Monday, January 22, 2007


GUESTS at a 300 pound-a-head climate change conference turned up in a stream of gasguzzling sports cars and 4x4s. Former US vice president Al Gore was the main speaker at yesterday's event in the Hilton Hotel in Glasgow. While the meeting was to address global warming, business leaders turned up in a range of flash motors including Bentleys, Jeeps and Porsches. One onlooker said: "This was for a conference on how to save the planet. It would appear the irony was lost on them." ......

More here

British referral management schemes damage patients' interests

Bureaucrats second-guessing a doctor's referrals and sending the patient somewhere else instead??

Referral management schemes pose a serious threat to patients' interests, argues Peter Lapsley, Chief Executive of the Skin Care Campaign, in this week's BMJ.

Referral management schemes are springing up across the NHS as a means of reducing primary care trusts' spending on secondary care services. The justification given for the introduction of the schemes is that they bring services "closer to home" - a mantra repeated often by the government at present. But trust managers admit privately that the true purpose of the schemes is to reduce costs in the face of the budget deficits so many of them are confronting, he says.

Typically, such schemes require that 80% of GPs' referral letters be reviewed in primary care and that 60% of cases should be retained within the trust. In many cases GPs are being offered financial incentives to participate in the schemes. Lapsley firmly believes that these schemes pose a serious threat to patients' interests. They introduce an extra step in the patient's journey, delaying the diagnosis and treatment of often complex and difficult diseases, he writes.

What is more alarming is that some primary care trusts now deliberately delay outpatient appointments, refusing to fund routine paper referrals seen within eight weeks of the date of the referral letter. In contrast, patients who can be booked into clinics directly through the Choose and Book electronic booking service can be seen within two to three weeks, no matter what their complaint. The schemes also remove any vestige of "patient choice," another government mantra, he adds.

In the case of dermatology, about 15% of GPs' consultations in Britain relate to skin disorders, yet the average undergraduate curriculum has only six days of dermatology, and only 20% of GP vocational training schemes include a dermatological component. Practice nurses receive no such training.

Referral management schemes therefore create a real risk that patients with skin diseases will be seen by clinicians who lack the necessary training and experience, greatly reducing the likelihood of prompt and accurate diagnosis, not least in respect of skin cancer, he argues.

The schemes are also insulting to GPs, second guessing their decisions. They undermine the viability of secondary care dermatology, and they remove any incentive for secondary care specialists to support or develop the role of the GP with a special interest in dermatology. The schemes may provide a short term solution to a short term financial problem. The risk, though, is that they will do lasting damage, he concludes.


Chinese herbs offer hope to fight disease

The first large-scale screening of herbs commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine reveals they contain thousands of compounds with the potential to fight diseases from cancer to HIV-AIDS and conditions such as erectile dysfunction and high blood pressure. The compounds are promising "candidates" for new drugs, pharmaceutical chemist David Barlow and his colleagues at King's College London claimed.

Dr Barlow's group discovered 8264 chemical compounds in the 240 plants studied. And 62per cent of them contained at least one potential disease-fighting biochemical, with 53 per cent containing two or more. Some, such as maidenhair and skullcap, were packed with five or more active ingredients.

The team will report in an upcoming edition of the American Chemical Society's Journal of Chemical Information and Modelling that it found almost 2600 compounds that could be used to fight a host of ailments. Among them were pain, inflammation, dementia, obesity, Huntington's disease, blood clots, depression, eye disease and arthritis.

Chris Zaslawski, of the College of Traditional Medicine at the University of Technology, Sydney, said the research was an important first step towards novel pharmaceuticals based on natural products. "But that doesn't mean (the compounds) will work in humans," he said.


Muslim store worker refuses smoker cigs

A SMOKER was refused cigarettes at a Cambridge store because the Muslim shop assistant said it was against her religion to sell tobacco.

A 31-year-old woman, who asked not to be identified, was shocked when she attempted to buy a pack of 20 cigarettes at the WH Smith store in Market Street and was turned down. She said: "I asked for a pack of 20 Lambert & Butler and the woman behind the desk asked me if they were cigarettes. "When I said they were she told me that it was against her religion to sell them - I couldn't believe my ears.

"I rang up the manager to complain and he said the shop assistant has to ask someone else to serve them for her if a customer wants tobacco. "If she had just said, I can't serve you, then that would have been fair enough, but the thing that really annoyed me was the way she gave me a lecture as well. "She started saying she doesn't agree with smoking, that it kills you - I was really gob-smacked."

When contacted by the News, the store's assistant manager, who refused to give her name, said: "It is true that Muslims can't sell cigarettes - I used to be Jehovah's Witness and I wouldn't on religious grounds either." She said the customer should have realised the shop assistant was a Muslim, and would not sell her tobacco, because she was "sitting there in her full robes".

Asked why the store had someone who would not sell tobacco working behind the till, she said: "It is against the law to discriminate against people on religious grounds".

However, a leading Muslim denied the claim it was against Islam to sell tobacco, and said he had Muslim friends who smoke. Asim Mumtaz, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association in Cambridge, said: "I don't think there is any basis for refusing to sell cigarettes. "Islam, like most religions, is against anything that injures health or the body, but there is no ban on cigarettes or on smoking. "The holy Koran is quite specific about intoxicants, alcohol and other drugs which cause a person to lose control are forbidden, but cigarettes are not forbidden so I am surprised by this."

Source. (H/T Iain Dale)

Tragedy of the truthful immigrant

Compare and contrast, as exam papers used to say, the cases of Mark Coleman and Roberto Malasi. Both are young men from Africa who wish to live permanently in this country, but there the similarity stops. Otherwise they are as different as one could possibly imagine. One young man is law-abiding, willing to work if allowed to do so and has never claimed benefits. The other has led the sort of hellish and destructive life in Britain that makes people fear not only for themselves but for wider society. He has robbed and shot one young woman to death and stabbed and killed another. Guess which man is to be deported immediately and which will be staying.

Each of their stories is bad enough in itself; in conjunction, as they were last week, they are scandalous. On Thursday it emerged that Coleman has been told by the Home Office that he must return immediately to his native Zimbabwe. His applications to extend his visa, and later for asylum, have failed and if he does not go at once his removal may be "enforced".

One could normally count on Home Office incompetence to spare him this fate, but Coleman's problem is that by abiding by the law and reporting to a police station every two weeks and generally making his whereabouts known to the authorities, he has made things easy for them. He has not disappeared into the undergrowth. As usual no virtuous deed goes unpunished. Obeying the rules has made him easy to find. Unless someone intervenes he will be sent back to the hellhole that is Zimbabwe, where he no longer has any work or any family; they have all fled the Mugabe terror.

What makes this case particularly absurd is that Coleman is British, by any standards except those of the Home Office regulations. Although he was born in independent Zimbabwe, his father was born there while it was still the British colony of Southern Rhodesia and his mother was born in India; his father's father was a British subject. His paternal great-grandfather was a British army surgeon, as was his maternal great-grandfather.

His mother's family has been English since 1160 and her father served in the British Army and worked as a prisoner of war on the notorious bridge over the River Kwai. It is hard to imagine anyone more British in spirit and in fact, yet, because of a technicality, Coleman cannot have a British passport, cannot stay here and will soon be shipped back. Not only does he have some historical claim on this country, he also has a compassionate claim; nobody can possibly imagine that a white man, whose family has fled, can live or work safely in Zimbabwe, in that nightmare of mayhem, anti-white racism and confiscation.

Rules are rules, admittedly, and hard cases make bad rules as well as bad law. But there is something sickening about the double standards with which this man is having the rules applied to him. We all know something of countless cases of immigrants and asylum seekers who flout the rules and break the law; they are literally countless, because the Home Office simply cannot count them. On Monday Sir David Normington, the senior civil servant at the Home Office, disclosed to MPs that one in five (30 out of 160) sets of figures covering crime, immigration and prisons is not, in a ghastly establishment euphemism, "up to scratch", which is to say not fit for purpose.

In this depressing context consider the case of Roberto Malasi, the robber and convicted murderer. He and his family came to Britain in 1995, seeking asylum from Angola, and in 1999 they were given indefinite leave to remain here. Now 18, when he was 16 he shot dead a woman holding a baby at a christening, while robbing the guests with his younger brother; he escaped, went on the run boasting about this killing and soon afterwards stabbed to death a girl he thought had "dissed" him.

Before these crimes he was in and out of care, got little or no education and lived what police call a chaotic life. He will be sentenced for the killings next month and faces a long time in prison. He does not, however, seem to face deportation, much to the resentment of his victims' families, also recent arrivals from Africa. His lawyers are likely to argue that Malasi would be subject to persecution as a notorious murderer if he were sent back to Angola. On past form they are quite likely to succeed where Coleman failed - even though it is his crime that would supposedly endanger Malasi.

When I called to check some facts, the Home Office would not comment on either case. I am not sure why - these cases are surely in the public interest - but we do know that the Home Office finds it difficult to keep "up to scratch" with checking things, which is why it has so little idea of how many illegal immigrants or returned criminals or escaped convicts are in our midst. However, it was happy to explain that people such as Malasi who have been granted indefinite leave to remain can have that leave revoked if the home secretary does not feel that their remaining is conducive to the public good. In so far as there can be any certainties in life, it seems certain to me that Malasi's presence here is not conducive to the public good.

Comparing and contrasting these two cases, and considering the home secretary's wide discretion in such matters, not to mention the Home Office's ability to "lose" people (which might be put diplomatically to good use in Coleman's case), it's clear that one man should be thrown out and one should be allowed to stay. And if, as I suspect, the wrong man gets thrown out, one will be able to conclude only that the Home Office is not merely incompetent, but also institutionally unjust.

There is a way out for Coleman: he could pretend to be gay and, as Zimbabwe is notorious for persecuting homosexuals, he would have an excellent case for asylum. I am sure he could find a gay friend to help him go through this charade. However, that would involve lying; a corrupt result of a degenerate system. It will be quite legal if Coleman goes and Malasi stays, but the comparison highlights the blindness and chaos of our immigration law and our immigration system and the muddled, guilt-ridden attitudes that underpin them



BABY dolls given to schoolgirls in a scheme to dissuade them from becoming teenage mothers have, in some cases, increased their desire to have children, according to a report in a leading medical journal. The "virtual infant simulators", which cost 1,000 pounds to run in the government funded programme, are dolls programmed to behave like real babies. They cry, need to be fed regularly and have their nappies changed. It had been hoped that the dolls' demands would persuade girls to postpone parenthood. Hundreds of the dolls have been purchased across Britain in an attempt to reduce record levels of teenage pregnancy, despite a lack of evidence that they make any difference.

Now an article in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care has warned that in some cases the dolls actually encourage girls to become pregnant. The attention that the girls receive from others while looking after the dolls makes motherhood seem appealing.

It was written by Nicole Chavaudra, the healthcare worker at Rotherham primary care trust responsible for delivering the teen pregnancy strategy, and says: "There is no evidence that using electronic simulator babies decreases under18 conceptions or changes sexual behaviour." She adds: "For many young people at particular risk of becoming teenage parents, the attention received while caring for the doll reinforces the desire for parenthood."

Chavaudra suggests that the dolls are not a good use of taxpayers' money. Each doll costs about 350 pounds, but the cost of bottles, nappies, baby carriers and clothing pushes up the price to about 1,000.

The dolls give a computer read-out on how well their "mothers" look after them and are available in variants born with foetal alcohol syndrome or addicted to drugs.

Chavaudra concludes that teenagers can be persuaded to delay having children through education programmes without the novelty of the dolls. She said: "The use of an expensive electronic simulator does not demonstrate the emotional elements associated with a human baby and pregnancy."

Chavaudra's concerns are backed up in a report by the government's teenage pregnancy unit. The study, "Baby Think it Over" Electric Simulators: Are they Effective?, concludes: "There is little research evidence to support their use as a tool to encourage contraceptive use or prevent teenage pregnancy."

The government spends 40 million pounds a year on its teenage pregnancy strategy, centrally coordinated by a specialist unit. Critics point out that since the unit was set up in 1999, the number of abortions and sexually transmitted diseases in the under18s has increased. Teenage pregnancies have fallen only modestly over the period, by 11%, and the government is set to miss its target of halving the teenage pregnancy rate by 2010.

Dr Trevor Stammers, lecturer in healthcare ethics at St Mary's University College, London, said: "Raising the school leaving age to 18 will do more to reduce teenage pregnancy rates than any initiative." Tim Loughton, the Tory shadow children's minister, added: "The government's attempts to throw a lot of money at high-profile gimmicks have clearly not worked."


Why is it morally good to use government schools even when they're bad?

Comment from Britain by Peter Hitchens

Once again the Labour government are impaled on their own stupid education policy, and once again the Useless Tories are coming to their rescue. Poor old Ruth Kelly has quite rightly put her child first and ignored the silly 'principles' that, as a Labour Education Secretary, she supported and must still publicly support.

Quite rightly, the Tories have praised her for looking after her child. But they haven't made any hay out of the fact that this makes nonsense of Labour's mad comprehensive obsession. David Cameron has cleared Miss Kelly of hypocrisy. Can this be right? The point is that the hypocrisy lies not in sending her child to a private school, but in doing so while clinging to the wretched policies which prevent the state education system from being able to educate her child properly. But the Tories cannot say this because they, too, are now equally committed to non-selective, rigour-free state schools, from which the only escape is through wealth, influence, luck or power.

The Labour elite's vast, despicable hypocrisy about schooling is their weakest point, the place at which their dishonesty and selfishness is most perfectly exposed. Famously, Anthony Blair said in May 1997 "what I want for my own children I want for yours". But what he turned out to want was places at the London Oratory, a near-unique school which - as I pointed out at the time - was comprehensive in the same way that 10 Downing Street is an inner-city terraced house. It was also not available to most of the rest of us.

His was only one of several methods used by Labour politicians to pretend to support comprehensive education while avoiding it in person. Here are some other methods used by these people: Buy a house in the catchment area of a good school; get your child into a grammar school; hire private tutors while continuing to send your child to a state school you know isn't good enough.

Because Mrs Blair is a Roman Catholic, the Premier's children qualified for the Oratory, a very special and exceptional school. Mr Blair was able to avoid the bog-standard comprehensives of North London, where he then dwelt, without having to commit the terrible sin of paying fees, which in those days would have destroyed his political career.

Why exactly is this is a sin, except in that he preaches to others what he doesn't practise himself? Why should it be morally better to send your children to a bad expensive school, kept going by tax money however bad it is, than to a good expensive school, kept going by private fees? Is it a matter of privilege? Well, not exactly. The parent who pays fees does not stop paying taxes. He still funds the costly state schools, whether good or bad, that he doesn't use. And by paying fees, out of taxed income, he helps create the school place he does use, with money that he might just as easily have spent on wine, or air fares. He doesn't deprive anybody of anything. If all the private schools were shut down, their excellence would simply disappear. It wouldn't, by being mixed into the state comprehensive system, miraculously raise its general standards. Private schools are good because they are not comprehensives.

True, if he didn't have the money, he couldn't pay at all. And this is deeply unfair, but only for a reason I'll come to in a moment. But nobody (at least nobody outside the ranks of the Communist movement) claims that it's wrong on principle that some people can spend more money on cars, or holidays or clothes than anyone else, especially if they have earned their money. It certainly doesn't disqualify anyone from being a Labour politician to do such things. Quite a lot of Labour MPs and peers are comfortably off, and many Labour supporters are very rich indeed. Yet, if you happen to have the money to spare, it is far more laudable, surely, to spend money on schooling the next generation in knowledge, manners and culture, than on a couple of weeks on a beach or on a cupboard full of fashionable high-heeled shoes. Better still if some of your fees go (as they often do) on bursaries to provide private education for children whose parents cannot afford it.

By comparison, what's so good about a rich and influential person using his knowledge and skills to wangle a place in a school miles from his home, which might otherwise go to a bright child from a poor home? Surely, that's a real abuse of the privileges of the middle class, since we all know there is a strictly limited number of good state school places, and the poor have hardly any chance of going private.

That is why it is so unfair that only the well-off can pay fees. In the 1960s the mid-range private schools were dying, losing pupils to the grammar schools. Now, even a bad private school can look good in the league tables because far too few state schools are any good, and many of those that are good are harder to get into than the most exclusive club you care to name. It wasn't always like this. Just 40 years ago, in this country, there were thousands of high-quality schools which didn't charge fees. Most of them were Grammar Schools (in Scotland, Academies). There were also Direct Grant schools, private schools which took a large block of pupils from the local state primary system. The parents of the children involved didn't pay fees at all.

As a result, many children from less well-off homes got a first-rate education. Alan Bennett's an example. His father was a Co-op Butcher, but he got to Oxford, with no special measures to help him. Many, many Labour MPs benefited in the same way. In fact, in the mid-1960s the grammar schools were taking over Oxford and Cambridge, even though they weren't specially-equipped (as the good private schools were) to deal with the classical subjects needed in the entrance exams that Oxbridge then held.

Nobody is saying that the system of 40 years ago was perfect. The 11-plus exam was too arbitrary. Germany has a selective system without any such exam. There were too few grammar schools. Many more could have been built at a fraction of the cost of going comprehensive. There were too few grammar places for girls. More should have been created. The Secondary Moderns, to which 11-plus failures went, were often not as bad as is now claimed - and in many cases better than the comprehensives of today - but badly needed improving. There were supposed to be technical schools, but they often hadn't been built. They should have been. But whatever was wrong, it was absurd to destroy the one part of the system that actually worked, like amputating a healthy leg and leaving the diseased one in place.

If we could reverse this foolishness, then Ruth Kelly, and many, many more without her advantages and income, could be sure that their children would be properly educated without needing to pay 15,000 pounds a year for what ought not to be a privilege. But Miss Kelly, as Education Secretary and as a politician, has set her face against this fair remedy. She is quite entitled to do all in her power for her young. I praise her for it. But how can she then continue to support the system which has failed her own child, and the children of thousands of others?


Special health care for Muslims? "Muslims should be provided with faith-based services - including male circumcision - on the NHS, says one healthcare expert. Professor Aziz Sheikh is also calling for women patients to see same-sex medics, better access to prayer facilities in hospitals and more information so Muslims can avoid alcohol and pig-derived drugs. Writing in the British Medical Journal, the University of Edinburgh professor also claims Muslims should be given health advice on attempting the Hajj pilgrimage-to Mecca which he insisted was a 'religious obligation and not a holiday'. The BMJ contrasts his opinions with those of Professor Aneez Esmail, of Manchester University, who says in another article that it would not be practical to meet everyone's demands for special services based on religious identity. He warned some faith groups might support practices which may be unacceptable to the majority - such as female circumcision and the refusal to accept blood transfusions."

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