewarded scientists for their weird work. The Dutch pair were honoured for their remarkable discovery that asthma symptoms can be treated with a rollercoaster ride – so could this pave the way for GPs to prescribe sufferers trips to Alton Towers? Other notable winners included British scientists who proved that swearing relieves pain while another team figured out the perfect way to collect whale mucus using a remote control helicopter. Nice.

BMJ ONLINE recently ran a headline that caught Diary’s eye – ‘Study comes up with 41 definitions of what “having sex” means’. The article reported on a major survey of sexual behaviour among Americans involving nearly 6,000 men and women aged between 14 and 94. One finding was that there can be “great diversity” in a single sexual event among adults, with a total of 41 possible combinations of sexual behaviours represented. The study was funded by the Church & Dwight Company who make Trojan condoms, although researchers pledged that scientific integrity was maintained throughout the study. Diary recently tried to come up with 41 personal definitions of what “doing work” means but only managed 11 and – reassuringly – there was no overlap with the American findings.

THINGS are different in Britain when it comes to sexual behaviour – and especially up North where NHS Doncaster recently published a Glossary of Yorkshire Medical Terms to help European (and probably many UK doctors) interpret the local dialect and common phrases. Diary’s favourite among many is “my husband is good to me” – translation being he doesn’t expect sex.

GPC CHAIRMAN Dr Laurence Buckman recently lamented the ‘rabid’ press coverage GPs get these days and commented on the worry that it may be eroding public confidence in the profession. “Of course GPs should reply to negative articles ... but there comes a point when you can't win with these people (newspaper editors),” he said. “It is very distressing to read that you are wicked, corrupt and bad at your job.” Perhaps the cause wasn’t helped when newspapers recently reported that 1,465 GPs make more than the Prime Minister and one male GP from Hillingdon in west London earned £475,500.

DIARY has noticed a marked increase in the celebrity dental news content of the magazine Dentistry – typical in a recent issue it breathlessly reports how the X Factor timetable is so tight in the lead-up to the finals that contestants may miss out on tooth whitening. It seems that in the last series, top cosmetic dentist Mervyn Druian had 12 finalists of the TV talent show in his chair at The London Centre for Cosmetic Dentistry. But this year a spokesperson announced: “The X Factor has said that they are very tight on timings so they may not be able to get the finalists' teeth whitened at all.” Such is our apprehension, Diary may not tune in at all.

From Practice Manager Issue 03 Summer 2010, pp 15

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