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Kick-starting the obesity strategy


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Friday, 26 August 2016

Kick-starting the obesity strategy

Still no blog, but as the editor ekes out a second week of intensive remedial treatment at the Jim Mackey Reset Centre for the Hard to Improve he has managed to find time between classes to answer health-related questions sent in by readers.

Is the NHS running out of words?

Those with long memories may recall how the global shortage of capital letters nearly derailed NHS communications. The problem came to a head with the QIPP programme, where efforts to impose efficiency targets on upper case use (so called capped-up budgets) were undermined by a deluge of new acronyms caused by the programme itself. 

This led to a net increase in NHS consumption of majuscules and the disbanding of the NHS Large Letters Sustainability Team (NHS LLST) with the loss of several hundred jobs.

Now a new crisis is looming. The NHS is running out of verbs. The only one in plentiful supply (and with the all-important Gateway seal of approval) is “kick-start”, which now appears in almost every document issued by NHS England and NHS Improvement.

For example:

  • “Thousands to benefit from kick-start of mental health services transformation” (July 2016)
  • “NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens [to] kick-start a major drive to improve the health and wellbeing of 1.3m health service staff”(September 2015)
  • Mr Stevens was at it again last month when he and NHS Improvement chief Jim Mackey did a double act promising to “stabilise finances and kick-start the wider changes everyone can see are needed” and furthermore “to kick-start a multi-year recovery” (July 2016)
  • This week, “NHS England kick-starts programme to help 30,000 more new or expectant mums with serious mental illness” (August 2016).

The term comes from motorcycling in the era before electronic ignition, which came in with the Japanese machines of the 1970s. Apart from its modernity, the appeal of kick-start – according to NHS comms sources – is “that it conveys a strong sense of action with a useful hint of mild threat”.

What are the health risks of train travel?

Train travel is incredibly risky these days. Many services are quite literally half-full, forcing passengers who need to make PR videos to walk the length of the train to find a suitable spot.

One man shot himself in the foot while filming a protest about the number of unoccupied seats on his service, then got into a row with another man about who had the finest beard and the most credible video evidence.

There were no such problems with a suitable location when his friends took him to find a PR-friendly hospital: “I had my choice of packed and dilapidated A&E departments – all standing room only and long delays,” he joked. “I’d nationalise the lot of them if I had my way.”

Train operators advise anyone thinking about travelling to consider booking a seat, particularly if they hope to run a country one day.

Will the government’s obesity strategy help me to lose weight?

The wait is over for the overweight. The much-anticipated obesity strategy, published this month, has been criticised for being insubstantial and lacking in vital nutrients. But that’s precisely what’s good about it.

The policy equivalent of celery and Ryvita, the obesity strategy’s slender proportions and lightweight approach are exactly what’s needed to set a good example to the porky populace. Another fat volume packed with stodgy evidence and indigestible recommendations would send out all the wrong signals.

And it’s the one strategy you can eat between meals without spoiling your appetite, say nutritionists, because there’s absolutely nothing in it.

Worried about catching an STP?

A lot of people have expressed concerns about this mildly embarrassing problem, so here are the facts.

It’s perfectly safe to collaborate with stakeholders across organisational boundaries as long as you take reasonable precautions. Pooled budgets are rarely a good idea unless you know your partners well and really trust them. Never collaborate fully on a first date because whatever they say at the time, they won’t respect you for it later.

There are lots of myths about STPs. You can’t get one by holding hands, kissing or sharing priorities. But before you enter into a short or long-term planning relationship think about where it may lead – and the potentially life-changing consequences of casual specs.

How do you know if you’ve got an STP? The classic signs include an enlarged footprint, feelings of anxiety (particularly about money), delusions of autonomy and accountability, and loss of the will to live.

If all that sounds a bit scary, don’t worry. Documented cases of STPs are few and far between, and no one is expected to suffer any lasting effects.

Self-improvement editor: Julian Patterson


Chris Brown
Chris Brown says:
Aug 26, 2016 10:34 AM

STP is Scientific Training Programme! Already an NHS Acronym! Abrreviations are unprofessional!

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Aug 26, 2016 11:33 AM

Hi Chris - can't be held responsible for appropriating the term, I'm afraid. Guilty of not spelling it out, though that would have rather undermined the not entirely serious point of the piece.

david seabrooke
david seabrooke says:
Aug 26, 2016 02:17 PM

The NHS and medical profession have long been importing words to support and supplement English from the Latin dictionary, prompting fears that under Brexit many of these will not be allowed to remain.
There are also a number of over-use hotspots - for some time, "support" and "robust" were placed under severe strain, and this problem is spreading to both shorter words like "gap", as well as longer ones such as "contingency" and "deficit". No new acronyms have been developed since the late 1980s and scientists are worried that those we have may lose their effectiveness.

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Sep 01, 2016 02:09 PM

David, you're right, I haven't even scratched the surface. "Success regime" casts doubt on the long-term prospects for the useful word "success". The stock value of "sharing" and "learning" is also plummeting.

As you say, the dearth of acronyms points to deeper, dare I say "systemic" problems.