Published: 13/06/2002, Volume II2, No.5809 Page 18 19

One of the most popular services provided by the NHS Information Authority's national electronic library for health website is the Hitting the Headlines project, which analyses the latest health scare, miracle drug discovery or piece of lifestyle advice churned out by the national media.

For hard-pressed GPs and other frontline clinicians or healthcare workers, it has proved a very useful tool as alarmed or elated patients make straight for the consulting room to discuss the article.

The government and the NHS modernisers talk much of the 'consumer agenda' in health, and hence the need for greater 'patient choice'. It is a view the newspapers apparently share - it is also a relatively cheap way to fill space, with junior reporters and/or stringers often simply required to scan the pages of the specialist medical journals.

A snapshot survey of three days' coverage shows how thick and fast these stories can come.

Between Wednesday 5 and Friday 7 June, newspaper readers were told that 'functional drinks', such as newly launched G or C-Monster can boost immunity and wellbeing; that pre-school children with TVs in their bedroom or babies which are not breast-fed are at greater risk of obesity; that the lack of fruit in diets is fuelling an 'asthma epidemic'; that 'electronic trousers'made in the US can transform the lives of heart attack victims;

how South African doctors carried out a successful hip replacement operation on a British woman told to 'live with the pain'by her GP; that broccoli is a defence against cancer; that new treatments offer hope to arthritis and psoriasis sufferers; that painkillers may prevent bones healing; and that the water in British swimming pools often poses 'potentially serious' health risks.

Perhaps the ultimate health alert story came courtesy of The Times , which revealed that the Pope's doctors are using 'subcutaneous apomorphine' to 'reverse, or prevent, the periods of immobility that are a trial to patient's with Parkinson's disease'.

However, others will have taken particular note of another report from The Times that 'hangovers are healthy'.Reassuring news, perhaps, for those who toasted Beckham's boys too well and too long.