Thursday, February 01, 2007


Six months to get a test for TB? A normal NHS wait, no doubt. An American doctor would almost certainly have ordered all possibly relevant diagnostic tests and examinations immediately -- and got the results in short order. In Australia where I live, most diagnostic tests are done on the day that they are ordered and the results take only a few days to arrive. This case is made worse in that an important part of an early test report was ignored. The test interpreter did his/her job but the doctors were apparently to cocksure to heed the warning. The penalties for malpractice are usually negligible in Britain so why should they take care?

A grandfather died two days after doctors admitted they had spent six months treating him for the wrong disease, it emerged yesterday. Tony Bannister, 73, endured gruelling radiotherapy treatment for bone cancer before experts told him he was actually suffering from tuberculosis. Following the discovery, the former managing director was immediately put on a course of antibiotics and admitted to hospital - but two days later, he suffered a massive heart attacked and died. An investigation has been launched into the father-of-three's diagnosis and treatment after his widow insisted doctors were responsible for his death.

Marian Bannister, 68, said from the couple's home in Chichester: "It was too little, too late. "If they hadn't settled for an easy cancer diagnosis then they would have been able to treat Tony and he wouldn't have died." Mr Bannister, who worked for an electroplating company, became ill in August 2005, when he lost weight and began to suffer from flu-like symptoms. By September of that year, he was suffering from such severe back pain that he was given morphine to help him cope with the pain. Mrs Bannister, 68, said: "I told the doctor they had to do something. It was awful to see him in such pain. "The GP sent him for a bone scan and when it came back it showed terrible damage to three vertebrae and a disc. "A radiographer had written on the results of the scan 'Damage to the disc, suggested possibly infection'. "This should have been picked up on. "Cancer isn't an infection - but TB is."

Following the bone scan at St Richard's Hospital, Chichester, Mr Bannister was diagnosed with bone cancer and referred to St Mary's Hospital, Portsmouth, where he received months of treatment. However, medics told to the family the bone cancer was secondary and they were still searching for the primary cause of the cancer. "The radiotherapy was awful," said Mrs Bannister. "I told the oncologist 'You have almost killed him. What have you done?'" It was not until April 2006, when Mr Bannister was referred back to St Richard's for a bronchoscopy - an investigation into his airways - that the truth was discovered. Instead of revealing the source of the cancer, the examination revealed that Mr Bannister had tuberculosis.

He was put on a course of antibiotics and admitted to hospital, but passed away two days later after suffering a heart attack. A post mortem examination called for by the family later confirmed the cause of death was TB. Mr Bannister's distraught family then complained to the hospital, which is investigating the chain of events that led to his death.

His family have no idea how he contracted the infectious disease, which was almost eradicated in the Seventies after a prolonged vaccination programme but is now on the rise again. Tuberculosis is caused by the the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and is spread by other sufferers. It can be cured with a prolonged course of antibiotics if caught early - but if left untreated it will kill more than half its victims. Mr Bannister's daughter Rachel, 43, from Brighton, said: "My dad was white, middle class and lived in Chichester. "He wasn't the type of person who gets TB - he was the sort of person who gets cancer."

A spokesman for the West Sussex Primary Care Trust said: "I can confirm that this patient's case is currently subject to investigation and therefore we are unable to comment any further."


Dr Gerry shows why cash can't cure NHS

Considering what he's done in the last decade, you wouldn't trust Sir Gerry Robinson to run a bath, let alone the National Health Service. He's demonstrated that charm can take you a long way, but is a poor material for building lasting businesses. Television viewers may remember him as the man who tried to Show Them Who's Boss by going into dozy companies and making those in charge look like idiots. Entertaining telly, perhaps, but of limited value for those running an enterprise..... Before that... oh, but anyway, you might have expected his treatment of the NHS to be charmingly facile and practically useless.

Yet those who have invested three hours this week watching Dr Robinson's diagnosis on the telly couldn't describe his efforts as a waste of his time or ours. Probing beneath the "caring" image which seems to protect every health-service employee from criticism like a carapace, he exposed the determined resistance to even the smallest changes, and proved once again that the committee is the finest mechanism yet devised to prevent progress.

Inside the health service there is a profound disbelief in the market, or indeed in the ability of those at the workface to make sensible decisions if they are given the chance. This goes right to the top of the Department of Health, as was demonstrated by last week's leak of its submission for the Comprehensive Spending Review. The projection of a surplus of consultants and a shortage of nurses was so laughable that a spokesman was reduced to claiming that the document was merely an early draft.

As Karol Sikora, professor of cancer medicine, said: "It's difficult to imagine how this is done, but I suspect there is a bank of computers and people writing on the backs of envelopes. That's central planning." Nowhere is this Stalinist mentality clearer than in the looming disaster of the world's most expensive nonmilitary IT project, to put every NHS patient onto a national database. The costs are out of control, the medical profession hates it, and it will make everyone's medical records available to any half-competent hacker.

If we hadn't already strongly suspected it, the fact that health service managers don't actually manage in any way that would be recognised outside the public sector would have made for shocking television. By dint of great effort (and the mind-concentrating presence of the camera) Gerry actually helped make Rotherham General a slightly less inefficient place. As a demonstration of why throwing cash at the health service won't cure it, the Robinson report was worth half a dozen conventional inquiries. So not another unkind word about him, please, or at least not this week.


New British curriculum will 'make every school lesson politically correct'

Children will be taught race relations and multiculturalism with every subject they study -from Spanish to science - under controversial changes to the school curriculum announced by the Government. In music and art, they could have to learn Indian and Chinese songs and instruments, and West African drumming. In maths and science, key Muslim contributions such algebra and the number zero will be emphasised to counter Islamophobia. And in English, pupils will study literature on the experiences of migration - such as Zadie Smith's novel White Teeth, or Brick Lane, by Monica Ali.

One critic accused Education Secretary Alan Johnson of 'politicising' lessons with the new agenda. Tory MP Douglas Carswell, a member of the Commons education select committee, said schools will be vehicles for multicultural propaganda and classrooms turned into 'laboratories for politically-correct thought'. Mr Johnson was also attacked over attempts to put Britishness on the curriculum as it emerged that suggested core values are so woolly they could apply to many countries.

With concerns that standards in the three Rs are unacceptable, ministers will also face accusations that they are diverting attention away from vital subjects. Under the recommendations - put forward in a report by former headmaster Sir Keith Ajegbo -teachers will be expected to make 'explicit references to cultural diversity' in as many subjects as possible. A new central theme covering 'identity and diversity' will be added to citizenship classes, which have been compulsory since 2002. Pupils should be encouraged to discuss topics such as immigration, the legacy of the British Empire, the Commonwealth and the EU.

Teaching on immigration, including recent population movement from Eastern Europe, should touch on the benefits it brings to the economy and society, while also bringing 'political discontent and criticism'. Pupils could even be tested on their attitudes to diversity in A-level and GCSEs, which will be redrafted to ensure they include 'issues related to diversity'.

But Professor Alan Smithers, of the University of Buckingham, asked: 'Do the Government have in mind a Britishness test for youngsters born in this country, as they do with people who arrive from other countries?' Meanwhile, information technology lessons would involve joint Web projects or video-conferencing with youngsters around the world.

Sir Keith, whose report was commissioned following last July's suicide bomb attacks in London, warned that pupils could become 'disaffected' and 'alienated' if they felt unable to discuss cultural issues in subject areas. 'Education for diversity must be viewed as a whole-curriculum focus,' he said.

However, Mr Carswell said: 'This report is prescribing precisely the wrong medicine to heal the wounds of a society that multiculturalism has divided. This is a stark example of the politically-correct lobby hijacking the citizenship agenda. 'Recent arrivals to this country have all the more reason to be given a sense of what we are all about so they can become part of it and share it. But instead this will give the green light to every politically-correct Left-Wing educationist to further undermine our society.'

Teachers' unions warned that the curriculum is too crowded already to cope with extra demands. John Dunford, general secretary of the headteachers' union ASCL, said: 'Once again, the burden is falling on schools to fix a problem which has its roots in the wider society.'


Your weight is unacceptable. Wear this yellow star

A "Times" correspondent on the anti-fat fascists

Herman Goering was the exception. Injured in the Beer Hall Putsch, you see. Left dependent on narcotics and painkillers and not as active as he once was, except for the odd boar hunt, so he put on a bit of timber. Goering apart, though, one does not come across too many fat Nazis. Himmler could have dropped a few pounds, maybe, and if we had ever found him, it is a fair bet that Bormann piled it on in later years — he was a bit jowly even in 1941 — but the rest of them? Lean, mean, anti-Semite machines. Goebbels was positively emaciated. Rudolf Hess had a jaw like Sam the Eagle from The Muppet Show. As for Hitler, well we won’t get into that whole vegetarian cliché, but he didn’t look much like a guy who nagged the cook for seconds. Got a bit chunky in the bunker, mind, but you can hardly blame him for that. He wasn’t getting out much any more.

Sometimes, in our complacent, it-couldn’t-happen-here way, we muse on who would man our gas chambers if it ever did. And, while I may be going out on a limb, my current guess would be: thin people. Oh, I know that might be a generalisation. I am sure there are some thin folk out there who believe in tolerance and humanity in all its variety, just as it is quite possible there is the odd fat person who is of some worth to the human race. It is merely that the enlightened thin do not seem to be getting much radio time at the moment. Those sucking up the oxygen of publicity, as well as most of the air in the room, would appear to be from an SS Infanterie Truppen wing of slightness, whose response to what they have (somewhat lazily) styled the obesity crisis is a lurch nearer to the wearing of yellow stars for anyone with a BMI that does not meet the approval of whatever celebrity charlatan the BBC is paying to bully telly-tubbies this week. Fat Men Can’t Hunt. You Are What You Eat. Fat Camp. Tax the Fat. Coming soon: Gas the Fat. Go on, you know you want to.

There is a real epidemic in Britain right now, but it affects the mind, which is why none of these deep thinkers have worked out that it would appear mutually exclusive to have an obesity crisis (people getting fat, getting ill, costing the NHS a fortune, dying young) hand in hand with a pensions crisis (people staying healthy, retiring early, costing the state fortunes, living for ever). Should we then pay an additional tax for not eating fast food? So great is our confusion, the nationwide shock that Jade Goody was an appalling individual appeared directly related to her having shed a few pounds and having a makeover in recent months. What, you mean getting slimmer does not make you a better person? So a nasty fat girl is still be a nasty thin girl, but in smaller clothes? Come to think of it, that Osama bin Laden is, like, the slimmest guy I’ve seen. Slow down, you’re giving me too much to think about here.

There was a letter in The Times yesterday that summed up the new fat politics in all its sanctimonious smugness. “The time has surely come for luggage and owner to be weighed together — and the owner charged accordingly,” said A. Halfwit from Hertfordshire. “This might help to lessen the country’s obesity problem and reduce global warming as a large percentage of the population would have to lose weight or not fly, owing to higher costs.” No, it would mean the fat poor would no longer be able to take up cheap flights, rich fatties being unaffected by this triumph of intelligence and continuing to sit in first-class stuffing their faces across the Atlantic. That is what happens when you reduce everything to a pound note. And, yes, I’ve read the yearly cost of blubber to the NHS and I’ll play the game: provided we apply the same rules to everybody.

Take Richard Hammond. The Hamster. The nation’s favourite Top Gear daredevil. God, we love him. But, I mean, 288mph? Should we really have to pay for that? Look, if we’re taxing people for bad lifestyle choices, why stop at banoffee pie? Bullying is actually a lucrative little cottage industry. Take Gillian McKeith, who has carved out a fine career humiliating the hefty. A little touchy herself, someone at this newspaper once put the doctor part of her title in quotation marks and she was very angry, which she would be, having invested so much time and money with one of America’s finest non-accredited correspondence schools to earn it. In fact, Dr McKeith is so important she was recently cited by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority. Admittedly it was for selling medicinal products without a licence but, hey, recognition is recognition.

One of the gurus of the new intolerance, Dr McKeith believes that that “each sprouting seed is packed with the nutritional energy needed to create a full-grown healthy plant”, which just goes to show what can happen if you don’t pay attention in science classes; or maybe the last few pages of your coursework got lost in the post, doctor.

We listen to these clowns and they infest our consciousness. I can make you thin, boasts Paul McKenna on the cover of his latest book. Yes, and so can cancer. So can a prison sentence. I know a guy did time for serious assault, came out never looked better. My father-in-law, just a teensy bit on the stout side since he stopped playing football, got a terminal brain tumour, sorted that right out. Weight fell off him.

Ultimately, we trade vices, all of us, without exception. Smokers, drinkers, philanderers, fast drivers, hooligans, incompetent DIY enthusiasts, people too dumb to keep the strimmer away from their Wellington boots. Everybody is to some extent reckless or self-indulgent, which is why the world will always need lifeguards and mountain rescue teams.

So what is the answer? Acceptance. Tolerance. “We must love one another, or die,” wrote W. H. Auden, a sentiment that, while impossibly optimistic, still makes more sense than anything yet uttered by Dr McKeith and her army of faeces-sifting fascists.


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