Wednesday, January 31, 2007


This is the sort of thing the Democrats are wishing onto Americans -- people being sent blind by a system that refuses to treat them

A former MP who is going blind is set to sue the NHS after it refused to give her a new drug that could help save her sight, it emerged yesterday. Veteran left-winger Alice Mahon has lost most of the sight in one eye while waiting for treatment. The former Labour MP - and thorn in Tony Blair's side - is now preparing to go to the High Court to make the Health Service pay for a drug that can help her.

Miss Mahon, aged 69, was told by her consultant in November that she should get Lucentis - one of a new generation of drugs for wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The drug, which costs 12,000 pounds for a year's treatment, stabilises vision loss and may reverse the damage, but needs to be given quickly because the sight can rapidly deteriorate. But an urgent application for funding from Calderdale primary care trust (PCT) was rejected because the Government's 'rationing' body had not yet approved the drug for NHS use.

Although Mrs Mahon is wating for the outcome of an appeal, she lost much of the vision in her left eye in the nine weeks since the original application. She has now been forced to pay more than 5,000 pounds for private treatment to stop herself going blind. The former Halifax Labour MP is now taking legal action in a move that could help an estimated 18,000 Britons who go blind each year due to wet AMD, with some denied funding by cash-strapped PCTs.

Mrs Mahon said: "I have been an ardent supporter of the NHS all my life, and now feel totally let down. "The excuses that PCTs are giving for not funding treatment are scandalously lame. "Everyone has a right to free treatment on the NHS for a condition that results in blindness and devastates lives. "Supporting people who are blind or partially sighted, who may need home help and suffer injuries from falls, is far more expensive than the treatment. "The Chancellor must ensure the NHS budget is large enough to fund such a basic health care need. "I have written personally to Gordon Brown, and not as yet received a reply."

Mrs Mahon, who is being treated at Calderdale Royal Hospital and has a "dry" form of AMD in her right eye, was turned down for funding in December by the PCT's exceptional cases committee. However, a patient leaflet prepared by the PCT last autumn claimed those using the drug "were very likely to enjoy stable vision" and over one-third got a significant improvement.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed 30 per cent of patients receiving monthly injections of the drug into the affected eye had a "marked improvement" in vision. It prevented vision loss in nine out of 10 patients. The drug targets abnormal blood vessels that grow behind the eyeball - these vessels can leak and cause damage to parts of the eye responsible for central vision.

Lucentis was licensed earlier this month but, along with another wet AMD drug called Macugen, will not be considered for approval by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) until October. [Take your time boys! Nothing is ever urgent in a bureaucracy!] However, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has made clear to PCTs that they cannot withhold NHS funding simply on the grounds that NICE has not made a decision.

Mrs Mahon's solicitor, Yogi Amin, from Irwin Mitchell, wrote to her PCT in Calderdale and also Kirklees PCT, which share an exceptional cases committee, saying their refusal to fund the drug breaches her human rights. The letter says the PCTs have until today to overturn their decision or "we will proceed with an application for judicial review in the High Court". It says "Mrs Mahon has been forced to fund her urgent treatment privately, for which she has had to pay the amount of 5,325 pounds in order to avoid losing her eyesight while her application was and her appeal is being considered." Mrs Mahon will be joined by other MPS in Parliament today to speak out against the refusal to fund treatment for wet AMD patients.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) has been campaigning to stop people going needlessly blind. It says PCTs can use their discretion when deciding whether to fund the drugs, yet some have imposed an outright ban while others wait until the patient has gone blind in one eye before treating the other. Steve Winyard, head of campaigns at the RNIB, said "Fifty people a day are being condemned to blindness because PCTs are refusing to fund a licensed treatment, even though it could save patients" sight. "The actions of these PCTs are simply unacceptable."

In the UK, 220,000 people with AMD registered blind or partially sighted. According to the RNIB, 57 per cent of all people newly-registered blind or partially sighted in the UK have AMD. A spokeswoman for Calderdale PCT said it did not comment on individual cases.


Multiculturalism 'drives young Muslims to shun British values'

The doctrine of multi-culturalism has alienated an entire generation of young Muslims and made them increasingly radical, a report has found. In stark contrast with their parents, growing numbers sympathise with extreme teachings of Islam, with almost four in ten wanting to live under Sharia law in Britain. The study identifies significant support for wearing the veil in public, Islamic schools and even punishment by death for Muslims who convert to another religion. Most alarmingly, 13 per cent of young Muslims said they "admired" organisations such as Al Qaeda which are prepared to "fight the West".

The poll exposes a fracture between the attitudes of Muslims aged 16 to 24, most of whom were born in Britain, and those of their parents’ generation, who are more likely to have been immigrants. A report published alongside the poll, commissioned by the Right-wing think tank Policy Exchange and carried out by Populus, said the doctrine of multi-culturalism was at least partly responsible.

A series of Labour ministers have broken recently with the idea that different communities should not be forced to integrate but should be allowed to maintain their own culture and identities. Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality, and Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, have also expressed serious doubts about multi-culturalism.

Academic Munira Mirza, lead author of the report, said: "The emergence of a strong Muslim identity in Britain is, in part, a result of multi-cultural policies implemented since the 1980s which have emphasised difference at the expense of shared national identity and divided people along ethnic, religious and cultural lines."

The poll of 1,000 Muslims, weighted to represent the population across the UK, found that a growing minority of youngsters felt they had less in common with non-Muslims than their parents did. While only 17 per cent of over-55s said they would prefer to live under Sharia law, that increased to 37 per cent of those aged 16 to 24. Sharia law, which is practised in large parts of the Middle East, specifies stonings and amputations as routine punishments for crimes. It also acts as a religious code for living, covering dietary laws and dress codes. Religious police are responsible for bringing suspects before special courts.

The poll found that just 19 per cent of Muslims over 55 would prefer to send their children to Islamic state schools. That increased to 37 per cent of those aged 16 to 24. If a Muslim converts to another religion, 36 per cent of 16-to-24-year-olds thought this should be punished by death, compared with 19 per cent of 55s and over. According to the poll, 74 per cent of those aged 16 to 24 prefer Muslim women to wear the veil, compared with only 28 per cent of over 55s.

The report by Miss Mirza, British-born daughter of Pakistani immigrants, concludes that some Muslim groups have exaggerated the problems of "Islamophobic" sentiment among non-Muslim Britons, which has fuelled a sense of victimhood. The vast majority of Muslims – 84 per cent – believed they had been treated fairly in British society. And just over a quarter – 28 per cent – believed that authorities in Britain had gone "over the top" in trying not to offend Muslims.

The Government has been accused of failing to tackle the so-called "preachers of hate". No one has convicted under legislation introduced to deal with such figures. One radical cleric, Abu Hamza, was allowed to encourage extremism for years before finally being prosecuted – but under separate laws and only under threat of him being extradited to the U.S.

Muslim Labour MP Shahid Malik said the poll findings were disturbing. "There are evil voices out there and this poll shows some of them are definitely having an impact. "People are still turning a blind eye and hoping it will all go away. It cannot and it will not of its own accord. "Of course the Government has a role, but with the Muslim community itself more has to be done to acknowledge that this challenge exists. "For years, I have argued that the British National Party is a white phenomenon which it is up to the white community to address. Well, extremism exists in the name of Islam and that’s something the Muslim community has to take leadership on. "It’s my view that the mainstream, umbrella Muslim organisations have not risen to the challenge and don’t accept the depth of the problem that’s facing them." Mr Malik said one legal change which could help address radicalisation was to make committees of faith leaders who run mosques legally responsible for inflammatory statements made on their premises.

Baroness Uddin, the only female Muslim peer, said the poll did not reflect her experiences of the views of most members of the community. But she said many young Muslims who had been born in the UK did have completely different attitudes to their parents and grandparents, who migrated into this country from overseas. "Whereas we said, 'This isn’t our home, we have to fit in, we have to contribute', young people do have a sense that this is now their home and they are prepared to say what they don’t like about it. "They have asserted their identity and gone deeper into their religion. It would have been unheard of for someone like me, as a 16-year-old, to have complained about England. "But now, when young people go through difficulties in terms of job opportunities and education, they do make their opinions known." Baroness Uddin said she agreed with the "majority view" that British foreign policy had also aggravated Muslim grievances.

The Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, Khalid Mahmood, said: "Our young people have been allowed to fall into the hands of fringe organisations who are getting at them at universities, schools, colleges and mosques. They are being manipulated. "It’s difficult for the Government to prescribe a way forward for the Muslim community. I don’t think it can do that. "It’s up to the mainstream, national Muslim organisations, who frankly have failed."



Muslims seeking to live under Islamic law are as extreme as supporters of the British National Party, according to David Cameron. Making his first foray into the highly sensitive issue of Islam and multiculturalism, the Conservative leader said that Muslims who want Sharia, or Islamic religious law, are the “mirror image” of the neo-Nazi BNP, wanting to divide the country into “us” and “them”. He made the claim as an opinion poll from Policy Exchange, Mr Cameron’s favourite think-tank, suggested that 40 per cent of young Muslims want Sharia in Britain.

In a hard-hitting speech, Mr Cameron said that uncontrolled immigration and the failed “doctrine of multiculturalism” was threatening national unity. He claimed that the terrorist ideology of radical Islam was “one of the great threats of our age”, and said that public money spent translating documents should be spent instead on teaching people English.

The speech on Britishness, made from a church in Birmingham near the scene of recent race riots between blacks and Asians, was welcomed by Tory rightwingers who had complained that he had been too soft on the issue. However, Mr Cameron balanced his robust defence of British values by calling for greater support for Muslims — in particular women — to improve their opportunities in education and work. Today he will publish the party’s interim report on national security, which will propose measures to tackle Muslim alienation and underachievement. Most controversially it suggests that the Government should require immigrants to learn English before they are allowed to move to Britain.

In an uncompromising attack on Islamic radicals, Mr Cameron said: “Those who seek a Sharia state, or special treatment and a separate law for British Muslims are, in many ways, the mirror image of the BNP. They also want to divide people into ‘us’ and ‘them.’ And they seek out grievances to exploit.”

Sharia covers topics including marriage (allowing a man to have four wives, and stoning to death for adultery), criminal justice (hand amputation for theft) and religious affairs (death penalty for leaving Islam).

Inayat Banglawala, the spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said that Muslims had an emotional attachment to Sharia, just as Christians did to the Ten Commandments, but said it was scaremongering to suggest that they wanted to introduce it. “The idea of 3 per cent of the population imposing Sharia on the rest is nonsense. It is unfair to compare a real threat [the BNP] with fringe [Islamic] groups that no one takes seriously,” he said.

Mr Cameron promised to tackle what he said were the five barriers to social cohesion in the UK: extremist ideology, multiculturalism, excessive immigration, poverty and poor education. He attacked multiculturalism, saying that although it sounded good, it “has come to mean an approach that focuses on what divides us rather than what brings us together”. He blamed multiculturalism for public housing being allocated along ethnic lines, for police allowing Muslim protesters publicly to incite violence, and for the growth in translation in public documents, which he said reduced the incentive to learn English. He said that uncontrolled immigration was also threatening national unity, declaring that “it puts pressure on housing, on public services, and helps to create division, fear and resentment — among British people from all ethnic backgrounds”.

The report published today, from the Conservative’s national security policy review group, says that Muslims in Britain are held back by their traditional views on marriage and women’s education.



The number of people having liposuction treatments to remove fat has risen by 90 per cent in a year, prompting a warning from experts that it should not be seen as a solution for obesity. The operation, which involves vacuuming fat from areas such as the thighs and abdomen, was the third most popular cosmetic procedure last year, after breast enlargement and eyelid surgery.

But the surgery is not without risks. Last year Denise Hendry, the wife of the former Scotland football captain Colin Hendry, accepted more than 100,000 pounds in compensation after suffering complications during liposuction in 2002. She was in intensive care for nearly two months after sustaining nine punctures to her bowel and colon during a procedure. At one point her heart stopped for four minutes.

According to figures from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, at least 4,000 of the 90,000 cosmetic surgery operations carried out last year were liposuction procedures, compared with 2,100 in 2005. Patients included men wanting to remove excess fat from their chests, often referred to as "man breasts". Side-effects can include permanent scarring and loose skin, but Adam Searle, a consultant plastic surgeon and the association's former president, said that the procedure was becoming more refined.

However, it should not be considered as an alternative to losing weight, he said. "There are lots of misconceptions. Every week someone comes into a clinic weighing 25 stone [159kg] and wanting liposuction. This technique is not appropriate for the obese. "It should be reserved for very specific areas of fat in an otherwise fit person. The ideal candidate would be a woman who says, `I go to the gym, I have lost weight but this area on the side of my thigh refuses to go'."

Members of the association carried out 28,921 plastic surgery procedures last year - up about one third on 2005. The association said that the number of other plastic surgery procedures - such as breast and nose surgery - had also risen.

The figures show that anti-ageing procedures were also popular, with facelifts up 44 per cent on 2005, eyelid surgery up 48 per cent, and brow lifts up 50 per cent. The vast majority of procedures - about 92 per cent - were carried out on women, 6,156 of whom had breast surgery. Nose surgery was most common in men, but they also had eyelid surgery, liposuction, altered their ears, and had face and neck lifts.

Louise Braham, the director of the Harley Medical Group, said that demand had increased in the past year. More professionals - including lawyers, teachers, estate agents and accountants - had opted for treatment, she said. She said that "growth hotspots" included the use of botox - the number of procedures had risen 89 per cent in the past six months - breast reductions, which rose 85 per cent in the same time, and nose surgery, which rose 25 per cent.


British top-grade graduates who aren't worth hiring

Lots of Brits with university honours degrees now "don't know nuffink": Poor social skills, poor mathematics skills and poor ability to write correct English. The universites are now teaching less than High Schools once did. But I guess they know that they have to save the planet and love Muslims, blacks and homosexuals

Half the country's leading employers are unable to fill graduate vacancies because studentss lack basic work skills, a survey revealed. Bosses are forced to leave prized graduate jobs open every year even though universities are turning out soaring numbers of students. Employers blame their continued recruitment difficulties on the low calibre of graduates - even those armed with first and 2.1s in their degrees. Many have such poor communication skills that bosses are worried about allowing them to answer the phone, sit in meetings or give presentations. One graduate going for a job at an investment bank began his interview saying: "You alright mate?"

The survey of 211 leading employers, including Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, Government departments and GlaxoSmithKline, reveals that bosses are finding it increasingly tough to recruit capable candidates - despite repeated warnings to students to work on "soft skills" such as team-working and commercial savvy. Forty-three per cent of employers polled by the Association of Graduate Recruiters said they had unfilled graduate vacancies last year, against fewer than a third in 2005. And 55 per cent of bosses are anticipating facing recruitment shortfalls in 2007. Of these, 62 per cent are not expecting to receive sufficient applications from graduates with the necessary skills.

In its winter review, the AGR says employers feel there is an "inadequate supply of applicants of sufficient calibre". It adds: "They go on to explain that candidates are normally academically proficient but lacking in soft skills such as communication as well as verbal and numerical reasoning." One telecoms company reported: "We received more than sufficient applications but I think whilst the candidates have the academic ability they didn't have the communication and soft employability skills so weren't getting through the assessment centres. "We lost quite a few students through the psychometric testing stages because of a lack of numerical and verbal reasoning skills."

Among organisations failing to fill their graduate posts last year, the average number of vacancies was 12. However five per cent left more than 50 jobs unfilled. The shortfalls forced bosses to call in expensive contractors to get the work done, the survey found. Carl Gilleard, AGR chief executive, said: "Much more effort needs to be made in schools to get the message across that going to university and coming out with a 2.1, while an achievement, is not enough to land a graduate level job. "You have to develop your skills and experience, and learn to demonstrate you have got those skills and experience. "People who put in applications full of spelling mistakes on online application forms deserve what they get. "Over the last few years, employers have raised the stakes. Their requirements have grown because of the demands of their business "They are looking for people of a higher calibre and graduates have not really caught onto that."

He added: "There are also some serious issues around science and technology courses as there are not enough students taking them. "The engineering and construction sectors are really struggling despite having some great career opportunities." Despite the difficulties recruiting top graduates, employers will be offering lower-than-inflation rises in graduate salaries this year. Starting pay packets will average 23,431 pounds, a rise of just 2.1 per cent on 2006 - the smallest increase in six years. This may be down to a predicted surge in the overall number of job opportunities available this year. Employers polled will offer 15.1 per cent more graduate-level posts in 2007. Mr Gilleard said: "Once again, we are seeing an increase in the number of graduate level vacancies which is great news for anyone applying for a graduate job this year."


Nutty Britain to discriminate against educated families?

University applicants will be asked to declare whether their parents have a degree. The Government wants the information for its campaign to attract more working-class students into higher education, but critics say that it could be used to discriminate against middle-class candidates and raises suspicion of social engineering. The new question, asking whether parents "have been through higher education", will appear on application forms from next year. The Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) will use it to build up a detailed picture of every applicant's background.

A spokesman for UCAS insisted that the information would not be used in the allocation of places, but would merely help universities to collect data on how successful they have been at broadening their intake. "It's just another attempt to establish the background of applicants for statistical purposes," he said. He added that applicants would not be forced to provide the information, but would merely be asked to tick a box, indicating "yes/no/don't know/decline to answer".

A compulsory question on the UCAS form already requires applicants under 21 to "give the occupation of your parent, step-parent or guardian who earns the most". Nick Gibb, a Tory education spokesman, described the new question as unwise. "At the very least it allows suspicions of social engineering to enter into the application process," he said.



But Australia's Leftists don't seem to know what is going on around them

In the campaign for the 1997 general election in Britain the then Labour Opposition leader Tony Blair famously declared that his three highest priorities were "education, education, education". In 1999 he unveiled a 10-year reform agenda. Blair said that previous governments had neglected education, and promised to significantly increase funding as a percentage of gross domestic product. He said investment in education was essential to ensure the workforce was highly skilled to boost productivity gains and promised an "education revolution". Sound familiar?

Australia's Labor Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, has promised an "education revolution" underpinned by funding increases to raise expenditure as a percentage of GDP to boost productivity gains. Blair's so-called "Third Way" has become a template for democratic socialist parties around the world. Given Rudd has unashamedly lifted Blair's education terms and rhetoric, it is instructive to examine the Blair "education revolution" for the likely directions Rudd will take.

At the heart of the British reforms has been a much stronger focus on accountability and measurement of school performance. League tables which rank school performance were introduced in 1992, but Blair has expanded them and used school performance data to apply pressure and target funding. He said there would be "no hiding place for schools that were not striving to improve". The tables now include an "improvement index" to show which schools have shown steady improvement, or decline. More recently, Blair has added "value added" tables which show the average progress pupils make while at individual schools. This type of performance reporting has been introduced into Australian schools but has been fiercely opposed by education unions as well as state Labor governments.

School report cards are one of the most important performance indicators. In response to complaints from parents that they could not decipher the jargon on school report cards, it is now a condition of federal government funding that parents be provided with report cards in plain English and with children rated on a five-point scale. Unions have fought this at every turn.

One controversial aspect of Blair's reforms has been the involvement and funding support of the private sector in some government schools, contributing about a fifth of the capital cost and having a say in how a school is run, with limited influence over curriculum. Blair is reported to be considering plans to provide government schools with much greater autonomy through "radical reforms" that would give "more power to parents". This would involve giving school communities greater control over the hiring and firing of teachers and school principals and allow greater flexibility to innovate. It would mean parents being given a fuller picture of the individual progress of their children.

The Howard Government has consistently called for parents to be given more information about the performance of schools, teachers and students. The funding agreement also requires state governments to provide greater discretion at the school level to hire teachers, and requires a range of school performance data to be provided to parents.

With universities, the Blair Government introduced a scheme closely modelled on the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) introduced by the ALP. It has since introduced variable fees and received a report that recommended students pay about a quarter of the cost of their studies, the same average rate as for HECS. In recent times, the Blair Government has urged universities to reduce their reliance on public funding.

On January 7 Blair announced plans for tax relief for property owners if they donate their homes to their former universities, as part of efforts to create endowment funds for higher education. He also outlined plans for a scheme where cash donations to universities will be matched by government funds, to promote a culture of philanthropy. As the British Minister for Higher Education, Bill Rammell, said last year, "the UK Government is already a minority shareholder in universities" and "we should not worry if over time public funding continues to reduce as a proportion of the total funding the higher education sector is able to generate".

If Rudd is serious about a Blair-style education revolution, he will be disappointed to find that most of these reforms have been introduced by the Howard Government, and in some cases are further advanced than in Britain. These reforms have been resisted by state Labor governments and education unions. The key challenge for Rudd will be to deliver on the hype. No matter what form his education agenda takes, he will be confronted by staunch opposition from the all-powerful education unions and state Labor governments. Already the unions are threatening to withdraw election campaign funds from federal Labor. Rudd can steal the rhetorical clothing from Blair. He is yet to demonstrate he has the courage for the battle.


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