Television Review

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YOU WOULDN'T mind having Dr Phil Hammond as your GP. He presents Trust Me, I'm a Doctor (BBC2), and you probably would trust him. Like Harry Hill, he's one of those doctors who opts to specialise not in the heart or the brain or the liver, but in the funny bone. He has an awful haircut, a reliable sign of a sense of humour in a medic. As a student, he was no doubt a major player in rag week, and in my experience, they always turn into the doctors with the best bedside manner. Trust me, my brother's a doctor.

In tune with Hammond's links, there is something wacky about the show's choice of topics. Last week, the programme tested two folkloric suspicions for scientific accuracy: that garlic is good for you (it is), and that immersing yourself in cold water is good for you (it isn't). I once killed a bad cold stone dead by drinking warm milk in which seven cloves of garlic had been boiled for 20 minutes. The Italian forester who recommended the recipe didn't mention anything about garlic's other function, reported here, as a low-rent herbal Viagra. You could have done with some advice on how much you have to consume to enhance durability - enough, I imagine, to ensure that no one would touch your bargepole with a bargepole.

The tone of the show is light-hearted, which is why Friday evening seems the right place in the schedule for it. It's basically Eurotrash with a stethoscope. This week, Hammond introduced an item about phobias with a python wrapped round his neck. For the report on pelvic floor exercises he was pumping iron. Between each film there are little inserts featuring bizarre health tips, such as "sniffing chocolates boosts your antibody levels", or "regular exercise improves your hearing", or "farting helps prevent diabetes". I made that one up, and I wonder whether they do, too.

But the show is capable of wiping the smirk off its face. Hammond donned his implacable expression to remind us that six years ago it was he who broke the story in Private Eye about the high mortality rate for heart operations on babies in Bristol Royal Infirmary. This week, the programme reported on another danger for babies suffering from biliary atresia, a rare malformation of the bile duct which poisons the liver. The complicated operation to treat the condition is called a kasai. The success rate for the kasai is dramatically better in the country's few specialist liver units, but because the NHS trust system encourages hospitals to do operations locally, other hospitals continue to perform the kasai despite appalling results. A hospital in Nottingham only stopped doing the kasai when they reviewed their records and discovered that 19 out of 29 times, the patient had died.

The Department of Health refused an interview but issued a statement saying that they "acknowledged that it has been clear since 1985 that the best results are achieved at specialist liver units".

It's not often you see campaigning journalism broadcast on a Friday night amid the garden makeovers, the carpet-bombing of American comedies and, on Britain's worst channel, programmes like Britain's Worst Pets (ITV). There were more pythons on display here. One of them slithered into his owner's loo in a top-floor flat and snaked down into the bathroom of a firm of surveyors on the ground floor. Another python ate his owner's dog. It's clear that the programme should have been called Britain's Worst Pet Owners. How stupid do you have to be to put a large snake in a room with another lunch-sized animal? The python then nearly crushed its owner to death. "I think he was just trying to give me a shock," she said.

But most of Britain's worst pet owners have dogs. One had fed her Pomeranian to four times its natural body weight. The only thing it will now cross the room for is food. It is taken for walks in a pushchair. Apparently, the average annual expenditure on a dog is pounds 4,000. Most of these owners would have used the money more wisely on a shrink, especially the woman who spends a further pounds 3,000 a time getting her dogs stuffed. "I can assure you that I am not eccentric," she said, as she tucked her dead dogs into their display cabinet for the night. Her dogs were no longer barking, but she was.

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