Defaming the NHS

The British have succeeded in putting a price tag on human life, as we are about to. (from IBD editorials)

This ridiculous line suggests that there may even be some justice to the cliche that the Americans don’t understand irony. Because the writer obviously didn’t spot the irony in attributing the flaws of the US healthcare “system” to the NHS.

Let me spell it out. “A price tag on human life” is the price you have to pay when you don’t have good – or, indeed, any – health insurance. You know, like millions of people in the USA.

In the UK, we don’t have to worry about there being a price tag on our lives. The cost of UK healthcare comes out of our taxes, paid almost unnoticeably when we are well. So, we can just worry about being sick, rather than being sick as well as destitute because we are sick.

The NHS is great. It is generally free at the point of delivery. Almost everyone in the UK loves it, whatever their political views.

(However, if you really want to pay for private insurance and private healthcare, there is nothing to stop you. You’re not obliged to take the free version, which tends to be inferior to the private sector only in terms of the quality of the hotel services and in the speed with which you can get elective surgery.)

Hat tip to Respectful Insolence for drawing attention to this article as a sample of the dangerous lies being spread in the USA about the British National Health Service.

Respectful Insolence quoted a staggeringly stupid paragraph from the first version of the IBD editorials post. They claimed that Stephen Hawking (UK citizen) would have been left to die if he had had to rely on the NHS (for which I think he’s certainly got reason to be grateful). There’s a screenshot of this comedic claim on cheezburger.com

All the same, there are other assertions in the IBD editorials post that are just as absurd as the Stephen Hawking fantasy.

The controlling of medical costs in countries such as Britain through rationing, and the health consequences thereof are legendary. The stories of people dying on a waiting list or being denied altogether read like a horror movie script.

This is “legendary”, indeed. However, the word “mythical” might have been a better choice.

These stories may read like a horror movie script because they are exactly as true as the average horror movie script.

Health care isn’t “rationed” in the UK. Nor is it shared out according to a mad points system, contrary to the claims in this article that:

The more points you have, the more your life is considered worth saving, and the likelier you are to get care.

This article falsely suggests that the NHS operates some sort of non-voluntary euthanasia policy. This is so far from the truth that it is not even living in an adjacent galaxy.

Bug report, pig sick

Conspiracy theories from http://xkcd.com/258/

Conspiracy theories from http://xkcd.com/258/

In the spirit of this xkcd comic, I’d like to file a bug report on that section of the British public that Had its Say to the BBC on the swine flu epidemic.

You could basically construct almost any one of these farts-in-email format by perming any 3 items from the following list:

  • It was deliberately created in a military lab to cull the world’s population
  • It is a just media hype to sell papers
  • It is just a pharmaceutical industry hype to sell tamiflu
  • It is an imaginary disease dreamt up by the same media liberals who insist that climate change is a real danger.
  • Treatment is a waste of their precious public money
  • It’s just “flu” and, therefore, completely insignificant
  • It is completely out of control. (It’s actually possible to find this idea in the same email as the idea above)
  • I demand immediate access to the (so far purely conceptual) vaccination
  • The (so far purely conceptual) vaccination is poisonous and I refuse to take it.
  • The government has invented the epidemic to distract us from….

This example is a representative classic, in its mixture of selfishness, poor grasp of the English language and anti-labour government ranting.

I suppose we the Tax payer will be paying for the expensive drugs, the additional medical staff and rubbish propoganda material published by good old Gordo and his quango’s

Hmm, these HYS-armchair-generals-turned-medical-experts make me feel pig sick. Even if I didn’t have swine flu, which I apparently do.

Giving bad science a bad name

“Coffee cures Alzheimer’s.” This sounds like great news for me personally, given that generally I drink enough coffee per day to wake up the population of a small town.

Am I drinking the right amount, though? How much do you need to drink to avoid – nay, cure – the dread disease?

The Independent claims that a modest cup a day will do it.

A coffee a day ensures the memory will stay

The BBC has a more demanding coffee-drinking schedule. And it’s a lot more tentative about the good it will do.

Coffee ‘may reverse Alzheimer’s’
A possible treatment for dementia?
Drinking five cups of coffee a day could reverse memory problems seen in Alzheimer’s disease, US scientists say.

Wait, a mere two cups of coffee might do it.

The mice were given the equivalent of five 8 oz (227 grams) cups of coffee a day – about 500 milligrams of caffeine.
The researchers say this is the same as is found in two cups of “specialty” coffees such as lattes or cappuccinos from coffee shops, 14 cups of tea, or 20 soft drinks.

It may be too pedantic to point out that a latte or cappuccino are defined by the milk, rather than by the caffeine content. I take it they are using these as shorthand for “real” rather than instant coffee. Ground coffee or espresso may just be too unfashionable to mention.

The Daily Express actually led with this news item covering its front page, in some print editions. It thinks two coffees is the magic quantity.

TWO CUPS OF COFFEE A DAY STOPS ALZHEIMER’S
DRINKING two cups of coffee a day reverses the effects of Alzheimer’s, ground-breaking research has revealed.
Scientists say powerful evidence shows caffeine not only helps to stave off the disease but can even treat it, as it helps to sharpen the memory.

This news item is a mite less groundbreaking than it appears. There was a similar story last year. The protective volume of coffee was one cup a day.

“This is the best evidence yet that caffeine equivalent to one cup of coffee a day can help protect the brain against cholesterol.

In that experiment, it was rabbits that got the caffeine. The poor buggers were killed, of course, but at least they they were just regular rabbits, as far as I can make out.*

Not so the mice. They were bred to have symptoms of Alzheimers. I am sure you will correct my neuroscience idiocy but – is that really the same as human beings having Alzheimers? Or so close to the same as dammit?

(I have serious doubts about the applicability of this research to humans. Serious enough to say that – in the astronomically unlikely event that I were ever on a university ethics committee – I’d have said to these experimenters “Not a chance. You haven’t justified doing the Frankenstein thing of breeding creatures to be sick, in this case. First try some epidemiological studies of people.”)

The interesting thing is that the research report itself doesn’t even claim that coffee cures Alzheimers.

Researchers in the US have shown that caffeine can boost memory in mice with Alzheimer’s symptoms.
At the moment it is not clear whether caffeine can have the same effect in people. Researchers are now carrying out trials to see if caffeine can be beneficial for people with Alzheimer’s.(from the Alzheimers Research Trust website)

However, a casual scan of a few news items would leave you thinking that you only need to force a few doppio espressos down the throats of your formerly caffeine-free older relatives and they could emerge brighteyed from dementia.

(* Another paper in the same journal reckoned that

Acetaminophen inhibits neuronal inflammation and protects neurons from oxidative stress

I think that’s paracetemol to us. I’ll start swallowing two with my morning latte.)

In Sickness and in Health

“Doctors want right to talk faith” according to an item on the BBC health page about a BMA conference. The piece starts:

Doctors are demanding that NHS staff be given a right to discuss spiritual issues with patients as well as being allowed to offer to pray for them. (from the BBC website)

Doctors? Do NHS “doctors”, in general, feel that they have so much spare consultation time on their hands that they need to fill it with philosophical discussion? Well, no.

It’s those pesky members of organisations like Christian Voice, again. In this case it’s the “Christian Medical Fellowship”

The CMF web page title says :”a Christian perspective on Working Overseas, Ethics, Christian Apologetics, Abortion, Evangelism, Faith in Practice and Medical Training” This is too big to show in a browser title bar but you have to admire how comprehensively it gives the flavour of their interests.

They claim to represent 4,500 British doctors. (Scary, huh, if true?) The centrality of proselytizing to their goals can be seen in the literature offered by HealthServe, their overseas mission wing.

Isa Masih, meaning ‘Jesus the Messiah’, was published from July 1996 – April 1999. These back issues contain news from the Muslim world and resources for Christian students who are working towards bringing the good news of Jesus the Messiah to Muslims in universities and other tertiary institutions worldwide. …

What’s spurred their efforts to influence the BMA was the case of a Somerset nurse who offered to pray for a patient, was suspended then reinstated.

This is the sort of issue that the rabid wing of Christianity loves to make much of, and the media love to treat their complaints as news. (Auxiliary nurses told not to wear crosses and all that.) All following a goal of making religious fanaticism seem mainstream and “Christianity” under threat.

A mainstream CofE vicar (debating the issue with a man from the National Secular Society on BBC Breakfast) was aware that an unsolicited offer to pray for a patient would make her seem like the angel of death.

How much more terrifying to a sick person, if the volunteer pray-er is the doctor or nurse who is treating a patient?

If they really think prayer works, wtf can’t they just go off and do it without having to involve the prayee?

I will charitably pretend that they don’t just want to add numbers to a roll of converts (although this is the likeliest explanation for this evangelising) and that they really want to help people. In that case they must instinctively know that any efficacy of prayer comes from the power of suggestion. The prayers, crosses, and so on, are magical rituals and charms that rely on the expectations of the target.

The placebo effect, if it helps anyone get better. However, even the suggestion that your medical professional wants to pray for you would have a pretty definite nocebo effect on anyone, as it suggests that your doctor thinks you are beyond earthly hope.

of course, as the Chaplain pointed out the other day, if Christians really believed in heaven, why would the sick bother trying to stay alive? Or why would believing doctors be so cruel as to try to keep people away from their happy-ever-after afterlife?

Headline news

The BBC reports on a WHO report that social factors, rather than genetics, are responsible for the massive disparities in life expectancy across the world.

This is like saying that humans have been found to breathe air rather than treacle. I.e., It should be no surprise to anyone.

The WHO report webpage makes no mention of “genetics” as a possibly valid alternative explanation. Unsurpisingly. Nor does the BBC report, if you read past the headline.

So, why does genetics even get mentioned in the headline, as if there’s a legitimate debate over whether poverty or genetics is the main determinant of health and life expectancy?

Whatever the reason, the effect is that the lazy headline scanner – i.e., pretty well all of us readers – is left with a vague impression that poverty and genetics are almost equally valid explanations for global inequalities.

My today’s-imaginary-friend – the lazy headline scanner (OK, that’s usually me) – is also likely to be misled by the headline Arab warning after racist death. Hmm, doesn’t that sound – in the current climate – as if there has been a racist Arab threat? You can almost picture the people who inspired the twat-o-tron frothing at the mouth at yet another example of “political correctness gone mad” and so on.

However, this story relates to a 16-year-old language student from Qatar who was murdered in Hastings, apparently for being an Arab.

The “warning” is his uncle’s suggestion that he would advise other Arab families not to send their children to language classes in the UK. Which may not be a statistically valid conclusion about relative risk, based as it is on a sample of one, but I’m pretty confident you’d feel the same in his position.

So, no Arab actually made a racist threat. No Arabs even warned that they’d be taking vengeance for a racist death. In fact, the real story is that an Arab teenager was murdered by racists.

Not that you could guess from the headline.

It’s not that these headlines are deliberately targeted at stirring up the bigots. (The Daily Mail et al exist for that purpose and are so successful at doing it.)
But the general effect of such headlines is still misleading. They are just examples of the background noise in which mass stupidity can flourish.

Down wiv da kidz

It is certainly true that if you don’t have a vote, you don’t count in a democratic society.

One of the (many) demonised groups in the UK now seems to be the “youth” – of which the middle aged, middle classes seem to be inordinately frightened. Coincidentally, this is also an age group in which most are unable to vote, and most of those who do, don’t seem to bother. As a result, it seems, they have become fair game for any crackpot ideas. Oddly, they are also a group politicians seem to constantly appeal to (obviously knowing they wont be arsed to vote…). Isn’t the world strange.

Two recent mad ideas spring to mind. First from the Guardian:

Road safety: Impose total alcohol ban for teenage drivers, says chief medical officer
A zero drink-driving limit should be imposed on all drivers under 20, the chief medical officer recommended yesterday, saying that such a ban would save lives.

This hits two of our current “fears.” First it panders to the idea that the UK is in the grip of a “Booze Culture” and secondly it cries that some new restriction will “save lives.” Nicely it wraps all this up by targeting a silent group of society, so the fall out would be minimal (and it was).

For me, despite being neither “yoof” or a novice driver so immune to any resultant laws, this is insane. I completely, 100% fail to see any logic. I am reasonably sure that any young driver mature and grown up enough to go out and stick to the 1 pint limit is also likely to be mature and capable enough to drive sensibly. The problem, and it isn’t just young drivers, is being over the limit.

Some figures are bandied about:

Justifying his call for zero alcohol for 17 to 20-year-olds, Donaldson said they were six times more likely to have a car crash if they had been drinking. A young person who had been drinking was 2.5 times more likely to have a crash than an older person who had been drinking. “I’m aware it is a controversial recommendation, but I believe it would save lives,” he said.

Now, so far I have been unable to clarify this, but I am reasonably certain that the problem is young people are more likely to be over the legal drink driving limit – I seem to recall the alcohol level is not recorded by the police if the person is under the legal limit.

Basically, this is saying young people over the limit have more accidents than old people over the limit, so lets lower the limit for young people.

Madness. But it is the madness that comes from some one with a fantastic knowledge of one subject area (medicine) being given implied authority in another area (crime reduction, driver safety etc).

The next bit really annoyed me. From the Times a few days ago:

Curfew tames feral yobs of Cornwall
An experiment to bring peace to a yob-plagued town by imposing nocturnal curfews on its teenagers had a promising start this weekend when the streets of Redruth in Cornwall were free of the usual intimidating gaggles of youths.
Under the experimental curfew, named Operation Goodnight, parents in the most troubled part of the town have agreed with police that they will keep children under 16 indoors after 9pm, and that under10s will not be allowed out after 8pm.

What a wonderful culture we live in. When you read things like this it really makes you despair for what the adults of 2020 will be like.

I have two big issues with this. First off – why are we sending kids so many mixed signals? We (as a society) say they should be more involved in the community, say they should spend less time on their playstations and more time outdoors, say they should spend more time interacting with others. Simultaneously we say they cant go out, cant hang round together and everything they do means a paedophile will get them.

Secondly, the sheer unadulterated nonsense behind this.

  1. It is a voluntary scheme. So if you are a NAUGHTYKID™©® all you need to do is ignore it. All the good, well behaved kids will stay at home. Hang on, isn’t that the wrong way round?
  2. It is being done with the approval of the parents and targets the children in the most troubled part of the town. What? It actually says “a Sunday Times poll showed that nine out of 10 parents backed restrictions on their own children going out after dark.”

Right, let me get this straight. The parents of these “feral” children want restrictions on when the children go out. They have enough control over the children to stop them going out but wont do this simply because their children are little s***s, they demand that the police tell them to do this.

Nope, still cant get my head around it.

Why in the name of Zeus dont the bloody parents control their children? Why do they have to agree with police to follow this “trial” curfew (which will, no doubt, report a positive outcome and then spread to other areas – just like the criminal nonsense that is congestion charging)?

Our children are fine. They are the same mix of evil little turds and fantastic kind angels they were 30 years ago, 60 years ago, 90 years ago and even 900 years ago.

The bloody feral parents are the problem…. but then, they can vote…

Water myths

Make sure to breathe 17,280 times a day. It’s for the good of your health. Don’t forget to take those breaths or your health will suffer.

🙂

OK, there’s no guidance yet on how much air you should breathe. Maybe that’s just because nobody has worked out how to sell air yet. Not so for water. How many times have you heard that you should drink x amount of water a day? You might have even heard that tea, coffee, soft drinks, beer and wine somehow don’t count as containing water. It’s not just the Penelope Keiths either. Even the respectable and respected nutrition advisers seem to give out this tosh. The Food Standards Agency, for instance, presents a sanitised version of the “other drinks may not count” argument.

The British Nutrition Foundation cites unspecified authorities to recommend an amount. More crucially, it says thirst doesn’t tell you when you need water.

Health professionals recommend at least 1.5 to 2 litres (6-8 cups) of liquids a day in temperate climates. The sensation of thirst is not triggered until there is already a water deficit, so it is important to drink before you get thirsty.

So, it’s pleasant to see a public debunking of the “drink 2 litres of water a day myth”. A Penn U study showed that there was no health benefit to drinking extra water.

You don’t get much more of an insistent human drive than thirst. So why do we have so many “experts” telling us that thirst isn’t a good guide to needing water? We may be bad at letting our hunger tell us when to eat. But thirst is pretty basic.

There are a very few circumstances (e.g. heat stroke if you’ve suddenly moved from winter Finland to summer Malaysia) in which your own thirst isn’t a good guide to how much you should drink.

(In any case, I wonder how anyone could drink as little as 2 litres of water-based fluid a day. I’ve had that before lunchtime, if coffee counts.)