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We had ample warning of the “St. Judes” storm, unlike the storm of 1987, where poor Michael Fish carved a name for himself in history by assuring us that warnings of a great storm were greatly exaggerated!
We were living in Kent at the time and amongst the first to be affected by the storm. I remember being woken by the sound of a crash as a large lilac tree in our garden was torn out and hurled down the garden. I was not too upset to see it go as it had flowered very shyly and seemed to put all its energy into putting up suckers, which drove me mad!
Next morning it was still pretty windy and broken branches, dustbins, tiles and other detritous blew around the road.
Our road was lined by large cherry trees which were, fortunately, still standing.
JW drove an Austin 7 at the time so was able to take Jennie to school(and back when he found it closed) and then to work, as the little car could drive around the fallen trees etc. far more easily than the large modern cars!
The local builder was kept busy moving from house to house fixing tiles back on (he must have made a fortune that day)
Sevenoaks, down the road from us, lost five of the oaks from which it got its name. I had not realised quite how deep some of those roots went until I saw the huge craters left behind.
We also experienced another big storm a few years later when we had moved to Wales. JW and I set out on a wet and windy morning for a day of shopping and lunch out in our nearest town, Aberystwyth.
JW complained because we could not get a parking space on the promenade and had to park on one of the back street parks.
We had a delicious meal at the Inn on the Pier, but when they brought the coffee we thought the table was unstable as the coffee slopped into the saucers, then realised that it was not the table moving but the pier!
The wind had increased so much when we stepped outside that we were immediately blown back inside!
After waiting for a short gap in the gusts we managed to stagger across to the road opposite. My hopes of shopping were dashed when I found there was a power cut and none of the electronic tills were working.
We were pleased to see that the car was undamaged in its back street, unlike those on the promenade which had been covered in sand and stones.
We were lucky enough when we arrived home to find we had suffered no damage to the house or outbuildings, and the polytunnel and fruit cage were still standing. We had a power cut and the water was off, but that was the usual result of the slightest wind and we were always prepared with candles and water carriers and jugs!
This time we had plenty of warning so JW and I put away loose pots, garden furniture etc. on Saturday afternoon and hoped for the best.
On Sunday we had some very heavy showers, and the forecasts for the storm moved from arriving in mid Wales to sweeping up the Bristol Channel (minutes away from us)
Around midnight there was a heavy downpour and then nothing. I looked out about 1.30am and was amazed to see hardly any movement in the trees, decided that this was “the calm before the storm”
To my surprise I slept soundly and looked out, rather fearfully, to see how much devastation there was……nothing! even the apples still hung on a neighbour’s tree……The storm had passed us by ūüôā

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The Francis report on the Staffordshire hospital makes disturbing reading and sets
me wondering how nursing could have changed so much since I trained in the 1950s and 1960s.
As an outsider it is difficult to understand how things could have changed so much. I know that today’s nurses work in a very different environment (new drugs, hi-tech equipment, more advanced techniques etc.) from that we enjoyed, but surely the basic ethos of caring should still be there.
I think (as with many professions) that the chain of command has become far too complicated, so that it is much easier to “pass the buck” when things go wrong.
We had a simple, and easy to understand, structure. Matron was at the top and made sure she knew what was happening throughout the hospital. She and her deputy matron visited every ward every day. One day she would take the even numbered wards and the next the odd numbered wards. She went round every patient, and woe betide the nurses if a patient was in a soiled bed or had a genuine complaint.
We had one sister and just one staff nurse on most wards and they alternated their off duty. They were very much in evidence at all times. They went round as soon as they had received the report from the night staff, they did the medicine rounds and served the dinners and many of them rolled up their sleeves and worked on the ward. They somehow managed all this as well as mentoring the student nurses, ordering supplies, arranging the off-duty rotas and writing reports etc. They also accompanied the consultants on their rounds. Visiting times were more regulated then and either the sister or the staff nurse was available for any queries from the relatives.
When I was in hospital a few years ago the only time I ever saw the sister was when the lady in the next bed to me inadvertently pressed the emergency bell and the “crash team” rushed in through the door with all the equipment for resuscitation.
I think successive governments have had ministers with ideological missions, who have added more and more layers of authority, who have taken the authority from the clinical staff. Then in the 1980s Mrs Thatcher and Ken Clarke brought in the idea of “market forces” and put a price on everything and thought that patients would behave like commodities. Sorry MPs but patients are people and people behave differently! Some are textbook cases and “follow the rules” but many others don’t and cannot be put into groups and get all sorts of complications which go far beyond their “price range”
The other scheme in the 1980s was to privatise the domestic service. Before this we had an orderly and a ward maid on each ward. They took great pride in “their” ward and the wards were spotless. One of the orderley’s duties was to clean and refill the water jugs at least twice a day so no one had to drink water from a flower vase! They were accountable to the sister but now no one knows who is going to be doing the domestic work, this has also taken away the satisfaction the old domestic staff could take from looking after “their ward”
We have all seen how this cost cutting exercise was a false economy when the spread of secondary infection caused so much harm.
The reason sisters could manage with one staff nurse was that all the nursing staff, even the lowliest junior, had at least 12 weeks training before they set foot on the ward and most had had considerably more.
We ranged in experience from those just out of the preliminary training school in 3 month sets to those within 3 months of their final exams. There was a new intake of nurses “sets” every 3 months, so, as well as giving us a wealth of experience, the wards were well staffed.
I think one of the best piece of advice I got was, “However dirty, manic or disagreeble the patient may appear this may be part of the illness and you must treat them all with as much compassion as as you would like your own relatives to be treated”. This stood me in good stead when faced with a patient who wet the bed as soon as you had changed it, handed you a present of faeces, or tried to pinch or thump you!”
I have still to be convinced that a university degree is necessary for all nurses, could there not be a different title for those who would be quasi doctors and leave the nurses to do what they are best at, caring, keeping the patient comfortable, fed and hydrated and carrying out the apprpriate nursing procedure efficintly and professionally.
It should be mandatory for politicians, business managers and such individuals to actually work at the business end before they are allowed to make major changes.
As patients we should be more careful when complaining or taking legal action. Of course when there is a valid complaint it should be investigated, but not all patients will recover however dedicated and skillful the medical team, and every time frivolous complaints are made it gives the bureaucrats an excuse to add more paperwork. Very often all the patient wants is a polite and rational explanation. They just want to know that they have had the best care and attention.
Iknow that there are many younger people who will argue against our method of training, but the general consensus among those who trained this way is that we would have more cofidence being nursed by the old style nurses than by the new method. Judging from the presents of chocolates, tights, biscuits etc. left by the majority of patients, I would say that the patients were happy with their treatment.

After a summer of celebrations and sporting success it is no surprise that politicians have jumped on the bandwagon with their own interpretations on what makes a champion sportsman.

Immediately after the Olympics and Paralympics I heard government ministers saying that all Primary schools should have dedicated sports teachers. I even heard some saying that all teachers should do a sports module!

At the same time as the Olympics the Proms were taking place and were also very popular with the public so should all Primary schools have dedicated music teachers, art teachers, cookery teachers, IT teachers etc. etc. Is there any room in all this for teaching the three Rs?

We did not have specialised teachers until we went to secondary school and had mastered the basic subjects.

When I started school in 1944 at the age of 5 we started straight in on the three Rs from day one….no “learning through play” in those days. All¬†my teachers were female as so many of their male counterparts had joined the armed forces.¬† The classes were 40-50 children , boys and girls, all abilities all levels of society, just¬†one teacher and no assistants.¬†Our class teacher taught us everything, including games¬†PT and dancing,¬†which were played mostly in the school yard unless the weather was really inclement and we moved into the hall. Equipment was very basic, but we did get plenty of exercise. I thought the government move to more sport in school was to get the children fit by giving them more exercise not to train future Olympians and felt exasperated when the PM¬†decried dancing as exercise. I would be interested to hear what professional dancers would say to that!

Of course if a child has a talent for sport it should be encouraged and nurtured with all the facilities and trainers possible, just as all talents should be appreciated and nurtured. I think that most people have a talent and the good teachers will recognise these and, if they cannot expand these themselves, will know how to put the child in touch with those who can.

A rounded society needs all the talents , whether these are talents which will bring national fame or the more mundane talents of good citizenship, caring for others, being good parents, vocational subjects or academia. Each has a part to play in a civilised society.

Even had¬†I had a team of sports scentists, trainers and equipment¬†¬†and all the determination in the world,I don’t think they could¬†have turned me into a champion. ūüôā

We have all said, or heard it said, ”¬†A is a born teacher, doctor, nurse, mother” etc. That it their talent which they are using to the best of their ability. It would be a¬†very unbalanced world if we all had the determination and single mindedness of those who do reach the pinnacles. Many of the athletes when speaking of their attainments thanked their families and teams who had¬†made it possible for them to achieve their dreams, all the unsung heroes who had used their talents, the teacher who had spotted their talent, families¬† who supported them and the teams of specialists behind them.

We¬†started learning the three Rs from day one and once we had learned to read we had spelling bees, times tables, simple arithmetic tests etc regularly. We did not use ink until we were 7-8years old and started learning”cursive writing”. We had a weekly newspaper called the “Childrens’ Weekly” They held handwriting competitions which we entered. (My family would be amazed to hear that I got a “highly commended” ūüôā

The only science I remember were the nature walks on the Forest and the nature table where we watched tadpoles turn into frogs and made a wormery in a glass sweet bottle.

History and geography came from the reading lessons and RE from the daily service and Sunday school.

We had singing lessons and a very crude orchestra with simple basic instruments. We also had knitting and sewing lessons (both boys and girls) where we learned basic stitches, how to darn, patch and sew on buttons. These were extra lessons, but the main object seemed to teach us to read, write grammatically and do arithmetic (which included tables up to 12 times 12)

Many of the children in my school went to lessons after school, music, dancing, elocution and sports. These were arranged and paid for by the parents.

When we went to secondary school there were clubs for special interests in school and in the many youth organisations in the community, so the opportunities were there, but not many of us got past amateur status:)

JW and I have had a year dominated by hospital appointments, both JWs own and those of the frail neighbour he helps, and at last we have spaces on the calendar, so, spurred on by what feels like incessant rain over the last three months, we have booked a cruise in November in the hopes of seeing some sunshine before the winter sets in.:)

It is an act of faith, first that no more nasties lurk in the medical undergrowth and second that we will not be called upon by Mr Cameron to give our services (free gratis of course to help our country)

A few months ago when large cuts were announced for the Police Force, the officers who were handed their P45s one day¬†received letters soon afterwards asking if they would like to use their years of experience¬†on a voluntary basis as “Specials”

Recently when the cuts to the Armed Forces was announced we were told that the TA would be enlarged to fill the gap. There was no mention of where these TAs were being recruited from and, with the best will in the world, how many bosses can afford to give staff the time off for training and possibly a whole year off for overseas service?

I am waiting for them to invite retired nurses and midwives to return to work¬†in order to save the NHS wages bill. I don’t think I would be very happy working to the orders of beaurocrats and spending my time coping with the mountain of paperwork!

JW is thinking he will have to brush up on his tractor driving skills and wondering whether he could bear to work¬†on one of the highly mechanised dairy units…..he used to know all his cows by name.

No, I think we will stick to our¬†holiday plans and even if it continues to rain we¬†are going on a boat so we don’t even have to build our own Ark. ūüôā

I hear that the latest government pronouncement is that loneliness is the biggest danger for “old people”. They say that it is worse than obesity and tobacco!¬† “The answer,”¬† they say, ”¬†is for people to stay working longer.”

As usual the government are making generalisations. This one I think, in my cynical way, is to save on pensions. Working does not necessarily diminish loneliness. Some people are quite self contained and prefer their own company. Others are shy and do not mix well, so they may go to work and return home and feel more lonely than ever knowing that their work colleagues have a more sociable life.

Being alone is not the same as being lonely and we are all different in the way we react to being alone.  When I was at home alone when Jennie was at university and JW was working, I was quite contented working in my garden and listening to my radio. On the other hand I enjoyed having visitors. My neighbour, at the other end of the spectrum,  needed people around her and if she was left alone for more than a few hours would jump into her car and drive off to visit someone.

Of course if people are housebound they need visitors if only to check that they are not in need of help or care of one kind or another, but these people would not be able to go out to work anyway.

I remember one time in the 1980s, when I was doing agency nursing, and I was¬† specialling an elderly¬†lady who had taken an overdose. I asked the nurse I took over from whether they knew why she had done this, (she had taken a huge mixture of pills, so it was not likely to have been accidental) The nurse shrugged, looked at me as though I was strange to ask such a thing. That was when I realised that nurse training had changed from when I trained. I said, “Perhaps she was lonely.” “Oh no, she has sons and daughters,” she replied. I didn’t argue but having children doesn’t mean that they visit, or even keep in touch and this must be much¬†harder to cope with than for those like my old housemistress (a childless spinster)¬†¬†who had a great variety of interests, some¬†involved with other people and some¬†pursued alone. She was not anti-social and always made me welcome when I visited, but she¬†was comfortable with her own company.

I think that governments are too prone to make these sweeping statements and lumping us all into groups, so if you are old and live alone, you must be lonely. ¬†Maybe they have spent too long in PR and¬†don’t realise that we are all individuals and react in different ways, so not all old people living alone are lonely, anymore than all benefits claimants are scroungers, all doctors and nurses are not angels who care for their patients or all parents care about education etc. etc.

I think this latest pronouncement is as flawed as their “happiness index”. How do you measure how happy you are? It varies from day to day. Something good happens or someone is kind to you and you feel happy. Something bad happens to you or your nearest and dearest and you feel sad. That is what life is all about some days good and some days bad.

Once more it depends on the individual, some are never satisfied with their lot and always envy someone else’s good fortune. Others are happy with very little and appreciate the simple things which most of us take for granted. we are all different.

What will the “think tanks” come out with next?

I had a pleasant surprise in the post. I received a present from Orange (my mobile phone provider) as it was the anniversary of  the day I bought my pay-as-you-go mobile phone. It was a novelty keyring light. It is shaped like a vesta match and the light is turned off and on by blowing on the tip. I gave this to JW and it kept him amused, off and on, for the rest of the morning.:) They also gave me £5 worth of calls.

I am a technophobe, as most people know, but last year I bought a very basic phone, no camera, no wi-fi connection and no aps, just the ability to make phone calls or send texts. Jennie  showed me how to use it and how to send texts and I now have it for emergencies (like losing touch with Jennie or JW  in town or calling for a lift home) and on holiday. It was quite useful for co-ordinating our meeting with my Scottish friend in Norway.

I must be one of their lowest users having only topped up my credit once so it was a good investment for the princely sum of ¬£4.95 and ¬£10 top up, but it did enhance my view of Orange. Wouldn’t it be nice if the firms who make far more business with me all sent annual gifts?

We frequently hear from politicians and media commentators likening the present crisis to that in the 1940s. It is obvious, to one who was alive then, that they were not there!

Life and attitudes were quite different then. The country really was bankrupt then after six years of war and most ordinary people had few reserves after not only the war, but the depression of the thirties and high unemployment which immediately preceded it.

Despite all this I don’t remember an air of pessimism and gloom. On the contrary people were so happy to be free from the¬†horror and worry of war that they looked forward with optimism to, what they hoped would be, peace.

Many of the cities had suffered terrible bombing attacks leaving a great shortage of homes and communal buildings so a huge re-building programme  was begun. There was no talk of cutting back to build up the finances first.

A huge loan was obtained from the USA which took 50 years to repay, so please don’t tell us that we are leaving a huge debt for our children to repay, we have lived through the repayment of a loan (and survived). ¬†In this time we have seen living standards rise enormously.¬†There have been advances in medicine, science, technology etc. which we could never have imagined at that time. The NHS and welfare state was established, so that poor people need never again die from lack of treatment, or¬†feel the fear of watching their families starve or being evicted from their homes if they lost their jobs. Of course there will always be those who abuse the system, just as there are those at the other end of the system who abuse the tax system and find ways of avoiding paying all the taxes for which they are liable.

I don’t think anyone expected rationing to last as long as it did. I was¬†six when the war ended. I think I¬†thought that things would go back to the world I had been told about, but had never experienced, sweet shops full of sweets and chocolate, this mysterious thing called ice cream reappearing, no ration books, real eggs every day if you wanted them. I also expected my father to come home to live with us next day instead of the nine months in actuality. When he did finally arrive home it took a while to get used to him being home and having to share my mother with him!

The years after the war were difficult for the adults, but as a child I don’t remember it as a miserable time. Rationing became even more severe, wages were low but there seemed to be plenty of jobs around. Most people lived in rented accomodation but the rents were affordable on one wage ¬†so most¬†mothers stayed home. This meant that children were under the beady eyes of not only their own mothers but all the other mothers, which kept us safe and reasonably well behaved ūüôā

As communities we celebrated the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, the 1948 Olympics, the Festival of Britain and the Coronation. It seemed as though every couple of years there was something to look forward to.

As schoolchildren we had more opportunities for further education than previous generations. Many in my parents’ generation were unable to take up scholarships as they had to go to work at 14 years old to help support the family. It was even rarer for girls to have higher education then, but I don’t know of anyone in my age group who had to renounce a scholarship on economic grounds.

We had far fewer “things” in those years after the war, our clothes were often hand-me-downs or homemade, (I had never heard of designer labels),¬†bicycles were second hand and much prized,¬† presents usually only for Christmas or birthdays, no credit cards or extended credit,¬†but we really were “all in it together” so¬†had no peer pressure to worry about.

I think the positive attitude of politicians and the people did much to engender the optomistic air. Gloomy forecasting seems to be a self fulfilling exercise. Maybe our politicians and media wallahs could learn something from that.

What a year for news it was!

I have been looking at my diary for the year and was struck by how many natural disasters were reported. It seems as though Mother Nature, (or whichever God you believe in), is saying, “Whatever destruction you bring on yourselves, I can do far worse.”

We have had earthquakes in Japan, New Zealand and Turkey and Spain, floods in Australia, Brazil,Pakistan and Thailand, tornadoes in the southern states of the USA and in the mid west and of course the devastating tsunami in Japan. Not to be outdone another volcano erupted in Iceland. In the Horn of Africa once again they have droughts and the subsequent horror of starvation.

Here in the UK we have had  the hottest March and October days, wettest, windiest, dryest times. Looks like the record book keepers will have a busy time. 

If only those in positions of power would concentrate resources to dealing with these disasters instead of wasting our resources and lives in so many wars. It seems that whenever one part of the world settles into (near)  peace another part erupts into fighting.

The “Arab Spring” is still ongoing with an uneasy peace in Egypt and Tunisia, struggles between tribes,¬†religions and sects in Iraq and Libya and near civil war in Syria. Afghanistan is still claiming too many lives on both sides of the conflict and the relief for the famine in Ethiopia would be so much easier if there was no war around it.

¬†I would have more confidence in politicians and financial “experts” if I felt they knew what they were doing. When a report was published saying that the top earners pay had increased by 150% and the average pay by 2.9%, it did not inspire me with hope for the future economy!

It has not been a good year for leaders either, Bin Laden and Gaddafi killed, Kim Jong Il died, the presidents of Greece and Italy replaced by unelected financiers! and Arab Spring leaders still to be elected.

I wonder what 2012 has in store for us. I hope that it will be good to all of you and yours.

A belated Happy New Year to one and all.:)

Jennie and I arrived in a hot, sunny London in the early afternoon on Friday. We had travelled on a punctual Great Western train. Great Western has sometimes had bad publicity but I have never had any complaints about it on my (admittedly infrequent) visits.

Jennie had booked us into The Grange, Holborn. A friendly, comfortable hotel and we had a lovely quiet room. It had everything we needed for a happy stay and the staff were friendly and helpful. We decided to dine there and enjoyed a splendid meal, served admirably by Piroska and Petko who were both from Romania.

Jennie had booked the theatre tickets as soon as they went on sale so we had excellent seats.¬†I had never been to Wyndham’s theatre before and was impressed by the¬†work on the restoration of this delightful small theatre. They have kept the essence of the original theatre and you feel almost as though you step back a century, as you climb the narrow staircase rather than¬†the ¬†sweeping staircase of modern theatres.

I had had high expectations for “Much Ado About Nothing”, but it far exceeded anything I had imagined. I knew that it was a comedy, but this is the first time I have been so engrossed and laughed so much at any Shakespearean comedy. You completely forgot that it had been written so long ago, even with the Shakespearean language.

The whole cast and direction was brilliant, but David Tennant and Catherine Tate were superb. They interacted so well together that you almost felt as though you were eavesdropping on their conversations!

We came out of the theatre full of the “feel good” factor. It seemed too tame to go back to the hotel on the tube, so we treated ourselves to a rickshaw ride. Another first for us!

The young man pedalled away like mad and delivered us safely back to The Grange.

We had decided that we would go to Westminster after breakfast and, depending on the weather, either go on a river cruise or into Westminster Abbey. It was grey and drizzly when we checked out of the hotel but, in the optimistic hopes that it would improve, we set off for Westminster. Alas, our optimism was dashed when we stepped out of the tube to a downpour. We abandoned the river trip and made for the Abbey. We were already drenched by the time we arrived at the very long queues for the Abbey. I think everyone and his brother had had the same idea and we couldn’t face the thoughts of standing in the pouring rain so we went into St Margaret’s Chapel. I have never been in there before so it was fascinating looking around this beautiful little church and reading the plaques and displays. I knew that it was the parish church for Parliament and had heard of several prominent politicians being married there, but hadn’t realised that one such wedding was that of Sir Winston Churchill. I suppose I had always imagined¬†he would have been married ¬†in a much grander location.¬†Another point of historical¬†interest was that Sir Walter Raleigh’s body was buried under the chancel after his execution.

We decided that anywhere under cover would probably be too crowded so made our way back to Paddington where we could relax until the train was due.

When we went to get the train we had a sudden impulse to upgrade our tickets to first class, so we had a very comfortable journey back, complete with complimentary refreshments. The perfect ending to a lovely birthday treat. Thank you Jennie. ūüôā

Today the nurses have given a resounding “thumbs down” to Andrew Lansley’s so called reforms. He says that he is listening, but is he hearing?

I feel very sorry for the nurses of today, and am so glad that my nursing career was before politicians and bureaucrats started interfering with a service which ran well until they decided that health care was a business rather than a service.

When I was working in hospital we didn’t have fancy titles, which no one understood, we had Matron in overall control, aided by her deputies. There was a Sister on every ward, which I don’t think they have now, and her deputy was the Staff nurse. All of these were in regular contact with the patients and were easily recognised by their distinctive uniforms.

Obviously all these senior nurses had administrative duties to keep the¬†the hospital running smoothly, but nothing like the mountains of office work that today’s nurses have to cope with. The Matron, or one of her deputies,¬†had time to visit¬†every ward every day, and the Sisters had time to spend on the ward.

The Sister or the Staff nurse, did the medicine rounds, served the meals and supervised and mentored the student nurses, so they knew everything which was happening on the wards, and they knew if patients were not eating or drinking. They were available for patients to ask questions or voice their problems.

I know that today’s nurses are educated to high technical standards now, they do procedures which were formerly done by senior medical students and junior housemen, but has this been at the expense of nursing care? Who has the expertise and time to do the ordinary nursing care now?

When we spent more time on the wards during our training we were there not only as an extra pairs of hands, but we gained confidence in those procedures as we progressed up the ladder towards our final exams. We each had a record of achievements book which had to be filled in by the Sister at the end of each placement.

Sister not only kept the nursing staff and domestic staff under control, but also the patients and their relatives! The relatives accepted that, unless their relative was on the seriously ill list, they should not telephone at other than the given times and they queued up after visiting time to discuss problems with the Sister. I think the general public had more respect for authority then and were able to see that if they interrupted nursing staff at inconvenient times it was their own relatives who were being deprived of the nurses’ time.

Maybe there would be less time spent ticking boxes and form filling if, as a society, we had¬†not become so¬†obsessed with “our rights” and ready to employ the “ambulance chasing” lawyers. This too takes time from caring for patients. It also makes senior staff wary of giving student nurses the opportunity to practise their skills, and in a practical subject you only really become proficient when you actually do the procedure, however thorough the theoretical teaching.

I don’t know when it was decided that health care was to be treated as a marketable commodity rather than a service, but until the 70s the hospitals and the GPs worked together to provide the best service they could and there was no feeling of anyone commissioning any part of the service, or putting a price tag on it. The GPs requested the hospital service they considered necessary and the hospital provided it. When the patient was ready for discharge the GP took over and arranged the domicillary care. It was qute seamless. We didn’t have PCTs or commissioning bodies!

I am not in the profession now and can only judge things by my own experiences as a patient and what I hear or read from those still working in the NHS,¬† but I hear very few in favour of Andrew Lansley’s reforms other than those with a vested interest in the private sector. The enthusiasm with which the private sector embraces them makes my cynical mind very suspicious!