Thursday, January 18, 2007


The bureaucrats are trying to justify their existence -- and how better to show your wisdom than by persecuting success? In a non-envious world they would be bending over backwards to help this guy rather than trying to trip him up with paperwork.

Two IVF clinics run by Britain's most successful fertility doctor were raided yesterday by regulators and police following allegations that he treated patients without a valid licence. Inspection teams from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) were granted a warrant to search the two London clinics run by Mohammed Taranissi to determine whether he has committed a criminal offence.

Mr Taranissi, whose personal wealth is estimated at 38 million pounds, operates the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre (ARGC) and the Reproductive Genetics Institute (RGI). The ARGC has long topped league tables for IVF success rates and has an active licence. The licence held by RGI has expired. If there is evidence that he treated patients illegally he could become the first doctor to be prosecuted. The teams are also investigating allegations about the types of therapy he recommends and the information given to patients.

Mr Taranissi vigorously denied any wrongdoing and said that he had co-operated fully with the inspections. He accused the HFEA of changing its procedures to refuse the RGI a licence. The only patients treated since its application for renewal was turned down were seen with the authority's knowledge and approval, he said.

Angela McNab, chief executive of the HFEA, said: "Since January 2006, the RGI has not had a licence. Providing treatment in a centre which does not have a licence is potentially a criminal act." The HFEA needed a warrant because the RGI's licence had run out and the regulator did not have an automatic right to inspect it. The RGI's licence expired in December 2005, but for the first six months of 2006 it operated under "special directions" from the HFEA.

In June, Mr Taranissi was offered a three-year licence, on condition that he transfer no more than two embryos to patients aged over 40. He accepted the offer, but indicated that he wished to make representations about the condition. The HFEA interpreted this as a refusal of the licence. The offer was then withdrawn.

Mr Taranissi said that he then stopped taking new patients at RGI and finished treating patients whose cycles had begun. This was done with the knowledge and approval of the HFEA, he said. He told The Times: "It is very odd the way they have portrayed the licence situation. All of a sudden, they said to me because you have made representations, you have effectively refused the licence. "There is no issue of patient safety here, it is about the interpretation of a signed paper. It is different from a backstreet clinic, where there is a very serious issue of patient safety."

The HFEA said that its action was taken independently of allegations made against Mr Taranissi by the BBC One Panorama programme last night. It claimed that a young undercover reporter had been offered IVF at the ARGC even though neither she nor her partner had a history of infertility. Mr Taranissi said that the BBC failed to report visits by three other reporters who were given appropriate advice, and that the 26-year-old reporter had been seen by a junior doctor no longer with the clinic. He said that her notes indicated that the doctor had discussed options including natural conception with the woman and that his comments had been taken out of context.


More background:

The charity Infertility Network UK was due to spend yesterday compiling a report for the Department of Health into the inconsistent availability of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment on the NHS. Instead, it spent the day handling a torrent of calls from worried patients who had seen a BBC Panorama programme questioning the propriety of the man said to be the most successful IVF technician in Britain, the private practitioner Mohammed Taranissi.

Which is a shame, because the muddle of treatment on the NHS is a far greater scandal than the continued operation by Mr Taranissi of a private clinic whose licence was under review. And under review not because he had done anything wrong, but because the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the regulatory body for IVF clinics, had suddenly reduced the number of embryos Mr Taranissi was allowed to transplant, and he had objected.

Women over 40 are allowed to have three embryos transplanted during IVF; the HFEA wanted Mr Taranissi to transfer no more than two. Because twins and triplets are far more likely to have health problems than lone babies, the HFEA wants to encourage people away from multiple embryo transfers. About one in four IVF pregnancies produces twins, more than ten times the rate for natural conceptions. Half are born prematurely, with low birth weight, and subsequently run a much higher risk of cerebral palsy (18 times as high in the case of triplets). Neonatal and first-year care for twins and triplets is expensive for the NHS.

There is a public policy issue worth debating here, but the HFEA has not had that debate publicly, and it isn't official policy yet, so what right it had abruptly to curtail Mr Taranissi's freedom to operate is unclear. Those who know a lot more about the sector than I do say that the HFEA is suspicious of Mr Taranissi's success rates and have long suspected him of fiddling his figures or some such. The surgeon's friends insist his success rate is due to his absolute dedication and in particular his willingness to implant embryos at precisely the correct moment, whether that be 3am or Christmas Day.

The other allegation against Mr Taranissi's clinic is that IVF was inappropriately offered to a 26-year-old who had tried for only a year to conceive. The clinic says the doctor's comments were taken out of context by the BBC, which has refused to show them unedited tapes. It cannot be pure coincidence that the HFEA raided Mr Taranissi's clinics on the day that Panorama was due to broadcast its allegations. The HFEA was pandering to the cameras; sick behaviour from an unelected regulatory authority that appears to be out of its depth.

I could argue at length about the costs of private IVF treatment, success rates (23.6 per cent for women of 35-37, just 10.6 per cent at 40-42), proper regulation and the social engineering it represents - babies on a plate for people wealthy enough to afford them - but that would be missing the point here. The real scandal is in NHS units up and down the country. Three years ago the Government said that all infertile couples where the woman is under 40 would be offered one cycle of IVF within a year, as a first step towards implementing official guidelines that stated that three cycles of treatment should be offered. Research by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which drew up the guidelines, showed that the cost per live birth of IVF rises from o12,000 when the woman is 24 years old to 13,000 pounds if she is 35, just over 20,000 at 39 but 38,000 at 42. Hence the age 40 cut-off.

But, surprise surprise, what the Government promised hasn't happened. Local health managers have interpreted the guidelines in wildly different ways. A year ago a survey by NICE found that only 40 per cent of primary care trusts would confirm that they even offer IVF treatment. Those that do offer it have waits of up to five years and a bewildering array of conditions that the patient must meet.

Research carried out by Infertility Network UK two years ago, and now being updated by them for the Department of Health, found, for instance, that in Durham you must wait four or five years, have a body mass index not greater than 30 and have no surviving children in your current relationship, before you are allowed IVF treatment on the NHS. Thames Valley will not treat a woman unless she is 36 and has never paid for any IVF treatment privately. In Norwich you have to have a body mass index no more than 34, no children from a previous relationship and must be a couple who have lived in Norfolk for at least two years. In Southampton City there are no social eligibility criteria; in North Dorset you must have been in a stable relationship for at least three years. In Rowley Regis and Tipton there must be no children on the maternal side; in Mendip there must be no children living with the couple and "no access to children from previous relationship". And in Cherwell Vale the couple must be non-smokers.

There is an astonishing degree of social manipulation going on in a complicated postcode lottery five years after the Prime Minister promised couples could expect "the same level of high-quality services" for IVF wherever they lived. Some services are being cut: Luton has stopped funding new fertility treatment for now, and York is considering doing the same.

And then, of course, if you do get your treatment paid for, there are all the pitfalls of sloppy NHS service to negotiate: lost X-rays, long queues, rude receptionists, dismissive doctors. It must be particularly painful to be treated to the NHS's special brand of production-line treatment when you are in the sensitive process of trying to get your own little production line moving. So the popularity of Mr Taranissi's and all the other private IVF clinics is easily explained. But what a pity Panorama couldn't find the time to investigate that



One of the biggest stories in the Middle East is the civil disorder in Gaza. Last week on his website, the journalist Stephen Pollard reproduced an internal memo from the BBC's Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, to his colleagues. It contained a passage in which Bowen explains "the way that Palestinian society, which used to draw strength from resistance to the occupation, is now fragmenting.

"The reason is the death of hope, caused by a cocktail of Israel's military activities, land expropriation and settlement building - and the financial sanctions imposed on the Hamas-led Government which are destroying Palestinian institutions that were anyway flawed and fragile."

Now this is certainly one explanation of the reason why members of Fatah and Hamas are killing each other. No one can object that this argument is put before the BBC's audience. But for the BBC's Middle East editor to believe that it constitutes the sole explanation and to offer it up alone to his colleagues? Now that's a different matter.

Here are a few alternatives to Bowen's offering. Some of us argue that instead of the tough Israeli security measures causing Hamas and Fatah militants to kill people and each other, the killing of people by Hamas and Fatah militants causes the tough security measures. Hamas in particular is a dangerous, intolerant, murderous organisation that threatens the lives of innocent people and needs to be resisted.

And what about this? Fatah and Hamas are engaged in a power struggle and an ideological dispute. Fatah claims that its rivals have been plotting to assassinate President Mahmoud Abbas because the President supports the so-called Prisoners' Document. This document proposes a unified resistance to Israel, but Hamas is suspicious of the terms of such unity and believes that its vague language could mean recognition of Israel.

Or this? In a superb column last week in the Financial Times, Christopher Caldwell pointed out that are there are 67 countries in the world where 15 to 29-year-olds make up more than 30 per cent of the population and 60 of them are undergoing some sort of civil war or mass killing. Gaza has just such a youth bulge. Perhaps the violence has no political cause; it is just, well, boys being boys.

I know, I know. You may regard these alternatives as absurd, even offensive. I don't, but that's not my point. If you want to report the Middle East in an unbiased fashion, then these arguments must be put before the BBC audience. And how can they be if the Middle East editor doesn't even acknowledge them?

More here


The price of every new car sold in Britain could soar by more than 1,600 pounds under new laws to be proposed by the European commission to tackle climate change. Stavros Dimas, the European environment commissioner, yesterday announced plans for compulsory limits on carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles, blaming motor manufacturers for failing to comply with a voluntary pledge to improve fuel efficiency. "The technology is there to do this, but it has not been done as promised by the voluntary agreement. They [the manufacturers] know the situation better than anyone else because they gave an undertaking to bring down carbon dioxide," he said.

The plans, to be announced on January 24, will require car companies to produce vehicles that emit less than 120 grams of carbon dioxide a kilometre by 2012. The cap will apply as an average across a maker's range of vehicles - a manufacturer could still sell gas-guzzling 4x4s if it also produced smaller, cleaner vehicles.

Three-quarters of leading car brands are failing to reduce emissions at the rate set in the voluntary agreement. They are supposed to drop to 140 grams per kilometre by 2008. Carbon dioxide emissions from road transport have risen by 22% in Europe since 1990 and now make up more than 20% of total emissions. The current fleet emissions average is about 162 grams a kilometre.

The proposals, which will also float the idea of including car manufacturers in Europe's emissions trading scheme, will trigger a consultation, with formal legislation to follow later this year. Mr Dimas said he expected car companies to pass on the costs of the required improvements to consumers: "The technology to make them cleaner will make them more expensive." EC figures suggest the increased cost per car could be 577 euros, but a report by a team of Dutch transport consultants in October put it closer to 2,450 euros (624 pounds).

Nigel Wonnacott of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said: "We would be very concerned about measures that would impose additional costs on manufacturers. If it costs more to make the cars then that cost will be passed on." Attempts to build lower-emitting cars had been hampered by safety requirements adding additional weight, as well as a lack of government support for biofuels and cleaner technologies, he said, adding that the law could force some manufacturers to move production overseas.

An October report by the Brussels-based lobby group Transport and Environment said Japanese car makers have the worst record on fuel efficiency, with Nissan, Suzuki and Mazda in the bottom three of 20 brands. Fiat, Citroen and Renault are the only companies on course to meet the voluntary limits.



A local cop foolishly told the truth. He was later reprimanded for it

Two criminals caught on CCTV vandalising cars were not prosecuted because police said they were unemployed foreigners and to bring them to justice would cost too much. One victim received a letter from Norfolk police saying the pair would not be prosecuted because they were both foreign nationals with no jobs and no income and the case was `not in the public interest to pursue due to the expenses incurred in having a trial'. The disclosure was greeted as a further example of police forces' excessive pandering to criminals.

This weekend Derbyshire police were criticised for refusing to release pictures of two escaped murderers because to do so might have infringed their human rights. The latest case involved the vandalism of at least five cars in Norwich. Two men, aged 19 and 29, were arrested on suspicion of damaging cars but a Norfolk police spokeswoman said that after `careful consideration of all the evidence' it was decided to deal with the offenders by way of a police caution.

Barry Ferguson, 29, one of the victims of the vandals, who are in the country legally, said he was dismayed by the decision. `Even though these people were caught in the act they are getting away with wanton vandalism,' he said. `I can't believe the police have spent all this money on CCTV and then have not bothered to charge them. `There would be outrage if a British person got away with this but it is being justified in this instance because these people are foreign with no income. What is the point of having CCTV if these crimes are ignored?'

The police spokeswoman said: `Any decision is tested against the attorney-general's guidelines. It has absolutely nothing to do with their ethnicity or level of income. `This caution, whilst not a conviction, is added to their police record and can be cited in court should they reoffend. The victims, if they wish to do so, can pursue compensation through the civil courts.'

Norman Brennan, director of the Victims of Crime Trust, said: `It is only right and proper that anyone who carries out any type of crime should face the courts. Being jobless, foreign or anything else is no excuse for letting people off. `The long and the short of it is that we are making excuses for not dealing with those who commit crime.'



Britain's Channel Four is to air a documentary today that shows clerics at a number of leading British mosques exhorting followers to prepare for jihad, to hit girls for not wearing the hijab, and to follow Islamic law over UK law, The Observer reports.

The documentary, Undercover Mosques, Dispatches, contains video footage secretly filmed in British mosques over a period of 12 months. At the Sparkbrook mosque, run by the UK Islamic Mission (UKIM), an organisation that maintains 45 mosques in Britain, a preacher is captured on film praising the Taliban. In response to the news that a British Muslim solider was killed fighting the Taliban, the speaker declares: `The hero of Islam is the one who separated his head from his shoulders.' Another speaker says Muslims cannot accept the rule of non-Muslims. `You cannot accept the rule of the kaffir,' Dr Ijaz Mian tells a meeting held within the mosque. `We have to rule ourselves and we have to rule the others.'

When contacted by The Observer, UKIM said: `We are a nationwide organisation and hold different programmes in our mosques. We are very concerned about this. We have instructed all our branches not to allow any more speakers with radical or fundamentalist views.'

Elsewhere the documentary records the huge popularity of DVDs and Internet broadcasts produced by extremist preachers. At the Islamic bookstore at Regent's Park Mosque in central London, DVDs of a preacher called Sheikh Yasin are sold. In one DVD, Yasin accuses missionaries from the World Health Organisation and Christian groups of putting the AIDS virus in the medicine of African people.

Inside the Green Lane mosque in Birmingham, a preacher is recorded saying: `Allah has created the woman deficient.' A satellite broadcast from the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, beamed into the Green Lane mosque suggests that Muslim children should be hit if they don't pray: `When he is seven, tell him to go and pray, and start hitting them when they are 10.'

Another preacher is heard saying that if a girl `doesn't wear hijab, we hit her'. Another preacher says: `The time is fast approaching where the tables are going to turn and the Muslims are going to be in the position of being uppermost in strength and, when that happens, people won't get killed - unjustly.'



The number of teachers taking early retirement in England has almost doubled in the past seven years, with the majority coming from state secondary schools, newly published figures show. The number retiring has shot up from 5,580 in 1998-99 to 10,270 last year. Early retirement rose in state secondaries by 93 per cent, compared with a rise of 52 per cent in primaries. Most complained of having to juggle poor classroom behaviour with endless new government initiatives.

The figures, which came from a parliamentary question posed by the Conservatives, emerged as Tony Blair and Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, doubled the number yesterday of aspiring "chief executive" heads and deputies to work in London's toughest inner-city secondaries.

After a year training 20 teachers under the American- inspired Future Leaders programme, the Government decided to expand the course, having received positive feedback from schools and staff. The expansion, announced by Mr Blair and Mr Johnson, is designed to recruit more candidates into the classroom from outside education. The aim of the scheme is to break the cycle of poverty and educational failure in inner-city areas.

With a quarter of all head teachers retiring in the next decade, John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has applauded the move.


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