You may think the Commission for Health Improvement does not yet exist. Undaunted by the fact there is as yet no legislation to set it up, that it has no chair, no chief executive, no staff and no budget, the good old Department of Health has decided otherwise. Monitor understands that civil servants reporting to chief nurse Yvonne Moores are already working on CHI's agenda.

And just for a bit of originality, it has decided the new organisation's first project will be on cancer services. You have been warned.

Monitor would like to issue a challenge to loyal readers at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford: come forward sir, step forward madam, and defend your honour. Former junior doctor turned politician Evan Harris has sadly traduced you. Flicking through Parliamentary Portions , a somewhat unlikely cook book consisting entirely of MPs' favourite foods, Monitor came upon Dr Harris' recipe for 'summer sponge cake with fruit and cheese filling'. But what's this? Eating well as an MP is much easier than eating well as a junior doctor, the Lib Dems' health spokesman claims. 'The hospital had very poor catering facilities after 6pm when the last manager went home.' Anyone out there care to engage in a bit of rapid rebuttal?

Parliamentary Portions is such a good read it may well become Monitor's book of the month (£8.99 from Politico's bookshop at, if you're interested). Next week: why do Lib Dem MPs with health service backgrounds favour root vegetables? And does Labour GP and MP Howard Stoate's fondness for carrot cake herald a new era of Lib-Lab co-operation or just a bout of indigestion?

Moving on from books to the box, it appears that Monitor's greatest fan, former health minister turned Treasury big nob Alan Milburn, may be robbed of well-earned television stardom. Our man in the trilby hat and trenchcoat looked on aghast just before Christmas as the minister was pursued by a TV camera crew from the Mark Thomas Comedy Product around the Royal College of Physicians' headquarters, where he had gone to speak at a conference on the future of the district general hospital. Perhaps mindful of the comedian's track record of deflating politicians, our Alan took to the conference podium whispering to an aide: 'I don't want to get involved in that lot when we come out .' But alas, by the t ime he was hurried out of the back door, Mark Thomas and friends were waiting.

Monitor had been so looking forward to watching it all unfold now the series is running, but sadly Channel 4 says that, since the minister has moved on, the episode may never appear. Ho, hum. Back to Newsnight , then.

Our Alan was the NHS heart-throb, of course. But with Valentine's Day approaching, Monitor has fallen to musing on whether Dobbo could be persuaded to relax those 'once-a-week-is-enough' guidelines on Viagra. If it helps him decide, it is also National Impotence Day, according to Schwarz Pharma, which as manufacturer of another anti-impotence drug naturally has nothing but the most altruistic of motives in drawing attention to the fact. So much so that the company has even launched a website,

How romantic.

All of which inexplicably reminds Monitor of the Department of Health press office, where great originality is currently in evidence.

Last January's press release offering, 'Advice to pregnant women during the lambing season' has been reissued, cunningly disguised with a 1999 date on it. Perhaps they could repeat all those great old DoH classics: 'Reforms are delivering improvements in care', 'NHS treating more patients despite rising waiting lists', and Monitor's special favourite: 'Time to move on, says minister'.

Finally, Monitor has no idea how much it costs to commission an opinion poll, but can't help thinking that the Royal College of Nursing should chip in something towards last week's survey by MORI on behalf of the British Medical Association. The medics' union was naturally eager to draw attention to the fact that doctors retain a high level of public trust (about four times that enjoyed by journalists, apparently - though Monitor blames a sampling error). But what's this? Not only do more people agree than disagree with the proposition that doctors 'are more interested in private practice than the NHS', but public satisfaction and sympathy is higher with the nurses than with any other group - doctors included.