Friday, October 06, 2006

No jobs for Brit doctors and nurses

Australia is set to benefit from a looming brain drain from Britain's health services. The British Medical Association says almost 6000 young doctors and nurses may have to move overseas or even quit because they cannot get jobs in the National Health Service. Financial straits have led many trusts which run the health system to close wards and cut staff so graduates compete for far fewer jobs. "In one university, only two out of 300 new graduates have found posts," the Royal College of Nursing's Susan Watt said. "These nurses . . . are badly needed but trusts don't have the money to pay their salaries." Virtually all healthcare professions are on the wanted list at a nationwide series of Australia Needs Skills fairs being held by the Immigration Department in Britain this month.


Emasculated England

I don't know what it is exactly, but ever since I arrived here, I've had the sinking feeling that in England, the reasoned liberalism of, say, Bentham and Mill has given way roundly to the ideology of modern-day liberalism. Sure, in some respects--in their preservation of certain customs, habits and manners--the British remain quite conservative. A walk through the financial district of the City of London reveals staid dress habits; a conversation with an elderly couple strolling through Hyde Park will touch on the ignoble lives of the members of the House of Windsor.

But when I consider the snippets of conversations heard on the streets and in the cafes, reflect on the articles in local periodicals, and view the content of television news and entertainment, another kind of society is revealed. Somewhere along the way, England seems to have rushed headlong into the world of animal rights, environmental activism, political correctness, and other liberal nostrums. I could be wrong, but barely a week into my English sojourn and I've already picked up troubling signs of widespread, left-wing nonsense in British public life. For example: Taking bus No. 10 the other day to King's Cross (where I am taking courses in journalism at a local university), I noticed a strange stone and bronze sculpture titled "Animals in War" at Brook Gate on the edge of Hyde Park. This 58-foot wide monstrosity, which cost British taxpayers 1.4 million pounds (almost US$ 2.7 million!), was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum and unveiled in November of 2004. The memorial is "a tribute to all the animals that served, suffered, and died in the wars and conflicts of the 20th century."

Don't get me wrong. I like dogs and horses as much as the next fellow. But this memorial not only seems a little silly, but it actually offends the sensibilities by implying that there is a kind of moral equivalence between human beings and animals. (Peter Singer, call your office!) Was this necessary or even appropriate? What hare-brained public official approved the disbursement of funds for this piece of political propaganda passing itself off as art? And speaking of lame public officials in England, what is one to make of David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party? Pundits praise him as the fresh new face of British conservatism. (Even the eccentric, royalist and, at times, reactionary The Spectator, came out in his support.) But since assuming leadership of the Party in December of 2005, Cameron's words and actions have not inspired much confidence among other traditionalist (read: Burkean) conservatives.

Formerly, as an MP for Witney, Cameron was as wishy-washy as you could get--giving mixed messages regarding smoking bans, the Iraq war, the environment, and gay rights. As a rising star within the Party, that was bad enough. But now, as Conservative Party leader, Cameron has made high-profile efforts to try to make his "blue party" more appealing to young people and moderate voters. Cameron's April visit to a Norwegian glacier, for example, accompanied by the World Wildlife Fund, was certainly a disappointment to traditional British conservatives who grimaced as Cameron later told the press: "Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing the world," and that British voters should "vote blue but go green."

In my own academic life, there are also troubling signs. Even though I am taking classes at a business-oriented university with long ties to the City of London's financial institutions, already three of the four assigned readings for the first week have been either alarmist screeds about capitalism and globalization, or simplistic jeremiads against the role of the U.S. in foreign affairs (read: Iraq) or international environmental efforts (read: Kyoto).

And discussions in and out of class--whether with British students or fellow Americans--have also been characterized by, on the one hand, an offensively self-righteous attitude towards the U.S. in general, the G.O.P., and our current president, or, on the other hand, by angry criticism of mergers and acquisitions, derivatives, hedge funds, and practically every other innovative product that the financial markets--especially those in the U.S.--have given the world. The students furthering these arguments, I sadly remind myself, will be the financial journalists and foreign affairs editors of the future.

I will be accused of using selective examples to build an (admittedly) weak case against England's current social and political climate. Granted, these are but a few, minor examples--insufficiently analyzed--of things I have noticed while here for barely a week. But a dearth of examples does not refute my basic contention that Britain is now, well, Left.

A British sociologist taught me to collect data while walking through a city. There is data everywhere, she said--in sounds and smells, signposts, advertisements, and people's clothes. I've tried to keep this in mind this week and, based on what I've observed, I cannot escape the feeling that this country and its people have been crippled--almost without their awareness--by modern-day liberalism. Watch the BBC and count the number of off-hand remarks made by program hosts about God, the Church, British history, and even Shakespeare. Go shopping at Tesco and notice that one of the most popular teas for sale is organic, "fair-trade certified," and boasts a box covered with pictures of smiling children in developing countries.

No, this is not the England I dreamt of knowing. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the England eulogized by Roger Scruton, evoked by Anthony Daniels or criticized by Douglas Murray. I came in search of an England that was secure, strong and proud, but found one that is insecure, soft and weak; I wanted to learn of an English society that was ancient, principled and instinctively conservative, but found one that is postmodern, relativist and liberal. I suppose I will just have to look for the ghosts of England's past in the nooks and crannies, shadowy passageways, and forgotten lanes of this magnificent city.



But will the NHS be able to afford it? Note a previous story here

A condition that causes thousands of Britons to go blind every year can be halted and even reversed with a monthly injection. Trials into a treatment for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is diagnosed in more than 20,000 elderly people a year and is the commonest cause of blindness, have shown dramatic results for almost all who use it. Patients given Lucentis did not only have the gradual deterioration of their sight halted, but even regained vision lost to the disease. For decades, patients with the condition, which leaves 10 per cent of sufferers blind, have been told there is little or nothing that can be done to slow the disease, let alone reverse it. But in a new trial Lucentis reversed sight damage in more than a third of participants with "wet" AMD, the most damaging form of the disease. It also prevented further loss of vision in almost all who were treated with it.

About 24,000 patients a year have wet AMD diagnosed. It is responsible for 90 per cent of cases where people lose their sight entirely: loss of vision is caused by the growth of new blood vessels behind the retina, which cause bleeding and scarring.

Lucentis, developed by the Californian company Genentech, does not yet have a British licence. At 1,000 pounds a treatment, it will raise serious funding questions for the NHS if recommended for use by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which is conducting an appraisal. Costs for treating all newly diagnosed cases to a course of monthly injections - the regime used in the trial - are put at 400 million pounds.

Steve Winyard, head of campaigns at the Royal National Institute of the Blind, said that the results were very exciting. "These results show that the drug is just as good as we thought it was going to be. About 30 per cent of these patients got a significant gain in sight, which shows that the drug also offers improvements as well as preventing sight loss." John Blake, 75, one of the few patients in Britain to have been treated with Lucentis, said that the drug had improved his sight sufficiently for him to be able to take up golf again. "Everything had gone, 80 per cent of my life had gone", he said. "I couldn't drive or watch TV," he said. "Within three days my sight had improved. It cost me nearly 5,000 pounds, but I'm very pleased."

The two trials published today in The New England Journal of Medicine compared Lucentis with a placebo and Visudyne, the only treatment hitherto available on the NHS. In the placebo-controlled trial, 716 US patients were randomly given Lucentis at two dose levels, or a placebo. Over two years, a third of patients given the higher dose of Lucentis gained in visual acuity, compared with only 4 per cent given the placebo. On average, Lucentis patients were able to read about six more letters on the optician's chart after two years of treatment than at the start, while those given a placebo could read fifteen fewer letters.

In the second trial, Lucentis was compared with Visudyne. Over two years, between 35 and 40 per cent of those given Lucentis improved by an average of 15 letters, while fewer than 6 per cent of the Visudyne group did this well. Yit Yang, a consultant ophthalmologist from Wolverhampton, described the results as very striking. "These results mean that potentially people with wet AMD can become independent again and return to activities such as reading, shopping and hobbies."


NHS-speak 'demeaning to patients'

Terms such as "frequent flyers" and "bed-blockers", used by ministers and NHS staff to describe patients, are demeaning, the patients' tsar says. Harry Cayton said such negative words shifted blame to patients and should be avoided, the Royal Society of Medicine journal said. Frequent flyers - patients who are in and out of hospital - and bed-blockers are common phrases in the NHS. The Department of Health said it would take the comments on board.

Mr Cayton, the national director for patients and the public, said of the term frequent flyers: "It implies that somehow these people want regular trips to hospital, that they are collecting points, that they enjoy the health and life-threatening roundabout of continual admission, treatment and discharge." Other phrases, such as bed-blockers, shifted the blame from the NHS to the patient, and further examples of labels included referring to those who do not turn up for appointments as "DNAs".

He also attacked the use of words like "dement" to describe somebody with Alzheimer's disease. He added: "Labelling people in this way is the most common way in which the NHS dehumanises those it is supposed to care for." He said most of the language was used to describe elderly people, possibly reflecting an ageist culture. "Older people generally use the health service most often but they are also sometimes the least able to speak up for themselves, the most vulnerable."

Mr Cayton said he understood that health workers needed to create distance due to the stresses of the job, but added they should find other ways of achieving that distance. A Department of Health spokesman said: "It is important that we are sensitive to the terms patients do not find acceptable. "Harry Cayton is one of our very valued National Directors and an incredibly experienced champion for patients' rights. "We welcome his views and will take this feedback on board."


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