Monthly Archives: February 2011

Wine IS good for you

As long as it is red wine drunk in moderation

Or so says author Roger Corder in  ‘The Red Wine Diet‘                                                                  .(photo Charlie Hopkinson)

During a recent talk to the Guild of Health Writers (not a group whom one can pull wool over eyes, although not averse to a good glass of wine), Roger gave the low-down on recent research – or what he called The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

His talk ranged through the sayings of Paracelsus (16th century Physician) who said wine could be a food, a medicine and a poison – it was just a question of dose.  Then went on to highlight recent research, and to analyse just what it meant to the ordinary drinker.

Then proceeded to give a fascinating insight in to just what a sensibledaily  ‘dose’ or unit should be, for male and female drinkers.

There was no doubt that binge drinking was one of the worst things that has happened to our health recently, and it might even be a cause of the increase in Breast Cancer.  But the next fascinating fact that came up was that Europeans, although they drink too – were probably healthier, as it is believed that drinking with meals (provided the food they were eating was healthy) was better.  Usually the British will drink between meals.

The more he delved into fascinating ‘wine facts’, the more it seems that any wine lover should keep a copy of Roger’s book, The Wine Diet, to hand.  (Obtainable from

Research had proven that red wine gives better protection against strokes, but it is also important to buy your wine from vineyards that follow certain principles.  Roger goes in to this in the book, but on the whole, wine lovers are better off buying from wine merchants who know their vineyards – rather than supermarkets.

Now – the most important fact that everyone at the talk wanted to know – how much CAN I drink?

And the answer was around one unit per woman per day – two units per man.  And don’t scream, these are average units based on all sorts of complicated fractions which boil down to average weight and height – so there!

One unit = small glass = 125 ml for your average wine glass – but then things get complicated according to the % of alcohol – see

Or look it up in the book.  Which contains some quoteable facts about wine with which to baffle friends.  And says that Roger is now looking (fondly) at apples, cranberries, cinammon and thank heavens – dark chocolate and cocoa!   As soon as his research comes out about this essential foodstuff (to me at least) I will let you know.

Background to The Red Wine Diet

Over the past decade his main interest has been the links between diabetes and heart disease. This led him to focus on the importance of a holistic approach to improving health and wellbeing through diet, and sparked his research on the health benefits of red wine consumption.

Identification of procyanidins (a type of flavonoid polyphenol) as the active component in red wine, and recognition that cranberries and cocoa products are also rich sources of these protective plant chemicals further intensified his interest in the health benefits of polyphenol-rich foods and beverages.

Roger decided to write a book on these vital issues to widen understanding of the benefits of regular moderate consumption of red wine, and to promote the importance of optimal nutrition for better long-term health.

He also wanted to expose some of the diet myths and advice promoted in recent years by giving detailed nutrition guidelines for optimal health, which he hopes is an enticing formula for combining good food and wine in order to live a healthier longer life.

About the author
Roger grew up in on a dairy farm in Somerset, became a BSc in pharmacy at the School of Pharmacy, Portsmouth and registered as a pharmacist in 1978 (Member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain).  He then took up a career in medical research at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, then over to the Dept of Medicine, University of Geneva;  returned to London to work with Nobel Laureate Sir John Vane in the William Harvey Research Institute. He became Professor of Experimental Therapeutics in 2000. Since 2000 he has also been chairman of the management committee of the William Harvey Research Foundation.

Roger is a professional member of the American Heart Association, and the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. In the UK he is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, and a member of the Society for Endocrinology, and the British Pharmacological Society.

And I found his talk fascinating, even though I am a teetotaler.  But I shall be able to bore my friends with my knowledge, knowing that I know what I am talking about – thanks to Roger!

Latest information on healthy wine drinking

Tempranillo varietal wine bottle and glass, sh...

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Low Alcohol wines are best – and no longer taste vile!

Once upon a time ….. no-one who knew their wines would touch a low alcohol variety.

Offered this, wine lovers would shudder, and go on to better things.

But wine makers are a savvy lot, and – dare I say it – their job doesn’t always encourage the best of health, so they have started to take a serious look at reducing the percentage of alcohol in their wines, without impairing the gorgeous taste that makes wine what it is.

And with the medics all saying we must reduce our alcohol intake, wine lovers will welcome ‘new’ low-alcohol wines appearing on the shelves.  And When  Jonathan Ray, the well-known wine writer for the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator Magazine, lifts a glass to toast  low-alcohol wines, you can be sure that these are drinkable – very drinkable.

Recently Prof. Roger Corder has published The Wine Diet, and has made some very interesting comments about healthy amounts to drink – see

French growers are starting to produce some good low alcohol wines.  France’s record on cancer care is probably best in the world;  so it isn’t rocket science to deduce that a few vignerons have come face-to-face with their doctors, and decided that they need to take their warnings about alcohol seriously.

And they are succeeding

They aren’t the only ones.  Hop over the frontier to Italy, and wines such as Prosecco are gathering a following.  Again this was labelled as ‘poor man’s champagne’ and gained a bad reputation, but recently wine-loving friends have been passing round the bottle in smart  gardens, as the ideal drink for summer days.

Ray recently conducted a wine tasting for the Daily Telegraph, and said, “Prosecco is invariably lower in alcohol than champagne and other fizzes. This is hardly the most complex of examples, but it is light and refreshing with a touch of sweet fruit on the palate and a lively, crisp finish. Enjoy as an aperitif or as the base of such cocktails as the Mimosa (with fresh orange juice), Jo Jo (fresh strawberry) or Sbagliato (Campari and Cinzano Rosso). Sainsbury’s Prosecco Frizzante NV, 10.5%vol, Italy (£4.99; Sainsbury’s).

However, for serious drinkers, he is happy to recommend a 2002 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Hunter Semillon, 10%vol, Australia (£19.99 as part of a mixed half dozen; Majestic). He says “this is seriously grown-up stuff which proves that lack of alcohol doesn’t necessarily mean lack of character. From the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, this is picked at early ripeness, cool fermented and aged briefly on the lees before being bottled. It is fresh and citrusy, but creamy and toasty too (despite no oak). Superb with roast cod and pancetta.

But if health is of serious concern to you, what about a 2008 Torres ‘Natureo’, 0.5%vol, Spain (£5.99-£7.99; Soho Wine Supply 020 7436 9736, The Bottle Stop 0161 439 4904, The Vineyard 01306 876828, Magnum Wine Shop 01793 642569).

According to Ray, “this is so low in alcohol that it isn’t officially wine at all. Made from muscat, it is fully fermented after which the alcohol is removed. Fresh, fruity and grapey with hints of apple and peach, it is surprisingly tasty, if a bit short on the finish.

The tourist board of the Rhone-Alpes region has become very health-friendly.  Lyon, the capital city (2nd city of France) has superb, world-renowned cancer treatment centres, and Isabelle Faure and her team at the Tourist Office are encouraging health tourism.  All over the region you can go for health checks, or specialised treatment.  A friend who went there for cancer  treatment had chosen to have her operation in one special hospital, “because they have an excellent wine list”.  (Needless to say she is French!)

Alexandra du Mesnil du Buisson, an English-speaking friend in the region,lives in the Chateau de Longsard – which has lovely apartments for rent – ideal if someone is undertaking cancer treatment, and the family wants to stay near by.

She emails  “I called our wine making friends and they  are very happy that I mentioned their wines.  They make a red sparkling wine at 6.3° It is made by the méthode ancestral as opposed to methode champenoise.

They own the largest wine estate of the beaujolais, Chateau Lacarelle, and they have now put a large portion of it into making organic wines.  Their web site for the organic wines is
If you wish to call to get more information please do on 00 33 474 034 080.

As for us at Chateau de Longsard, we have several self catering appartments in the chateau grounds, and are 30 min from most hospitals  ( by car ).  We have a ground floor appartment for guests with mobility problems,                        and other 2 bedroom appartments, all romantically looking the rose garden.

There are four-poster beds, and some dramatic split-level apartments. 

Our web site is (only in french) and in english/french

And off course there is no problem with languages as we are all fluent in English.  If you drive there the chateau is within a few miles of the main autoroute.

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Cancer patients are being ignored by GPs

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Believe it or not, this still happens

Currently the papers have reports that cancer patients are STILL waiting far too long for tests.

Recently, when I complained to my local hospital that I had had to wait three months for tests, I discovered that my GP had ‘forgotten’ to mention that the tests were for possible cancer recurrence – therefore I should have had them within two weeks.

Stories in the press say one in four cancer patients are being sent away by their GPs when they ask for tests  – yet Ministers dare blame us for seeking tests too late.  Forgive me if I blow up with fury.

The Telegraph reports “tens of thousands of patients have to make repeated trips to their doctors before being given correct diagnosis”.  Apparently we are sent home and told there is nothing wrong, our symptoms aren’t life-threatening, it’s all in our imagination, etc. etc.

So how do researchers come to these conclusions?

  • The Rarer Cancers Foundation has found that a quarter of patients were only  diagnosed after the disease had spread to other organs.
  • Numerous reports state that almost  quarter of all cancers were NOT picked up until symptoms were so severe that patients had landed up in A & E.
  • National Cancer Intelligence Network said 23% of all cancer cases went undetected until emergency admission stage.

And the older you get, the less likely you are to have prompt referrals.

So – what to can you do?

If you are waiting for tests, and you suspect that ‘possibly – but you hope not’ this might have something to do with cancer, phone and ask WHEN AM I GOING TO BE SEEN?

If given the usual pathetic excuses about no appointments available, put phone down, then phone the hospital unit  and ask sweetly “I don’t suppose you have a cancellation for today/tomorrow/this week?”  Sure as eggs is eggs, that works almost every time.

And don’t forget by being persistent you will get where you want – which is to be told you are ‘all clear’.  And don’t think you are taking the place of someone else – when I was asked to the opening of the Royal Marsden Hospital’s Rapid Diagnosis unit we were told patients would be seen within two weeks.

Asking what plans the hospital had for bringing this in line with Europe – where many countries say 3 – 5 days maximum wait,  I was slapped down by a hospital Council member, who said “two weeks is quite good enough”.

Later I overheard her say to another Council member, “I was a nervous wreck when I thought I had a lump – so pulled every string and got seen the next day – but I didn’t sleep all night”.  Well, don’t wait  for 14 sleepless nights – DEMAND an earlier appointment – if she can be given one, so can ordinary patients.

And if you are in touch with your local PCT, ask when are GPs to be given more QOFs to deal with cancer patients?  Sadly GPs currently only receive six QOFs for cancer (units that make up payments)  – when other diseases merit over 90 – so this  doesn’t make GPs inclined to spend time ringing round to get earlier appointments.

As Andrew Wilson of the Rarer Cancers Foundation says, “if patients are going to have the best chance of beating cancer they they need to be diagnosed as early as possible”.

So lift up the phone – and good luck!

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How can patients make doctors listen to them?

Conversation between doctor and patient/consumer.

Good Communication

Getting rid of ‘Dr. 30 Second’

Moaning to my lovely GP about one doctor known to nurses as Dr. 30 second, he said, “you can ask for another one”.  So I did.

So if your doctor won’t communicate properly with you, ask to be changed.

When enough patients have done this, hospitals might do something about teaching all doctors to COMMUNICATE.

The louder we shout, the quicker this will happen!

Royal Marsden staff can be bad at communicating

The late Chaplain at the Royal Marsden used to say doctors were constantly saying to him that they didn’t know how to talk to patients.

Now there is confirmation that this problem is officially recognised:  these views had been expressed in a survey conducted on behalf of the Department of Health‘s cancer czar Professor Sir Mike Richards.

London’s Evening Standard (16th February) had Kiran Randhawa reporting on this, saying the hospital had been “rated as one of the worst at communicating with patients about their condition“.

The story said medics at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea have come under fire for confusing cancer victims and giving them conflicting information about the disease.  Patients also say they did not think doctors seeing them knew how to treat their cancer. Hospital bosses have now ordered consultants to improve standards in a memo, leaked to the Standard”.

The Standard went on to say the hospital’s medical director “sent out an email to staff saying the hospital trust was in “the bottom 20 per cent of trusts in the country”.  And very worryingly, talking about patients,  “almost one quarter were given confusing information about their condition”.

Talking to someone working for Imperial college trust, she told me the Marsden had approached her trust to ask them to talk about what they can do to improve communications.  I can tell them the first candidate for any training should be the Marsden nurse who told me, “you are ONLY a patient”.

Patient Experience

As a patient  at the Marsden, I had been terrified when Tamoxifen (one of the drugs I was prescribed) made me blind in one eye.  But instead of talking me through this side effect, all my doctor could offer me was “do you want to come off the drug?”

This seemed unhelpful – and I quoted this one sentence on my website.  Next thing I was ‘ambushed’ by a patient committee and told I was being ‘disloyal’ to the Marsden (no mention of disloyalty to me!).

Eventually I consulted a French specialist.  He did tests; said this was a common side effect of Tamoxifen;  I didn’t have any permanent scarring, and my sight would return in 2 – 3 months.  This Communication was all it took to reassure me, so I kept on with Tamoxifen.

Same story when I came out in skin lesions overnight all over my body.  This time I was told  “it’s your age” after a two minute consultation: given to me whilst I was stark naked, in front of students – who, when I summoned up courage to ask questions, whispered “she’s right”.  The Consultant didn’t like this, and swept out of room.

Again the French came to my rescue, saying that it was ‘classique’ Tamoxifen side effect.   And produced all the lovely products I mention elsewhere which cleared up the problem.

But final word rests with Geoff Martin, chairman of NHS campaign group Health Emergency.  The Standard quotes him:  “It’s of huge concern to Londoners and to those across the country that an internationally renowned specialist cancer hospital has fallen so low in terms of patient satisfaction. The hospital needs to give us an explanation for this.”

Ignoring hormonal drug side effects  is no way to help patients survive longer

A study by Kaiser Permanente in the USA confirms the worrying trend in Britain;  if doctors don’t communicate, researchers have found more than half of Breast Cancer patients don’t take their drugs, or come off them – often long before the end of their course.

This research confirms this is a serious problem on both sides of the Atlantic, and in Britain’s case might point to why UK patients don’t live as long post cancer as do Europeans.  Worryingly, British levels of non-compliance are probably up to 15% higher (approx 50% v. 65%) than those in US.

Dr. Dawn Hershman published research in  Journal of Clinical Oncology. It said only half the women with early-stage breast cancer who were prescribed tamoxifen and/or aromatase inhibitors, completed the full course of treatment, putting themselves at increased risk for breast cancer recurrence.

So what needs to be done before it occurs to Oncologists that it might be an idea to LISTEN to patients, and help them cope with side effects, so we stay on drugs and reap the benefits?

What can patients do?

If doctors are reluctant to listen, it can help to call one of the cancer charity helplines:

Breakthrough Breast Cancer  08080 100 200

Breast Cancer Care  0808 800 6000

Cancer Research UK 0808 800 4040

Macmillan 0808 808 0000

Then, exercise your right to a second opinion, and change your doctor to one who will COMMUNICATE.

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Macmillan has another bright idea

Whitehall, London, looking south towards the H...

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Put the fair into welfare

 There is no doubt that the Moles are getting agitated along Whitehall.

Any moment now if you go along there looking for rats that Larry might have left, you could come across a little black snout sniffing the air to see if the feline has gone – it’s a mole popping up.

You can rely on the lovely supportive network that exists in Whitehall, to start getting the knives out and sharpening them ready for back-stabbing, but usually this takes about 18 months before mole noses break out above ground.

But La La Lansley and his cohorts have made themselves so unpopular, that things are happening faster than Chris Hoy in pursuit of a cycling medal.

So now is the time to ACT.  Politicians are desperate for good publicity, and will listen to petitions.

Last week the government announced its plans to shake up the benefits system. But what does this mean for people with cancer?

These changes could force thousands of cancer patients and their families into poverty.  More form filling, changes to the way benefits are paid, etc.  That’s why Macmillan has launched a timely campaign to make sure that cancer patients don’t lose vital benefits, in particular Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) .

I see no reason why others, worried about the changes in benefits assessments, can’t join in too.  After all, the bigger the number the more Whitehall will listen.

Macmillan are campaigning to put the FAIR into welFARE.

They know that most people with cancer want to work but often can’t because of their condition or treatment. They may need more time and support to return to work after recovery. Whilst they agree that the benefit system is complex and needs to be simplified, working people who are suddenly diagnosed with cancer should not be left unsupported at a time when they need it most.

What can you do?

Ask your MP to speak out against benefit cuts for cancer patients.

The proposed changes, outlined in the Welfare Reform Bill, can only become law if the bill is approved by Parliament.

And that’s where you come in.

Throughout the year, your MP will have the opportunity to debate, amend and, crucially, vote on the bill.
On 9th March the Bill will be debated in Parliament. This will be our first opportunity to persuade the government that people with cancer must get the support they need.

Email your MP now and ask them to speak out against benefit cuts for cancer patients.  Find their contact quickly and easily on and just click through.

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Court awards compensation for 'disgraceful' hospital food

Will this make hospital caterers take note?


I can’t help feeling that some gripes against hospital food aren’t merited; Patients constantly complain – then order a fast food  take-away pizza or curry. Frankly, I don’t see the difference.

However, Michael Cooper, a patient at Southampton General Hospital, thought  their food, provided by caterers Medirest, was so awful he sued.  And a court has awarded him £200 for food he said he had to buy to supplement what he was given, but couldn’t eat.

In hospital for a knee operation, Mr. Cooper didn’t like eating the microwaved food, so instead struggled to the canteen for his three meals a day.  In court, he said the food provided ‘was not fit for pigs’, and sued for reimbursement of £200 he had paid out in the canteen.

The court agreed with him, and awarded him the £200.  Not much out of Medirest’s £17 million five-year contract with the hospital though.

Dispatches highlighted hospital food

So is Mr. Cooper’s experience an isolated one?  Sadly not.

A recent Dispatches TV programme highlighted some of the most horrible looking meals I have ever seen – in fact at times I was using the remote control to switch off what was on the screen  Uggggh! But – this same food is supplied by caterers such as Sodexo and ISS across the hospital system in Britain.

To save money, the major part of our hospital meals are made in massive kitchens based in industrial estates such as one in South Wales, then trucked across the country to be served next day.  Not many patients are lucky enough to be treated at the Royal Brompton (featured and congratulated in Dispatches) where their kitchens are IN the hospital.

Also, although the Brompton has a budget of £4 per day per patient, I am sure the majority of hospitals’ allocate less.  I write about mass catering, and know that prison budgets often allocate more per head for food, than do hospitals.  Sodexo, the company pilloried in the Dispatches programme, said that they can be given less per head for their budget – but deal with so many different hospitals that they couldn’t give me an overall figure.

But think about it.  Would you like to feed someone on £4 a day – and make sure the meals contained all the nutritents necessary? And on top, pay for the refrigerated lorries and fuel to transport the meal across the country?  Very sadly, instead of starting a round-table discussion between the journalist and other patients’ representatives, Sodexo and hospital finance departments, the Nuffield Orthopeadic Centre NHS hospital featured has hidden behind ‘Management speak’ in its reply, with a pathetic statement that doesn’t address one issue highlighted in the Dispatches programme.

We all know that many hospital Administrators are paid more than the Prime Minister – so it’s about time they actually did something, met patients (do any of them know what we look like?) and addressed the issue of hospital food.  The problems won’t go away, so they had better start doing something.

Food has been mass cooked off-site and trucked in to hospitals for many years – and for years patients have been eating the junk these lorries deliver. But how many complain? Yes, hospital websites are full of grumbles, but have any of those posting complaints actually taken the time to TALK to admin staff in hospitals and voice their complaints?  Not many, I am sure.  Mind you, when you try to talk to anyone in Admin you are fobbed off with the PALS staff – who are not administrators.

DON’T complain to Nurses

What can YOU do about complaining?  Are you going to the right people, or just finding the nearest nurse?  It is NOTHING to do with nurses – the fact that they wouldn’t eat the food themselves matters not, especially when they see patients actually eat the meals.  Yes, there is a lot left on the tray, but there is no ‘procedure’ to report this – and Sister (if she is around in the ward) wouldn’t give a monkeys, knowing the hospital has such a low food budget, that provided food doesn’t give patients salmonella poisoning, they couldn’t care less.

Dishing Up

And complaining to the staff that serve the food is useless.  They are either volunteers, or paid the lowest wage possible.  Plugging in the food trolleys X minutes/hours before meal service is all they are paid to do.

When Air Malta wanted to improve passenger satisfaction with their food, they bought in a chef from The Ritz Hotel, who showed cabin crew how to place food attractively on a plate.  You would be surprised how much ‘plating’ food properly can increase satisfaction, and customer satisfaction soared at Air Malta.  All it takes is a little TLC, but somehow I can’t see the NHS doing this!

Red Trays

Then we have the appalling situation that elderly patients often aren’t fed.  Starvation isn’t deliberate, but when my mother was in Chelsea and Westminster Hospital with a broken arm I discovered food was plonked at the end of her bed – and taken away each time uneaten, as she couldn’t reach it, and no-one helped her.  I had to go in three times a day to feed her.  When she was out I contacted Age Concern to ask them to bring in their RED TRAY system (no tray is allowed to be taken away with food still on it, without Sister’s say-so).

Chelsea and Westminster don’t like to be dictated to by patients;  they eventually caved in but with BLUE trays! However, when I phoned chief Executive’s office three times to see if system was in place, they knew nothing about this. It was left to PALS to confirm that the system is working.  So if the CEO doesn’t know what happens in a hospital over food, what chance has a lowly HCA (Healthcare Assistant) got on the minimum wage?

It was Patient Power that got this system installed – so if you find Gran is left hungry – get Age Concern on your side, and help them to put pressure on hospitals.

Saving Money

One way where hospitals save money is to lump catering contracts together.  Instead of ordering Halal meat as an extra, they will specify all meat has to be halal.  This is fine for those who want this type of meat slaughtered in the special way, but if you are like me, and prefer your meat slaughtered in the traditional way, you lump it or leave it.

Fresh salads would be lovely, but again it is cheaper to serve our Vitamin C ration using vegetables  needing a spin dryer to get water out (as Mark Sparrow said).  Or as tinned baked beans (dubious vitamin content – but popular), rather than serve   fresh and wholesome salads that need trained care to ensure they remain fresh.

And it is certainly easier to slap a slab of processed cheese between two slices of white plastic  and wrap it it in cling film,

rather than serve proper bread and cheese, with a bit of crunchy salad – yummy!

What can you and your friends do?

Every ward has to have a fridge for patients’ food.  Ward sisters will try and deny this, knowing that the fridges are full of food bought in by nurses, but look around and you should find one.

I remember being shown around the lovely little Gordon Hospital before an operation, and Sister saying, “that’s the patients’ fridge”, pointing to a massive ceiling-high monster.

“For our medicine?” I asked innocently?  “Good heavens no – for their Champagne” said sister, throwing open the double doors to show a well stocked cellar.  Remember – the Gordon was the nearest hospital to the House of Commons.

Once you have found the patients’ fridge, block off a shelf with your labels, and stock it with salads, fruit etc.  which you can take out and use for nutritious and tasty meals.  Simples.

Loyd Grossman

You might remember Loyd Grossman was bought in to try and improve NHS food, but failed.  According to him, “NHS patients are forced to suffer unnecessarily” because of a lack of political willpower to improve hospital food.  Grossman was appointed in 2000 to head up a £40 million project to improve the quality of hospital catering, but quit in frustration after five years over what he saw as a “prejudice against common sense”, telling Channel 4’s Dispatches: “Someone at the top has got to take the issue of food seriously or else patients will continue to suffer unnecessarily.”

He continued: “I don’t think anything made me snap. It was really just an accumulation of five years of frustration, knowing that it should be done, knowing that it could be done, yet looking all around me and finding all sorts of impediments.”

Every time he made a suggestion about improving hospital catering the response would be that it was “not evidence based”, adding: “There was kind of a prejudice against common sense, the kind of common sense that’s been part of patient care since Hippocrates.

“It seemed so obvious and it still seems so obvious that if you give patients better food they will be happier, they will heal more quickly.”  “The system of political control is very difficult. During the time that I was working with the NHS, I reported to five different ministers. Every time a new minister arrives, there’s a new mountain to climb”.

He said that his mantra “that was never listened to” was “don’t tell me you have a good hospital unless you have good food”.

Evidence base

One of the best caterers I ever worked with was Nevvar Hickmet.  He bought the Grand Hotel, Birmingham, which had closed after its kitchens served suspect food.  At the re-opening Banquet for 500 people, all dressed up in my glad rags and jools, he said we would stand by the pig swill bins, “if you can see the bottom of the bins at the end of the meal, you will know they enjoyed the food”.  And he was right.

So can I suggest that the Nuffield Hospital, Sodexho, Mark and myself (I would love to be involved) stand by the rubbish bins one day, and watch what goes in to them?  That would be the surest way of getting an accurate picture of what patients like to eat – and what not.  And provide ‘evidence base’ galore.

Then take it from there – with all the ‘evidence base’ that tin-pot administrators, Ministers, etc. would need.  Let’s get on with it, and stop moaning.

Bon appetit!

Elderly NHS patients can feel neglected

British nurse in nurses' station.

Lovely people - if only they would talk t us! Wikipedia

Informing patients what is wrong with them

A reader sent this in, and I am sure we can all emphasise:

A hospital switchboard received an incoming call from someone, asking to speak to a nurse on a Ward P – the switchboard put her through.

Caller : ‘I would just like some information on a patient, Mrs Tiptree, I was wondering if her condition had deteriorated, stabilised or improved?’

Nurse on Ward P:  ‘I’ll just check her notes. ………..  Mrs Tiptree’s condition has improved. She has regained her appetite, her temperature has steadied and after some routine checks tonight, she should be well enough to go home tomorrow.’

Caller:  ‘Oh that’s wonderful news, I’m so happy, thank you ever so much!’

Nurse: ‘You seem very relieved, are you a close friend or relative?’

Caller:  ‘No, I’m Mrs Tiptree …. Nobody tells you anything in here.

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Iditarod – Last Great Race on Earth

I took these photos on 6 March 2010 at the cer...

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Known as The Iditarod, only a mad man (or woman) would want to take part in this race which is run across the Alaskan wilderness in the depths of winter.

The temperature can go as low as minus 40 to- 60 degrees -You have 16 dogs to look after (rules say they get fed before you)  – Race for up to 24 hours at a stretch –  Sleep in snatches and no time for a shower –  Risking frostbite or worse in the process.

All to take part in what’s called The Last Great Race on Earth.

Cancer Survivors do it best!

And if that isn’t enough – imagine running the 1000+ miles when you have had mouth cancer, need to keep your throat moist (but water freezes at minus temperatures) and you still win the race for a record 4 times in a row!  As last year’s winner, Lance Mackey, proved.

Or, if you are a woman, you survive breast cancer – go on to run the Iditarod for the 30th time – and still finish in front of many of the competitors (men included).  That’s  DeeDee Jonrowe for you.

It’s not the dogs – although they take centre stage – nor the mushers – although they are something else – but the whole Iditarod experience that captures the world’s imagination for two weeks every March.

And to keep cancer survivors up-to-speed with what’s happening, every day from March 5th onwards this website will have  daily reports of what’s happening.

If you enjoy reading the reports, please give a small donation to Breakthrough Breast Cancer.  I am doing these reports to help them get donations for research.

What is The Iditarod?

First Saturday in March every year, around 70 Mushers and their dog teams  set off from Willow (near Anchorage, Alaska) and race to Nome.  They are taking part in a race that loosely commemorates a life-saving effort by sled dogs in 1925, to deliver diphtheria serum to Nome, Alaska.

The race is run across icy, snowy mountains, forest trails, across rivers  and up rocky passes.  The mushers and dogs can race for up to 24 hours non-stop, and camp out on the trail.  Rules just say dogs must be warm and comfortable when bedded down to rest.   Often mushers race at night;  the lower the temperature the more the dogs like it and faster they run.

The race takes upwards of 8 days, but doesn’t finish until the last competitor still in the competition is home and dry – which can take 20 days or more.  Incidentally whoever comes last is always awarded the traditional Red Lantern.

And what do they race for?

  • First prize is upwards of $50,000 – plus percentage of entrance money
  • Top finishers get prize money in a diminishing table – last year Lance Mackey won $69,000 – down to No. 30 who picked up $1,800.  After that, anyone who finishes picks up $1,049.  Why the $49?  Because Alaska was the 49th State to join the U.S.A.
  • But THE prize the Mushers covet is a Dodge Truck, awarded to the first past the post.
  • Along the way mushers can win everything from a bag of gold nuggets to a seven-course meal cooked where they rest.
  • Every finisher gets a coveted belt with its iconic Iditarod belt buckle

Picture shows commemorative Buckle from 1999.

They are all similar, showing Alaskan sled scenes,

and if you see someone wearing one of these – they

are one tough person!

Men and Women are equal on the Trail

This is the only major international sporting event where men and women compete on equal terms, and the race has been won several times by women.

The first female winner was Libby Riddles, who won in 1985.  Whilst rival Mushers were holed up waiting for blizzards to blow over, Libby crept back onto the track and literally felt her way from trail marker to trail marker. She eventually won the event in a time of 18 days.

The photo shows her racing in the European classic, the Alpirod.

Two years later the legendary Susan Butcher won, and triumphed again in 1988 and 89, came second in 1990 and won for the fourth time in 91.  Sadly, she died of cancer in 2006, but the State of Alaska honours this incredible woman every March with a Susan Butcher day.

The youngest ever runner to compete was 18 year old Dallas Seavey, who comes from a famous Mushing family. He and other family members are competing again this year.  Many of the racers come from families long associated with the Iditarod  – you will often find father and son competing in same race, and it gets confusing when you look up winners, as so many carry same surname.


For many years the main dogs used were Siberian Huskies (the Ferraris of the dog racing world).  Others of the same husky family such as Greenlands and Malamutes (which are larger and heavier – Range Rovers), gave weight to a team, and were used as ‘wheelers’ (dogs nearest the sled that provide the ‘engine’).

But now, money rules.  Mushers want the fastest dogs, so the handsome hairy husky breeds are mixed with racy dogs such as pointers, and a not very attractive dog has come out of this.  These dogs don’t have the thick hair that protects a husky, so often have to wear coats.

In the past animal rights activists have tried to say the dogs are exploited.  Well, having gone out with many teams, the unhappiest sled dog is the one left behind whilst team mates are harnessed up to a sled; these dogs live to run – and run – and run.s ar

Dogs, like humans can have an off day.  But during the Iditarod, to ensure that no dog is running whilst injured or off-colour, dogs are inspected frequently on the trail by a team of vets.  Usually mushers themselves will bring a dog into the vet’s post because it has hurt itself, but sometimes the inspection will show there is an injury – either way, the dog is taken out, looked after, spoilt, and flown to the end of the trail where it rests up in an animal hospital until the musher finishes and comes to collect it.

If a dog leaves a team, the team will run with an empty space where this dog was harnessed.   Mushers won’t move dogs ‘up the line’ so they run side by side, as they are very particular animals.  Anyone who owns a team of sled dogs knows their favourite activity is running.  Second to this comes fighting each other, as the dogs love a good punch up.  So when choosing a team, a musher spends a long time selecting which dogs are most likely to get on with each other, before hitching them up to run alongside.  And if one falls out, its mate runs on its own to avoid accidents.

Last year it was extra cold, and Veterinarian Phil Meyer said “As cold as it is now, one of the problems is keeping weight on (the dogs), and I foresee that being a problem in this race,” Meyer is a long time Iditarod vet, talking as he handed out frozen fish (husky treat) to a pair of dogs musher Pete Kaiser left in the McGrath check-in.


Usually Iditarod racers run their teams in a tandem hitch (dogs running hitched up side by side, in an elongated ‘H’  shape), because the trail can be narrow at times.

But in their natural habitat when running across wide open snowy iced-over sea, mushers will use a fan hitch, where dogs are attached by their lines individually to the base, making a fan shape as they pull.  Reason – if a dog falls in an ice crevasse the rest of the team can dig in and the musher – hopefully – rescue the dog dangling from the end of  their individual line.

The dogs aren’t immune from fashion either.  They have to wear Teflon or similar bootees to protect their pads from the sharp ice crystals that form on the churned-up trail.  Musher Dee Dee Jonrowe’s team has 2,000 bright pink bootees in their kit.  The colour is to remind fans that Dee Dee raises money for a cancer charity, as she is a double mastectomy survivor.

Dogs’ harness is often in neon-bright colours that show off sponsor’s choice, but in reality this makes it easier to pick this up when excited, wriggling dogs cause handlers to drop harness in the snow.

A husky breed will bed down at night, tail curled over nose, and sleep happily in temperatures well below freezing.   But now, many of the ‘new’ breed of dog crosses  will huddle under thick fleece blankets; they don’t have the thick hair that protects huskies in temperatures -40º below or more on the trail.  If you go on the Iditarod website you will see photos of dogs sleeping under fleeces decorated with cats, as  their owner said this was the cheapest material available.

Photo shows DeeDee Jonrowe selecting harness for her dogs – made in her trademark pink colour which has two purposes:  to make it easy to see in the snow, and – more important – tell the world she survived breast cancer.

But traditionally the race runs when the dogs are happiest, which can be in the middle of the night to take advantage of colder temperatures.  Hence if you go to the race site you will see dogs arriving and departing any time of day or night.

But whatever happens, however much the Mushers love their dogs and cuddle them away from the public – you will never see an Iditarod veteran in a bling collar!

Last year’s winner

On 16th March 2010, Lance Mackey quietly emerged off the sea ice of the Bering Straits and entered Iditarod history, crossing the finish line in Nome to become the only musher in the 38-year history of the Iditarod to win four consecutive races.

For winning, Mackey got a new Dodge truck and $69.000.  And it’s the truck he said he really wanted!  Mackey is a mouth cancer survivor, and a legend on the sled dog trail having won just about every major championship:  some of them several times.

He is back this year, and says he is keen to make it five wins in a row.  He has a habit of letting the opposition make the running at the beginning of the race, but watch his position.  If he runs true to form, you will see him gradually edge up – until he wins by a crushing amount of time.

Breakthrough Breast Cancer

Men and Women can get breast cancer, and the ‘average’ woman is now considered to have a one in eight chance of developing it during their lifetime, wherever they live in the world.

This British based charity quietly gets on with funding research, with results that benefit patients all over the world.  It also lobbies the UK Parliament very effectively, and keeps members of Parliament fully aware of current issues and research.

Dr. Rachel Greig, Senior Policy Officer, says “some risk factors, such as getting older, cannot be changed but the good news is that others can.  By drinking less, maintaining a healthy weight and getting physically active, women can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.”

So DeeDee, Lance and all the others running in the Iditarod are setting a good example!  You don’t all have to run 1,000 miles, but half an hour of exercise a day can be of enormous benefit, and if you want to help Breakthrough with a donation –  go to

From now on I hope to post an update every 36 hours – next one will have info on more British connections, which go back to 1909.

Know your skincare facts and myths

Understanding the Hype

Skincare is vitally important, but the marketing gurus have taken over, and myths and legends are all around, often making it difficult when faced with making a choice in today’s bright and glitzy skincare and make-up stores.

So how do you separate Hype from Fact?

When you buy a jar of skincream, unless you have used this before, you are taking the contents on trust.

Which should not be, because skin care is a very important for men and women.  Skin is our largest organ, and often  the first to be ‘attacked’ when we are given a new drug to take.

But it can be vitally important – every time you look at the mirror and feel satisfied about how you look physically, the skin is the first thing that you see.  If that looks healthy, you feel healthy inside yourself.  So take a little time to find out about the Myths, and you are less likely to be taken in by the Hype.

And don’t mix skincare and make-up – one looks after your skin – the other adds definition to your face, and can cover blemishes etc. but ONLY if given a clean skin to work on underneath!

Drinking lots of water gives you beautiful skin Lack of water is bad for the skin, but drinking water to excess will not help it either. In fact, drink too much water and it is as bad for health as too little. Take time to know your body.  Measure how much you drink in a day – and keep to these guidelines – vary them if very hot or very cold (both of which can be dehydrating).  For an average person in a equable climate, 1.5 – 2 litres of liquid a day is what most dieticians advise.  And sorry – but drinking alcohol is not the best thing for your skin, neither is drinking very hot/cold liquids.

Don’t change the products you are used to
It is a common misconception that once you have found the skin care products that help you have a flawless, beautiful skin, you should not change them. The fact is that after 2-3 years, due to the aging process and all the changes in one’s life, but also due to stress, and different hormonal changes, our skin’s needs change too. Therefore, using the same products is nor advisable, and you should choose a new one more attuned to current needs.

Junk food, chocolates and fried food causes acne
Acne is caused by overgrowth of dead skin cells within the skin pores. Excess sebum production on the skin and proliferation of bacteria can also lead to acne. While reducing junk food is healthy for us, it is not directly related to acne.  However, one good side effect is the drugs that dry out skin can sometimes clear up acne.

Soaps are bad for the skin
‘Ordinary’ soap contain high amounts of sodium lauryl sulphates or cheap perfumes and is bad for the skin. However soaps are an excellent cleansing agent, and some skincare companies make specially formulated ‘soaps’ which are good for cleansing certain types of skin, such as soaps with lower percentages of SLES.  Soap is best used for cleansing hands – but keep hand cream by every basin in your house, and use it to replenish moisture in your hands whenever you wash them.

Sun clears out blemishes
Sun does dry pimples out temporarily. However, this can interfere with healthy skin cells and cause a worse breakout a few days later.

Oily skin doesn’t need moisturizing cream
If your skin is oily, you should know that it can dehydrate too. You need advice from an expert, so ask advice from a good skincare company’s representative in a major store.

Expensive skin-care products are best for the skin. When testing products that I mention on this website, I have generally found that the more expensive the product, the better it is at helping with our dry skins.  However, take a look at an expensive product.  If the packaging seems OTT, there is a lot of empty space in boxes, etc. then you ask yourself where the money went. Today, skincare is a massive industry, and most well-known brands will belong to a major company, even though for advertising purposes no mention is made of parent company.  La Roche Posay lost some fans when it decided it couldn’t handle the marketing, distribution etc. of its products, and sold out to L’Oreal.  This company has a wide variety of products amongst its brand names, and some customers weren’t happy as they equated L’Oreal with a less-favoured brand.  Still, good has come of this;  L’Oreal’s backing has enabled LRP to start applying for NICE approval, so that soon we will be able to obtain their products on prescription in UK, just as they do in France.  So when buying, check the price and  check the ingredients too.

There is no difference between moisturizing creams and eye creams
Eye creams (and neck and bust creams)  are completely different from the nourishing ones. The skin around the eyes is the first to give signs of aging, due to the fact that it is more delicate and it has to face a permanent activity as we blink about 10.000 times daily. This is one good reason for you to use a cream specially created for this area. Sometimes, applying a normal moisturizing cream for the area around the eyes can cause irritation.

Good Basics

get good professional help to recognize your skin type                                                                                                                             use the right skin care products for you                                                                                                                                                           proper diet and exercise can help you to achieve even more beautiful skin because it nourishes the skin with its needed vitamins.                                                                                                                                                                                                    sleeping at night can help to rejuvenate the skin naturally                                                                                                                      looking after your skin can help you avoid skin problems such as acne, blackheads and allergies

And don’t forget the most important thing is  to CLEANSE   TONE    NOURISH   twice a day.

Government Regulates Herbal Practioners

Dioscorides’ Materia Medica, c. 1334 copy in A...

Image via Wikipedia

New Regulations for Herbal Practioners

Herbal medicine has long been a thorn in the flesh of pharmaceutical companies, watching potential clients turn away from drugs, with their many adverse side effects, and choosing to be treated in traditional ways.

However, there was not doubt that many very dubious herbal remedies were to be found on the Internet, and in back-street shops.  Some were even dangerous, and with no regulation customers had no way of ensuring what they were buying was safe.

Recently the EU – aided and encouraged by pharmaceutical companies – has been looking into banning these products.

But what the pharma companies proposed would have seen many reputable herbal remedies banned under a blanket ban, together with remedies with no proven record, but which did no-one any harm, and made some customers happy.

In a bid to outlaw some of the dubious herbal remedies floating around on the internet, the Government announced the introduction of statutory regulation of herbal practitioners in the UK.   Without this new regulation their practices would be outlawed from 1st May.

Statutory Regulations

The new College of Medicine welcomed the announcement that practitioners of herbal medicine are to be statutorily regulated.  It believes that statutory regulation is vital, if UK herbal practitioners are to continue to practise and prescribe in compliance with new EU regulations.

This decision will ensure good practice, and the provision of safe products for the thousands of patients who visit herbal practitioners every year.

The register will be administered by the Health Professions Council, the independent statutory body that ensures practitioners meet proper standards of qualifications, training, professional skills and conduct.

The move to statutory regulation of this sector is in line with the College of Medicine’s aim to develop safe and evidence-based patient choice.  Without statutory regulation, the use of traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda or other types of herbal medicine could have been effectively outlawed once the new EU Traditional Herbal Directive comes into force.

“The Government has put the safety and interests of patients first. This is essential if the UK is to provide safe and evidence-based healthcare choices.” said College of Medicine Chairman, Dr Michael Dixon.

Professor George Lewith, College of Medicine Vice Chair and Professor of Health Research at Southampton University, said: “Evidence for the efficacy of herbal medicines is growing; they may offer cheap, safe and effective approaches for many common complaints. The College of Medicine values this pluralistic approach to care”.

Kaye McIntosh, College of Medicine Vice Chair and Acting Chair of its Patients’ Council, said: “Without statutory regulation many herbal practitioners in the UK would have been unable to continue practising and thousands of patients would be unable to make the choice to use herbal treatments. Statutory regulation of this sector is clearly the best way to ensure the safe provision of herbal practice.”

Today’s announcement is a result of Government research and public consultation over the last decade.

“This announcement has been a long time coming, so it is now essential that the HPC moves forward as fast as possible with statutory regulation. The College would like to see swift, thoughtful and robust regulation that protects the public from adulterated products, encourages the safe practice of herbal medicine and enables the development of the profession.” said Professor Lewith.


The College of Medicine is an alliance of doctors, nurses, health professionals and scientists. Eventually patients will also be involved, as it is committed to patient centred medicine; and to improving the health, wellbeing and care of individual patients and local populations.

Statutory regulation of herbal practitioners has had the backing of a report from the House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee and two independently chaired Department of Health working parties under Professor Michael Portillo. Following the publication of the last report in 2008, the Government ran a public consultation that elicited over 6,000 responses, the majority of which favoured this Government initiative.

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