Monday, August 22, 2005

Column, July 4 2005

Sorry I've been remiss.

Here's one from July, more to follow.

If there's anyone out there reading them that is.

I’M sorry I’ve been busy in the last week but can you tell me which day they found a cure for cancer?
And my attention must have strayed quite a bit, because apparently they also saw off heart disease.
Respiratory diseases became a thing of the past while I nipped to the shops and didn’t have my eye on the game.
Strokes were solved while I was having a nap.
Medical miracles every one and this can only explain why the British Medical Association’s illustrious membership turned their mighty collective brain to the subject of that other mass killer – cycle helmets.
Or rather, that is, the lack of cycle helmets.
Cyclists venturing out without the benefit of a large lump of expanded polystyrene was something up with which the BMA would not put.
I tell you, they must blooming well hate that Alexander Fleming chap, he had it easy didn’t he? Grew a bit of mould on a few melons, found it patched up cuts something marvellous and hey presto he’s got penicillin and he’s saved half the planet.
They’re running out of fixes like that one, hence they turn to cycle helmets. Whichever member of the Brains Trust it was that put this on the BMA agenda, I suspect he’ll be waiting a while before the Nobel Committee come a calling.
But why get so worked up at what seems a very sensible idea? Helmets are bound to make you safer as a cyclist aren’t they?
Well, this is where it gets bit complicated, but basically the answer is yes, but only some of the time.
And why should we get worked up about it in Wales, especially if we don’t go biking? I’ll get to that in a minute, stay with me.
A helmet only protects you from certain types of impact, and if your brain gets rattled about enough there’s nothing a helmet will do to protect you. Sadly some cyclists don’t realise that and they think a helmet makes them indestructible – it doesn’t as they and their next of kin find out.
Secondly, a helmet makes motorists think you’re indestructible and they drive even more recklessly around you.
Thirdly, and this is where the BMA should have been really paying attention instead of seeking to grab headlines. Where they have made cycle helmets compulsory, such as parts of Australia, people gave up cycling. And what happened then? The rate of heart disease went up.
Fewer people got on bikes, they got fatter, they got coronary heart disease and they died. All because an Australia politician thought it would be a great idea to make everyone wear helmets.
Which brings us back to where I started. In 2002 there were about 500,000 deaths in the UK. Of those deaths 39 per cent – 195,000 – were due to coronary heart disease.
And how many cyclists died on the roads that year? 130.
Now, even if every one of those deaths could have been prevented by the using of a helmet, and I’m prepared to bet that quite a few of those killed were actually wearing helmets, you have to wonder at the BMA’s sense of priorities.
Instead of focusing on the UK’s number 1 killer they decide to wade into something they clearly have not read the research on, and, after a particularly short and ill-informed debate, they decide they want cyclists to be compelled to wear helmets.
Because heart disease is a much tougher nut to crack. They’re going to have to get us to change our whole lifestyle. Instead of laws to compel cyclists to wear helmets I’d like to have seen the BMA try to ban chips. They’d need more than a good bedside manner to push that through.
Now, you might be tempted to trot out the well-worn cliché “Well, if it saves one life….etc, etc” Just don’t, we’ve already shown that for all the lives it saves, more will be lost because people won’t take up cycling and they’ll die of heart disease as a result.
Which brings me round to Wales. Why should we care here more than anyone else?
Because we’re trying, and succeeding, in cornering the activity holiday market in the UK.
As was revealed last week, for every £1 spent on promoting Wales as the great outdoors, tourists spend £25 in return, which is better than most of us do on the lottery every week.
So just as we win a hard-fought battle for visitors, the BMA starts putting them off cycling by telling them that if they do it without a helmet some policeman should nick them. And I’m sure the police are well pleased with the BMA for handing them that victimless crime to pursue in the masses of free time they have left over from tackling the binge drinkers who really are filling most hospitals’ A&E units.
Still, who am I to stand between the BMA and another headline? After all, it probably won’t be this generation of doctors who will pick up the pieces. It will be the next, whose wards will be full of even more cardiac patients whose presence could have been avoided if the BMA had listened to sense instead of its own prejudices.

GREAT concerts, great bands, wonderful cause and Sir Bob, eh, well, he’s a saint isn’t he?
Well, let’s leave aside the crushing irony of some of the world’s most fabulously wealthy rock stars telling us we should do something about world poverty.
Let’s skate over the fact that more than a few of them will have teams of accountants working for them to help them evade tax which goes, amongst other things, toward overseas aid.
And let’s turn a blind eye to the fact that amongst their number may be a fair few tax exiles whose convenient country of residence may not even pay overseas aid at all.
And let’s just imagine that the G8 leaders will give two hoots what was said at the Live8 concerts even though they know full well that if they cut us a tax break come election time we will troop to the polling booths like loyal little voters no matter how many starving Africans fill our TV screens.
So how do we make poverty history. Well trading fairly might be a start, and let’s take the example of sugar.
The EU grows masses of it, and it subsidises its farmers who grow it to the tune of €1.5billion a year.
It closes its sugar markets to third world imports and then dumps its excess production onto markets in the rest of the world, preventing developing countries from getting a decent price for their sugar.
So lets make poverty history, lets trade sugar fairly. To do so will mean some revision to the Common Agricultural Policy and as we’ve seen recently, that’s not going to happen overnight.
Making poverty history is the noblest of causes, but it is not a cause that is served well by a bunch of overpaid rock stars getting up on stage and saying it’s an easy thing to do.
That sort of trite reasoning invites the same sound-bite response from the G8 leaders and that is the last thing that those in poverty need.

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