IT’S rarely a good idea to launch a column with a statement of the blindingly obvious. But there are exceptions – and here’s one: people are not plastic bags. We all know that one of the environmental successes of recent years has been the reduced use of plastic bags. We were using too many at the supermarket. A small charge has resulted in fewer now fluttering in hedgerows. And it seems there’s a lesson to be learned where the problem is not too many plastic bags but too many people.

You’ll be surprised, though, where the link is made – the doctor’s surgery. The time taken up with minor ailments has prompted a senior NHS administrator, the secretary of Gloucester’s local medical committee, to say he wants people to “think twice” about visiting their doctor. “Think about plastic bags,” he urges. “A 5p charge on them has vastly reduced the number people use. It might be that a couple of pounds – £5 max – would make people think ‘should I spend that on the GP, or nip down to the pharmacy where I can get the medication anyway’. ”

Of course an immediate flaw with that is that it might need a doctor to determine the medication. More fundamental is that a charge would deter some people from visiting the doctor, certainly costing lives. More expensive treatment through delay could also wipe out any financial gain through a “modest” charge. And for how long would the charge remain “modest”? Now £8.80, the prescription charge began as a token 10p. Worryingly, though the plastic bag analogy comes from a non-medic, a poll of GPs has established that no fewer than eight out of ten support charges for some services.

While now performing all kinds of miracles undreamed of in its early years, the NHS is nevertheless stripped down from its original vision. Currently a large number of NHS treatments are being considered for withdrawal. But the NHS remains our most valued institution. This column ranks it as Britain’s greatest ever achievement. The doctor’s surgery is pivotal to the whole thing. If the NHS’s key principle of “free at the point of delivery” is breached there it will effectively be the end of the NHS. Thousands, if not millions, of our citizens will, symbolically, become the plastic bags their predecessors were before the NHS elevated them to human beings.

“AFTER the vote young people spoke out expressing fear, disgust and a feeling of being let down by the older generations.” So says Hillary Clinton about our Brexit vote. Perhaps she would have fared better in her US presidential campaign if she had countered Donald Trump’s “America First” pitch by calling for North America to have its own version of the EU, to which the US would yield up its sovereignty and shackle itself alongside Canada and Mexico.

OFFICIALLY it is Aorangi Terrace. Some call it Murray Mound. Others now wish to name it Edmound, after Britain’s new tennis No 1, Kyle Edmund. Happily, according to Google, most people still prefer Henman Hill. Even if trier Tim never won Wimbledon, it was in the seemingly endless years of Henmania that the hill appeared and attracted his name.