Disturbing news reaches Monitor this week of a possible alien invasion in the West Midlands. Marking the retirement after 42 years in the NHS of Cathy Matthews, director of nursing for the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital trust in Birmingham, chief executive Neil Taylor told her colleagues at the leaving do: 'She has been in the NHS six years longer than I have been on this planet.' Monitor naturally called the trust to ask which world Mr Taylor originally came from, only to be fobbed off with some story about the comment relating to his youth rather than his arrival on earth (see left). 'That was what he said, and I didn't want to misquote him in the press release,' says spokeswoman Jessamy Kinghorn. 'He really is a lovely man,' she adds, suggesting that perhaps the aliens have the power to manipulate mere earthling minds.
Back on Earth, Monitor has been forced to conclude that Barts and the London trust has no intention of bowing to our campaign to Save Bart's Apostrophe. So, with a heavy heart, Monitor has today written to health secretary Frank Dobson in the following terms: 'Dear Mr Dobson, As you may already know, Monitor has been spearheading an unremitting campaign lasting literally weeks to Save Bart's Apostrophe. During that time we have gathered support from patients' groups, many individuals throughout the NHS, and your own special adviser, Mr Joe McCrae. Unfortunately, those running the hospital resolutely continue to refer to the organisation as Barts and the London trust. As the man credited with saving the hospital, we hope you will now join us in seeking to restore this historic piece of punctuation. We urge you to use your considerable influence with the trust, and wondered whether you might also have a word with your friend Mr Blunkett with a view to including a literacy hour in the NHS management training scheme.' Monitor will pass on Mr Dobson's reply when he gets back from his hols.
Meanwhile, contributions pour in for Apostrophe Aid. Royal Bolton Hospital business manager Patricia Zukowskyz encloses the North Western data quality newsletter from the region's clinical coding unit which, she points out, includes four superfluous apostrophes in an article on the new NHS number. Furthermore, she says, the article could be rewritten to exclude a whole load of short forms, including a few 'we are' and 'it is' contractions. 'This would result in the freeing up of resources, viz 30 apostrophes, and one misuse of 'their'.'
And both Royal Free Hampstead trust human resources director Nigel Turner and Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham multifund's Andrew Smith have been in touch to say that there was indeed a Mr McDonald behind the eponymous catering establishment. Two of them - brothers, in fact. Mr Smith goes on to ask: 'If we are to leave out the apostrophe in Bart's, then surely that makes the word a plural. Who or what are these Barts?
A good question. But Monitor's mind is exercised by something more intriguing. Who authorised the DoH press office to call the Commission for Health Improvement 'CHIMP' in the launch materials? Is this a policy reversal by ministers who previously insisted it was called CHI to avoid all those monkey jokes, or did it sneak through unnoticed? And when ministers notice, will they go ape? Whatever happens, don't forget you read about Peter Homa's imminent elevation to chief chimp here first. Monitor tipped him for the top of the monkey puzzle tree back on 24 June.
Moving on, Monitor is always suspicious of people who tap their fingernails on the table during meetings. Now it appears the doctors among them may be passing on secret messages. Obstetrician Mr Rupert Fawdry and anaesthetist Dr Michael Wee write to Hospital Doctor magazine to suggest that, rather than alarm patients during surgery under regional anaesthetic, surgeons should signal problems in code. 'The 'U' flag is the naval signal for 'You are running into danger'. We would therefore commend to all our colleagues the use of a tuneful repetition of the Morse 'U' equivalent (DI-DI-DAAA) as an excellent and potentially unambiguous means of vital communication,' they write. 'The code could be easily transmitted non-vocally with the use of diathermy triggered in 'short-short-long' blasts.' Or perhaps they could simply stick to running up flags. 'England expects this day that every anaesthetist shall do his duty - and give us a peck on the cheek, Dr Hardy.'