Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sweet Dreams from the Scottish Liberal Democrats

Oh, I know I'm asking for trouble with a headline like that. You may mock, but there is a serious point to it all if the number of folk who are usually around on Twitter in the middle of the night is anything to go by.

I was lying in bed last night, uncharacteristically, and somewhat ironically, unable to sleep. The buzz of my blackberry alerted me to this.

Jim Tolson MSP for Dunfermline West asked the Scottish Government's Health Minister Shona Robison a series of questions relating to sleep disorders and prescriptions of drugs to aid sleep. The answers were worrying.

In 3 years, 130,000 people have consulted their doctor for help with some sort of sleeping disorder. For all those who feel that bad, I expect there are many more having trouble sleeping. In that time, the NHS has spent £1.1 million on sleeping drugs.

I have always needed my sleep. One night without eight hours I can just about manage. Two nights and I turn into the witch queen from hell. Three nights and anyone around me had better run for the hills. Fortunately, for most of my life, I've had no trouble getting to sleep, and once I'm there, you have no chance of waking me up unless you have a rather large stick of dynamite or a very cold, wet sponge. Even then, you're likely to get nothing more than a barrage of abuse for your trouble before I turn over and pull the duvet over my head. Sleep deprivation was one of the things I was really scared about when it came to having a baby. Happily, Anna and I slept in perfect harmony together, and although she didn't actually sleep through the night until she was around 2 and a half, it never really bothered me.

I have had periods in my life, mercifully brief, when sleep has eluded me and it's been utterly horrible and miserable. It affects you physically, because you just feel like lead and your head feels like cotton wool. It has to affect your judgment even if it's not dangerous. Having a chronic problem with insomnia must be indescribably awful.

There was an episode of the West Wing where President Barlet hadn't slept for five nights and a psychiatrist was brought in at great expense to try to get to the bottom of it. Thanks to my friends on Twitter, @draml, @allanmknox @thurible and @NickThornsby who reminded me of the title so I didn't have to get off my backside and look through my boxsets so I can show you this clip.

Liberal Democrat Health spokesman Ross Finnie has called for more investment in Sleep Clinics to tackle the problem which seems to be much more sensible than throwing drugs at it. He said:

"These are revealing statistics on a little-known affliction. Many thousands of people across Scotland are silently battling with sleep disorders, which can be physically and mentally debilitating.

"Insomnia ruins lives, while sleep apnoea and narcolepsy can be fatal.

"The vast majority of these GP consultations are for insomnia. Effective treatments are available at Scotland's sleep clinics but more must be done to improve access. Sleep clinics must be made a priority.

"By sending more people to sleep clinics we can keep them off sleep medicines and slash Scotland's prescriptions bill.

"I am worried that this could be the tip of the iceberg in terms of Scotland's sleep problems.

I'd say his solution was infinitely preferable to the Scottish Government sending Alex and Nicola round to sing a lullaby, particularly as we already know that the First Minister's singing voice isn't his greatest asset. Sorry. I couldn't resist. I have a feeling that this is kind of like that picture they keep publishing in Private Eye of Andrew Neil, which must have been going on for 20 years now.


Stephen Glenn said...

I've had some good conversations in the wee small hours. Often find Mister Graham, Ms Rigg and several others up an about at that sort of time. I've even provided essay elements to some students but I will spare their blushes. :)

MekQuarrie said...

Must confess I wilfully misread the title as "Sweet Dreams For...". But a well-crafted piece nonetheless with a real heart. My kneejerk reaction is to defend what is being done already in the Scottish NHS.

It's very easy for an individual to pick their own pet project and rail against the injustice (and there are much higher-profile conditions that could fit this category too), but is it too sanctimonious of me to think that many countries of the world (even the developed world) would love to have such a problem on their health agenda? (And - yes - I get insomnia too.)

Not being mean; I'm just challenging your challenge... :-)


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