Wednesday, December 20, 2006


The hospital where two people, including a previously healthy nurse, died from a new strain of MRSA was named yesterday as it was revealed that three further cases had been identified. The University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust in Stoke-on-Trent confirmed that a healthcare worker and a patient had died after falling victim to a form of the toxin Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL) earlier this year.

The pair fell ill in March and September after becoming infected by a bacterium that had not been seen previously at the hospital, the trust said. Six colleagues and housemates of the health worker were found to carry the bug, after staff who had direct contact with the nurse were screened after the outbreak.

There have also been three further cases, one of which was a former patient. The hospital said: "No current patients have been identified as affected. All those affected have been informed and there is no need for any other patient to be concerned. Where screening swabs from members of staff are positive for this, or any other strain of MRSA, they are being given decolonisation treatment and followed up by the occupational health department before returning to work. "With the exception of one infection, it is not clear at this stage whether transmission has occurred within the hospital or, as is more common, in the community which it serves." The hospital said that it was taking advice from the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

Figures for the first seven months of the year show that up to 47 of the 55 patients treated for MRSA-related illness at the hospital contracted the bug within the 1,200-bed site. The eight other patients are thought to have been carrying the infection before admission. The commonly known "hospital-associated MRSA" strains, which do not produce PVL, typically affect elderly hospitalised patients. But PVL attacks white blood cells leaving the sufferer unable to fight infection and putting healthy people at risk. The HPA said that strains of MRSA that produced PVL had been seen in Britain, but usually in the community rather than in a hospital. It added: "This outbreak is the first time transmission and deaths due to this strain are known to have occurred in a healthcare setting in England and Wales." Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, said: "It is time for us to take on the threat of new and more dangerous bacteria."


Britain: PC ban on throwing sweets to children at Christmas pantomine

Throwing bonbons and boiled sweets into the audience has been a tradition of the festive pantomime for many decades. But bureaucrats are set to stamp out the tradition because they claim boiled sweets could injure a member of the audience. Instead organisers of one pantomime have been told they must go down into the crowd and hand out the sweets. It is just the latest example of health and safety fears and political correctness stamping out some of our oldest Christmas traditions. Since the early 20th century pantomime characters - usually the Dame - have thrown sweets to children in the audience as a Christmas treat.

The ruling was made by a committee for the Preston Drama Club in Lancashire which fears an injury could spark a compensation claim. The club, which attracts huge numbers of children and adults to its performances each year, is staging Sleeping Beauty at Preston Playhouse this season. But committee members believe it would be far too costly to insure against a member of the audience losing an eye or sustaining another injury. So rather than fork out for the costly insurance they have banned the tradition of throwing sweets to the children instead.

Some members of the group have branded the move as "ridiculous" and say health and safety restrictions are killing tradition in Britain. Don Stephenson, president of Preston Drama Club, said: "There are so many rules and regulations now we were not really surprised because this is just another one. "We have had so many of these things about what you can and can't do. They are only sweets, they wouldn't hurt anybody."

Another member said: "It was felt that insuring against an injury - say someone losing an eye - in a freak accident would cost too much money. "We're only a small outfit and while the chance of such an injury occurring is remote, to say the least, it is a risk we cannot take. I do lament the death of traditional practices but people are increasingly litigious and only to ready to turn to the courts and so that is the way it is." A final decision will be taken after January 6 by the club at the close of the Sleeping Beauty production on January 6.

The ruling is the latest in a long line of politically correct rulings that aim to wreck the experience of Christmas. One school which took turkey off the Christmas menu to replace it with halal chicken was met with fury from parents. But Oakwood Technology College in Rotherham has backed down after parents of non-Muslim pupils complained. The 1,000-pupil comprehensive planned to scrap the festive tradition even though only one in five students is Muslim.

A survey by the Daily Mail found Jesus in his manger with three wise men appeared in just one in every 100 cards. Hundreds of cards avoided any images linked to Christmas at all, including fir trees, baubles, snowmen or Santa Claus. Laura Midgley, co-founder of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, said: "No-one has ever been serious injured at a pantomime from something throwing a sweet to the audience. "Instead of carrying out these preposterous risk assessments maybe they should concentrate on polishing their performance."


Multiculturalism is dead?

Article below from Britain's Leftist "Guardian"

So farewell then, multiculturalism, dumped like prog rock and fondue sets in that dustbin for fads, the 1970s. Shall we kill it off? asked the man from the Times. "Yes, let's do that," replied Trevor Phillips, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality. "Multiculturalism suggests separateness. We are in a different world from the 70s."

Just four years ago Phillips served on the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain that produced a blueprint for multiculturalism. But now, in an instant, the inviolable wisdom of a generation of liberals is buried. Confirming the sudden passing of the idea, Polly Toynbee, writing yesterday in this paper, congratulated Phillips: "[He] breaks with unctuous, unthinking platitudes about the richness of all diversity in a multicultural society, as if any difference was a self-evident asset."

What must poor David Goodhart think of this abrupt volte-face? The recent author of a thoughtful and carefully reasoned 10,000-word essay on the limits of diversity, he was dismissed for his pains as a racist by many on the left, including Phillips, who compared him to Enoch Powell. "I have always suspected [Goodhart] is too brainy for his own good," noted Phillips.

In other words, why bother with a lengthy egghead argument when you can simply issue a diktat? But whether or not the liberal state apparatus will now throw its gears into reverse remains to be seen. The April Fool's Day leader in this newspaper pointed to the confusion over the path to greater social cohesion, suggesting that successive governments have been too slow in setting up Muslim schools. "The resources were inadequate to promote a vibrant Islam of which these British youngsters could be proud." I must confess, I have difficulty in understanding how dividing children along faith lines brings them together, or why it is the state's responsibility to promote religion, but perhaps it's one of those ideas that you just have to go with until someone in authority sometime in the future decides that it doesn't make sense after all.

The truth is, of course, the liberal elite can debate equality and diversity, liberty and responsibility until Abu Hamza turns up on I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, but it is impossible to legislate for identity. Toynbee states: "Muslim teaching on women staying one step behind will not do: respect for religion cannot take precedence over respect for British law." Perhaps she's speaking figuratively, but there is no law that prevents Muslim women from walking one step behind men, which is the formation that I notice increasingly on the streets near where I live. Should there be a secular police, some grotesque parody of the Saudis' Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, to intervene and ensure that they reform in double file?

Nowadays I see noticeably more young British Muslim women adopting the full veil with only slits for the eyes. To remove themselves so completely from sight seems like an act of self-erasure, but if it is, then it's one they appear to perform willingly and, judging by the manner in which they parade, with no little pride. My guess is that many second-and third-generation Muslims choose this dress not out of religious beliefs, but because they think it's cool. By which I mean, they like the identity that the accoutrements of religious observance afford them, how it sets them apart, makes them visible, albeit by making them invisible. For that, after all, is what most young people want: a sense of their own identity.

In the 1970s, there was a craze for skinhead haircuts and clothes among young whites. The immediate response of liberal critics was to denounce them all as Nazis, but it soon became apparent that the majority of them were attracted to the image, the identity, and had no real interest in the ideas. The danger, of course, is when style becomes stance. And there is little doubt that among a significant minority of young Muslims in this country, a stance of violent anti-Americanism and, to a lesser degree, anti-westernism has become de rigueur. I would imagine that a fair portion of the 13% of British Muslims who said in a recent Guardian poll that they wanted to see further terrorist attacks on America did so because they thought it was the cool, angry, radical thing to say. Young people, alas, are like that.

Predictably, the knee-jerk liberal response is to shout "alienation", start looking for evidence of social deprivation and talk of the reaction to "American imperialism". However, the handful of British Muslims who have been arrested on terrorist charges appear to be from middle-class backgrounds and do not seem to have gone short of education or employment.

There is a country in which Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are treated little better than slaves, performing menial tasks with no rights and negligible protection. It's called Saudi Arabia and it is the home of the Wahabbism that informs the international spread of Islamic fundamentalism. Similarly, whatever your view of the war in Iraq, to say that it is a war on Islam raises the question of what the intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo was: presumably a war for Islam. Of course, if you're young, angry and striking a pose, you can't get bogged down in those kinds of complexities.

In the April 1 leader, it was suggested that "the perception everywhere is that the proud, expansionary faith of Islam is under attack". Back in the 70s again, some angry whites thought the proud, expansionary creed of Britishness (also known as colonial domination) was under attack and joined the National Front. They were correctly identified as fascists and a zero-tolerance policy was put in place by the liberal left, without much concern about the alienating effects on the fascists. The fear was that if they were not denied a platform, racial violence would increase, and so might support for them.

Yet there is much more trepidation about how to deal with Islamo-fascist groups such as al-Muhajiroun. The fear now is that if they are denied a platform, racial tension will increase, and so might support for them, as a generation of Muslims radicalise behind the veil and the beard. But just as al-Muhajiroun should not be excluded from debate, nor should anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, hesitate to call them reactionary zealots simply because they are non-white.

One of the shibboleths of multiculturalism was that different communities needed to be treated differently. Ultimately, though, the aim must be to be treated the same. In this respect, it's important to see that the difference between the posture of fashion and politics of fascism is the same in all communities, regardless of what they wear. One will pass, the other needs to be sent on its way.


British public dislike political correctness

Political correctness is overwhelmingly unpopular among the people it is supposed to be helping, according to a poll showing that four in five questioned are fed-up with it. The Yorkshire Post can reveal the results of an ICM poll commissioned by the Campaign Against Political Correctness (CAPC), which suggest that positive discrimination and action on the basis of race or gender are disliked irrespective of people's own background.

When asked "Are you fed- up with political correctness?" 72 per cent of people living in Britain who do not describe themselves as "white British" - because of their race or nationality or both - answered "yes". This was only 10 points lower than the same answer among those who class themselves as "white British". Women are almost as opposed to political correctness as men, with 79 per cent agreeing with the question, alongside 82 per cent of men.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the most hostile towards political correctness were the middle aged. Among those aged 45 to 54, 85 per cent agreed with the question and it rose to 88 per cent among those aged 55 to 64. Of young adults, aged 18 to 24, 22 per cent were content with political correctness, but 72 per cent were still "fed-up" with it.

Shipley MP Philip Davies, a patron of the group, added: "The figures make it clear that everyone dislikes it, irrespective of race or gender. "Most of this political correctness seems to be carried out by white, male, middle class do-gooders with a guilt complex, who only serve to help build up resentment that wouldn't exist otherwise." Mr Davies last night put down a Commons motion highlighting the poll's findings and urging the Government to reverse positive discrimination policies.


'Dark chocolate eases ME symptoms'

I won't criticize this one!

Eating small amounts of dark chocolate every day can help combat a chronic illness, it emerged today. The specially-formulated chocolate helps reduce the symptoms of myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), a study by researchers at England's Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust found.

People who took part in the study reported feeling significantly less fatigue after eating 1.5oz (45g) of the chocolate every day for eight weeks. They also reported feeling more fatigue when they stopped eating the chocolate and were receiving a placebo instead, researchers said.

Symptoms of ME, which is also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), include exhaustion, general pain and mental fogginess. But its causes are not fully understood and diagnosing the condition is difficult because many of the flu-like symptoms are similar to other illnesses.

Professor Steve Atkin, who conducted the study, said: "No one has examined the effects of chocolate on CFS before and so this is a very exciting and interesting result for us. "The participants in this study were taking 45g of specially formulated chocolate for eight weeks then having a two-week period of rest before then taking a simulated dark chocolate, low in polyphenols, for another eight weeks. "In the test period they reported feeling less fatigue and once they moved on to the placebo chocolate they began feeling more fatigue again. Interestingly they didn't experience any significant weight gain either, which is an extra positive."

The formulated chocolate contained 85% cocoa solids and was rich in polyphenol flavonoids, which have been reported to reduce the risk of death from coronary heart disease, cancer and strokes. Chocolate is also known to increase neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is associated with regulating mood and sleep.

There is currently no cure for ME and treatment concentrates mainly on managing symptoms, such as headaches, sore throats, sleep disorder and abnormal temperatures. Although the cause of the illness is not yet known, scientists are looking at the possibilities of viruses, environmental toxins and genetic predisposition.



Reading Shakespeare excites the brain in a way that keeps it “fit”, researchers say. A team from the University of Liverpool is investigating whether wrestling with the innovative use of language could help to prevent dementia. Monitoring participants with brain-imaging equipment, they found that certain lines from Shakespeare and other great writers such as Chaucer and Wordsworth caused the brain to spark with electrical activity because of the unusual words or sentence structure.

Referring to “functional shift” — such as when a noun is used as a verb — Philip Davis, of the university’s School of English, said that the brain reacts “in a similar way to putting a jigsaw puzzle together. By throwing odd words into seemingly normal sentences, Shakespeare surprises the brain and catches it off-guard in a manner that produces a burst of activity — a sense of drama created out of the simplest of things.”

Professor Neil Roberts, from the university’s Magnetic Resonance and Image Analysis Research Centre, said: “When the word changes the grammar of the sentence, brain readings suddenly peak. The brain is then forced to retrace its thinking process in order to understand what it is supposed to make of this unusual word.” The researchers are now investigating which areas of the brain are most affected and the implications for maintaining healthy brain activity. Professor Davis, whose book Shakespeare Thinking is published next month, believes that reading classic literature helps children in their wider studies.



Children will spend more time being taught through play rather than formal classes when they start primary school under a shake-up of the curriculum. An increasing number of children entering primary one from next August are to learn through techniques traditionally used in nursery school. Schools will still use traditional methods when necessary to teach pupils to read, write and count. But the Scottish Executive also wants teachers to use play-based techniques.

It means drama, music, art, sand and water will replace worksheets or teaching from the blackboard. The changes have already been introduced in some schools, including primaries in East Renfrewshire and Shetland, but the executive wants to see all local authorities backing the approach. The aim of the changes is to bring Scotland closer to the approach taken in Scandinavia, where children start school at the age of seven but still go on to achieve high academic standards.

Some experts feel the current system creates a gulf in a child's experience between nursery and primary as learning through play is immediately replaced by more formal techniques. Education Minister Hugh Henry said every local authority across Scotland must have reviewed, or be reviewing, their policies on P1 education by next summer. He added: "One of the things I am particularly concerned about is the tendency in Scotland to start the formal education process at too young an age. "I want to see more of a gradual transition from the nursery years into primary education. "We need to move away from the concept of teaching where pupils are given worksheets and are instructed, to a process where children can develop on their own through purposeful play."

However, Judith Gillespie, policy development officer with the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, warned the executive to take a cautious approach. She said: "I think the difficulty with these kinds of ideas is that when they are introduced there is a tendency to go overboard in one direction. "Whilst play is an important part of learning, youngsters have to do the hard work and at the end of the day there is a reward for hard work. "Learning can't always be fun - there is hard work required and it is a mistake to think that the big incentive is to make everything fun."

SNP education spokeswoman Fiona Hyslop MSP said her party had been calling for the changes for some time. She added: "However, the Lib-Lab government must ensure that there is more time for teachers to implement these proposals and work with children in structured play".


Australian sun and lifestyle lures the Brits

With at least 1.3 million resident Britons, Australia is the leading destination for UK expats. And many of those who go say they won't be coming back. Australia is a lifestyle superpower. The stunning climate, the celebrated beaches, the foaming surf, the carefree joy of tossing a marinated shrimp onto a glowing barbeque. No wonder that so many Brits dream of making the fabled 'Lucky Country' their adopted home.

Australia certainly has it problems. There are water shortages, surprisingly high rates of depressive illnesses and a real gambling habit. But they do not appear to loom large in weighing the well-known pros of an Australian existence with the less-publicised cons.

Better still, the Australian government is being particularly welcoming right now to Brits with the right qualifications wanting to live the Aussie dream. With a population of just 20 million people, the economy faces a chronic skills shortage. To sustain its present levels of growth, the economy needs an influx of skilled workers - skilled workers who ideally speak fluent English. With Britain offering that pool of labour, it is a win-win for both parties. So Australia has been welcoming British skilled workers in record numbers over the past three years. In 2005, 21,780 UK nationals left Britain to settle in Australia, a 30% rise on the year before. The number has doubled over the past three years. Three out of every four migrants who arrive here from Europe are British, and for the past three years the United Kingdom has been the major source country for migrants coming to live in Australia.

Australia's point-style system of immigration, soon to be adopted by the UK itself, acts both as a bridge and a barrier. Workers with trades and skills, from electricians and plumbers to doctors and mechanical engineers, are given additional points and priority processing by the Australian Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA). Workers lacking the correct skills - like journalists, for instance - have to find others routes of entry, such as being sponsored by an Australian company or falling in love with an Australian partner or spouse. Immigration laws have also been relaxed to allow foreign students at Australian universities to settle in the country if they can arrange a job for themselves after graduating.

Shaun Quigley and his wife Rachel emigrated to Cairns, Queensland, almost five years ago, and have not regretted it for one moment. With a family of three, they are convinced Australia is the ideal place to bring up their children. Shaun works as an air charter broker for Independent Aviation, a position he describes as his dream job. Rachel is a physiotherapist.

"Rachel first came here when she was in her early twenties as a trained physio," says Shaun. "She got about the maximum score under the points system. She literally walked into a job and got residency in Australia." Rachel's hospital has been particularly active in recruiting Brits. This October, when a hospital in Stoke-on-Trent announced job cuts, it moved quickly to offer posts to laid-off staff. After placing advertisements in the local paper, which attracted a hundred applicants, 84 people were eventually offered posts.

"Cairns is hardly the big smoke but it's pretty idyllic," says Shaun. "There's no graffiti and you never hear about knifings and stabbings. We even made the mistake of leaving our front door open when we went home for five weeks to Britain. "When we got back things were just as we'd left them."

Dr Peter Logan moved to Australia in March last year. An accident and emergency consultant, he had grown increasingly disillusioned with the National Health Service back in Britain and decided on a new life in Queensland. His wife, Sarah, an intensive care nurse, is Australian, and they now plan to spend the rest of their lives in her homeland rather than his.

Thanks to his qualifications, getting a job in Australia was straightforward. Queensland welcomes British medical care staff with open arms. Only the other day, Peter was working in the Accident and Emergency Department of the Royal Brisbane Hospital alongside three other Brits. "There's definitely been a marked increase in UK doctors showing up in Queensland," says Peter. "I think my peer group is pretty disillusioned with the state of things at home [in the NHS]. "The pay is about 15-20% better and that buys you significantly more. Back home, all we could afford was a box on a housing estate. "Recently, we have just bought a big plot of land, 20 minutes from the centre of Brisbane, where we now plan to build a house with its own pool. We can even afford a private education for our two children."

He admits there are downsides to living in Australia. "Obviously, we are a long way from home, and even though I get to see more of the children now, the children don't get to see much of their grandparents. "The culture here is slightly homogeneous. You can't nip off to Paris for the weekend. And I really miss old architecture, walking past a medieval church."

Relaxing at his home overlooking the ocean just after completing a round of golf, Andy Griffiths described how his new life differed from his old. He worked as a youth and community manager in Derby, where he was the victim of assault in the workplace and a victim of crime at home. He is now an assistant manager at the National Geographic store in a Sydney suburb. "Compared to life back home, this is idyllic," he says. "We sometimes look at the website of the local paper back home and see all the assaults and all the vandalism. You don't get any of that here."

Andy's wife, Lesley, is a nurse, and interviewed for a job on a four-way conference call while sitting in her dressing gown on a cold night in Britain. Some 80% of the nurses that she works alongside at her hospital in Sydney are immigrants. And the most interesting thing to about all of the people we interviewed? None of them plan to return home.


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