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A practitioner ponders

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Returning from work, I decided to make a detour via the supermarket, all in the name of effective time management. While at the checkout, I saw a large, colourful poster advertising a local antique fair occupying prime position on the community notice board.

Mentally, I was straight there. I envisaged myself wandering along the tables set out in the town hall, browsing the various items wondering about their true provenance and, as always, ever hopeful that I would find the one item worth a fortune but on sale for far less. Then I saw the date – last Saturday! I was surprised how disappointed I felt.

Curious to see how widespread expired notices are, I did a rough survey of other notice boards – most have at least one ‘expired’ event. Why is it that individuals who put up notices about their events do not retrace their steps and remove them afterwards? Is it for reasons of economy – going around taking notices down costs time and money yet adds no value to something that has already happened? Perhaps it is because the event was a flop and they have no wish to be reminded of this each time they take a poster down? Having said that, the system clearly works most of the time, since the majority of notice boards are not full of layer upon layer of old notices. Perhaps people going to place a notice have to remove an expired notice to make room for their own, creating a steady turnover of notices with most of them remaining in date? Perhaps it is because within every community there are people who, when faced with an expired notice, have the overwhelming desire to remove it and ‘make things right’?

We live in a world where the dates on a product or a drug control our actions – many people will discard rather than eat food that has an expired date on it, although sometimes our senses tell us that the food is fine. Drugs and animal feedstuffs have expiry dates as manufacturers cannot guarantee the efficacy of the product if used after that date. It is common policy to check drug orders on delivery to ensure that what has been requested has arrived and that it is in date. Similarly, many practices regularly check drugs in use to ensure items are still within date. Expiry dates and batch numbers are printed on every vaccine vial. Support staff regularly review waiting room notice boards – no one enjoys dealing with a client whose hopes of being able to take advantage of a special offer on their pet's food are raised and dashed within the space of a minute when they are told the offer has ended.

Whether we take action when we see an expiry date has passed depends on the consequences of ignoring it. Part of me cannot help checking drug expiry dates, but I think I can live with the occasional expired notice – and have made a mental note to get out more!

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