Like all good media barons, Lord Monitor was present in the Upper House for the committee stage of the Health Bill. It was not a good day for the fragrant Baroness Hayman, who got into difficulties defending the Commission for Health Improvement's absolute right to say anything it likes about anyone it wants. Ministerial spinners in the advisers' box were soon frantically scribbling notes. But there is life in the Conservative corpse yet, and Graeme Tennyson, political bagman to Ann Widdecombe, managed to get in first. Leaping about and waving a large sheet of paper, he succeeded in attracting the attention of the attendant, who wandered over at a leisurely pace to take the message to Tory health spokesman Earl Howe. By the time he made his way back to the frantic DoH boys it was too late - the baroness had lost the point. And the contents of Tennyson's urgent message? It was, he tells Monitor's aristocratic chums, 'a polite thank you note for dinner in the Lords' dining room earlier - well, it would have been rude not to'.
Rude or not, Dobbo's decision to despatch Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam to deliver the keynote speech at last week's Royal College of Nursing bash in Harrogate was a wise one. After all, when Dobbo told the nurses two years ago that they weren't going to get a big pay rise, they cheered him to the rafters. When he went last year after staging an otherwise reasonable award, they booed and heckled. In the wake of an increase worth up to 15 per cent for some of their number, they might have lynched him. As it was, Monitor felt it advisable to join in the general adulation of Dr Mo as she left the platform with her heavily armed guard.
Much talk of nursing shortages in Harrogate, of course. It is a problem Dobbo is keen to solve, though not so desperate as to go 'chasing nurses in Moscow'. The idea, put forward in a Times diary piece, that he was trying to recruit '2,000 fresh Muscovites to slip into starched whites' drew a swift rebuttal notice from the DoH, which bullied The Thunderer into admitting that its source was a businessman. 'This private businessman has been asked by a private recruitment agency, based in London, to find Russian recruits who could then be offered to the NHS,' it rebuts. 'The diarist did not know of any specific request from the NHS for this work to be carried out, nor of any activity in Moscow by any part of the NHS.' In fact, it says, the government 'has launched a£5m nurse recruitment campaign, including a national Nurse Recruitment Hotline (0845-60 60 655)'. Callers in Moscow are advised to prefix that number with the code 007...
Rushing back from Harrogate to the Barbican Centre, Monitor was touched at the ceremony laid on by Kingston University to bestow on our old friend Ray Rowden an honorary doctorate for his contribution to healthcare. And how lovely he looked in a rather fetching two-tone blue academic gown and pom-pommed hat. Just one question: the university asserts that, during Ray's time as director, the Institute of Health Services Management's membership 'increased by 20 per cent'. So that's up from the 10,278 members IHSM claimed in its 1994-95 annual report, to the 8,500 it had when he left, then?
And so to Widnes, where Chester and Halton Community trust finance boss David Ellcock has more news of Sporty Spice's mum. 'I am now reliably informed (by Chris Griffiths, our chief exec, no less) that the redoubtable Mrs O'Neill still works for the trust occasionally as she is a member of our clerical staff bank,' he says. 'I'm not sure whether or not she comes to work in her Tina Turner garb...' Well, really. These are the things people read Monitor to discover, Mr Ellcock. Please go and find out.
Monitor reader Sarah Carr also remembers Joan O'Neill from 'my early days' as a Mersey region management trainee. She recalls: 'I remember Joan talking about her Tina Turner act (which she used to do in the evenings and at weekends then) and about getting 'Melanie' into some sort of stage school.' But more of that next week.
Finally, a purchase order for four HSJ ring binders arrives at Monitor Towers. But you can't be too careful these days. So the order insists: 'All suppliers of goods to the Norfolk Mental Health Care trust must warrant and guarantee that the goods are fully YEAR 2000 COMPLIANT as defined in the BSI definition of Year 2000 Conformity Requirements in document DISC PD 2000 - 1.' Even now experiments are under way at our top secret laboratory complex to ensure that the binders won't spring open at midnight on 31 December.