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Way beyond a joke

Bob Monkhouse must be turning in his grave over the latest health promotion juggernaut

Bob Monkhouse must be turning in his grave over the latest health promotion juggernaut

Bob Monkhouse is back. Four years after his death, the jokemeister is all over our television screens again, strolling around a graveyard in remarkably poor taste, and telling us, in between a few choice one-liners, about the prostate cancer that caused his death.

We can thank computer-generated imagery, a body double, and an impressionist for this deeply distasteful grave-digging exercise. The fact that Mrs Monkhouse has given her blessing to this profoundly dodgy PR stunt does not, in my view, give it any gravitas or dignity.

'Bob would have approved,' says Mrs M, but frankly I have my doubts. Bob Monkhouse was a consummate entertainer; he gave me and my family a lot of pleasure when we were younger. He was all about jokes and fun. I do not imagine for a minute that he was interested in generating fear and anxiety and pain and indignity, but that is exactly what the poor dead bugger has been co-opted into.

Bob Monkhouse did not, as far as I recall, produce condescending public information films about prostate cancer while he was still among the quick. Images of him curled up on the examining couch, saying 'Bernie, the bolt!' as he endured a prostate biopsy, are mercifully absent from our memories. He did his job for as long as he could, then he died, in private and with dignity.

He is now the figurehead of an 'awareness campaign' and it is appropriate that we ask ourselves exactly what this dubious performance is all about. On the face of it, the movers and shakers behind this campaign seem to be asking us to cough up for prostate cancer research. Whether this aim is a worthy one is frankly something I have no knowledge of and no interest in. I am far more concerned with the collateral fallout that will inevitably ensue, and will end up in the consulting room of every GP in this country.

Most elderly men suffer from the symptoms of what may well prove to be prostate cancer, because the symptoms of prostate cancer are identical to the symptoms of the ageing male urinary tract. Post-mortem histological evidence suggests 80% of 80-year-old men suffer from prostate cancer, even though the vast majority of them have died from something else. By any definition, that makes it normal.

The result of this awareness campaign – this further unasked-for Government-funded meddling in our toilet habits – will be anxiety and worry. Many thousands of men will consult their GPs with symptoms they previously thought were par for the course. Unhelpful blood tests will be done, unnecessary referrals will be made, biopsies and X-rays will be performed and extra outpatient appointments will be generated.

Many cases of prostate cancer will be unearthed – without the slightest evidence that diagnosis or treatment will make a blind bit of difference to mortality rates, but with the inevitable certainty that the end result will be apprehension and misery, reduced quality of life and extra operations with their inescapable morbidity and complications.

And genuine illness will be missed. We know this. Yet the juggernaut rumbles on in the sanctified cause of health promotion. Bob Monkhouse would be turning in his grave, if he had been allowed to lie there undisturbed.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland and MJA Columnist of the Year

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