Monday, 31 December 2007

Ditch the detox

If you are preparing to survive on nothing but green tea and cold showers for the next couple of weeks, think again. Andrew Wrang of the FSA says we needn't bother as our livers can detox our bodies without help.

Mr Wrang makes his comments on his Food Standards Agency blog, which is full of snippets of news on the food we eat.

Mr Wrang's blog has links to the Sense About Science pages, which looks at some of the facts behind the Shock! Horror! headlines of health news stories.

Other resources to combat the hype include the National Library for Health's Hitting the Headlines service and Ben Goldacre's Bad Science blog.

Naturally, the best cure for overindulgence in fake news, hype and scaremongering is good clean news from reliable sources. May we suggest a small dose of your nearest NHS library, to be taken regularly.

Monday, 17 December 2007

What's in the box?

Christmas is creeping ever closer. Turkeys have been ordered, cakes made, trees decorated, and mysterious parcels appear under beds and in the darkest corners of wardrobes. There is only one question to ask when one stumbles upon such a parcel (because, naturally, you wouldn't go looking for them) and that is "what's in the box?"

(c) creative commons attributed

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Is it catching?

Some of the funniest news stories this year have been around superbugs, especially MRSA. In April it was bullfrogs that were going to save us all from death by superbug. In May it was maggots. I suppose if neither worked we could have the fed the maggots to the bullfrogs. May also saw the news that "healing water" would get rid of bugs, but by July we were pinning our hopes on ultraviolet light and superheated steam. Then August and the silly season hit us and a hospital in Dorset banned flowers to avoid the spread of germs. Last month M&S started selling silver pyjamas to protect potential patients. As the winter season of bugs and germs is upon us several hospitals have banned Christmas decorations. Bah, humbug!

But despite the chuckles and chortles, infection control is serious: MRSA, c diff and other "superbugs" can kill.

Dirty hospitals are a convenient scapegoat, but we are all responsible every day for harbouring and spreading germs. Nearly a third of American adults fail to wash their hands after visiting the loo. As they themselves would say - how gross is that?

Bugs often seem to thrive where small children group together. The Mail recently reported on lethal "flesh-eating MRSA" that was attacking nursery tots. The article points out that small children play closely together and aren't too hot on hand washing either.

However, washing everything in sight isn't the answer either. The Food Standards Agency has warned that washing your turkey this Christmas could send harmful bacteria all round your kitchen.
Over the years a number of reports have suggested that exposure to dirt actually builds up the immune system and that fanatical swabbing and dousing of every surface with disinfectant is not helpful. Or, as Grandma would have said, you've got to eat a peck of dirt before you die.

The government is currently encouraging the public in hand and respiratory hygiene with the Catch It, Bin It, Kill It campaign, which sounds rather blood thirsty to me and not a patch on the wartime Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases.

Health Protection Scotland has simple guidance on how to wash hands effectively and a whole stack of other resources to spread the handwashing message.

What more can you do? Well- have a laugh and keep up with all the infection control stories through the library's Current Awareness web page.

(c) creative commons attributed, image 1, image 2, image 3,

Friday, 7 December 2007

To err is human

Dr David Southall has been causing a stir in the media. In 2005, following the Sally Clarke affair, he avoided being struck off. Earlier this week he was found guilty of serious professional misconduct over another case and was struck off the medical register. Paediatricians rallied round, saying Dr Southall was the victim of a plot to deny the existence of child abuse. Some parents and children involved with the doctor accuse him of following his own agenda and keeping documents that should have been in medical files. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has described him as having made " a major contribution to child health."

Doctors are human beings. Sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes their motives are flawed. They can have bad days, they can do bad things. They are just like everyone else. Because we perceive them to have power over people we all want them to do the right things for the right reasons all of the time. We want to feel we can trust them.

There are specific laws and guidance on protecting the vulnerable in society, which all health staff should be aware of. For guidance around children the NLH specialist library for Child Health is a good starting point.

The General Medical Council provides guidance for doctors on how to behave. It is the GMC that investigates allegations against doctors. Other professions also have guidance. The Nursing and Midwifery Council provides guidance on fitness to practise for professionals, as well as information for the public on making complaints. NHS Choices also advises patients on making complaints against the NHS.

I wonder how many complaints arise from a lack of understanding on either side about what is wanted, or what can be achieved? Communication is a key skill for all health care staff - which is why we have so many books on the subject in the library.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

The case of the missing doctor

How do you find a lost doctor? At this time of year we find library seats harbouring retired consultants checking up on old colleagues before finalising their Christmas card lists. There are other reasons for tracking down doctors, but the method is the same.

In the old days there were two big red books published for this purpose - the Medical Register and the Medical Directory.

Since 2004 the medical register has existed only online as part of the GMC website, under the name of "list of registered medical practitioners". You can search it, provided you know the first or last name of the doctor you want. The information on each is brief - name, speciality and some dates - enough to confirm that you've discovered the correct doctor.

The Medical Directory is a fuller listing, giving place of work. However, it is not freely available (i.e. you only get access if you or your organisation pay for it) and comes as a book or an unattractive CD for networking.

Hopefully you will have some vague idea of where the doctor you want is practising. This is where NHS Choices comes in. This allows you to search for hospital details. It's then a matter of a good old fashioned phone call to the hospital switchboard to ask if they have the relevant doctor working there. GPS are easier to find. Track down the town and the surgery details will include the names of doctors.

If your long lost chum is a consultant life is easier. Dr Foster keeps a beady eye on consultants. All you need to know is their speciality and a rough idea of where they work, and you'll track them down. You can also search by name. The results will give you GMC details and their place of work.

A more general option is Google. Tap in the name of your missing medic, preferably with the name in quote marks. You may also want to add the speciality. Few doctors get through life without publishing a paper or sitting on a committee that will push their details on to Google. Don't forget to check the dates of any information you find, and take the most recent.

Elementary, my dear Watson!

(c) creative commons attributed, image 1, image 2, image 3

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Mother and baby doing well

We're counting the days until Christmas. For many it's a chance to have a few days off work, get lots of presents, and over indulge. It is also about the Christmas story and a woman who went on a long donkey ride and gave birth in a barn.

Mary's baby arrived safely and Mary herself suffered no ill effects. Many women aren't so lucky. Globally half a million women die every year during pregnancy and childbirth.

Even in the UK having a baby isn't without its risk. Between 2003 and 2005 almost 300 women died during pregnancy or birth. This isn't a figure we hear often. In fact, racking my brains for a story to illustrate this with the last I could recall was the Laura Touche case - she died at the Portland private hospital in London following a Caesarean section. Most of the news stories I did find were about babies dying, rather than their mothers.

In Mrs Touche's case there was an investigation into claims of negligence. Earlier this year Rowan Pelling, writing in the Independent about her Channel 4 documentary claimed that staff shortages were putting mothers at risk.

CEMACH - the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health, has today published a report looking into the reasons why women die. They discovered that many deaths were related to obesity. According to an item on the PatientUK website the previous report into maternal deaths found that psychiatric illness was the largest cause of death.

CEMACH is one of many bodies that keeps a watchful eye on health in the UK. NCEPOD looks at patient outcome and deaths and has just published "Trauma: who cares?" looking at emergency care in the UK.

The Healthcare Commission keeps a beady eye on all aspects of health care, including rating individual NHS Trusts. It has published its own survey on the quality of maternity care.

The National Library for Health has a specialist library devoted to women's health. For the public the BBC has a range of information on pregnancy, birth and becoming a parent. It doesn't mention the risk of dying.

Interestingly, although CRUSE, BUPA and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, among others, provide information on coping with bereavement, I've not been able to find any support particular for men who have lost their wives or partners in childbirth.

(c) creative commons - image 1, image 2, image 3