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The problems with 'Illness Of The Moment' campaigns

Instead of winding down in the evening, Copperfield is wound up by a man whose head is on fire. He expects Essex man to be even more shocked by the stroke campaign and to this isn't necessarily a good thing.

Instead of winding down in the evening, Copperfield is wound up by a man whose head is on fire. He expects Essex man to be even more shocked by the stroke campaign and to this isn't necessarily a good thing.



There I was, innocently enjoying some Sauvignon-enhanced quality time watching the TV, when I was confronted by a bloke whose head was on fire. It was pretty harrowing, I can tell you.

OK, it was only an advert, and it was designed to grab attention, but it was an unpleasant way to be shaken from my state of torpor. And shock soon gave way to resigned annoyance.

Because this was yet another advertising campaign to raise awareness of the Illness Of the Moment – in this case, stroke.

Thus we had a little tableau to illustrate the campaign's snappy acronym FAST. That's Face (has their face fallen on one side?); Arms (can they raise both arms and keep them there?); Speech (is their speech slurred?); and Time (time to call 999 if you see any single one of these signs).

Ho hum. Well intentioned as ever, but risible as usual. After all, the ad depicted a geezer down the pub watching ‘the match'. Under those circumstances, everyone's speech is slurred.

And everyone has unilateral weakness of one arm, but it's caused by repeated raising of pints to mouth, not cerebral ischaemia. As for, ‘Has their face fallen on one side?'…facial palsy's pretty common in Essex pubs – probably something to do with being glassed in the area of the 7th cranial nerve.

Besides, check out that wording again….'If you see any single one of these signs…' So you only need one to justify picking up the phone.

Basically, this gives Essex man carte blanche to call an ambulance to take him home from the pub after a session. As for whether it will actually improve the prognosis of people with strokes, I have my doubts. After all, we had to contend with the ‘Doubt kills' campaign a couple of years ago, merrily informing the public that ‘A chest pain is your heart saying call 999'.

I have no idea if this saved any lives but I suspect it pissed off ambulance crews, I'm pretty sure it bumped up the queues at Casualty and I know for a fact that it prompted some unnecessary ‘urgents' in my surgery.

I have no doubt these campaigns are well meant. My problem is whether they're well judged. For every person they ‘save', I suspect there's hundreds who are unnecessarily freaked out – which means those who really need help will have to wait longer.

So do they do more harm than good? Where's the evidence? Until there is any, should there be a moratorium on these campaigns?

I think so. If nothing else, it'll mean I can carry on my relaxation therapy of slugging back the Sauvignon - hopefully until I go slurry and drop the glass…

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