Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Filth and shame in an NHS hospital

Twenty-four hours to save the NHS! I wonder how often that promise comes back to haunt Tony Blair 10 years later. Week after week reliable reports and the government’s own figures tell a disgraceful story of incompetence, debt, misery and filth in the National Health Service. That story is supported, week after week, by heart-rending personal accounts of horrors on the wards.

The broken new Labour promise that caught most public attention last week was the failure to abolish mixed-sex wards. Janet Street-Porter, the ferocious media personality, wrote about the misery of her sister when dying of cancer in a mixed-sex NHS ward. Plenty of other people have tried to draw attention to this disgrace and Baroness Knight, the Conservative peer, has been campaigning about it for years but — such is the spirit of the times — it takes a loud-mouth celebrity to get public attention.

The same thing happened when Lord Winston made a fuss about the dreadful treatment that his elderly mother received in hospital. Only then did the government stop denying that there was anything wrong.

Street-Porter published extracts last week of the diary of Patricia Balsom, her dying sister. They were horrifying. Among the miseries she endured was lying neglected in a mixed ward, where she was woken more than once to see a naked male patient masturbating opposite her bed. Her shocking stories prompted a flood of others.

The late Eileen Fahey, for instance, dying of cancer, was put onto a mixed geriatric ward where confused people wandered about without supervision. One man with dementia regularly masturbated at the nurses’ station and tried to get into women patients’ beds; he was a threat to them all but staff took no notice, according to her daughter Maureen. Other patients have to give answers to intimate questions in the hearing of other patients. One deaf old man was repeatedly asked when he last had an erection, until tears ran down his cheeks.

A former midwife described eloquently on Radio 4 the indignities of being in a 24-bed mixed-sex ward, stripped of all dignity and intimidated. Bedlam was the word she used, and it applies even more accurately to the secure psychiatric mixed ward in London endured by Susan Craig last year, after a breakdown. She suffered regular sexual harassment, with mentally ill men groping her and exposing themselves. The nurses disbelieved her and told her husband she was “flaunting herself”.

If so (I don’t believe them), their job was to protect a patient from her own folly. Instead they chose, in modern cant, to blame the victim. Sexual harassment is only a small part of the problem. Many people, both men and women, feel their modesty is violated by such closeness to random members of the opposite sex, even when they are not threatened.

Patients lie naked, half washed and forgotten, their sick and ageing flesh exposed to everyone, while nurses rush elsewhere. It is commonplace to have to walk to filthy mixed lavatories with gowns wide open at the back. At a time of sickness and anxiety many people are profoundly embarrassed to be surrounded by a clutter of bed pans, colostomy bags, nakedness, cries of pain and sweat, blood and tears — their own and other people’s.

All this is much worse, for many, when they are surrounded by members of the opposite sex; shame and anxiety are not the best bedfellows of hope and healing. Much has been written about the rape of modesty and the death of shame. However, it is still true in this weary country that most men and women prefer to perform private bodily functions alone if possible, and among their own sex only, if not. That’s why we have separate public lavatories and separate changing rooms in shops and clubs and pubs. That’s why people put up towels on the beach. That’s why women give birth in female wards, not in mixed wards or not — I hope — so far.



The scandalous way that Labour has allowed State handouts to undermine marriage was exposed last night. A newlywed couple revealed how they were told by a Government welfare official: "You'd get more money if you split up." Janet and Mark Fensome were advised by their local Job Centre that if they wanted extra money in handouts, the best thing to do was to get divorced because under existing rules, couples who live apart get more. They had married three weeks earlier and were shocked to find out that the welfare official was right - but they refused to take the advice and complained to their MP.

The Job Centre's manager later apologised for the advice and said the official had acted wrongly. But aides to Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton has confirmed that, technically, the official was right: if the Fensomes had split up they would get an extra 25 pounds a week - or 1,250 a year. The Tories claimed that this showed how Labour has downgraded marriage and encouraged family break-ups by making it profitable to become single parents. Shadow Work and Pensions Minister Andrew Selous, who by chance is the Fensomes' MP, said: "John Hutton says he wants to encourage families together but Job Centres are telling people to do the opposite."

Mrs Fensome, of Houghton Regis, near Dunstable, in Bedfordshire, said: "We went to sort out a problem with our benefits after we came back from our honeymoon in Blackpool. "The woman at the Job Centre said, "If only you were split up and you were both single, it would be much easier to deal with and you would get more money too." I couldn't believe it." Mother-of-four Mrs Fensome, 41, who is training to be a marriage guidance counsellor, married engineer Mark on September 9. She helps with the local Cubs and Scouts and gave up work to care for her two infirm parents. Mr Fensome has been with the same engineering firm for more than 20 years but has been off work on incapacity benefit since suffering a nervous breakdown. For most of his time off work, Mr Fensome, 44, did not claim a penny in benefits and lived off his savings. When The Mail on Sunday visited the family yesterday, one of Mrs Fensome's teenage sons was practising the clarinet and another was doing his maths homework.

After their honeymoon in Blackpool paid for by friends and family, the couple went to Dunstable Job Centre Plus to sort out their benefit entitlements as a married couple. "The Government says it believes in families and yet it is advising people to part to claim more benefits. It doesn't make sense,' said Mrs Fensome. They were so shocked by the advice, they went to Bedfordshire South West MP Mr Selous, who complained to the head of Bedfordshire Job Centres. "I told him it was completely out of order,' said Mr Selous. "He apologised and said the official should not have said it and it was not their policy to advise people to break up. I want an assurance that this is not happening in other Job Centres."

The tax and benefits attack on marriage under Labour started when Gordon Brown abolished the married couples' tax allowance. The Tories claim the new system for helping people with children is biased against couples because single-parent families get the same amount in tax rebates as a couple where one parent stays at home to bring up the children. There are other handouts where couples can claim more by breaking up. Divorced couples can claim two portions of housing benefit and council tax rebate. Single parents get a 22.20 housing benefit premium. The unemployed can also claim more in income support and job seekers' allowance. In both cases a couple who split up can claim an additional 25 pounds a week. A single person gets 57.45 a week in income support. A couple who are both claiming receive a total of 90.10, or 45.05 each. The difference for two people is 24.80 a week or 1,289.60 a year.

A total of 200 million pounds of income support was claimed fraudulently last year - 130million going to people claiming to be lone parents. The Department for Work and Pensions launched a campaign last month to crack down on people pretending to live alone to get more. Billboard posters show a woman standing in a circle with the slogan: "But pretending I live on my own doesn't make me a benefits thief." The Department of Work and Pensions said: "The rate of benefits paid to couples reflects the lower cost of shared living expenses. It costs more for a single person to run a household than a couple."



First read the following press report:

The humble cheese stick could be killing your children. Visiting cardiovascular medicine specialist Graham MacGregor, of St George's Hospital Medical School in London, has warned parents that diets high in salt were placing children at risk of heart attacks and strokes later in life. Autopsies on preschool accident victims revealed signs of diseased blood vessels, he said. Professor MacGregor's latest research, published this month in the journal Hypertension, showed a modest reduction in salt intake among children caused significant falls in blood pressure.

A review by Australia's National Heart Foundation found one processed cheese stick provided almost all the salt intake a toddler needed in a day. A pack of instant flavoured noodles contained almost three times a teenager's recommended daily salt needs.

"If you got all the nutritionists together in the world and said let's design a diet that's going to cause strokes and heart attacks later in life, that's exactly what these products seem to be designed to do," Professor MacGregor said. "It's mad how we allow ourselves to be feeding our children something that is going to cause heart attacks and strokes later in life. We know how to prevent strokes and heart attacks yet we seem to be doing our best to cause them."

Professor MacGregor said the battle to prevent heart attacks and strokes needed to begin in childhood. Feeding children salty food suppressed their taste receptors, getting them used to eating foods with high salt levels. "Most of these things are the concentration of sea water," Professor MacGregor said. "Do you really want your children to be eating solid seawater for lunch?"

Heart foundation national nutrition manager Barbara Eden said consumers should compare the sodium content of foods before purchasing. She said low salt foods must contain no more than 120mg of sodium per 100g of product.

Professor MacGregor called on food manufacturers to reduce salt levels in their products by a fifth. He said the salt concentration of most processed foods could be cut by 20 per cent tomorrow without anyone noticing. Prof MacGregor is in Sydney this week to address health professionals and food industry representatives on the need to reduce salt intake.


If however you read the actual abstract of Macgregor's paper, it says only about one tenth of all the assertions above. It reports simply that children who have had their salt intake experimentally suppressed to varying degees show reduced blood pressure during the experiment. And that is no suprise. Studies with mice show the same.

What is NOT shown is ANY long-term effect of such salt reductions. That artificial salt restriction might also DO HARM in various ways is not considered -- which is just negligent, considering that people on salt-restricted diets die younger.

Note also that blood pressure response to salt varies between individuals. Genetic differences make some individuals more responsive to salt level than others. So any policy that treates everybody as the same is Leftist ideology, not medical science.

Note further that in healthy ADULTS, level of salt intake does NOT affect the level of salt in your blood. You just piss out any salt you do not need.

What utter crap the salt phobia is!


Economist William Nordhaus has published a critique of Britain's Stern Report (PDF here) Here is his summary...

"How much and how fast should the globe reduce greenhouse-gas emissions? How should nations balance the costs of the reductions against the damages and dangers of climate change? The Stern Review answers these questions clearly and unambiguously: we need urgent, sharp, and immediate reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions."

I am reminded here of President Harry Truman's complaint that his economists would always say, on the one hand this and on the other hand that. He wanted a one-handed economist. The Stern Review is a Prime Minister's dream come true. It provides decisive and compelling answers instead of the dreaded conjectures, contingencies, and qualifications.

However, a closer look reveals that there is indeed another hand to these answers. The radical revision of the economics of climate change proposed by the Review does not arise from any new economics, science, or modeling. Rather, it depends decisively on the assumption of a near-zero social discount rate. The Review's unambiguous conclusions about the need for extreme immediate action will not survive the substitution of discounting assumptions that are consistent with today's market place. So the central questions about global-warming policy - how much, how fast, and how costly - remain open. The Review informs but does not answer these fundamental questions."

Nordhaus's paper is fairly technical but he does make an amusing aside imagining what would happen if Stern-like zero discount rate reasoning were applied to other areas of public policy....

"While this feature of low discounting might appear benign in climate change policy, we could imagine other areas where the implications could themselves be dangerous. Imagine the preventive war strategies that might be devised with low social discount rates. Countries might start wars today because of the possibility of nuclear proliferation a century ahead; or because of a potential adverse shift in the balance of power two centuries ahead; or because of speculative futuristic technologies three centuries ahead. It is not clear how long the globe could long survive the calculations and machinations of zero-discount-rate military powers. This is yet a final example of a surprising implication of a low discount rate."

(William D. Nordhaus is Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA)

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