Well, That is January out of the way - and not a moment too soon, some will say. Even with a flu epidemic possibly just around the corner, we can now sense the first stirrings of the warmer, more optimistic days of spring, when birds will sing, little baa lambs will skip around the fields. . . Enough. Those lambs' mothers will infect pregnant humans with all sorts of nasty diseases if they do not keep well away, the Department of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Health and Safety Executive warn in a particularly stern press release. Yet there is a troubling sense of deja vu about this gloomy news - troubling at least, until you realise this is the fourth year running that the DoH has issued Advice to Pregnant Women During the Lambing Season without changing the wording. Monitor's favourite press release appeared on 8 January this year, 14 January last year and 18 January the year before. It beat all records by appearing on an unseasonably early 5 January in 1998.
Speaking of stirring, there are just a couple of weeks until Valentine's day. And if you are struggling for that perfect romantic gesture, how about a day in London? The Family Planning Association has the perfect package: a romantic lunch, a little tete-a-tetewith some of Britain's leading figures. Yet, at the same time, no risk of getting carried away. The event? A seminar on emergency contraception to mark Contraceptive Awareness week. do not all book at once.
Back to press releases - that boon of the busy journalist's life and the perfect opportunity for the NHS to spread a little good news about itself. Take this example of a hospital announcing that it 'cleaned up at a national award ceremony' when its domestic department was named the country's best in-house team after a visit by the British Cleaning Council. Surely the press team must have been tempted to issue a photograph to go along with it? A snap of the smiling manager perhaps? Sad that this release emerged from Bedford Hospital a month before that unfortunate photograph of bodies wrapped in sheets was splashed everywhere.
But some press releases can be genuinely shocking. In a lengthy paean of praise to the new cancer standards, our dear leader Mr Milburn was quoted as saying: 'There is no grater priority for the NHS. ' What are all those poor catering bods to do, if they can't get the equipment to improve the cheese sandwiches?
Perhaps they should whizz along to the Total Sandwich Show 2001 - 'bigger, better and buzzier than ever', apparently, although Monitor thought buzzing sandwiches were simply the ones past their sell-by date. And if London's savoury bun-fight doesn't appeal, what about the 'second European sandwich show', which takes place in Paris in March? Highlights include seminars with titles such as 'catering for changing lifestyles', which promises to ask those questions nobody has asked about sandwiches before. Indeed.
Facilities management should not be taken lightly, however, as Sarah Robinson, a contract services manager at Coventry health authority, discovered. She told the General Medical Council recently that a veteran GP took umbrage when she broke the news that his practice's access facilities were not up to scratch. In fact he was so put out, he told Ms Robinson: 'I've got a gun in my consulting room and I am tempted to use it on you. ' Dr Lee Ho's barrister pointed out that the 'gun' was only a wooden replica that the GP kept in his desk for patients' children to play with (so That is all right, then). The GMC still took a dim view. After hearing that Dr Ho also over-prescribed drugs to two addicts, it found him guilty of serious professional misconduct, told him to undergo an objective assessment of his management of stress and anger and banned him from single-handed practice.
Meanwhile, the lovely hacks and hackettes on HSJ's 'newsdesk' breathed a sigh of relief when they found the answer to that million-dollar question: how to get the Department of Stealth to return their calls. An answer in Hansard reveals MP for Thurrock Andrew Mackinlay asking junior health minister Gisela Stuart why Nick Court, director of communications for Eastern regional office, failed to respond to requests for a telephone conversation with Andy Lever, editor of the Thurrock Gazette? Ms Stuart reported that Mr Court in fact returned the call on 16 January. Phew.