Monitor@healthcare.emap.co.uk

Didn't Monitor have a lovely time the week he went to Manchester? Oh all the young dudes from the Confed were there, spreading wild rumours about leadership, service redesign and clinical governance issues. But hey, all work and no play makes health service managers a bit dull (no that can't be right! ) - so as soon as the nights fell it was time to get truly developmental! In a scrutinising kind of way.

Unless of course you work in the hard-done-by field of human resources. Experts in HR have long established the importance of cutting the long-hours culture which permeates our glorious NHS. Indeed in guff sent out ahead of the conference, the Association of Healthcare Human Resource Management earnestly explained that 'we are better at preaching the Improving Working Lives message than practising it ourselves.

Studies of board-level working hours across the UK, and comparisons with Europe, in both public and private sectors, bear this out'. So hoorah for Karen Bell, chief exec of Huntingdonshire PCT, who offered to get up at the crack of dawn to kick off a fringe event on the very topic - at 7.45am!

But the Confed wasn't the only shindig this season. Last month, the bean-counting frenzy otherwise known as the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy annual conference, was treated to the reminiscences of former spin doctor Charlie Whelan. And he had some vital lessons which might apply equally well to the new batch of health ministers trying to familiarise themselves with new topics. Mr Whelan, never backward at coming forward, was particularly forthcoming on the topic of his old pal Peter Mandelson. One of the stories concerned Mandy's re-appointment to government.

Apparently civil servants were somewhat sceptical about how much the Hartlepool hero knew about Northern Ireland's geography when he became its secretary of state. They produced an enormous map of the north for the minister, with Catholic areas marked in green and Protestant areas in orange. On seeing the map, Mr Mandelson asked what the large blue area in the middle was. Tory voters, perhaps? 'No', replied a civil servant: 'That is Lough Neagh.'