Friday, December 15, 2006


As always, "administration" (the bureaucracy) comes first in a call on funds

Hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money is being spent on 'managing' the NHS logo despite the cash crisis gripping the Health Service. Official figures reveal that the bill for protecting and promoting the 'NHS identity' has more than doubled in the last four years - reaching almost 334,000 pounds last year. The money would have paid for 75 extra hip replacements - or the salaries of 15 nurses.

Instead, a special website has been set up setting out the 'core identity guidelines' on use of the NHS logo - three simple white letters set against a blue background. It advises hospitals and other NHS bodies to ensure it is printed in 'NHS Blue - Pantone 300' and 'always positioned in the top right corner' of stationery. The NHS 'official typeface' - called Frutiger - should always be used where possible, it insists, while a strict 'exclusion zone' should be observed around the edge of the logo. An NHS 'branding team' is on hand to offer advice, and an NHS 'identity helpline' has been set up.

Health Minister Ivan Lewis revealed in a written Parliamentary answer yesterday the total cost of the project since the NHS logo was developed and introduced in 1999. In 2001-02, it was 179,807, but by last year it had risen to 333,996, he revealed.

The Tories said the rising bill was extraordinary given the financial pressures facing NHS trusts across the country, which have let to job cuts and closures. Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, whose questions uncovered the figures, said: "While the NHS brand is important and has value the last thing it needs is over 300,000 to be spent on it. "The NHS needs every penny it has to spend on patient care. "I have asked the Government to explain why - like many things in the central administration of the NHS - spending has more than doubled.'

The NHS branding website insists the organisation's identity is 'important'. It adds: "It is largely formed by what we do - treating illness and promoting health. As the NHS is changing, it is vitally important to use our identity consistently and correctly. "We need to help the public and patients navigate a more diverse healthcare system, whilst maintaining their confidence that NHS values and quality will still be observed." The NHS logo has a '90 per cent spontaneous recognition rate' among the public, it adds - suggesting money has been spent on surveys to test reactions to the branding.

In the past, different NHS organisations had around 600 logos. The Health Department believes many patients were confused by some of the individual logos and could not tell if hospitals were part of the NHS. Only hospitals with a logo that pre-dated the foundation of the Health Service in 1948 were allowed to retain their brand. The department insists that 'millions of pounds' have been saved by the single branding system for letterheads, signs, uniforms and offices. A Health Department spokesman insisted: "This is not a waste of money. "The spending on the logo safeguards one of the world's most recognised and trusted brands, and stops people not allowed to use the NHS logo from using it, therefore protecting patients from organisations who may fraudulently purport to provide NHS care."



Will thin people soon be in trouble too?

It used to be said that inside every fat person was a thin person trying to get out. Now it seems it could be other way around. A scanning technique pioneered by British doctors has found that many slim people are storing up dangerous levels of fat in their bodies. Jimmy Bell, head of the molecular imaging group at the Medical Research Council's centre at Imperial College, London, said this hidden fat could trigger heart conditions and diabetes.

"The important message is people shouldn't be happy just because they look thin . You can look healthy but have a lot of fat internally, which can have a detrimental effect on your health."

Professor Bell and his team began using a magnetic resonance imaging scanner to seek internal fat while researching type 2 diabetes - the version of the disease that develops later in life and is normally associated with obesity. His suspicions arose when several slim people in the study were found to have the medical markers for type 2 diabetes.

The findings raise questions about the body mass index, the indicator of obesity used by most doctors and public health campaigners. The index is a relatively crude measure in which a person's weight in kilograms is divided by the square of their height in metres. Some doctors believe the index is flawed because it pays no attention to the nature of the weight. A rugby player, for instance, with heavier than usual muscles, will come out with a high score on the index and could be classified as overweight, even though he has low levels of internal fat.



Two elderly spinster sisters face the agony of selling the home they have shared for 40 years when one of them dies after judges ruled they are not entitled to the same rights as gay and lesbian couples. Joyce and Sybil Burden, who have lived together all their lives, argued they should be spared inheritance tax in the same way as married couples, or homosexuals who form a civil partnership. But yesterday the European Court of Human Rights threw out their case, by a 4-3 verdict, landing them with a 10,000 pound legal bill and facing certain future heartbreak.

The sister who lives the longest will now be forced to sell the family home when the other dies in order to raise the 61,000 pound inheritance tax bill owed to the Treasury. Joyce, 88, said the sisters had only wanted the same protection given to lesbians and gays - who pay nothing. They are spared any duty to allow their loved one to remain in their shared home. Joyce said last night: "I am terribly upset by this and I just don't know what we are going to do. "We have spent our lives looking after people and never once done anything wrong. And now we are being punished for doing the right thing. "This government is always going out of its way to give rights to people who have done nothing to deserve them. "If we were lesbians, we would have all the rights in the world. But we are sisters, and it seems we have no rights at all. It is disgusting that we are being treated like this. It is an insult."

Joyce and Sybil, 80, who have been asking the Government to look at their case for 30 years, decided to write to the European courts after Labour introduced the Civil Partnership Act in 2004. To their dismay, this granted the same right to gay and lesbian couples to avoid inheritance tax as married couples, but not to cohabiting family members. After writing a simple letter to the European Court of Human Rights, they were stunned when it responded saying it would hear their case. Their letter, written without any legal advice, read: "In desperation we write to you, for, as second-class citizens, we seek justice against the unfair laws we live with in the British Isles." The sisters, whose three-bedroom house on farmland near Marlborough, in Wiltshire, was built for 7,000 pounds in 1965 but is now worth at least 875,000 pounds, then hired a lawyer to put their claims to the Strasbourg court.

But, by the narrowest of verdicts, the court yesterday sided with the British Government - which effectively argued it was legally entitled to discriminate against siblings. Britain's representative in the court, Nicolas Bratza, was one of four judges who voted against the spinsters. Their judgement said they agreed with the Government there is no comparison between siblings and gays, so they are not entitled to the same rights. The case of Britain was that siblings had not chosen to enter into any legally-binding agreement, it was simply as a result of birth. This meant they are not entitled to the same protection.

One of the three judges who backed the spinsters said that while the ruling was legal, it was unfair. Family campaigners said the court's ruling gave the legal stamp of approval to discrimination in favour of gay couples. Jill Kirby, of the Centre for Policy Studies, said the ruling was also a blow to children who live with elderly parents, in order to care for them. They also face picking up a huge inheritance tax bill when the parent dies. She added: "In a case like this, where there lives have been intertwined for many years, it seems very unfair they are not afforded the same protection as a couple who have registered a civil partnership but whose lives have not been shared to anything like the same extent. "Once the decision was taken to extend rights beyond those who are married, it is only reasonable it should be offered to couples in situations like this". She added relatives who choose to live together were now "out in the cold", as all other sections of society had the opportunity to gain protection from inheritance tax. Co-habiting couples, who are currently unprotected, at least have the option of getting married.

Joyce and Sybil worked as land girls on the farm during the war but never married, caring for their parents and two aunts until they died. They moved to nearby Pangbourne in 1948, but moved back to the farm when their father Frank died in 1965. They then built their home on part of the land, where they have since lived. They live on the income from leasing out the farm. With their estate now valued at least 875,000, each sister has made a will leaving all her property to the other. If one sister dies, the inheritance tax payable would be worked out by taking the value of half the estate, subtracting the current tax-free threshold of 285,000, and calculating 40 per cent of the remainder in this case resulting in a bill of 61,000. They say the surviving sister would not be able to pay the bill, and would be forced to sell.

Author Patricia Morgan, an expert on the family, also criticised the verdict. She said: "I do not see any reason why one type of relationship should qualify, and another should not. It is direct discrimination. "Part of the reason is no doubt financial. The Government does not want to lose the money." Anastasia de Waal of the Civitas civic values study group said siblings may have missed out because they had not vocally demanded new rights. The gay lobby was vociferous in demanding equality with marriage, in order to give greater stability to its relationships. Under current laws, 40 per cent tax must be paid on inherited property above a 285,000 threshold. In the 2007-08 tax year, the threshold will rise to 300,000.


Banned for a George Bush T-shirt

Leftists don't like it when their "must not offend anybody" gospel is applied to them

An Australian was barred from a London-Melbourne flight unless he removed a T-shirt depicting George Bush as the world's number one terrorist. Allen Jasson was also prevented from catching a connecting flight within Australia later the same day unless he removed the offending T-shirt.

Mr Jasson says Qantas and Virgin Blue were engaging in censorship but the airlines say the T-shirt was a security issue and could affect the sensitivities of other passengers. "The woman at the security check-in (at Heathrow) just said to me, 'You are not wearing that'," Mr Jasson, 55, said yesterday.

Mr Jasson, who lives in London and was flying to Australia to visit family on December 2, said he was first told he would need to turn the T-shirt inside-out before he would be allowed to board the Qantas flight. "I told her I had the right to express my opinion," he said. "She called other security and other people got involved. Ultimately, they said it was a security issue . . . in light of the present situation." After a prolonged argument about freedom of speech and expression, Mr Jasson said a Qantas gate manager said he could not fly at all unless he wore another T-shirt. Mr Jasson said his clothing had already been checked in and he was forced to buy a new T-shirt - this time with London Underground written on it - coincidentally the site of a terrorist attack last year. "I felt I had made my point and caved in," Mr Jasson said.

But after arriving in Australia, Mr Jasson said he put his Bush T-shirt back on and was again banned from boarding a connecting flight - this time a Virgin Blue plane from Adelaide to Melbourne. "It was argued other passengers could be offended," Mr Jasson said. "I said it was most offensive that I would be prevented from expressing my political views." Mr Jasson said the T-shirt often sparked comment from people in the street.

A Virgin Blue spokeswoman said the airline had a policy to ban offensive clothing and bare feet. "Most people use common sense and don't go out of their way to offend people," she said



By Professor Mike Jackson

Not since wholesale calamity was predicted as a result of the so-called millennium bug has so much coverage been given to a topic. Miles' worth of column inches are now dedicated to global warming. The predictions by media commentators are becoming more numerous and more strident as each new piece of evidence appears to support their case. They have progressed from possibilities to probabilities and are now becoming certainties.

Global warming is a hypothesis, not fact. And even if temperatures are increasing, that does not necessarily mean it is a result of human activities, nor does it mean that the outcomes will necessarily be overwhelmingly detrimental.

That average temperatures have risen over recent decades - globally and here in the UK - is undeniable. The evidence from records is that the hottest years of the last millennium have probably occurred in the past two decades. However, the years from 1800 to 1900 were particularly cold, so the increase in average temperatures from 1800 to 2005 may not really be as significant as it first appears. Also, the temperatures in the upper parts of the atmosphere (the lower stratosphere) appear to have been falling at a faster rate than those at the earth's surface have been increasing, at least since 1960. In addition, the increase in average temperature over much of the land masses appears to be the result of higher night-time temperatures rather than higher day-time temperatures. This is possibly due to increased cloud cover over those land areas.

Although the actual temperature has been higher during the last two decades than at any time since 1800 (with the exception of a few isolated years during the 1940s) there have been periods when the rate of increase of temperature has been at least as great as now. The periods from about 1860 to 1880 and from about 1910 to 1940 show sharp and consistent increases; whereas the periods from about 1880 to 1910 and from about 1940 to 1955 show the opposite. So, over the last one and a half centuries, the average temperatures have fluctuated periodically.

The further back in time we look for records of atmospheric temperatures, the more uncertain the data become. Clues as to what the weather was like at particular times in history are provided by evidence from tree rings, from core samples of ice and from written material, but these must be read with caution. Accurate scientific records are a recent arrival, relative to the time that has elapsed since the last ice age. From such evidence, however, it would seem that, some two millennia ago, parts of the UK were at least as warm as now. There are reports of the Romans growing grapes and of malaria being present in parts of the south-east of England.

The evidence, which is much more comprehensive than that intimated above, needs to be judged with caution. Most scientists working in this field will liberally use such terms as "may", "perhaps" and "appears" rather than "will", "definitely" and "shows" when discussing the significance of their findings, particularly when this applies to predictions about the future. On the other hand, some politicians, some journalists and some who have a vested interest seem intent on talking up the possible occurrence and the worst consequences of an increase in global temperatures.

Many now believe global warming is already an environmental problem; many more believe that it is in the throes of becoming one. Nevertheless, there are still many who remain to be convinced. Nor is this surprising when the record of environmental catastrophe predictions is examined. Caution applies in all walks of life. The only thing we seem able to say about the future with any degree of confidence is that it is unpredictable.

In 1972, a group of scientists known collectively as the Club of Rome predicted the world was using resources at such a rate that most reserves would be exhausted by the end of the century. The data they used certainly supported their case; what was at fault was their ability to predict the future. Take oil as a prime example. The authors confidently predicted that there were only 550 billion barrels of oil reserves, which would be exhausted before the end of the twentieth century. Some six years into the 21st century, we have known reserves of 1200 billion barrels that could last until the end of this century.

Rather than just being wrong, predictions can cause serious problems. In 1962, Rachel Carson wrote her book Silent Spring, which became the foundation for the case against the use of DDT. The case against DDT went something like this: the evidence that DDT can be harmful was incontrovertible; surveys found residues of DDT in the tissues of animals across the globe; a reduction in some bird populations was detected; the eggs of these birds appear to have thinner than normal shells, leading to a failure in reproduction; this must be due to DDT; the use of DDT must stop.

It is now understood that the decision to ban the use of DDT was a mistake. None of the steps in the argument above is wrong; what was wrong was the prediction that the consequences of the continued use of DDT would be worse than those of discontinuing its use. The replacements were less effective and because the control of mosquitoes was less effective so too was the control of the spread of malaria. Malaria is now once again a major killer, particularly of children. The premature decision to ban the use of DDT led to the illness and deaths of perhaps millions of people in the developing world.

Because of serious air pollution, especially by particulates, there was a fear in the 1950s that (ironically as it now seems) we could be heading for a new ice age. This did not happen. By the 1980s, it was acid rain. The worst-scenario proposition was that we would soon have no life in inland waterways because of the acidification of the water by rain, and that forests would die because of the effect of the acid on the trees. This did occur to a limited extent but the term catastrophe is hardly appropriate.

Another fear at this time was the destruction of the ozone layer. It is difficult to say whether the danger here was overstated because action was swift and relatively painless. CFCs in aerosols were replaced by less damaging alternatives and the problem was superseded by the current problem, namely global warming. Those who castigate the USA for the role it plays - or fails to play - in the global warming debate should note that the USA (together with Canada and Scandinavia) was some two decades ahead of the rest of the world in tackling the problem.

The reason why some people are sceptical about the dangers of an environmental disaster from global warming is that in the past, almost without exception, predictions of such disasters have turned out to be wrong. But what about the argument that the potential for disaster is so great that we cannot afford to take the risk? Following that argument, we should take precautions against the worst possible scenario.

To predict how a small rise in temperature will affect the weather decades or even centuries from now presupposes weather-predicting capabilities that we do not at present possess. At the moment we can be reasonably sure of the weather forecast up to about 24 hours ahead. After that the predictions become much more imprecise and much less reliable. Yet the whole basis of the global warming debate on the "pro" side is that the weather is destined to change throughout the world.

The other aspect of these predictions is that such changes will inevitably be detrimental. Why? In the UK it has been suggested that we could expect a Mediterranean-type climate. It is then suggested that many people will die as a result of the stress of the raised temperatures. The people of the Mediterranean area seem to enjoy a long and happy life so why shouldn't we also? In any case, would not the people dying because of the raised temperatures, if any, be more than offset by the much larger numbers who currently die of the cold each winter?

The same arguments can be made about flooding and starvation. These problems might be manifested in areas that currently have no such problems. Are the people proposing these arguments unaware of the millions who are presently affected in this way in other parts of the world? Maybe those presently suffering people will be better placed in the future and who could say they did not deserve their lucky break?

So should we turn our backs, like Luddites, on so much of modern technology? We are being exhorted to cut out flights abroad. The effect on people doing the flying might be a short-term disappointment but the loss of tourism in those countries that would expect to receive the flyers could be devastating. We are also exhorted to stop buying goods that are transported around the world. Shop locally, we are told. Again, this could be devastating to the economies of many underdeveloped countries to which such income is essential.

We now have the intervention of the noted economist Sir Nicholas Stern. An impressive contribution to the debate, it nevertheless ends up by saying, among other things, that much more work is required from scientists and economists to resolve the uncertainties. In terms of predicting the future, economists probably have a poorer track record than almost any other group.

Should we do nothing for the environment? Certainly not. Conservation of the environment is essential if we are to leave a worthwhile planet for future generations. The halting of deforestation, for instance, is of the utmost importance. We should all economise on the use of resources and energy.

Sir Nicholas Stern advocates the spending of enormous amounts of money to mitigate the worst effects of global warming. But his premise is based on the effects of global warming being so disastrous that almost any price is worth paying to ensure it does not happen. This ignores the fact (not hypothesis) that life is currently awful for a large proportion of the world. Disease, starvation, drought and flooding are realities that many people already live with. If we would invest the sums proposed by Sir Nicholas into, for instance, sub-Saharan Africa, what an effect it would have. The provision of clean, safe water supplies, the elimination of malnutrition, the provision of medicines to prevent childhood death and disease and the provision of education to children who presently receive little or none. Over a few years we could save millions of lives and prevent terrible suffering to many millions more and make communities self-sufficient. Now that would change the world as we know it.

Mike Jackson is emeritus professor of environmental health at the University of Strathclyde and honorary fellow of the faculty of medicine of the University of Edinburgh


Plenty of money for Britain's ballooning bureaucracy: "Gordon Brown's claims to be getting to grips with the ballooning government workforce took a battering yesterday from official figures. Far from taming the public sector jobs juggernaut, the figures suggested there has been a resurgence in hiring of state workers this year. The Office for National Statistics reported that the number of public sector workers rose by 7,000 to 5.86 million in the six months since March this year. The rise is mainly down to hiring by local authorities. The figures clash with claims by the Chancellor earlier this month that he is successfully taking an axe to public payrolls. Mr Brown has promised to shed tens of thousands of posts by 2008 as he tries to cut back black hole in the public finances, and in his Pre-Budget Report he claimed to be well on the way. Official figures show that state hiring has accounted for a third of overall job creation since 1998, the year after Labour came to power"

Amazing. Competition between London's airports coming: "Gatwick Airport could be for sale within weeks with a price tag of up to 3 billion pounds after the break-up of BAA's London airport monopoly was signalled by the UK's competition authorities. With BAA's control of 90 per cent of the London market through its ownership of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted set for a probe by the Competition, industry insiders believe BAA's new Spanish owner Ferrovial could be set to hatch a Gatwick sale plan... In a stinging attack on the BAA monopoly - also seen as a rebuke to a Labour Government that has allowed the company to keep ownership of the UK's three busiest airports - the Office of Fair Trading said BAA should be subjected to a full-blown investigation by the Competition Commission. Citing poor passenger ratings for its London airports, OFT chief executive John Fingleton said: 'Greater competition [between airports] could bring significant benefits for passengers.

1 comment:

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