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Light side: 111 nuisance calls • Kent patients’ French choice • Xmas No1

111 nuisance calls
You could almost hear the PR cogs creaking when those behind the benighted 111 non-emergency NHS helpline pounced on the Christmas mini-silly season to highlight some of the more ridiculous time-wasting calls by the far-out fringes of Joe Public.

A sick kitten, advice on an overly salted meal, stuck earrings, and a “hit-and-run” involving a squirrel were among the less-than-emergency calls received by 999 and 111 handlers.

While such calls do indeed place an unwelcome and all-too-common strain on our hard-pressed health service, the PR release came amid a barrage of criticism of the state of the 111 helpline, which has seen the cost-cutting removal of trained medical professionals in call centres blamed for a spike in A&E referrals, and staff shortages leading to lengthy waits on hold.

One can’t help but think that nuisance calls, while they must be condemned, are not the biggest problem with this dangerously watered down replacement for NHS Direct.

Kent patients’ French choice
In one of the more bizarre examples of the “choice” agenda much-loved of politicians seeking to make their mark as NHS modernisers, commissioners in Kent have signed a deal to ship patients to French hospitals for treatment.

Apparently the arrangement, which is set to come into force from April, will see health costs covered by NHS South Kent Coast Clinical Commissioning Group, but patients expected to cover their own travel costs and expenses.

While some may relish the chance of combining an operation in France with some sightseeing – no doubt glossy brochures to this effect are being printed in anticipation – it’s hard to escape the feeling that perhaps funding hospital services this side of the Channel should be the top priority for taxpayers’ cash.

Xmas No1
The Lewisham and Greenwich NHS choir made it to the Christmas No1 slot with their version of A Bridge Over You, reflecting public support for the service and ensuring some welcome positive publicity for health workers.

Their endeavours also had another healthy effect – keeping pop tearaway Justin Bieber from a slot that has in the past been home to such classics as 1996’s eponymous track by Mr Blobby.

A week later Bieber did grab the top spot with What Do You Mean? – unfortunately not a rebuttal of policy-makers’ attempts to smear doctors during the contract dispute, but a typically turgid rumination on teenage love.