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Lifestyle and the NHS

I was on The Big Questions (BBC1, above) yesterday.

The programme was broadcast from a secondary school just outside York. They wanted guests to arrive by 8.45 so I had to leave home shortly after six to drive the 138 miles from Cambridgeshire.

When I arrived there were outside broadcast vans in the car park and the staff room had been commandeered as a green room.

I introduced myself to one or two guests including Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum and we talked about Formula 1 (which he likes) and boxing (which he doesn't).

Presenter Nicky Campbell then came to say hello. As I've mentioned before, Nicky and I were at Aberdeen University together. I didn't know him well - he was one or two years below me - but our paths crossed via a student newspaper I edited and I've followed his career with interest.

We had a brief chat before we were taken downstairs to a large room that had been converted into a makeshift studio.

Prior to the live broadcast there was a 'rehearsal' to check mics etc. Guests and members of the audience were encouraged to talk about the election but as I was wearing my Forest hat I preferred to keep quiet.

If you watch The Big Questions you'll know that each week they feature three topics, devoting approximately 18-minutes to each one.

This week the subjects were 'Should the NHS ration according to lifestyle?', 'Is welfare reform working?' and 'Are your actions more important than your beliefs?'

The lifestyle issue was first up but instead of developing into a debate it was more a series of non-related statements by various guests, followed by two or three comments from members of the audience.

My contribution was limited to a handful of soundbites.

It's "morally wrong", I said, to deny people operations because of their lifestyles.

It's also "cruel" because if you're waiting for a hip or knee replacement you may be in "massive, physical pain" or unable to move.

Delaying operations would still cost the NHS money, I said, because patients may need medication and physiotherapy while they are waiting for their operations.

"No smoker should feel any guilt for smoking," I added, because they make a "massive contribution" to the welfare state and the NHS would "struggle without the tobacco taxes that smokers contribute."

I got a smattering of applause for saying I was overweight and would like to lose weight but didn't want the government to force me to lose weight by "introducing, for example, sugar taxes."

Later I got a bit more applause when I tackled a member of the audience who complained about the food and drink industries "supersizing us" (sic) with "giant capucinos you could take a swim in."

"People have a choice not to drink these things," I retorted. "We can make up our own minds."

There appeared to be very little support for the idea that the NHS should ration treatment on the basis of lifestyle but the 'debate' was so unfocused it was difficult to draw any conclusions.

As usual some speakers seemed to think the answer to everything lies in pouring more and more money into the health service or increasing taxes.

In hindsight I regret not suggesting that health is the new religion, with people increasingly classified as saints or sinners.

Given the nature of the programme, which describes itself as a series of "moral, ethical and religious" debates, it would have been more apposite.

Next time, perhaps.

PS. You can watch yesterday's episode of The Big Questions here.

They were going to describe Forest as "pro-smoking". After I put them right the caption on the screen was changed to 'Forest, lifestyle choice lobby'.

That has a nice ring to it.

PPS. My daughter, after seeing the programme, said, "You always seem so angry."

It's not me, it's my job!

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Reader Comments (9)

Regarding the pro-smoking comment, when once setting a quiz question (what does the acronym FOREST stand for?), I used the description, 'anti anti-smoking group'.

Monday, May 1, 2017 at 14:03 | Unregistered Commentersmofunking

It is impossible not to get angry about the smoking issue because of the unjust way that smokers are treated in a hypocritical society that claims everyone matters except for those deemed worthless.

Thanks for getting angry. I have been on a programme hosted by Campbell before and it is clear he is smokerphobic.

It would be nice if just one of these so called debates was hosted by someone more impartial.

As far as the issue of rationing treatment is concerned, that would be ok with me only if the Govt refunds my 50 years of product tax and working life of NI too. Then I could take care of my own health needs without having to fund the swivel eyed smokerphobics healthcare too.

Monday, May 1, 2017 at 15:03 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

To the best of my knowledge, Pat, Nicky Campbell is a former smoker and, to be fair to him, I couldn't fault his impartiality yesterday. He's not to everyone's taste (who is?) but I've always admired him as a broadcaster. I always get the sense that he does his homework and is well briefed on the many subjects to has to tackle on TV and radio.

Monday, May 1, 2017 at 16:50 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

When I've heard him interview a smoker on radio, his first question is "how many have you had this morning?" That is a prejudicial question, hence my belief that his view is not impartial. He clearly buys into the smoker addict propaganda. There are other things he has said, and ways he has handled interviews that have made me wonder whether his research has been one sided from the experts who the media generally seem to trust on this issue with no shred of doubt. Former smokers are rarely our friends and that alone is certainly no indication of being smoker-friendly.

If you felt he treated you fairly and the issue impartially on this occasion, then I won't argue with that. It is true that not all presenters can please everyone. Ask Katie Hopkins 😉 I used to like Campbell but that changed when he began to offend me.

Monday, May 1, 2017 at 17:51 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

"...but instead of developing into a debate it was more a series of non-related statements by various guests, followed by two or three comments from members of the audience."

It's like that every week...
I've often thought that it would be better if they devoted the entire programme to one topic.

I watched the programme live and thought that you were very robust in your comments, Simon. I especially liked the one that smokers shouldn't be ashamed when they contribute £12b to the treasury. As usual, the anti-smoking contingent couldn't quite grasp the fact that smokers are net contributors to the NHS.

Monday, May 1, 2017 at 18:08 | Unregistered CommenterJay

I object massively to our government deciding the minimum price, and minimum purchase on a commercial product! If you're addicted to tobacco, hiking the price is just going to make us all poorer, with less money to spend on other things (like business, leisure etc) I have started a petition to send to the government (I have until the 3rd to get enough signatures) Please share it too

Monday, May 1, 2017 at 19:33 | Unregistered CommenterSally Robinson

"They were going to describe Forest as "pro-smoking". After I put them right the caption on the screen was changed to 'Forest, lifestyle choice lobby'.

That has a nice ring to it."

Good for you Simon for setting them straight.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017 at 6:02 | Unregistered Commenterjredheadgirl

I didn't see the programme, but I always get the impression Nicky Campbell is in the side of the smokers. Same with Tony Livesey.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017 at 11:52 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

Sally Robinson,

I went to have a look at your petition which appears to have been signed by 5 people but it has been taken down to be checked to ensure "it meets the petition standard" before being published.

What was it for?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017 at 12:54 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

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