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When is a wet wipe not a wet wipe?

NHS Bargain Hunt: ‘Hello,’ I thought, ‘Somebody’s caught on to the latest addition to our Cocker-nee rhyming lexicon: Health minister Dan Poulter’. But no. He really wants us to slap on half a dozen layers of fake tan, change into our loudest suit and go shopping, David Dickenson style, for the ‘Real Deal’ to save the NHS some money.

I’m not about to lie down and take consumer advice from a Government department that brought in such sure-fire money savers as Private Finance Initiatives, Darzi centres, Connecting for Health and NHS 111. But I wish there was a way that we could stop paying through the nose for disposable nasal speculums and the like.

Being a bit of a canny shopper myself, and working in a town where Aldi is the nearest thing we’ll ever see to a Waitrose, I’m already familiar with the discount stores. For example, I happen to know that they sell very reasonably priced bathroom scales.

When I sat through my last annual CPR training session (We’ve been doing it wrong all along! It should have been six breaths and two shoves, not the other way round!) the guy in charge handed out wet wipes to clean the manikins’ mouthpieces, in an admirable health’n’safety, infection controlling initiative. Not just any old wet wipes, though, no Sir. These were special health’n’safety-approved wet wipes, from an NHS-approved supplier, probably the same bloke who runs the kebab shop down the road from the surgery. ‘For you, my friend, Special Kebab.’ ‘For you, my friend, Special Wet Wipes…’

He let slip that they cost upwards of £5 a pack – unlike the virtually identical product currently on sale at Poundshop for, well, I’ll let you work that bit out for yourself.

What Discount Dan has forgotten is that NHS purchases cost more than the norm because they have to conform with product specifications that don’t apply in the real world. Product specifications that his department or his monkeys at the CQC have defined and insisted upon.

Dan, a wet wipe is a wet wipe is a wet wipe. It doesn’t need to be fragrance free, preservative free, sustainably farmed or dolphin friendly. There was a time when vaginal speculums that were ‘socially clean’ were acceptable, considering the variety of other things that pop in and out of the orifice in question without undergoing steriliser time and / or prolonged disinfection.

So, much as I’d like to, the reason that I can’t follow your advice and source my thermometers at Wilkinsons or my medical wipes at Costco, is that your department’s diktats tell me that I mustn’t. Tell your guys to ease off and let doctors use our common sense to decide when we have to go for the premium product and when it’s OK to shop own brand. We do it with generic and branded prescriptions every day.