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All these patients sucking on designer water bottles really get up my nose

Too many of my patients seem to have developed a drink problem recently. I'm not talking about alcohol; I'm used to that. I can cope with the boozers. But over recent months, more and more of my patients seem to be entering the consulting room clutching plastic bottles of water, from which they take life-giving sips to keep them going through the arduous 10-minute consultation.

They come in, they sit down, they plonk a bottle of Vittel or Evian down on my desk, and they take a swallow between, or sometimes during, each sentence. What is going on here? And why does it irritate me so much?

Like most physicians I'm a firm believer in taking in an adequate amount of fluid each day. It's good for the kidneys, it promotes hydration, and it stops you from dropping down dead from thirst. But why has this activity become a matter of such public display?

Our parents would be astonished. Clean water in our society is one of the few things that are effectively free. You turn on a tap and this pure, unlimited resource pours out. You can have as much as you like. I was brought up in Hartlepool, a town built on magnesian limestone, and the stuff that comes out of the taps is effectively Perrier water without the bubbles. In Sunderland, our water runs down from the Keilder Reservoir. It's clean, it's sharp and invariably turns up at a bracing four degrees centigrade. It is a pleasure to drink.

British society has many faults, but it is a proven fact that we have the purest and the best water supply of any country in the world. It is economic madness to import water from France or Italy or Switzerland. It might have a detailed breakdown of the mineral content on the side of the bottle, it might have been filtered through alpine mountains for thousands of years, but if it is so good, why does it have a 'best before' date printed on the container?

I think the clue is in the bottle itself. My patients tend to be drinking from these half litre jobs (and what is wrong with an honest pint, I may ask?) that have a plastic nipple-type arrangement on the top. Freud might have taken an interest in that.

I decided to make further inquiries, and picked on someone at random. 'Putting your whiplash injury to one side for the moment, might I ask why you keep drinking from that bottle of French water?' My patient was nonplussed for a second. 'Well, Dr Bedford told me I should keep my fluid intake up. And the calcium will help my bones.'

'I see from your records that Dr Bedford also suggested that cycling, swimming and sex would also help your neck problem. And yet I notice you're not doing any of those things during this consultation.' My patient looked at me blankly, or rather, even more blankly than before. 'I tell you what,' I continued. 'Put the water away and switch your mobile phone back on. It's much less irritating'.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland

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