About Me

Larbert, Scotland, United Kingdom

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Healthcare systems....

This is David Asman, an anchor on Foxnews in the US. In 2005 his wife had a stroke whilst on a visit to london. I just saw http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110006785 over on the BBC website and was interested in some bits.

The Good:
As I was to discover time and again in the British health system, despite the often deplorable conditions of a bankrupt infrastructure, British caregivers--whether nurses, doctors, or ambulance drivers--are extraordinarily kind and hardworking. Since there's no real money to be made in the system, those who get into public medicine do so as a pure vocation. And they show it.

There is also much less of a tendency in British medicine to make decisions on the basis of whether one will be sued for that decision. This can lead to a much healthier period of recuperation.

British doctors, nurses and physical therapists also seem to put much more stock in the spiritual side of healing. Put simply, they invest a lot of effort at keeping one's spirits up. Sometimes it's a bit over the top, such as when the physical or occupational therapists compliment any tiny achievement with a "Brilliant!" or "Fantastic!" But better that than taking a chance of planting a negative suggestion that can grow quickly and dampen spirits for a long time.

The Bad:
As it happened, the best such hospital in England, Queen's Square Hospital for Neurology, was a short distance away, but it had no beds available. That's when I started dialing furiously again, tracking down contacts and calling in chits with any influential contact around the world for whom I'd ever done a favor. I also got my employer, News Corp., involved, and a team of extremely helpful folks I'd never met worked overtime helping me out.

Based on my Latin American scale, Queen's Square would rate somewhere in the middle. It certainly wasn't as bad as public hospitals in El Salvador, where patients often share beds. But it wasn't as nice as some of the hospitals I've seen in Buenos Aires or southern Brazil. And compared with virtually any hospital ward in the U.S., Queen's Square would fall short by a mile.

The equipment wasn't ancient, but it was often quite old. On occasion my wife and I would giggle at heart and blood-pressure monitors that were literally taped together and would come apart as they were being moved into place. The nurses and hospital technicians had become expert at jerry-rigging temporary fixes for a lot of the damaged equipment. I pitched in as best as I could with simple things, like fixing the wiring for the one TV in the ward. And I'd make frequent trips to the local pharmacies to buy extra tissues and cleaning wipes, which were always in short supply.

In fact, cleaning was my main occupation for the month we were at Queen's Square. Infections in hospitals are, of course, a problem everywhere. But in Britain, hospital-borne infections are getting out of control. At least 100,000 British patients a year are hit by hospital-acquired infections, including the penicillin-resistant "superbug" MRSA.

As I mentioned, the cleanliness of U.S. hospitals is immediately apparent to all the senses. But Cornell and New York University hospitals (both of which my wife has been using since we returned) have ready access to technical equipment that is either hard to find or nonexistent in Britain. This includes both diagnostic equipment and state-of-the-art equipment used for physical therapy.

The thoughtprovoking:
But what of the bottom line? When I received the bill for my wife's one-month stay at Queen's Square, I thought there was a mistake. The bill included all doctors' costs, two MRI scans, more than a dozen physical therapy sessions, numerous blood and pathology tests, and of course room and board in the hospital for a month. And perhaps most important, it included the loving care of the finest nurses we'd encountered anywhere. The total cost: $25,752. That ain't chump change. But to put this in context, the cost of just 10 physical therapy sessions at New York's Cornell University Hospital came to $27,000--greater than the entire bill from British Health Service!

"Free health care" is a mantra that one hears all the time from advocates of the British system. But British health care is not "free." I mentioned the cost of living in London, which is twice as high for almost any good or service as prices in Manhattan. Folks like to blame an overvalued pound (or undervalued dollar). But that only explains about 30% of the extra cost. A far larger part of those extra costs come in the hidden value-added taxes--which can add up to 40% when you combine costs to consumers and producers. And with salaries tending to be about 20% lower in England than they are here, the purchasing power of Brits must be close to what we would define as the poverty level. The enormous costs of socialized medicine explain at least some of this disparity in the standard of living.
So a country of hard-working, patient centred staff struggling in an underfunded, unclean hospital with poor equipment. Yeah, I guess that sums up the NHS.....

Thursday, June 19, 2008

First Aid

This year in the Edinburgh Fringe, I am assistant technical manager for the Origin show - Exiled; The Gospel according to Hollywood. In this role I felt that I should upgrade my first aid skills, so I am doing a day-release FAW course with St Andrews Ambulance from 30th June - 21st July. Hopefully it should be quite good fun and help set me up well for some of the aspects of pre-hospital and immediate care aspects of A&E medicine for the future, and if not, it will be a useful certificate to have. It does mean spending my holiday on a course with homework and an exam at the end though :)

He giveth and taketh away

Amusingly opposite messages about funding for 4th year today. BMA Charities sent m a letter to say that they are awarding me a grant to cover my tuition fees for 2008-09. This is the same as last year and is very nice of them and makes the finances that bit easier.

It was followed by a phone call from North Tyneside (my LEA) to say that Uni have not sent them a form to tell North Tyneside that I repeated the year, and without which North Tyneside will not allow me to have a Student Loan in Yr4 or Yr5. I emailed the Registry about it, reminding them that I asked them to send the form in September '07. Not heard anything back yet, which is annoying and must make a mental note to check on Monday.

Hi, Ho, Hi Ho, it's back to work we go

No, not my audition for the 7 dwarves, but I am back at work now for 2 weeks and have been paid - in full. New management indeed. It has been a funny week in work, from the mayhem and madness of Sunday - £35,000 sales, umpteen shoplifters, every available space used for booze and snacks through to today - so quite I was taken off my checkout and spent the morning working Grocery and frozen loads on the shop floor.

Next week I am again working with a split identity between 2 departments - my 'home' on Deli and my main workplace on checkouts. This kind of gives me no real line manager except the Store Manager - kinda scary. The new Manager is great though - often to be found working stock, and joining in with jobs he has given you to do. He also handily favours the direct approach of using pallets etc on the shop floor, which avoids some of the double handling and means we get more work done.

We even have a staff lottery bonus ball back when every staff member who pays £1 gets put into the hat and one of us wins it all - not bad.

It's nice to be back and earning money for what is, in reality a very easy job - though maybe not as easy as the job I have on Saturday - more on that later.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Exam results.

I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!! I passed!!!

Here it is - Monday again

Well the past week has been a bit of a blur - back working at Somerfield, Uni examboards, and the tech for out biggest event of the year.

The tech went well after a few teething problems on setup day (Thursday). On Thursday I found out that I was to be operating lights for the 3 performance (Thurs, Fri, Sat). This meant a Friday 10am meeting with the in-house Lighting guy who ran through the desk and took some of our programme notes about the look of the event and how much coverage we needed to light the choir of 400, the band, conductor and soloists - a very full stage! Programming complete, it was then my job to actually run the lighting each night, and between the various demands of a dim choir during soloists versus the need for bright lighting for the cameras, I think I achieved an artistic medium. There were a few mistakes and some missed cues, especially on the conductor, but all in all I think I did ok, and it was nice to be able to hear a gig properly from the middle of the audience.

The event derig lasted til about 1.30am, then I escorted the video kit back to Edinburgh, where I found myself at 2.45 with 2hrs until the first train to Glasgow, PhilT decided he was still up and about, so I grabebd a taxi and went to see him for an hour or so before heading down to the station (and having an interesting economics discussion with my taxi driver) then catching the London -Fort William Sleeper from Edinburgh to Westerton near Milngavie, then the SPT train down into Glasgow, getting home about 6.40am for a nice sleep. The guard on the sleeper even chose not to charge me, so I did Edinburgh-Glasgow for £1.40!

Work is going ok, it is nice to be back but the place is dead....with all the students away and the BBC (our previously largest local employer) having moved to Pacific Quay. Sales were up on Sunday though due to the West End Festival, and the related burgers, ice cream & apple pies for sale outside the store, and the mountain of booze for sale within the store.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Who wants to be me?

Well it would seem someone does, or more accurately they want to be my credit card! For the past 2 years, I've had, in addition to my 'normal' credit card, a one which I only use online. This morning I logged on to pay for stuff and it was declined. I was a bit concerned, so called Nationwide - the ones who are proud to be different. Well different indeed they are!

Apparently my card was stopped on 5th June because a 'test' transaction was attempted by Carphone Warehouse to prove that the card was real. This transaction caused Nationwide to put a block on my card to avoid fraudulent transactions - very kind of them, however they didn't bother to write, email, or phone me, and there is no message on my internet banking to say that the card is blocked, or even asking me to contact customer services. Grrrr!

So my first indication COULD have been when I went to use it in a shop and it was declined - embarrassing. At least with online retailers you don;t see the look of 'Hmmmm' on their faces.

So now i have to wait 14 days for a new card and new account number for that VISA card.

I looked back at the online sites I have used that card at.......

  • Justgiving.com
  • bmycharity
  • Amazon
  • Ebuyer
  • Amazon
  • Amazon
  • play.com
  • Hammicks BMA
  • Easyjet
  • iTunes
Hmmmmmm none of those seem at all dodgy..... I guess I'll never know if it was a simple miskeying of the number of someone attempting to steal millions. With a credit limit for £500 it hardly seems worth it!

PS. The amusement of having to deal with Nationwide (who are based in Swindon) is that half the staff sound like West Country yokels and half like Billie Piper. Makes a change from teh BAnk of Scotland call centres anyway.

A change is as good as.....?

They say (whoever they are) that a change is as good a s a holiday. So today I went to Edinburgh in a car along the M8 - this is trip no 4 in the past 8 days, and trip 5 in the past 10.

Was the change worth it?

Yes - friendly company, better conversation than on the train, similar journey length, and the ability to leave when you want return when you want and bring back half the video kit needed for a job later in the week. It was also cheaper - due to someone else driving and paying for the fuel and using their car.

Monday, June 9, 2008

BB boredom

E4 have done it again. Their summer schedule is now in place, which means large chunks of their schedule devoted to Big Brother. I thought that the pre-series 1 documentary (in 2000) about BB in other countries was quite funny, series 1 was interesting, series 2 was ok, but series 3-8 were starting to look like grasping at straws with the people becoming more eccentric, and the
tasks becoming ever more bizarre and attempting to grab headlines.

The people this year seem very odd, slightly fake and not that representative of Britain, or even any subset.

Maybe I am just old and grumpy, but it only ever gets interesting on Friday's and the final 2 days. Regular readers may notice that I made a similar rant last year.

If you go down in the woods yesterday

On Saturday I had an interesting walk through a country park, and took a few pictures, of which I want to share some nice ones!

A Monkey Puzzle tree near Linlithgow station

People watching

Having had a fair few train journeys in the past week or so, I have heard some strange conversations, and witnessed some strange behaviour. OK not all of the below happened on trains, some occurred near a train station...but the point holds. I have used my time productively - people watching!

OK, It's Friday night, the last train of the night out of Edinburgh to Glasgow, and it's fairly rammed. I managed to get a seat at a table next to the window. 3 girls, early 20's, obviously been for something of an evening out after work, sit down at the other 3 seats. We exchange smiles.

I have my mp3 player headphones in, though the battery has died because with drunk people on trains, pretending you can;t hear is a surefire way of avoiding talking to them.
So I assume that the girls think that I can't hear them, or if they did think I could hear, they didn't care. The exchange went something like this.....
Girl 1 (blond, red top, jeans) : How far tae Polmont?
Girl 2: (dark hair, sunglasses, blu dress): Aboot twenty minutes, the why?
Girl 1: Well xxxx got my all excited there so I'm gonnae gae to the toilet
Girl 3 (bleach blond, pink top and black leggings): Ye gonna wet yersel' like?
Girl 1: No, I got my vibe bullet so I'm gonna finish off.
Girl 3: You're never....
Girl 1: I am. Text me at Linlithgow so I don't miss the stop.
With this, number one disappears, and returns somewhere just before Polmont smiling and with her friends having spent the intervening 20 minutes discussing:
a) the cleanliness of the toilets
b) the morality of their friend, and whether she had had too much to drink
c) could she be arrested
d) would it be different if a guy was to be engaged in similar activity in a train toilet

I can honestly admit to being totally bemused by the whole thing and even now I am not sure what to make of it, other than the people of Falkirk are odd - I blame Grangemouth!

So we move on to Saturday, and another trip to the capital. Having agreed to meet a friend from school for a drink, she was due to finish work around 9-9.30pm in the city centre, so we agreed to meet at the top of Waverley steps. I was there early and saw a nice gang of ned's, and some less neddy teenagers, waiting on the plaza on top of Princes Mall.

As befits modern ned's they were drinking buckfast and what I think was Vodka and a purple juice mixed in a 2 litre bottle. I noticed that each time the police walked by, a group of the teens would disappear down the steps into the station. The reason became clear when I noticed that the police were combing the bushes looking for the alcohol, and that was indeed what the teenagers with hoodies on, had hidden under their hoodies as they went into the station.

One not so quick member of the group was caught by the Police with his 2 bottles of Buckfast. He then took the (in my opinion) rather unwise decision to throw the full bottle at the policeman's feet. This got him a talking to and confiscation of the other bottle which was poured onto the flowerbed before the bottle was dropped into a litter bin.

Whilst stood there I saw a great deal of teenage behaviour which worried me but also made me question the image of teenagers presented in the media. One guy was taking a 'number 2' in the bushes on top of the Mall - I know this becuase he apparently disturbed a girl engaged in similar activity up there who was shouting loudly about the quantity and smell he was producing - much to the amusement of the bus queue and the bemusement of passing tourists. I did wonder what any residents of the Balmoral Hotel who looked out the window and happened to see the scene were thinking.

There was also the coming and going of various subgroups of teenagers, with much whooping and hugs. It made me wonder because doubt I knew many people from the opposite side of Newcastle when I was 14-16, but maybe with Edinburgh being smaller there is more interaction between teenagers from different areas.

There was also the random fights that break out, and the mob mentality of them all picking on the weakest member - for some reason this mentality seemed to affect the girls mostly, and ended up with a few crying on the Waverley steps and being comforted by passing travelers coming out the station.

It was an interesting 45minutes watching the teenagers - showing that although they aybe in a group, drinking shouting and running around the city centre, they are not threatening per se - the guy who threw the bottle threw is about 4 feet, only because the policeman was there, and was absolutely wrecked on alcohol.

Interestingly, about 10 metres from this scene was a large bus interchange and bus queues who were just watching, occasionally smiling and laughing, but who in no way seemed afraid, scared or intimidated. For the second time in 24 hours I felt bemused and confused at other peoples reactions.
Then today, I had to collect something from a friend staying at the Hilton hotel in town. Due to him being in a work meeting, I had to wait for about an hour, so I bought myself a very expensive glass of Coke and sat in the entrance hall watching the world go by. It was again an interesting time, and was very relaxing to watch people working, enjoying themselves and just life going on around me - it felt almost like a holiday. Although I did feel like I was about to be evicted at any moment. I think people who stay in 4-star hotels have a kind of confidence that they are supposed to be there - a confidence I don't have!

Anyway I am back to work tomorrow, so my people watching will be restricted to customers, who are uniformly annoying as I recollect.