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They’re toast!

Publishing Date : 11 December, 2018

Stuart White
The World in Black-N-White

The story I’m about to relate fits into the category of ‘you couldn’t make it up’.    It reads like a spoof, the sort of press article that makes you check the date on the publication to make sure it’s not April 1st  but I promise you there’s a serious side which I’ll cover after you’ve had a moment to read and digest – almost literally.  

I’ll explain:

Staff at University Hospital in Southampton have been issued with detailed instructions on how to make toast.  The step-by-step guide, a double-poster which includes a full equipment list, was put up in a ward kitchen at the hospital, warning  staff not to attempt the task unless they are fully-trained.

The poster lays out in minute detail instructions on the equipment and procedure for producing a piece of toasted bread, telling staff to ‘place required bread into slots’ and then to ‘turn toaster dial to setting 2.5 and push lever down’.  Users are then instructed to ‘wait beside the toaster until completion of the full cycle’ and ‘remove with plastic tongs.

After successfully toasting the bread, workers are guided to place ‘in either beverage trolley, toast compartment’ or a ‘suitable receptacle’ such as a plate or tray, and serve it to patients with ‘butter/margarine and appropriate conserves, knife and napkin’.
In case of potential confusion,  officials included  ‘toaster’ and ‘brown or white bread’ on a list of ‘required equipment’ for making the toast.

Understandably, health officials have been criticised for wasting NHS time and money writing the painfully obvious instructions.  Conservative MP Nadine Dorries – a former nurse – told The Sun: ‘With all the qualifications these nurses have, isn’t it blindly obvious on how to make a piece of toast?  When I was a trainee, my first job in the mornings was to make 60 rounds of toast for the patients. I would not have had the time to read instructions.’

Another source added: ‘It’s absolute madness. Someone was paid to sit there and write this. So much time on producing something so stupid.’  And Joyce Robbins of Patient Concern goes further, saying  ‘It treats the staff like little children who don’t know what to do.  ‘We are always being told the NHS is overstretched. I thought they would have found better things to spend their time and money on.’

The hospital defended the instructions, which were drawn up by NHS senior risk advisor and Serco operations executive William Storrs.  Serco was brought in as the hospital’s caterers last year at a cost of £125 million (P325m). A hospital spokesman said the document was written to ‘ensure staff do not cause unnecessary disruption by burning toast and triggering fire alarms.’

So that’s the silly story.  The very idea that anyone living in a First World country would not know how to operate an electric toaster is completely absurd and incredible.  In fact any person of reasonable intelligence, even if they’d never come across an automatic toaster before, should be able to work out how to operate it without much difficulty.  Most of them come with only 2 controls – a length of time dial and a push-down lever – even considering some heat is required to brown the bread, this is really child’s play.

However, the assumption that staff are all as thick as a slice of bread is not the bigger picture here.  The serious problem is the wasting of money in a government subsidised industry, the hiring of people to fill a position which is an unnecessary sinecure and of course the unjustifiable redirection of public funding from a vital public service to complete frivolity.

For many years the UK ‘s NHS, or National Health Service, was the envy of the world.  Set up by a Labour government post World War II, it was part of a major introduction of cradle to grave welfare services,  ensuring that never again could any citizen slip through the cracks of poverty; that everyone would receive healthcare free at the point of use, this service to be paid for out of government coffers,  a way of  sharing  a portion of income tax amongst the entire population to ensure a healthy nation.  The service included preventative measures such as free inoculation, free orange juice and milk in schools for young children, dental treatment, GP appointments, hospital stays, surgical procedures, post operative care and prescriptions and it was effectively free for all.

Over the past 70 years of its existence it has grown in its remit and grown in its reach.  However, over the past decade or so it has become severely constrained and cash-strapped as the UK population has grown, partly through immigration and partly through a nation living longer.   This latter point perhaps indicates how much the modern NHS has become a victim of its success;  it has succeeded in extending the average life expectancy of the average man or woman but of course the health care needs of the elderly are far greater than those of younger people.

In addition, the massive strides in medical technology and breakthroughs in disease whether your own region is able to afford your specialist care or expensive drug programme research  and treatments, has put further constraints on the finite NHS budget.  New technologies and drugs are life-saving and laudable but they all cost more money, very much more money in many cases.  As a result there are now variations around the country in terms of care and treatments available, depending on local budgets, a variation which is commonly referred to as the ‘post code lottery’, in other words,.

So it is in the light of this that University Hospital’s  ludicrous instruction poster must be examined; the decision to divert monies which could be better spent on patients.  It’s a fair bet that most of the staff at the hospital, from the ancillary workers to the most-skilled cardiac surgeon – can already operate a toaster and frankly if anyone in the hospital’s employ is no inept that this task is beyond them, then perhaps they could and should be ‘let go’ .

There’s an expression in English, a comic way of referring to someone who has passed on which is that they are ‘brown bread’,  Cockney rhyming slang for ‘dead’  Might I respectfully suggest that in terms of its usefulness, the commissioner of the poster’s job should go the  same way?



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