Dr No approached last Sunday evening’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (BBC1) in a bad mood, having just had his computer freeze up in the last moments of an ebay auction he was particularly keen to win. Maybe there’s an app out there baddies can use to freeze up other bidders’ computers at the critical moment. Any road, he hoped some good old fashioned rumpy pumpy would distract him from his ebay woes, all the more so as the BBC’s adaptation was by Jed Mercurio, once upon a time a doctor, and known more recently for dramas such as Line of Duty. He was up against stiff competition, not just in the trouser department. For Dr No, Ken Russell’s Women in Love is the defining big or small screen adaptation of DH Lawrence’s work, with a none too bad 1980s BBC adaptation of The Rainbow definitely in the running. How did Mercurio do?
Writing in the well-known Blue Top, the BMJ, Margaret McCartney, a fellow scourge of Bad Medicine, recently described the 16% higher chance of death if you are admitted to hospital over the weekend as a zombie statistic. The essence of a zombie statistic is not necessarily that it is wrong, but that it won’t go away, even when it is shown to be at least spurious, possibly wrong, and almost certainly misleading. Zombie politicians, who tend likewise to be at least spurious, probably wrong and almost certainly misleading, but still wont go away, love zombie statistics, as does the zombie press, which attracts zombie stats as a dunghill attracts flies. Shortly before the election, David Cameron, increasingly the zombie party leader as BJ hots up the mustard, pumped up the 16% higher mortality statistic, and true to form it just won’t go away. Today the zombie minister Jeremy Hunt will use the 16% zombie statistic to prop up his case for seven day zombie working in the NHS.
If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, then news about news is the last refuge of a desperate editor. In an editorial in the BMJ this week, Ben Goldacre and Carl Heneghan report on ‘extensive news coverage’ of a ‘leaked letter’ from the Chief Medical Officer to the Academy of Medical Sciences asking for an enquiry into how society should judge the safety and efficacy of drugs. This is hardly the stuff of which crackling headlines are made. Dr No missed it, and so too did most of the media. According to google news, only the BBC and The Guardian covered the story in the national media, with remaining coverage confined to such erstwhile journals as the PharmaTimes of Freakistan. The leak, it turns out, was about as newsworthy as a damp patch on an incontinent’s mattress.
Despite the colour scheme, Bad Medicine is not a red-top, but sometimes a red-top headline doesn’t do any harm, unlike over-diagnosis and over-treatment. The campaign against the problem of meddlesome doctors, a problem that has been around for as long as there have been doctors, had a re-launch last week, guided by a collaboration – now there’s a modern word – between the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and the BMJ. What was ‘Too Much Medicine’ is now re-branded ‘Choosing Wisely’, a title so generic it could apply to anything: at least with ‘Too Much Medicine’ you knew what they were on about. The language has become stifling, like the still heat of a tropical day. We are assured that ‘Choosing Wisely conversations will rebalance discussions’ between doctors and patients, who will jointly ‘be supported to acknowledge…that, sometimes, doing nothing might be the favourable option.’ Hullo? To you and me, that’s stick the drugs where the sun don’t shine.
Imagine for a moment Dr No is now a peer, Lord No (of Nowhere), and it has come to his fancy that there are a lot of worthwhile advertising folk out there who are being cruelly frustrated in their attempts innovate by a constant fear of litigation. Radical campaigns to sell coals to Newcastle, defy gravity and achieve eternal life, these two possibly at the same time, though the Church has had a protected monopoly on promoting that particular proposition for the last two millennia, have remained but twinkles in the eyes of advertising executives. Those pesky anti-free market types have got too big for their boots; and every day, another regulator leans forward to breathe down the necks of advertising executives. A chill hangs over the corridors of innovative advertising; brilliance lies stunned into submission. All in all, it’s enough to make a right-thinking peer weep.
For a man with a name that sounds like a vintage Italian motorcycle, Peretti runs pretty smooth. The creator of The Men Who… documentaries – The Men Who Made Us Fat (about the food industry), The Men Who Made Us Thin (about the weight loss industry) and the surely inevitable but yet to come The Men Who Made Us Fart (about fashionable diets) – recently presented his latest mini-series, The Men Who Made Us Spend, about marketing. Tooling around the globe in vest and V-neck (how about The Men Who Made Us Shirtless, about bankers?), Peretti kicked off by exposing the hidden suicide pact engineered into products to ensure they go pop before their time, and we buy a new one. First up was Osram, who a hundred years ago put the blow back into bulbs, thus ensuring that when the lights went out for the consumer, the profits went up for the manufacturer. More recently, we have the doomsday counters hidden in printer consumables that announce game over even when there is still plenty ink in the cartridge. A picture emerged of a world where cynical industries push kamikaze products on gullible punters to keep the manufacturers in profit. Had Oscar Wilde been in the manufacturing line, he would have known what to say. Either the product goes, or I go.
Justin Wood, the Today programme’s Useful Idiot, was let out of his play-pen this morning to tackle a story with real numbers in it. He promptly crashed and burnt. So spectacular was the crash and burn that the erudite Prof McManus’ erudition flat-lined and later all but crashed and burnt too. At issue was the distinction between pass mark and pass rate for the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board test used to assess clinical and English language skills in the – as the media would have it – foreign devils more formally known for the time being as International Medical Graduates. In Woodie’s upside down world, the great secret was to up the pass rate, the better to weed out those with forked tongues. In the real world, of course, upping the pass rate, rather than the pass mark, would have the effect of letting though not fewer but more IMGs.
Hell may have no fury greater than a woman scorned, but surely Heaven can have no joy greater than a woman reformed. In a remarkable development, scientists in North America have popped not a bun but a biodegradable scaffold layered with a patient’s vulval and other cells in the oven, and after the required time at the requisite temperature been rewarded with a fully formed vagina. Four women born without a vagina have had ready-vaginas made this way implanted, and have subsequently reported normal or even atomic levels of ‘desire, arousal, satisfaction and orgasm’. This extraordinary advance may in the short term pave the way for a gruesome commerce in designer vaginas – each scaffold is individually crafted – but in time it can only end one way: the day will dawn when we pop not buns but homunculi in the oven, to be rewarded nine months later with little incubi, all of whom will go on to report normal or even atomic levels of desire, arousal, satisfaction and orgasm. Truly, science knows no bounds.
Slit, the gash in the silk curtain BBC One legal procedural through which we get to see posh knobs with wigs on polishing each other off, is back. So too are the hormonally challenged. Leading QC Martha’s oxytocin levels are so high it can only be a matter of time before she starts lactating for her under-dog clients. Billy still plays the testosterone fuelled clerk ready to roger anything with a hole in it, despite a heartless medic telling him it’s bye bye Morning Glory hello tits for Billy, on account of his treatment for prostate cancer. In the last episode Martha’s oxytocin met Billy’s cancer head on, and the cuddle juice won. Billy coughed, and they cuddled.
Meanwhile, the show continues to tackle The Big Issues Of The Day. Increasingly these are medical. The first episode of the current series hinged on the fate of David, an undiagnosed schizophrenic charged with killing a police officer, while this week’s episode three took on maternal mercy killing. Neither, to this viewer, ended satisfactorily. The series formula – Martha gets you off – was rigorously applied, like a double mustard poultice. The schizophrenic walked free, the case against the self-confessed filicidal mother collapsed.
As a doctor who has dabbled in epidemiology, Dr No is not unaware of the siren song of care.data. Greater minds, including epideiology’s Einstein, have frothed at the prospect of the data orgy to be had, only to have it dawn that theirs was a premature cigar. Yet even when left staggering at the catastrophes revealed, a hard core group still want care.data to happen, the idea being that if enough corks are inserted, then nothing will leak.
If only! Dr No remains persuaded that the call of care.data is indeed the song of a siren balanced on dangerous rocks. However alluring the song, the rocks remain; many rocks, but four stand out as especially dangerous.