Monitor has been sounding out Dr Mike Dixon about his antecedents. With that bow-tie and slightly nutty professor look, he does have something of the boffin about him, and it wouldn't have surprised Monitor to discover that the PCG Alliance boss was descended from the inventor of the steam-driven tieknotting machine (patent applied for) or some such. But Monitor's favourite GP confides: 'I think in recent history we have been innovators rather than inventors.' His great uncle Alfred (on his father's side) was involved in developing the tank, though - and even commanded one of the first to go into battle. It was a bit of a surprise to the family that he made it all the way through the First World War.
His maternal grandfather, Fred, meanwhile, imported one of the first tractors into the country. 'He was the butt of jokes from Lincolnshire farmers, who said it would never take on. But he did die a wealthy man, ' he says. All of which inspires Doc Dixon to wax lyrical on parallels with primary care reforms today and the importance of testing things 'in the field'. Very Thought for the Day, vicar: 'You know, watching a Massey Ferguson as it wallowed through the mire the other day, I was reminded how very much a tractor is like a primary care trust. . .'
Meanwhile, news arrives that South Downs Health trust (that's Brighton General Hospital for the uninitiated) has invested neither in tractors nor tanks but motorbikes. So concerned was the board at the possibility of a communications failure come the millennium that it has put its cash into a couple of little 125cc machines for staff to ride around on , taking urgent messages from one site to another. 'It is a measure of last resort' in case the phone system goes down and street parties stop cars getting through, explains a spokesperson. And what will happen to the motorbikes in the new year? 'They'll be sold off.'
Perhaps the Department of Health press office would find them useful. The great communicators did their bit for media-minister relations recently with a little drinks party at Richmond House. A lovely event it was too, as hacks downed pens for the evening to quaff warm white wine. Meanwhile, work was going on apace in the press office - from where invitations were duly being faxed out to health correspondents, inviting them to the launch of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence's work programme at 9.30am the following morning. So how many people turned up for the launch? Er, one. None of the rest got the invites as they'd all been at Richmond House when the paperwork arrived.
NICE is all very well, but what about cracking down on poorly performing doctors? British Association of Medical Managers boss Dr Jenny Simpson confides to Monitor that she is concerned that the initiative may have a terrible impact on the social lives of medical directors. Now that they are going to have to appraise everyone they've been drinking sherry with for the past 20 years, they could become social lepers. Still, as Dr Jenny points out, things may turn out for the best if it forces them to get out and make a few friends.
Who knows who they might end up meeting. Monitor is indebted to the St George's Hospital medical school newsletter for the touching story of med school old boy Dr Douglas Bilbey's account of 'the day I met Elvis'. Apparently, he was working in Las Vegas when the King came in with a sore throat. Undaunted, he leapt into action, armed only with the resources of a hospital emergency room and the aid of a professor in otolaryngology. Treatment over, 'the King turned to me and asked for his bill'.
'After I told him there was no charge as far as I was concerned, he looked at my wrist and said: 'Doc, you should have a better watch than that, ' and took off his watch, gave it to me and walked out. It was a Patek Philippe .' So does he treasure it to this day? Does he heck . He flogged it back in 1983 for $20,000.
And finally, back to the DoH press office - well, you usually have to call at least twice to get a response. An HSJ reporter was taken aback when she asked the press officer fielding queries on litigation about a mediation pilot scheme mentioned in the NHS Litigation Authority's annual report: 'What is mediation?' the hapless DoH minion enquired. But not half as surprised as her colleague, who wanted details of the number of people sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Half a day and two hours after deadline later, the press officer called back. 'I did understand your question, and I have talked to somebody about it, but what exactly is sectioning?' asked the authoritative voice of government.