Thursday, October 19, 2006


The NHS cannot cope with the huge increase in the number of organ transplants for which the Government has legislated, campaigners say. The National Kidney Federation and the All Party Parliamentary Kidney Group will call today for changes to the organ transplant system to take advantage of the Human Tissue Act, which came into effect last month. Reforms could double the number of kidney patients receiving transplants each year and abolish the waiting list of 6,000, campaigners say. But a shortage of surgeons and nurses means that the effects of the Act are limited.

Britain has 24 transplant centres, which should each have five surgeons - 120 in total. The actual number of specialist transplant surgeons is 86, the federation says. There are 12 full-time transplant co-ordinators - specialist nurses who give advice to patients and relatives; there should be at least 40.

About half of organs are unused as a result of relatives refusing permission. The Act, which states that relatives do not have a right to veto the expressed wishes of a donor, and should not be invited to do so, was intended at least to double Britain's rate of organ donation, currently the lowest in Western Europe. Doctors will still be expected to respect the preferences and religious wishes of families, experts said. Tim Statham, chief executive of the federation, said: "Despite the provisions of the Act, we do not expect surgeons to now ignore the strongly held wishes of relatives."

However, an increase in the availability of organs, and in the time for testing, identification and monitoring of suitable donors and transplant patients, would put stresses on the capacity of surgeons and transplant centres, he said. According to the federation, about 800 potential donor organs are lost each year from donors in whom the heart has stopped. In other cases, donors are "brain-dead". Until recently non-heartbeating donors had not been considered an appropriate source of organs.

The report, published today, calls on the Government to monitor the effect of legislation on transplant success. Anthony Warrens, of the Royal Society of Medicine, said: "At a time of deep emotional stress, when relatives have lost a loved one, it is understandable that a person may refuse permission to donate a much needed organ from their relative. This is often a decision they come to regret."

The NHS is cancelling more than 620 operations a day because of administrative errors, it was claimed last night. Mistakes such as failing to book operating theatres or to inform patients of the date resulted in about 162,500 procedures being abandoned last year. The Conservative MP Grant Shapps has used Freedom of Information laws to request data from trusts in England and Wales



Anything to upset ordinary people

Families were banned from taking photographs of their teenage sons playing football after a referee said that they were breaking child protection rules. The under-15s match was stopped three times and the teams warned that they would be deducted points if the 150 parents did not stop taking photographs or using their video cameras. The order followed widespread bans by schools and youth clubs preventing parents from recording plays and concerts, sports days and awards' presentations.

The referee of Sunday's match between Ashford Borough FC and Folkestone Invicta FC told parents that they could only photograph players if they had the written permission of every parent whose son was on the pitch. Alan Sleator, a spectator, was taking photos of his 14-year-old son Laurie during the first half of the game in Ashford, Kent, when he was upbraided by the referee. Mr Sleator, a 50-year-old PR executive, who drove 90 miles to watch the game, said: "He came charging up to me and I got a right dressing down. He said, `You can't take photographs, it's child protection.' Someone else was taking photographs and he did the same thing." The third time the referee spotted another parent brandishing a camera, during the second half, he halted the game for ten minutes.

Mr Sleator said: "He called both managers into the centre of the pitch and told them that if anyone in the crowd took any more photographs without his permission he would abandon the match and deduct points from both teams. "He instructed managers to confiscate cameras. I turned away and admitted defeat. Declaring parents who take photographs of their own kids to be criminals is hardly a great way to build the grass roots of the game." The match ended with Asford winning 3-2.

Bob Dix, chairman of Folkestone Invicta FC, said that he knew nothing about the guidelines and neither, according to parents, did football league officials attending neighbouring games on Sunday. Mr Dix said: "Most people who go to youth games are family or friends and many of them take pictures or videos. You see [David] Beckham and [Ashley] Cole's parents showing off videos of them playing when they were boys." The Football Association said that there were no rules preventing parents from taking pictures of youth matches. "We have issued guidance, not rules, that parents should try not to take individual pictures of children who are not their own and should record action shots and group shots."

Keith Masters, chief executive of the Kent Football Association, said: "There is no reason why the parents could not take photographs. I have spoken to the referee and explained this to him. He said that he was told to do this when he attended a child protection course."

The National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations said last year that headteachers should ban cameras and videos from school events unless all families have given permission for their children to be filmed.



The escape of two terror suspects under control orders is as embarrassing to the Home Office as it is bewildering to the public. The men cannot be named, though one is understood to be an Iraqi and the other a Briton of Pakistani origin. The Government has refused to say why they are dangerous, or how or when they escaped, and will not give details that could alert the public, even though officials reportedly regard the Iraqi as a serious risk. The public has not been told whether police are seeking the men, whether the Home Office is to carry out a review or what is being done to ensure effective surveillance of the other former internees in Belmarsh prison who are also subject to control orders....

Since none of the 15 suspects has been charged, the Government has insisted that they cannot be named. And it is this insistence on anonymity that has greatly confused the issue. Lawyers argue that naming the men or giving any details of them would brand them as guilty. The Government therefore did not announce that they had escaped. Breaching a control order is in itself a crime. But although they are now fugitives from justice, it will still not name them. This certainly does not make it any easier to recapture them.

The obsession with anonymity is meant to protect the suspects' human rights and to ensure that any future trial is not prejudiced. Judges insist that there should be no public discussion of this or of the charges and substance of other current terror trials - many mired in delays and legal wrangling - lest this prejudice juries. The principle is admirable; the practice is absurd. Details of the control order cases are freely available on the internet. So too is most of the information banned from publication about other terrorist suspects. Ignorance may be no excuse, but this is an excuse for ignorance.

It is a basic principle of British law that justice should be seen to be done. This has become a casualty of terrorism. The only way out, ultimately, is to admit wiretapping evidence in court and to charge terrorist suspects or deport them.


Get the inspectors out of British nurseries

Government regulation of childcare is making life difficult for parents, children and carers

What do you want from your child’s nursery? A secure, affectionate environment run by people who know and like children, or a bureaucratic hell-hole where you are kept neatly updated with your toddler’s educational progress, by a coterie of highly-qualified staff who keep the kids at arm’s length and react to a high temperature or a display of bad behaviour by picking up the phone and telling you to come and get them?

For most parents, I would imagine this is a rhetorical question. When you drop off your little children at their nursery or childminder (mine are five months old, and two-and-a-bit), you don’t want them to come home able to count to 100. You want to know that they will have fun, not just be safe; that when they fall, they will be somehow comforted; that when they misbehave, they will be somehow reprimanded; and that when they become suddenly ill – as children do – they will be given something to help them.

But for the authorities, it seems like quite a different set of criteria apply. Childcare is under increasing pressure to change its priorities, so that box-ticking and back-covering count for more than confidence and common sense. Vetted to within an inch of their lives, subjected to all manner of formal inspections, and expected to play the combined role of schoolteacher, social worker, child psychologist and hyper-efficient bureaucrat, those young women who used to be called ‘nursery nurses’, who worked with children just because they liked them and were good at the job, are burdened under a whole load of contradictory expectations. Isn’t it time someone put a stop to this nonsense?

Enter Olive Rack. On 26 September this year, magistrates cleared Mrs Rack, a nursery owner for over 20 years, after being accused by two council inspectors of assault. Her ‘crime’? She disciplined a toddler – who had just hit a baby on the head - by leading her by the arm and putting her on a ‘naughty chair’. The toddler’s mother had agreed with Rack’s actions; the inspectors did not, and Rack was consequently suspended for a year (1). Now she has been vindicated, and the case has sparked some welcome discussion about the daftness of various childcare regulations: everything from refusing to allow nurseries to dispense Calpol or cough medicine without prescription or prior written consent, to the incompatibility of concerns about touching children with the basic need to change nappies and give them a cuddle.

‘Since I opened in 1987 the red tape and regulations have grown. There are more and more rules, to the point where they are actually strangling the nurseries. It’s certainly detrimental to the children, it’s spread to their lives as well,’ Rack told the Sunday Times (2). It turns out that she first clashed with inspectors more than a decade ago, by refusing to demote one of her staff who had no formal childcare qualifications: ‘She was brilliant at her job but in the end she lost confidence because of all the nitpicking,’ says Rack.

These are good points well made; and the ‘PC gone mad’ element of childcare bureaucracy, upon which much of the commentary has focused (3), is certainly due a trouncing. But the problem goes deeper than red tape and accreditation-mania. The formalisation of childcare is steadily undermining the confidence and trust that is essential for parents, children and childcarers alike.

As an example: my children’s nursery recently underwent an Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) inspection, and it was a gruelling thing to watch. Suddenly, staff working in this lovely, warm, relaxed environment were put on edge, their spontaneous confidence dulled by the scrutiny. After dropping off my baby and toddler on day two, the inspector ‘canvassed’ me at the door. Did I know my children’s key-worker? Was I familiar with the complaints procedure? Did I think anything could be improved?

As I talked about how brilliant the nursery was, her eyes glazed over – and I suppose this was no surprise. Because there is no space in these formal procedures for indicating the positive, intangible things you really value about your children’s nursery: the easy affection and no-nonsense approach of the staff; that if they phone you to request more nappies, the first thing they tell you is that your kids are fine, so you don’t visualise them being rushed to the hospital; that ‘compress and cuddle’ is given as a treatment for a minor tumble.

Indeed, many of the things that we parents so value when leaving our little children in the care of a nursery or childminder are now increasingly seen as suspicious, and in need of further documentation and procedure. This undermines childcare staff, who do a brilliant job for little money; it threatens to have a bad impact on the children, who at that age need confidence and cuddles like nothing else; and it is an insult to us, the parents. We don’t need an Ofsted report to tell us what our children’s nursery or childminder is like – we see it day in, day out, and if we don’t like something we deal with it. When official inspectors come through the door, it is as though we are being judged too. The upshot of all this is to create an environment that is tense at best, with everybody encouraged to second-guess what they should be doing, rather than just focusing on looking after the kids.

What purpose is served by this regulation? The authorities would argue that this ever-tighter process of inspection and standard-setting is for the benefit of the parents – that it will help us to have confidence that our children are receiving ‘quality’ care. But aside from the fact that parents may not share Ofsted’s standards, in its own terms this process is flawed. ‘Good’ nurseries and childminders that pass the test are put on the defensive by the inspection process, and forced to adopt policies and procedures with which they may not agree. In other words, doing well at inspection is no protection. And those that don’t pass? They just get shut down.

According to the Sunday Times, Ofsted closed down 11 nurseries and childminders last year, and suspended a further 30. Maybe these were shabby establishments – who knows? But we should remember what we are dealing with here. Childcare for very young children is, for the most part, privately owned and privately funded by the parents. It is also very scarce: unlike the state school system from primary education onwards, where a place does exist for every child somewhere, there is no guarantee that parents wanting daycare for their pre-schoolers will be able to get it.

Daycare isn’t even publicly funded, unlike schools. This begs two questions. What business has Ofsted, the body set up to inspect publicly-funded compulsory schooling, in inspecting private nurseries anyway? And if Ofsted doesn’t like what it sees, what is going to happen to those parents who rely on the childcare they, after all, have chosen?

It happens that the bureaucratisation and ‘nitpicking’ described by Olive Rack has coincided with an increasing expectation that women go back to full-time work after their children are born. So just at the point when there is a huge demand for daycare, the authorities seem hell-bent on making it less accessible, not more.

The shame of this is that there is a clear role for the government in the provision of childcare – greater subsidies, or even state-run nurseries, so that there are more places, which are more affordable for parents, and at the same time allowing nursery nurses, those very badly-paid unsung heroes of the childcare sector, to be paid more. It’s not rocket science. It’s just common sense.



Measures to make all faith schools open their doors to children from other religions are to be considered in an attempt to break down barriers between communities. Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, will announce today that he plans to look at the intakes of existing religious schools as part of a review of the admissions code for schools. He will tell a conference that plans to require new faith schools to admit a quarter of pupils from a non-faith background are "a start". The next step by the Government will be to apply the principle behind this move to the much larger number of existing church and other faith schools, he will say.

In remarks likely to alarm supporters of faith schools, Mr Johnson will say in his speech: "Young minds are free from prejudice and discrimination, so schools are in a unique position to prevent social division. Schools should cross ethnic and religious boundaries, and certainly not increase them, or exacerbate difficulties in sensitive areas."

Last night the Government confirmed its intention to require new faith schools to ensure that 25 per cent of their intake is made up of pupils from a different religious denomination or none, where there is local demand for this.

Mr Johnson will go farther today in a speech to the National Children and Adult Services Conference at Brighton, according to advance extracts of his speech released by a government source. Mr Johnson will refer to the 25 per cent target for all new faith schools. But he will then add: "This important principle is a start. Through the consultation on the new admissions code, we should explore whether there is more we can do by encouraging existing faith schools to further promote community cohesion, as I know they themselves are keen to do." Ideas he will propose are exchange programmes for teachers, under which they would go into schools of different denominations, to expose teachers and children to the "ethos and approach of different faiths".

A review of citizenship classes as part of the national curriculum, which is due to report in December, will also form part of this process. But Mr Johnson will indicate that he expects independent schools, too, to do more to co-operate with non-faith schools in their area as a condition of charitable status.

His remarks come amid signs of growing opposition to the Government's approach among faith schools, which account for about one third of state schools in Britain, with the great majority, 6,400 out of 7,000, in the primary sector. The Church of England, whose schools teach 940,000 children, has already announced plans to give priority to non-Anglican children for a quarter of places in any new schools, but it said that government action on existing schools was unnecessary. "Church of England schools are already deliberately inclusive, as well as distinctive," a spokesman said. "The provision of church schools across the country is fairly patchy. The local conditions and communities they serve can be quite different from one part of the country to the next. A one-size-fits-all solution would not be appropriate."

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, chairman of the Catholic Education Services, said: "We are vehemently opposed to the imposition of quotas on Catholic schools. It will mean turning away Catholics and could well lead to more division." The Board of Deputies of British Jews has expressed similar concerns that a quota could prevent Jewish children from attending Jewish schools


The real world of "gun free" Britain: "A [black?] girl of 14 has been charged with conspiring to supply machineguns to London crime gangs. The girl, who cannot be named because of her age, was one of four people arrested by detectives from Operation Trident which specialises in black on black gun crime. She is being held in juvenile custody today. The arrests came after a weekend of gun violence across London in which two men were shot dead and four others were injured. One man was shot in the face at close range in Harlesden and another died after a shoot-out at an illegal gambling club frequented by Albanians in Park Royal. A third man, described as an innocent passer-by, is critically ill after another nightclub shooting. The 14-year-old, from Colindale, was charged along with two youths and a 31-year-old woman. She is accused of conspiring to supply two revolvers and two machineguns - including a Mach 10 known as "spray and pray" which is a favourite weapon of Yardiestyle [Jamaican] gangsters. The girl is also accused of three charges of possession of prohibited weapons and three counts of possessing ammunition. A 16-year-old youth was charged with possession of a revolver with intent to endanger life, as well as possessing crack cocaine, cannabis and five CS sprays. Korrey Johnson-Bell, 18, was charged with possessing a Mach 10. The 31-year-old woman, Genevieve Shah, was also charged with conspiring to supply two revolvers, a Mach 10 and another unidentified machine pistol, as well as possession of three prohibited weapons and ammunition".

Leftist voting fraud in Britain: "Britain is to be investigated for the first time by the Council of Europe for alleged human rights breaches because of concerns over postal voting fraud. Scandals arising from Tony Blair's strategy to improve turnouts by giving everybody the right to vote by post risk placing Britain in the same league as newly toppled dictatorships. Bridget Prentice, the Constitutional Affairs Minister who has just steered an anti-fraud Bill through Parliament, reacted angrily, saying that the move was unnecessary, unwarranted and unfair... The final straw for Britain was the decision by a judge last year that widespread voterigging by Labour in Birmingham's local elections "would disgrace a banana republic".

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