Monday, October 30, 2006


If they keep cutting back at their present rate there will soon be only bureaucrats left in the NHS...

Universities are being forced to cut staff and medical training programmes as strategic health authorities trim their budgets to reduce the NHS deficit, The Times has learnt. Nursing, midwifery, physiotherapy and radiography courses have all been severely depleted, as have community-care programmes. Vice-chancellors have given warning that the cuts are likely to cause a boom-and-bust cycle in healthcare provision that may later result in the closure of university departments.

In Central, South West and the East of England, student numbers have dropped this year by as much as a quarter. Overall they have dropped 13 per cent, as health authorities pull contracts.

England’s nursing and allied-health students are paid for via contracts between the strategic health authorities (SHAs) and the universities. Last year 97,000 students were taking such degrees. At the University of the West of England (UWE), a loss of 900,000 pounds in contracts has resulted in 114 fewer students this year, and the end of all conversion courses for nurses wanting to retrain either as midwives and health visitors or to work in the community. Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire SHA made savings of 7.8 million pounds in training programmes in 2005-06 and is continuing to do so. The fear, says Steve West, UWE’s deputy vice-chancellor, is that the cuts will continue. “Our health-visiting, district-nursing and midwifery conversion courses have all been cut, gone, closed,” he said. “It’s becoming very difficult to sustain our commitment to the NHS when our budgets keep being cut.”

England’s SHAs made savings or “underspent” last year by 524 million, but they are now being asked to set aside a further minimum of 350 million for a contingency fund. Much of this money, argues the Council of Deans for Nursing and Health Professions, is coming out of their education and training budgets. This is resulting in the loss of academics and contracts for nurses and and other health professionals.

More here


A ripe pear is soft and squishy but that's still too dangerous for the soft and squishy people in charge of one British school

The laws of gravity might never have been revealed if Isaac Newton's apple tree had suffered the same fate as that of the Sacred Heart primary school's pear tree.

It may warm the hearts of health and safety commissioners across the country, but yesterday a move to cut down the tree was condemned elsewhere as madness. Governors and the head teacher at Sacred Heart Primary School, in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire sparked a furious reaction, when they decided to chop down the tree overhanging the playground. "A risk assessment was done on the tree and it was found necessary to have it removed. The risk was mainly from falling pears," said Geoffrey Fielding, chair of the governors. "We have a duty of care to the health and safety to people on this site, particularly the children and that's the decision that we have taken."

The school said they had made the decision after witnessing parents being hit on the head by falling fruit as they waited for their children. Lizzie Summerwill, a mother, praised the tree cutters. "I think it's brilliant they cut it down because of the health and safety issues," she said. "In the summertime it was infested by wasps and the fruit stank."

But Gill Franklin, owner of Cross Lane Fruit Farm, Mapledurham, which has 400 pear trees, has never been hit on the head by the fruit in 29 years. She said removing damaged pears and picking the fruit before it became ripe would resolve the issue. "Fruit doesn't drop down for no reason. You never ripen a pear on a tree. We have gone mad on risk assessment," she said. "Environmentally the world needs more trees and the children need to eat fruit. Why didn't they pick the pears? It's a frightening thought they're not using their natural resources. They're probably buying fruit in and letting the pears go to waste."

The tree is thought to be at least 25 years old, but was not included in a tree preservation order served on the site. Adam Dawson, a tree preservation officer for South Oxfordshire District Council, said Mr. Fielding did not accept his recommendations for solving the perceived problems. He added: "On balancing up the issues, and bearing in mind the considerable number of other protected trees in the vicinity, I did not consider it expedient to dedicate resources to serving an emergency tree preservation order on this one tree."

Earlier this year the school filled in a pond claiming it was very dangerous for pupils and that the area was needed for a temporary classroom.



A ground-breaking report due on Monday will say that the impact of global poverty, conflict and mass migration due to climate change far outweighs the costs of taking urgent action to counter global warming. The report by chief British government economist Nicholas Stern will underpin efforts to reach a new global deal to combat climate change when the current Kyoto Protocol agreement ends in 2012.

The United States, the world's biggest producer of greenhouse gases that cause climate change, pulled out of Kyoto saying taking action would too expensive and cost jobs.

The report, by the former World Bank chief economist, tackles US scepticism head-on by seeking to prove the costs of tackling global warming are small compared to the potentially enormous impact of runaway climate change in year's ahead. In his closely-argued 700-page review Mr Stern says action to curb the most dangerous effects of global warming will hold back growth in the world economy only slightly over the next 45 years, said a source who had seen a draft.

But the effects of uncontrolled climate change could be devastating, Mr Stern says in a report pitched at policymakers who gather next month to discuss extending Kyoto. "He will talk a lot in that report about the scale and urgency of what's required," said John Ashton, special representative for climate change at the British foreign office. "We are all (including Britain, Europe) going to have to do an awful lot better. There is no government which has in place the policies that will eat into this at the scale and with the urgency necessary at the moment," he said.

A scientific consensus is emerging that global greenhouse gas emissions, except from food production, will have to shrink to near-zero by mid-century, said Mr Ashton - requiring a huge leap given that emissions are rising in the European Union. "We need to get very close to a zero carbon global energy economy. This is the biggest structural shift in the way the global economy works that has ever been attempted by humanity, it's an enormous demand of any economy."

Mr Stern will stress that taking action on climate change offers benefits, given that a major way to cut greenhouse gas emissions is by burning fossil fuels more efficiently, offering huge cost-savings. To drive the necessary energy investment changes he will call for a global carbon price, whether through carbon taxes or carbon markets - affixing a clear cost to pollution.

This would build on rather isolated existing carbon markets, such as in the European Union and among countries that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and mooted markets in California and other US states. "We'll need to develop deep and liquid carbon markets," said a Treasury source. "The combination of price and trading schemes will be central to drive financial flows (investment in emissions cuts)."

Carbon markets set an overall cap on emissions of greenhouse gases but allow companies or countries to trade rights to emit. The idea is that businesses and countries that can cut emissions cheaply will over-achieve and sell their surplus rights to emit to others, cutting the overall cost of cuts. Mr Stern wants an expansion of carbon trading between rich and poor countries under Kyoto.

Britain has raised the alarm on climate change in the run-up to Mr Stern's review. Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Dutch counterpart Jan Peter Balkenende said last week the world had just 10 to 15 years to take steps to avoid catastrophe.



Scientists have discovered why some people's brains are particularly vulnerable to food advertising and product packaging, putting them at risk of overeating and becoming overweight. The research provides fresh insight into one of the neurobiological factors underlying obesity by showing how some people are more attracted to the prospect of being rewarded with tasty food than others. The findings from a group of scientists at the Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge led by Andy Calder and Andrew Lawrence are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Different people have higher or lower reward sensitivity, a personality trait that reflects a general desire to pursue rewarding or pleasurable experiences. The research shows that individuals with higher reward sensitivity, show increased activity in the parts of the brain implicated in motivation or reward when simply looking at pictures of appetizing food.

Previous research has shown that people with high reward sensitivity have stronger food cravings and are more likely to be overweight, but until now, the biological basis of this effect was unknown. This new research identifies how this relationship operates in the human brain, resulting in greater susceptibility to food advertising.

The study used the latest technology in brain imaging. The researchers showed people pictures of highly appetizing foods (e.g. chocolate cakes), bland foods (e.g. broccoli), and disgusting foods (e.g. rotten meat) while measuring brain activity using an fMRI scanner. After testing, the study participants completed a questionnaire that assessed their general desire to pursue rewarding items or goals. The results showed that the participant's scores on the reward sensitivity questionnaire predicted the extent to which the appetizing food images activated their brain's reward network.

"Previous studies in this area have assumed that brain activation patterns are similar in all healthy individuals. But the new findings demonstrate that even in healthy individuals some peoples' brain reward centers are more sensitive to appetizing food cues. This helps explain why some individuals are more vulnerable to developing certain disorders like binge-eating," said Dr John Beaver, lead author of the study. "This is particularly pertinent in understanding the rapidly increasing prevalence of obesity, as people are constantly bombarded with images of appetizing food items in order to promote food intake through television advertising, vending machines, or product packaging."

According to Dr Beaver the findings may also have broader implications for understanding vulnerability to multiple forms of addiction and compulsive behaviors.

"Research demonstrates that an individual's reward sensitivity may also relate to their vulnerability to substance abuse, and the brain network we have identified is hyper-responsive to drug cues in addicts," he said.


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