Category Archives: health

05 Nov

If thy ‘ead offend thee, cut it off

The country is terribly short of shrinks.

One in ten consultant psychiatrist posts in England are currently unfilled in the NHS,according to a report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) and the number of unfilled posts has doubled in the past four years.

Wales is also struggling to fill posts, with vacancies of 9%, while Scotland and Northern Ireland have vacancy rates of 6% and 2% respectively.

The college called the vacancies “frankly alarming”  Prof Wendy Burn of the RCP, said the shortage means patients might be waiting months to see a psychiatrist, during which time they could be getting worse.

Professor Burn did not consider the distinct possibility that sufferers might get worse if they did see a psychiatrist. If you want to be a plumber, it helps if you’re a practical sort. Priests need to be religious. By the same token, many psychiatrists are more than a little mad.

I read the snooker champion Ronnie O’ Sullivan’s account of how, some years ago, he turned to a Freudian psychiatrist to help him overcome his depressions. Ronnie’s father was doing time for murdering Charlie Kray’s driver. The psychiatrist, having noted that Ronnie sometimes cued left-handed, asked him if his father had stabbed his victim with his left hand.  Ronnie’s comment on the psychiatrist’s question was: “It did me ‘ead in.”

There is a century old tradition of Freudian – or, as we say in English, Fraudian – psychiatry. And then between the wars there arose a fashion for Behaviourism. This is a science of the mind which does not think there is such a thing as a mind. So psychiatrists should study our behaviour which is defined exclusively in terms of stimulus and response – the famous S-R relation which the renowned Behaviourist B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) employed to teach rats the way out of mazes and pigeons to play table tennis.

(By the way, the “B.F.” stands for Burrhus Frederic – and not what you were thinking).

On this subject, Arthur Koestler commented: “Now that we have lost our souls, gone out of our minds and seem about to lose all consciousness, what is there left for psychologists to study? Professor Skinner’s answer is ‘Rats!’”

Similarly, the philosopher Peter Geach said, mockingly, “A Behaviourist knows he’s hungry when he observes himself running home for his lunch.” 

From phenobarbitone  – which I once heard mispronounced as “female baritone” – to Prozac, psychiatry has come up with a succession of wonder drugs. We were assured back in the 1960s that the new benzodiazepams such as Librium, Ativan and Valium – “mother’s little helpers” – so you see, it was the women who got to swallow the lion’s share – were without side effects and non-addictive. We now know that millions worldwide have been on these drugs for generations and can’t kick the habit. 

Scientific psychiatry brought forth many blessings. There was electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) – very popular in the 1950s and 1960s – which works by giving patients electric shocks to produce seizures which, it was hoped, might relieve the conditions of depression and mania. The treatment was typically administered to a patient three times a week for several weeks, very commonly to pregnant women and those going through the menopause. 71% of all patients treated with ECT are women. It is still being administered in NHS hospitals. Rosemary, sister to JFK, received this treatment and was incapacitated for the rest of her life. The distinguished New Zealand novelist Janet Frame was among countless others who suffered greatly owing to this procedure.

I suppose the mother and father of all treatments for mental disturbances is the frontal lobe lobotomy, named from two Greek words meaning “brain” and “slice.” The ultimate method, as Ronnie might say, of doin’ yer ‘ead in. Surgeons cut out part of the cortex. Again this is more often performed on women. Its inventor Antonio Muniz was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1949 for coming up with this little beauty. There is a vigorous campaign to have his award annulled.

Jesus famously quipped, “if thy hand offend thee, cut it off. If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.” – Mark 9:43ff. The lobotomists have gone one better than the Lord: “If thy head offend thee, cut it off.” 

You know, I’m only an uninstructed layman in these matters, but I just wonder if, rather than seek ever more ingenious ways to treat mentally deranged people, it might be better to try to create a saner world? 

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23 Jul

England, Our England

Anyone for pizza and porn?

A visitor arriving in England for the first time and looking for a brief introduction to the life and times of the natives could hardly do better than listen to a seven minutes news summary on a national radio network. I listened this morning to the seven o’clock news on Radio Four. Here is a summary of the contents…

Something called “gender re-assignment” is henceforth to be permissible without your having to get a doctor’s note to say you’re suffering from gender dysphoria – which my dictionary defines as “a state of general unease or dissatisfaction with one’s life.”

Homosexuals and “sex-workers” are to be allowed to donate blood, so long as they promise they have abstained from sex for three months. (They used to have to wait for a whole year). I couldn’t help thinking that a prostitute who hadn’t plied her/his/their trade for three months must be rather on her/his/their uppers, and surely in no state to give of her/his/their blood. Will the blood-donating homos and prostitutes also be required to promise they’re telling the truth about their sex lives?

On the twentieth anniversary of the death of Princess Diana, her sons the princes William and Harry have been offering their recollections of her. Harry said. “She was wonderful and she said we could be as naughty as we liked – only not to get caught.”

Forty left wing – there is no other variety – women presenters at the BBC – the sort who come on the air waves every day to excoriate Tories and fat cats – have written a letter to the director general complaining that some of them earn as little as £150,000pa

A little boy is gravely ill at St Ormond Street hospital and his sad case has been all over the papers for weeks. The hospital authorities claim that to offer the poor mite further treatment would not be in his best interests. The mob has taken to abusing doctors and the nursing staff on the street and over “social media.”

In a rather infelicitous phrase, the newsreader said that the TV programme Love Island is “coming to its climax.” For non-devotees, Love Island is the latest nuts ‘n’ sluts show in which good looking young people are paid to have sex on camera.

So there – courtesy of BBC News – is a brief introduction to what’s going on in England today.

In their decline, the Romans went in for bread and circuses. For us it’s pizza and porn.

As a sort of Thought for the Day, I end my summary report with a text:

“Full publicity is given where shame would be appropriate; close secrecy is imposed where praise would be in order. Decency is veiled from sight; indecency is exposed to view. Scenes of evil attract packed audiences; good words scarcely find any listeners. It is as if purity should provoke a blush and corruption give grounds for pride.” – “City of God” by St Augustine (AD 354-430)

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09 Jan

“The Governess, Part III”

Take your seats today for the third and climactic act of this three act pantomime starring Theresa May. “The Governess” was the tile given to this show only after other suggestions had been examined and rejected: these included: “The Stunt” and “The Art of Self-advertisement.”

Acts I and II were hugely enjoyable. The first contained the memorably comic scene in which Mrs May, with the assistance of the Department of Cliches and Political Hand-me downs, is seen composing several articles for publication in national newspapers. How we roared with laughter at her subtle articulation of “Let me be entirely clear.” Then came her side-splitting, “My first priority” – for which due credit was acknowledged in the programme to the Department of Tautologies and the EU Commission on Pleonasm.

In the second act, Mrs May pretended to be a serious politician – the prime minister, no less -  and was seen giving an extended television interview. Our theatrical correspondent commented favourably: “This was the most brilliantly effective political satire we’ve seen since the days of that great comic actor Harold Wilson.”

I attended the dress – and what a dress! – rehearsal for today’s final act which begins in total darkness. In mock horror a disembodied voice calls out, “Now then boys and girls, what are the most terrifying words in the English language?”

At this point there was a palpable sense of unease and apprehension. Suddenly the stage was a fountain of light and Mrs May rose from a trapdoor in a gorgeous leopard skin leotard and answered: “Hello, I’m from the government and I’m here to help!”

I swear the audience laughter continued for all of five minutes.

There were some breath-taking moments of sheer bathos as when Mrs May began to sing the smash hit number “The Shared Society.” It began with the rising chromatic line in parody seriousness: “I’m going to do something about mental illness.” But yet again the tension was relieved quite hilariously as she went on to sing, “Oh no I’m not! I’ve already done that – when I said I want to make Brexit work for the Remainers!”

The rest of the act was the enumeration of all that Mrs May is going to do to make the country better and spread happiness. I won’t spoil it for you by going into details. “”(Actually, Mrs May didn’t go in for details either).

At the end I strolled into the green room which was crammed with theatrical journalists and literary people from the upmarket weeklies. Hieronymus Bosh from The Guardian interestingly denied that what we’d witnessed was a pantomime at all: “It was really a social comment piece – put me in mind here and there of Brecht, particularly in her evocative minimalist phrasing of “The Handouts Song “ and the rousing strains of “immigration, Immigration, Immigration” and its unforgettable refrain, “You ain’t seen nuffin’ yet!”

The Times Literary Supplement’s Jean-Paul Fartre seemed angered by Bosh’s remarks and he screamed back, “Social comment piece my arse! It was pure theatre of the absurd. Didn’t you get the Sam Beckett reference when the demon king character (Boris Johnson) tells her, “You can’t go on!” and Theresa slaps her leather trousers and replies, “I must go on! I’ll go on!”

The editor of The Tablet said, “What really did it for me was at the end of her moving song about all her magnificent achievements, the Theresa May-like-character vowed to make us all love one another and to abolish Original Sin.”

I ventured to ask, Where is the great lady, by the way?”

And the whole chorus erupted, “She’s behind you!”

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30 Dec

PHE has placed me under house arrest

It’s a bit parky out there this morning, so I’d better not stray beyond the front door.

Public Health England (PHE) has told the aged to stay indoors. And they define an aged person as someone over 65. Well, I’ve been aged for nine years, going on ten and I’m afraid I’ve not been behaving myself. When, aged 70, I was living in North London in the coldest winter for a decade, I used to run round the park in shorts and t-shirt. According to PHE, it’s a miracle I’m still here to tell the tale.

That’s nothing. My grandfather Jim Priestley (born 1882) was a newsagent. For more than fifty years he walked five miles twice each day in all weathers, often in the dark, through the back streets of Leeds with two bags of newspapers to deliver. He was well-known among the locals for singing as he went and one of his songs was, “Poor little Joe, out in the snow.”

There were only two days in the year – Christmas and Good Friday – when there were no papers. Mind you, he had it easier on Sundays when there were no evening editions.

So I reckon he walked, heavily laden, 65 miles every week. 3300+ miles each year. About 165,000 over fifty years. That’s equivalent to nearly seven times round the earth or two-thirds the way to the moon.

He was still working aged 75. Energetic, enterprising and popular, he built up his business until he owned three shops: one on the railway bridge, near the Crown Wallpaper warehouse in Armley Road; another on Oak Road opposite the jail; the third on Tong Road by St Mary’s church.

In the coldest winter of the 20th century 1963, when the frost, fog and ice stayed from the end of December until Easter, Jim, aged 81, retired, and having recovered from three strokes, regularly walked the mile from the Tong Road shop, past the Oak Road establishment and down to the shop on the bridge taking messages, as he said, “To help out.”

His diet was porridge for breakfast, a pint of beer at The Brunswick pub – “The Brunny” – on Oak Road after the morning round, with stew and dumplings for lunch. About 4.30pm he would have tea and toast and some Epsom Salts and then set off with the evening bags.

He died a month short of his 88th birthday.

According to PHE, he should not have ventured out in the winter months after attaining the age of 65, in 1947.

Good job Jim Priestley didn’t know that.

Good job Winston Churchill didn’t have PHE to nag him either when, aged 67, he flew – making a long diversion to avoid enemy fire – in a converted freezing Liberator bomber to meet Stalin in Moscow in 1942.

Given these two examples, I think I’ll risk a stroll through the fog to collect the morning paper.

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27 Jul

Is it weak to keep your trap shut?

Prince Harry says: “It is OK to suffer, but as long as you talk about it, It is not a weakness.”

I sympathise. He has had a an emotionally tough start in life since his mother was killed in a car crash when he was only twelve. I’m sure that sometimes it is helpful to talk about one’s sufferings, though I’m suspicious when it comes to the various “talking therapies.” I was once in a drinks reception in a livery hall in the City of London and found myself in conversation with a Freudian psychiatrist. He asked me what it was like to be a priest and I answered as honestly as i could. I said, “But it must be difficult to be a psychiatrist and have to sit there listening to someone’s outpourings for hours.”

He replied, “Who listens!”

It’s good to talk, they say. And perhaps the buttoned-up heart and the stiff upper lip are not always the best responses to our troubles. But over these last few decades we have swung so far in the other direction with our armies of agony aunts and counsellors. There’s something sickening about all this emoting, letting it all hang out.

I remember an accidentally hilarious, and very telling incident, from 1994. A posse of journalists was taken across to Normandy to report on the commemorations of the D-Day landings of fifty years earlier. The commemorations included some re-enactment of the battle. Upon their return, the journalists were offered counselling.

An eighty-year-old veteran commented: “I was there for the real thing in 1944, and we weren’t offered any bloody counselling! We’d have told ‘em where to stick it!”

I cannot stand the way we medicalise human pain and misery.

Actually, I try to take my guidance from a quite different source:

“He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)

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22 Oct

I’ve forgotten the name of that dementia disease…

We’re all going to lose our marbles – well, at least we’re going to be classified as all having lost our marbles. Why? Because the government – using our money, as usual – will pay your GP £55 for every case of dementia he diagnoses. Given the aging population, that’s quite a nice little earner for the doc. Expect the figures for Alzheimers and other modes of gaga-ness to go off the Richter scale.

This hasn’t really been thought through. I mean, it will put all those of us over a certain age in terror of booking an appointment at the surgery. You go in with your bad back or to get something for that cough, and in the twinkling of an eye you’re been asked what date it is, the name of the prime minister and the Queen’s eldest daughter. And when you can’t remember, the doc tells you to go home and start doing Sudoku and the crossword in order to preserve what little’s left of your dwindling wits. Fifty quid, easy-peasy.

You could just go in for your flu jab, and the next you know he’s referred you to an occupational therapy course at the day centre. But, wait a minute…did I say flu jab? That’s another thing the GP gets a sub for. While he’s at it, he might put you on statins. He gets an extra payment for that as well

So dementia test, flu jab and statins and the doc has picked up near on 250 smackers. Not bad for a ten minutes’ consultation. I still have enough wits left to work out that’s £1500 per hour.

Never mind the expense – the taxpayer will foot the bill as usual.

It’s outrageous making it so no one will dare visit the doc.

I suspect that’s the who point of the dementia diagnosis plot: to cut down the number of appointments and so put an end to all the GPs’ whingeing about their excessive workload.

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27 May

Saving the planet by killing its people

I am grateful to Google for so helpfully telling me which persons I should revere. This morning when I switched on, I was informed that today is the 107th anniversary of the birth of Rachel Louise Carson who wrote the book Silent Spring. This book proved to be a sensational success and its publication, more than any other single factor, created the environmentalist movement. It became trendy – even holy – to be Green. Carson argued that the use of pesticides was profoundly deleterious to animal life. Particularly, if the world continued its widespread use of DDT, the wild creatures would be killed off and we should enter the silent spring of her book’s emotive title.

The consequences of discontinuing the use of DDT have been catastrophic.

For example, in the southern states of the USA malaria killed as many people as scarlet fever prior to its eradication, by DDT, in 1947. After that it killed nobody there. Before 1953, when DDT was first used in India, there were 75 million cases of malaria every year and 800,000 deaths. By 1966 there were fewer than one million cases and proportionally fewer deaths. Similarly, Indonesia saw cases of malaria cut from 25% of the population to 1%. Since the banning of the widespread use of DDT in 1976, the scourge of malaria has returned with a vengeance. Now 2000 children die from it every day, most of them in Africa.

The author of Silent Spring was accused of the selective use of data and of fanaticism. Her most telling critics did not belong to Big Pharma but included internationally renowned biochemists such as Christopher Leaver and Bruce Ames, the immunologist Peter Lachman and the Director of Africa Fighting Malaria, Michael Tren.  The true and accurate data concerning DDT’s great usefulness is still available and I have quoted some of it, above. Alas the fanaticism is still with us and it has become even more fanatical, a sort of worldwide, lethal psychosis. Sentimental attachment to what is called “the environment” has intensified and proliferated like the plague of malaria itself. If you say this, you will be pilloried as a man who wants to slaughter elephants for their ivory, shoot the remaining tigers and make impolite remarks about gorillas in the mist. Of course most of those who criticise the insanity of the Green agenda have no desire to do any of these things. We just don’t think that the best way to preserve animal life is by adopting a policy which murders millions of human beings, and impoverishes countless millions more.

So called environmentalism is not really about preserving animal species – or, to quote the vacuous slogan, “saving the planet” – but about political ambition and the means to control. Green is the new Red. The banning of DDT is probably the most extreme example of the awful consequences of following the Green agenda. There are many other examples of its disastrous effects. The useless windmills which are said to be constructed in order to save the environment but which succeed only in scarring the landscape. The vast subsidies paid to wealthy landowners for permitting these eyesores on their property is not only immoral in itself but also leads to methods of electricity generation which are absurdly expensive and so impoverish the poor yet further.

I have a dream: that one day there will be a great universal awakening amounting to the recognition that all this is sentimental. misanthropic folly, followed by a return to sense and with it the true conservation of a healthy environment.     

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22 Apr

The state we’re in

More news of casualties from the front line: there are 1200 preventable deaths every month in Britain from kidney malfunction where the cause is usually dehydration, with most of the incidences happening in hospitals. I use the expression “front line” because our hospitals increasingly resemble a war zone. 364 hospital deaths last year from MRSA . And 2053 from clostridium difficile. One in sixteen hospital patients picks up an infection in the course of their stay – a statistic which the National Institute for Clinical Health and Excellence (NICE) unsurprisingly describes as “unacceptably high.” The usual cause of the deaths from dehydration is neglect; and for MRSA and CD it is poor hygiene. It is scandalous that neglect and poor hygiene occur in what are supposed to be caring environments, places where people come to be made better not made worse or put to death.

I was with a friend who is a doctor, now retired from a career during which he was a very eminent surgeon and I wondered aloud how much longer it will be before the British people rise up in outrage against the unsatisfactory conditions in the hospitals. He opined that the scandal is so huge that the public’s dissatisfaction is imminent. I am reluctant to disagree with a professional who has a lifetime’s experience of the NHS, but I do disagree on this matter. There are so many vested interests in the NHS on the part of the political class and the health bureaucrats – extending to a whole tier of the bureaucracy engaged exclusively in public pacification, propaganda and the persecution of whistle-blowers such as the cardiologist Dr Raj Mattu who has spoken of “the dystopian culture” of our hospitals.

The general causes of the inevitable failure of the NHS were laid bare decades ago by Dr Max Gammon  in Gammon’s Law which Milton Friedman described as the “Theory of Bureaucratic Displacement.” Gammon’s Law, developed after a long study of the NHS from the inside, states, “In a bureaucratic system, increase in expenditure will be matched by fall in production. Such systems will act rather like black holes in the economic universe, simultaneously sucking in resources, and shrinking in terms of ‘emitted’ production.” Gammon’s Law attracted international attention when it was first announced, with such consequences for Dr Gammon’s career as might be expected. Massive unaccountable bureaucracies do not take kindly to criticism and, as numerous cases have demonstrated, those who draw attention to their failings are persecuted and victimised relentlessly.

The fact is that when any institution becomes too large and very heavily bureaucratised, it ceases to exist for those it was appointed to serve and exists instead for the benefit of the mismanaging bureaucracy itself and the army of highly-unionised employees who earn their living in it. What applies to the NHS applies similarly to state education.

These public bureaucracies are species of totalitarianism, too big to fail – or rather too powerfully self-serving to have their failings exposed.   

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