The flu jab comes of age!

November 1, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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I’ve been noticing a few improvements around the whole flu jab situation this year. In the previous few years I have a) struggled to book in for one because the surgery receptionists didn’t know about immunosuppression b) been disgusted at the ‘cattle market’ approach to the flu clinic, which I thought was restricted to our rural Norfolk surgery, but then found, via Helen at Pens and Needles extended to Canada too!

Here’s the way it used to work: You fight to get into the clinic in the first place, get your slot (which if I remember rightly was ‘morning’ or ‘afternoon’) and then turn up to join the queue extending all around the waiting room and out the door. You are told to be ready and waiting with your arm exposed ready for jabbing, even though the surgery is freezing because the door is permanently open due to people standing in the entry waiting for flu jabs. The receptionists ask why you were there if you looked under 70, and are puzzled when you tell them … but let you through anyway.  You have now been singled out in front of hundreds of somewhat elderly people who are now all staring at you and wondering if you’re trying to con the system, so you feel great! You get to the far side of the waiting room eventually and are asked to ‘fill in this form’. The form has nothing to do with the flu jab but asks if you smoke and would like anti-smoking advice. (Apparently doing this meant they could tick a box somewhere and claim extra funding for ‘offering anti-smoking advice!) You get through to a corridor where all the doors of the rooms are open and wander about until someone says ‘in here’. You go in, and with the door still open and other bewildered patients pottering about in the corridor behind you, you’re asked, ‘Why are you having the flu jab?’ You tell them … again. They say, ‘OK’ and jab you, and then follow that up with something like, ‘Oh – hope you aren’t allergic to egg or pregnant – should have asked you first.’ Fortunately I was neither!

Here’s how it is now: You phone up and say you need a flu injection. The receptionist says fine, she’ll book you in. She goes to your record, sees you’re not elderly and says, ‘Why?’ You say, ‘Immunosuppressed.’ She says, ‘That’s fine,’ and books you in. To your astonishment you’re given an actual time, 3:10, not ‘afternoon’. Then later on in the week you find out that some of your friends have already had their jabs at the surgery and they’re doing it like a proper clinic – called up individually, closed doors, proper checking that it’s OK to give you one etc. Wow – you’re impressed!

You go for your regular methotrexate blood test and notice a big poster in the surgery window about, of all things, getting the flu jab if you are immunosuppressed! After a general rheumatology chat, taking bloods and general chitchat the nurse says, ‘Have you had your flu jab yet?’ ‘No,’ you say, ‘ but it’s booked in for next week.’ ‘Would you like it today?’ she says. After picking yourself up off the floor, rubbing your ears and asking her if she could please repeat herself because you thought she’d just offered you the flu jab today, and finding that in fact that is what she said, you say, ‘Yes please.’ After she’s sucked the appropriate amount of blood she goes and gets the flu injection. ‘I don’t know if I can roll this shirt up far enough’ you say. ‘ I wasn’t prepared for this.’ ‘That’s OK,’ says the nurse with a grin, ‘We can do it through the shirt. On second thoughts better not, the needles are so flimsy we’re having trouble just getting them through the skin!’

Aha – you think – I’m back in the land of normality now! Damn, I was enjoying this strange fantasy world where the surgery actually seems to be doing flu jabs in a sensible and logical manner.

But then you find you can roll up your shirt and in fact the needle goes in fine, if somewhat painfully!

‘Right,’ you say, ‘I suppose I’d better go and cancel my appointment for next week at the front desk.’ The nurse smiles and says breezily, ‘Oh no need – with this new database system we’ve got I can do it really easily from here,’ and she does!

Now you might think surely that wasn’t actually that much to ask – you might say, as ‘brother Penguin’ did some time ago, that your surgery has been doing this for years, but when you’ve become conditioned to being in the cattle market scenario for so many years, this just seems incredible, fantastic, too good to be true …but it’s not. It really happened.

Wooohoooooo!

Incredibly the nurse told me that some patients had actually complained ‘We wanted to come to the big flu clinic like last year!’ There’s no pleasing some people!

Polly Pulls It Off

March 14, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 9 Comments
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This perfectly innocent post title, no double entendres  intended, is supposed to set the 1950’s scene for you. Maggie (friend and frequent commenter on this blog) has always said that the town where I live is like stepping back into the 1950s, and generally I reckon this is a pretty good thing. The 1950s is a pretty nice, cosy, friendly place to live; that is until you get hit by … da da da daaaa, 1950’s Doctor Man.

Alas, the knee has continued to flare and I decided, after having a lot of stiffness and pain yesterday, that I really should go back and say a) the steroids worked but they ain’t workin’ no more and b) can you ask the physio to have a look at the knee please? So I did. Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, if you make a ‘same day appointment’ (and the choice is same day or 2.5 weeks away if you’re lucky) then you can’t choose your doctor; you just see whoever is available.

Now when I did this two weeks ago I hit the jackpot with Dr Locum Eye-Candy, but alas, this week my luck ran out and I got 1950s Doctor Man. Now don’t get me wrong, he was pleasant enough in a dried-up old stick kind of a way, and true to his 1950s roots he did listen patiently and he did actually bother to examine me properly (two things you certainly can’t count on these days in the NHS!), but then the downside of being in the 1950s kicked in, and I got the 1950s lecture about RA. I thought things had come on a lot since this kind of thing: ‘Well, that’s the nature of the disease. It’s a progressive disease I’m afraid and it will flare now and then. Now, I’m not trying to depress you but really that’s just the way it is and there’s not a lot you can do about it. You’re on a high level of methotrexate and other medication already, so … ’ And so on, and so on, for about five minutes.

I’m not actually saying he’s entirely wrong, by the way – fundamentally that’s probably true, but he didn’t make one single suggestion about sensible things I could do. OK, I wasn’t expecting him to suggest Reiki or a gluten-free diet or anything else that your average 2011 British GP would consider a bit ‘far out’, but what about, for example: exercise … or rest, apply heat … or cold, consider a steroid injection in the joint, come back if it gets worse, have physio, get hubby to do all the cooking, washing up, shopping etc. for the next few weeks. <Grin – of course he wouldn’t suggest that! Not the done thing at all in the 1950 to have a man doing all that!>

I must admit I wasn’t feeling very ‘with it’ and I damn near forgot to actually ask what I’d gone in to ask, which was since I was doing a 50 minute round trip every week for ultrasound treatment on my shoulder at the moment with the physio,  could he please ask the physio to treat the knee too? Finally I did remember, and, give him his due, he agreed immediately and not only that but he actually wrote me a note (with his very smart 1950′s fountain pen) to take in with me, hopefully circumventing the need to wait five weeks for the next official appointment for a knee referral, by which time the flare will probably be over.

I did also ask him whether I should be exercising it or resting it, and he said definitely resting it … but is this right, I wonder, or is this just more 1950s medicine. Not that long ago the only recommendation for RA was ‘bed rest’!

Oral Prednisolone

March 3, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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I’ve read a lot on the net about oral prednisolone and generally I’ve thought, ‘Hmm, glad I don’t need any of that then …’

Me and my big mouth …

Anyway, here’s why. I woke up Tuesday morning and my left knee, which is where I had the major, major, MAJOR problems in 2008 but which has been relatively OK since, was stiff … I mean REALLY stiff, as in couldn’t straighten, couldn’t bend. Oh well … it didn’t last long. It stayed a bit stiff until about lunchtime and then wore off.  It didn’t hurt at all so I decided not to worry about it. ‘One of those things,’ I said to myself, ‘one of those little unpredictable joys of R.A. No doubt that’s the last I’ll hear from that knee for a year or two.’

WRONG! Woke up yesterday morning and the knee was really stiff again, but instead of wearing of by lunchtime it didn’t wear off all day! It still didn’t hurt so I thought, ‘Oh well, maybe it’ll be OK tomorrow.’

You guessed it – this morning it was really stiff again and it hurt (just a bit, but it did hurt). It also felt as though someone had strapped a great big lead weight around it, which says ‘swollen’ to me, although it’s not actually noticeably hot or inflamed.  So I gave in and took the doctor lottery – i.e. ‘same day appointment with a member of the same day team. We can’t tell you who you’ll be seeing and it may be a doctor or a nurse.’

Well it was obviously my lucky day because I saw Dr. Locum Eye-Candy, and apart from being eye-candy he also seemed pretty switched on and sensible and (mostly) listened to what I had to say. OK, so he got slightly confused and when I’d said, ‘This started on Tuesday’ that somehow got translated in his brain to, ‘This is an ongoing problem I’ve had for months’ – but hey, we got that straightened out pretty quickly, so I’ll let him off! (Also perhaps I got a little confused. He was GORGEOUS – made it hard to concentrate on why I was there … Hmm, hubby will proofread this for me later. Perhaps I should take it out … nah … )

So here I am about to experience my first ever oral prednisolone – oh lucky me !

On the bright side, I am taking minimal quantities and assuming it works I will only be on it for three days, so I don’t anticipate any problems. In fact I anticipate a miraculous cure. Let’s hope I’m right. I don’t always hate it when my predictions come true!

Also, on the really, really, really sunny side, IT’S NOT AN INJECTION INTO THE JOINT! (Or indeed an injection into the bum, which is always mildly embarrassing, and would have been ever more so if Dr. Locum Eye-Candy had been giving it to me!)

 

I hate it when my predictions come true!

February 24, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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I posted on 25 January to say that I’d finally given in and made a doctor’s appointment to get a physio referral for the presumably RA-related pains and niggles in my ‘shoulder’ (really acromoclavicular joint, but that’s such a mouthful!) and that by the time the appointment came through I’d be feeling better. Well guess what … it has and I am … mostly.

I am still getting various shoulder niggles but nothing like I was back then. Mind you the appointment isn’t until the middle of next week, so who knows, perhaps I’ll feel awful again by then! (Not that I want to. I really, really don’t want to!)

It’s quite surprising how OK I am, given that I had what I thought was a rather nasty fall on Saturday. I’d come back from a lovely afternoon out with a friend to find that hubby had been busy in my absence and washed all the carpets! (This is a pretty big job, although not as big as it could be given that our downstairs rooms are all carpet free and so is the upstairs office.) I was suitably impressed but my head was obviously full of my afternoon out and didn’t have room in it for common sense, so I went upstairs, walked all over the damp carpets, put on my very non-non-slip slippers, got the soles nicely damp and then, carrying an armload of files, went into the office, with its new laminate floor.) SPLAT! THUMP! OUCH!

Five minutes later hubby wandered up (having failed to hear the thump or the loud penguin squawking), saw me still lying on the floor (wondering whether it would be wise to move and whether we had any handy brandy), made one of those meaningless comments that one does make in such situations, like ‘Are you OK?’ when I patently wasn’t, took a step toward me and very nearly landed right on top of me!

Fortunately he managed to right himself, because that would have been such an embarrassing story to explain to the ambulance crew …

I eventually picked myself up, concluded there was nothing broken or even sprained but that I’d have a bruise the size of a planet in the morning, took a couple of paracetamol and whinged for the rest of the evening … obviously the new laminate floor in the office is springier than I’d thought because I didn’t even have a bruise the size of peanut to show for it! In fact, apart from being slightly stiff, I was fine. (And in case anyone else has the same sense of humour as my brother (which is quite unlikely) the floor is also fine!)

Actually my ‘shoulder’ has been slightly better since the fall … but I don’t think I’ll be patenting it as a new cure!

Doctor, doctor …

February 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 1 Comment
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I suppose I must try to be more fair to my poor beleaguered doctor. There I was complaining the other day that the doctors don’t think my ‘migraines’ are related to my ‘shoulder pain’, and things were getting worse and worse. My shoulder pain was getting to the point where I was waking up many times a night because of it, and the headaches were getting worse too, so I thought better give it another shot. So I finally got the appointment with my GP – who has referred me for physio for my shoulder, as I’d hoped she would – and I said, ‘You know – I’m convinced these migraines I keep getting are related to my shoulder pain.’ I got the usual quizzical look … and then inspiration struck. ‘The thing is,’ I added, ‘it’s not actually shoulder pain, and … erm … I don’t think they’re actually migraines!’

Well, unsurprisingly that did put a rather different complexion on the matter. What I tend to refer to as ‘shoulder pain’ is actually pain the acromoclavicular joint (try spelling that after a glass of wine) – which is the joint between the collar bone and the front part of the arm, so not really the shoulder at all. And although the headache I mentioned in that last post was definitely a classic migraine, most of the headaches I’ve had recently haven’t been. They have been one-sided, but instead of being behind the eye they very much feel like they’re outside the skull, and if I touch my scalp on the painful side it’s really tender. They’re just as painful and debilitating as migraines but without any visual disturbance or sickness. When I managed to explain all that (and I don’t know really why I hadn’t managed to do so in the past!), she thought it was highly likely that the two were in fact related. Apparently headaches like the one I just described are common with neck pain, and my acromoclavicular joint pain is probably actually closer to neck than shoulder pain.

So a mystery solved, one less medical professional to feel frustrated and irritable with, and a referral to physio. All in all a very positive outcome to a visit to the doctor!

End of the line for physio?

June 26, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, fibromyalgia, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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OK, here’s the thing – the geniuses at my local NHS physo department (or should that be genii?) have decreed that in order to ‘be in line with the private sector’ they will only give any patient a maximum of six appointments before they kick them out. (The last three words are, of course, my terminology and not theirs!)

I asked Lovely Physio how this was ‘in line with the private sector’, as I had had to have quite a bit of private treatment before I got into the NHS programme and oddly enough they hadn’t been anxious to see the back of me after six appointments. No surprise there – I was paying them. Why would they want to be shot of me? She said something like, ‘I have no idea, but that’s how they’re presenting it to us!’

I suspect the idea is that by ignoring the fact that there are people with chronic conditions who can benefit enormously from regular therapy and pretending that everyone they see can be ‘cured’ in six appointments, they can massage their figures by getting the waiting list down from the current five weeks to a more ‘in line with the private sector’ one to three weeks.

The complexity of the system emerges from the fact that it’s general practitioner budget that pay for this treatment, but once you were being treated, until now, it was up to each physio to decide when and if to discharge. The GPs had little or no say, but they had to pay. So the idea is that you now have your maximum of six appointments and then go back to the GP if you feel you need to still see a physio, to get re-referred, as I mentioned in the previous post. The GP can, of course, say no. I suspect if I see the one that knows me she would say yes … we’ll have to wait and see, but even if she does we’re looking at a five-week waiting list right now.

One silver lining in the cloud – they have an SOS system whereby if I need to see my physio in the next couple of months I can phone and make an appointment saying I’m on the ‘SOS list’. I can then go in under that and have maybe six appointments then before getting kicked out! Hopefully I won’t need to see her in the next two months, but last time I thought that I only lasted three weeks …

Unfortunately I feel I have very little fight in me at the moment – I don’t know if that might be something to do with the thyroid issues i might or might not have, but that’s the way it is!

Throwing thyroid into the mix

June 15, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 5 Comments
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I went for monthly MTX blood tests today and remembered to ask if the thyroid results were normal – I’d assumed they were, since no one at the surgery had bothered to contact me. They weren’t.

Having said that, they weren’t all that abnormal either, so what are we doing about it? In their case nothing as yet, in my case getting rather confused …and cold …and tired … and achy … but mostly just confused. Until I went in and asked for the results I thought a thyroid test was just that, one test, one answer – OK, not OK, whatever. But no … it turns out there’s a test for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which is produced by the pituitary gland and stimulates thyroxine production from the thyroid gland. Then there’s tests for the two types of hormone the thyroid gland itself produces, thyroxine (T4) and the other one whose name I can’t remember (T3). Counter-intuitively, if you have lots of TSH sloshing about it means your thyroid might be UNDER-active, because you have to produce a lot of TSH to get the thyroid to do anything at all. If you have loads of T3 and/or T4 (produced by the thyroid gland itself) then you obviously have an overactive thyroid as the thyroid is producing loads of the stuff. If you have very little then clearly you have an under-active thyroid.

Symptoms of the latter include feeling cold when it isn’t (box ticked), weight gain or difficulty in losing weight (box ticked), muscle aches (box ticked), abnormal menstrual cycles (oh yeaaaah!), decreased libido (what’s libido again, somebody?), irritability (well … erm … guilty) and memory loss (not sure, can’t remember). However, my levels of T-whatever – not sure if they tested for T3, T4 or both, are in the normal range. My level of TSH though is just outside the normal range – just a smidge too high. As a consequence the docs have decided to wait and see. I can totally understand the logic of this – apparently it does fluctuate and it’s not as if it’s wildly off the scale, so try again in another month and see if it’s still high, and if the levels of T-whatsit have decreased or not.

Really – I can totally understand that – but it’s just sooooo frustrating, as I sit here grumpily shivering, with period pains! (Oh yeah, and a flare just to increase the fun.)

One interesting thing – apparently the most common cause of hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid) is an autoimmune problem. Surprise, surprise!

As to the confusion – I’ve just about got it straight in my head that there are all these tests and roughly what they’re for, but nowhere can I find clear guidance as to what is and isn’t normal range for any of these tests – it seems that for TSH it used to be considered that up to 5.5 was OK, now they reckon about 4.5, or maybe 3.5, or sometimes 2 depending on who you ask, and apparently some authorities in the UK reckon up to 10 is fine! I’m just going to go off and find a nice sandpit to bury my head in for the next month.

No improvement in patient access to RA treatment in seven years

February 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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According to the Management in Practice website , which is a website for GP practice managers, the delay in getting patients proper rheumatoid arthritis treatment is the same as it was seven years ago. I suppose we should be grateful it hasn’t got worse!

Worryingly, to my mind, they say, “The Commons Public Accounts Committee has revealed that patients could suffer damage to their heart and lungs if access to treatment is delayed.” Well I have two things to say on that point. Firstly it’s not exactly a ‘revelation’ by the Commons Public Accounts Committee, but that’s more of a personal gripe about writing style than anything. More fundamentally there appears to be no recognition that patients could suffer permanent joint damage and a drastic reduction of quality of life if access to treatment is delayed. It’s as though ‘heart’ is the magic buzzword – if you put ‘heart’ in your article, at least when it comes to GPs who are forced to be target driven and probably have a big government target about reducing heart disease right now, then people might take action!

Mind you, they say that the average number of visits to a GP is four, before a patient is referred on to a specialist, and blame this on a lack of GP training. I would have thought that wasn’t soooo bad. It is hard to diagnose. It does vary enormously between patients. And it is possible to show symptoms that appear to be RA and then disappear – it happened to a good friend of mine. So I would have thought that an average of three visits (maybe not four) and attempts at less drastic treatment like ‘take Neurofen’ would not be unreasonable. I was very lucky – I had two visits before my referral and the GP spotted immediately that it might be RA and organised a blood test on the first visit. However if I’d been seronegative (negative RF test) then I shudder to think how long it might have taken!

Apparently, according to the same article on the same Commons report, “GPs receive on average only two hours of teaching on musculoskeletal conditions during their training, including minimal coverage of inflammatory arthritis.” I have to say I find that hard to believe, but if it’s true then it’s pretty scary, and it might explain why it’s taking 6-9 months to get people referred.

They also say that there’s a lack of awareness among the public of what symptoms to look for. I’m sure that’s true, and that does stop people going to pester their doctor when they have intermittent pain, but I suspect another thing that stops people going to see their GP is the difficulty in getting an appointment in the first place! But that’s another story for another post on another day …

I see trouble ahead (but then I usually do, don’t I?)

February 3, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | Leave a comment
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Apparently a simple blood test could predict RA years before symptoms appear. Now this could be a great thing – it could mean that in families where RA is known to be prevalent doctors could test those not yet showing symptoms and then keep a special eye on anyone who tests positive, to make sure they’re diagnosed as soon as symptoms start to appear, and treated accordingly. (I say in families where RA is prevalent because I can’t see it becoming a standard test that everyone receives, like TB used to be in this country.)

However, I can also see problems. One problem is that any test can be overly relied upon. I’d put money on it that if they’d tested me I would have come back negative, since my symptoms even now are so mild and my RF test result was so low (although positive … just…) Another problem is one that rears its ugly head almost any time such tests are mentioned … although oddly The Telegraph seem to have missed a trick this time in not mentioning it. It’s not great from a health insurance point of view, is it? Or rather it’s fantastic from a health insurers point of view. They just need to insist anyone they take on is tested first – if you’re positive, ‘We’ll insure you for anything except rheumatoid arthritis …’ Can’t you just see this one coming?

NICE fiddles while RA burns a hole in the economy and our joints

January 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 5 Comments
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I got my shiny new NRAS magazine through the post today. Great to see an article by Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy in there! Well done RA Guy! But there’s always something in there to get me aeriated, and the first magazine of 2010 was no exception!

Interesting also to see a two-page spread on the ‘European Fit for Work Report’. Frankly, I’m not sure there were that many surprises in there, although I was a bit surprised at the number of people who become ‘work disabled’. Apparently 40% leave work altogether within 5 years of diagnosis, which is not happy reading. However, it appears that the main reason for this is people being diagnosed and treated too late or incorrectly. The report recommended ‘new and more inclusive methods to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of treating musculo-skeletal diseases in particular; one that considers more than the up-front costs of medical expenditure and incorporates wider social and economic factors.’ No kidding. In other words, this report recommends doing exactly what NICE doesn’t do. The article goes on to say that ‘NICE in the UK has already begun such a deliberation, although no decision has been reached to date.’ No surprise there then!

Now, my honorable friends, please turn to page 12 of your NRAS magazine. Don’t have one? Not to worry – here’s the headline: ‘People on Enbrel stay in work longer’. It goes on to state that a 500-person study (the COMET study if anyone’s inclined to look it up) showed that those with active early RA were three times less likely to stop working if treated with MTX and Enbrel, rather than MTX alone. Absenteeism was also reduced by almost 50% for those on the combination therapy. But here’s the rub – NICE won’t allow anyone to start on a combination therapy like this until they have been proved unresponsive to at least two other DMARDS including methotrexate … so when does early stop being early? It takes, I would think from my own experience, at least six months to show that a DMARD is not working for you, because it can take them that long to start working. So you’re diagnosed (probably not immediately), you’re given a DMARD if you’re lucky, perhaps hydroxychloroquine, for six months; it doesn’t work. You try MTX (either on its own or in combination with HCQ) for another six months. That doesn’t work either. You’ve now been diagnosed for at least a year. Is this still early enough to count for this study? Perhaps it is. If so, fair enough. If not then are NICE ruining people’s chances of staying healthy yet again. I don’t know the answer – I just pose the question.

And finally to a little article by a brave lady called Jean Burke, who works with NICE to provide a patient viewpoint in their deliberations. Rather her than me but I am full of admiration. Apparently she was asked by a member of an appraisal committee ‘Surely a twenty percent increase in quality of life isn’t worth bothering about?’ Well, I suppose that’s why they need the patient viewpoint. If you’re reading this blog as someone with RA I imagine you’ll see it her way immediately; I know I did. She points out that if the extra 20% means she can make a cup of tea in the morning, go to work or walk to the shops then yes, it’s worth it!

So long as NICE remains in its ivory tower, untouched by all these deliberations about the socioeconomic effects of diseases and so on, I simply cannot see how the system can ever work effectively.

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