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SUPERSIZE MY NHS

06-10-2008

Ronald McDonald

David Cameron has been reluctant to criticise Ronald McDonald's role in providing accommodation for the NHS - despite our national obesity epidemic. Now why would that be, wonders David Nicholl.

In last week’s Panorama, I took David Cameron head-on about the involvement of the private sector in the NHS.

I specifically raised the issue of the fast food giant, McDonalds, assisting with accommodation in children’s wards, such as in Cameron’s local hospital, the John Radcliffe.

I would emphasize I am not against big business giving money to charity, but I would regard the role of Ronald McDonald in the NHS as nothing more than a blatant attempt to improve McDonalds brand image.

If we are to have a taxation-funded health system then I think it is entirely reasonable that the hospital should provide accommodation for the parents of sick children, particularly where they have travelled a considerable distance for complex tertiary care.

Cameron felt unable to comment, but when I pushed him to state where one should draw the line, a "Benson & Hedges lung unit", he agreed that would be ridiculous. But is it so crazy? Hospitals and universities in this country have, by in large, refused to take any money from the tobacco industry, and rightly so.

Should the fast food industry be any different when it is one of the main culprits behind obesity? After all, over 30,000 deaths annually are due to obesity in England alone.

The most recent evidence, from 2002, showed that obesity was costing the NHS alone £500 million a year. So the last thing the NHS needs is subliminal advertising next to children’s wards from one of the biggest fast food companies in the World.

Yet there are no less than 12 Ronald McDonald Houses and 29 sets of Ronald McDonald Family Rooms across the UK in a variety of hospitals. So far, we have not managed to go as far as the US, where there is even a Ronald McDonald Children’s Hospital in Illinois- you can even get an appointment for your child’s obesity or nutrition-related illness in the paediatric metabolic clinic.

Last year, we had the institution of a national smoking ban which will lead to thousands of lives saved through a reduction in smoking related deaths. If we really want to improve the health of the nation, all of us, individually and politically should be looking at how we can reduce the epidemic of obesity.

The question really is whether the politicians have the guts to take on the issue? There are effective measures that the government could make - a ban on junk food advertising in hospitals would be start, for that is what these Ronald McDonald units are.

Perhaps Cameron was reluctant to criticise the government’s obesity strategy as at least one of his most senior MPs, Michael Howard, had attended a gala dinner in support of the Ronald McDonald foundation.

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