Friday, March 09, 2007

Red tape killing NHS

The National Health Service is groaning under the weight of inspection and regulation, with at least 56 bodies with a right to visit NHS hospitals and trusts, many without an invitation. There are so many bodies that the authors of a new report from the NHS Confederation say that they are not sure they have managed to count them all. Calling for a halt to overbearing bureaucrats, the confederation - which represents NHS managers in 90 per cent of trusts - says something must be done to reduce the burden.

The burden of providing data is even worse than that of playing host to Government inspectors, the report says. Often different bodies call for the same data, but in subtly different forms, so that it must be collated twice at huge cost. "The sheer number of inspections, standards, and volume of information required to demonstrate compliance is making it difficult for NHS organisations to extract value from these various process and use them to drive improvement in services for patients" the report says.

Despite claims by the Healthcare Commission, the principal inspector, that it would adopt a "light touch" and promises by Government to ease the burden of regulation, things are getting worse, not better. The impact of the commission's annual health check is "overwhelming", the report says, and loses its meaning because of its wide-ranging nature. The process requires 500 separate information topics to be addressed, so voluminous that managers told the confederation they doubted they could ever complete them well enough.

There is also huge overlap with data required by the Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts and the Healthcare Commission.

There is also criticism of the commission's move to ask trusts to "self declare" compliance with its standards. While the aim was to reduce inspections, the result has been confusion as trusts do not know what documents they need. "This has led to an increased feeling of a burdensome system where the board has to second guess what the Healthcare Commission is looking for," the report says.

Sometimes the demands are absurd. One hospital installed a toilet block and single-sex wards, but the commission refused to accept this as there was no paperwork. Extra work was needed to generate paper that has no function except to satisfy the regulator.

Gill Morgan, chief executive of the confederation, said: "NHS leaders welcome meaningful regulation and inspection, but unsurprisingly they don't like excessive bureaucracy. "Regulation is not an end in itself. It will only fulfil its purpose if it helps NHS organisations assess themselves as a way of driving forward improvement and providing public assurance about quality and safety of the service."

The commission has introduced a concordat between inspection bodies aimed at reducing the burden. But, the conferedation says, it is not working. It recommends the sharing of information between regulators, cuts to inspections and data collections, inspections managed to avoid unnecessary evidence gathering and that the concordat be extended to all organisations



Something odd happens, even to the mightiest of organisations, when they are confronted by a judge in chambers and a smooth-tongued counsel. The threat of an injunction, especially one sought by the Attorney-General, is enough to reduce them to meek compliance. They forget to remind the court that the best response to any damaging disclosure is the one articulated by the Duke of Wellington: "Publish and be damned!" Thus it was that the BBC caved in, last Friday night, to Lord Goldsmith's application for an injunction, which prevented it running a perfectly legitimate story about an alleged Downing Street cover-up. Instead of appealing immediately, the BBC sat back and waited for someone else with a bit more gumption to scoop it.

Injunctions are nearly always a sign of political or personal embarrassment and should nearly always be resisted. They are an act of desperation on the part of a litigant who has something to hide and nothing else to hide behind. They have the effect of drawing far more attention to the matter in hand than would otherwise have been the case, and they fail in the long run. More to the point, they are an infringement of freedom of expression and the public interest.

Only in cases of gross contempt of court, where publication may damage a forthcoming trial or lead to the discharge of a jury, can injunctions be justified. It is up to the judge to point out that if the story complained about is defamatory, a breach of confidence or otherwise contentious, then the litigant should sue rather than suppress. Governments like to add national security to the list of forbidden subjects, but even that is usually a smokescreen. As a veteran of a three-year battle on behalf of The Scotsman newspaper against Mrs Thatcher's Government, which argued, right up to the House of Lords, that the memoirs of a Cold War spy would shatter the edifice of the State, I know whereof I speak. She lost. The Government survived.

Quite why the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, should have compromised his independence in this way is a mystery. His claim that the BBC's story, about the role of a Downing Street aide in the cash-for-peerages affair, may have compromised Scotland Yard's inquiries scarcely stands up to scrutiny. Most of the regular leaks have clearly emanated from police sources, so it is hard to argue that this latest one is suddenly unacceptable.

Lord Goldsmith should have told them briskly that their attempt to suppress the story amounts to prior restraint, has no basis in law, and that, if the police think they have a case for contempt, they can institute a prosecution in due course. He may have added that, since no case, even if brought, is likely to come to court in less than two years, the idea that a leaked memo might influence a jury so far ahead is improbable.

Instead, he has opened himself to the accusation that he is seeking to protect the Government from further humiliation. The injunction thus becomes the latest in a list of half-hearted attempts at censorship, such as Tony Blair's bid to prevent the Daily Mirror revealing his alleged conversation with George W. Bush over bombing al-Jazeera.

We should by now have learnt from the United States, where the Supreme Court will always presume in favour of free speech. The prime test case was that of the Pentagon Papers, when the Nixon Administration argued that publication of stolen documents revealing confidential negotiations over Vietnam constituted a threat to national security, on the ground that other nations would no longer trust the US to keep its secrets. The Supreme Court threw out that case and The New York Times published the results. It was a far better advertisement for American self-confidence than a cover-up. Today no one can recollect much of what was in the Pentagon Papers; but the failed attempt to suppress them is still remembered.

Challenging interfering governments should be a prime responsibility of the media. But it takes time, and involves risks, which managements too often shrink from. My three-year legal marathon on The Scotsman exposed that paper to potential costs of hundreds of thousands of pounds - picked up, instead, by the taxpayer after we had won. When The Wall Street Journal challenged an attempted injunction by a Saudi businessman over a story about financing terrorism in 2001, that case, too, went all the way to the Lords and might have cost the newspaper, had it lost, more than $4 million. The Journal argued that a fundamental principle was at stake, and was praised by the courts for its "responsible journalism".

So, courage - moral as well as managerial - is required in defence of media freedom, and the BBC has as much of a responsibility here as any newspaper. It does not, however, have a great track record. When, at the outset of the Hutton inquiry, ITV presented the case for televising the proceedings, its lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, QC, invited the BBC to join him in the action. The BBC refused, perhaps because it thought that the outcome might compromise it as well as the Government.

The time has come, then, for a new slogan to be added to the legal lexicon - something along the lines of "embarrassment is no defence in law". It is as well to remember that Wellington scrawled "Publish and be damned!" on the back of a letter he had received from his mistress, who was threatening to include his name in her scandalous memoirs. He was not only declaring his immunity to exposure, he was defying a potential blackmailer. He may observe today that the line between blackmail and an injunction can be a fine one.


New Report Finds Red-faced Errors by IPCC and Gore

An analysis of the United Nations widely-touted 2007 IPCC Global Warming Summary for Policymakers by UK Lord Viscount Monckton has found 31 errors and exaggerations. Since Lord Monckton alerted the UN about its errors, the UN substantially rewrote and corrected the report, Monckton claims in his new analysis. (see here)

The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, an aide to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, sent the UN a list of 31 errors and exaggerations shortly after launch of the summary in February 2007 of its latest report on the science of climate change.

The UN's climate-change body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, did not reply directly to Lord Monckton's criticism, but made many of the corrections nevertheless. "The tradition of elementary but serious scientific errors, of which the notorious `hockey-stick' graph of estimated global temperatures over the past 1,000 years is an example, is alive and well in the UN's 2007 report," Lord Monckton said.

"The UN has still not corrected or apologized for the `hockey-stick', by which it falsely abolished the mediaeval warm period, when temperatures were 2 or 3C warmer than today, and disaster failed to ensue. But it has been forced to correct several schoolboy howlers - though it has not had the honesty to announce publicly and clearly that it has done so," Monckton said. "The heavily-corrected version of the IPCC report has been furtively posted on the IPCC's website, There has been no public statement by the IPCC admitting to the errors," Monckton added.

The UN has been forced to halve its high-end estimate of the rise in sea-level to 2100, and it has also sharply reduced its estimate of our entire effect on the climate since 1750, according to Monckton. Monckton echoed UK Lord Nigel Lawson's call that the IPCC be disbanded. "It is too politicized and too incompetent to serve any useful purpose," Monckton said.

Monckton's new analysis also points out significant science errors in Al Gore's Oscar winning film "An Inconvenient Truth." "The IPCC's exaggerations and errors parallel those of Al Gore in his notorious sci-fi horror film An Inconvenient Truth, now being peddled to schoolchildren worldwide," Monckton said.


Senior British Minister: Illegal immigration 'is theft from taxpayers'

Part of a feeble attempt to crack down on illegals

Home Secretary John Reid today branded illegal immigration as theft from the taxpayer. He was defending plans to introduce a text messaging scheme to warn visitors to the UK of the penalties of overstaying their visas as part of a new crackdown on "grossly unfair" illegal immigration. The "get tough" policy has been branded unrealistic and inhumane by campaigners, who said it threatened to leave up to half a million people destitute, forcing many into crime or the black economy.

However, the Airdrie and Shotts MP said plans for a text messaging pilot scheme to remind immigrants about their visas were a "tiny" part of a new enforcement strategy designed to "block the benefits" of Britain to those in the country illegally. He also attacked the Tories' opposition to plans to introduce ID cards for all foreigners coming into the country from 2008, saying it was crucial to the tracking of illegal immigrants.

Dr Reid said: "Illegal immigration harms the minimum wage, it is not fair, it undermines the rights of British workers, it steals taxpayers' money, by taking benefits, by taking services through the NHS or otherwise ... provided by the British people, British taxpayers for British people themselves. "So it is grossly unfair, and we intend, year on year, to make it harder and harder to get benefits, or services, or work, if you are an illegal immigrant."

New measures include a "watch list" of illegal immigrants to alert government agencies if someone applies for services to which they are not entitled; workplace enforcement teams to track down bosses employing people who should not be in the country; and pilots in three NHS trusts to ensure migrants pay for care where required.

Immigration crime partnerships will be created between local authorities, police, HM Revenue and Customs and local agencies to detect those in the country illegally and block benefits. Landlords could be fined up to 20,000 pounds for housing illegal immigrants in overcrowded flats. And new systems could be put in place to identify illegal immigrants fraudulently applying for driving licences.

Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for Welfare of Immigrants chief executive, said: "Barring up to half a million irregular migrants from access to rights and services is not a realistic or humane response to irregular migration to this country. "All the tough talk we are hearing from ministers does not mean there is any practical possibility of the Government detaining or deporting anything like this number of people in the near future. "In the meantime, rendering them destitute will not encourage or enable them to return to countries riven by human rights abuses, conflict and poverty. It will force many on to the doorsteps of already stressed charities and churches, or into the arms of criminals facilitating forced labour."

Shadow home secretary David Davis said: "John Reid is effectively giving up on trying to deport the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in this country, preferring instead to spam them with text messages."


UK: Religious Schools May Not Teach Christian Sexual Morals "As if They Were Objectively True"

After this April's implementation of the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SOR's), British religious schools may no longer be allowed to teach school children that the Christian viewpoint on sexual morality is "objectively true," a government report says. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, made up of members from Parliament and the House of Lords, has issued a report on the implementation of the Regulations recommending that religious schools be required to modify their religious instruction to comply with the government-approved doctrine of "non-discrimination".

Although religious schools will be allowed to remain open and may continue to give instruction in various religious beliefs, instruction must be modified "so that homosexual pupils are not subjected to teaching, as part of the religious education or other curriculum, that their sexual orientation is sinful or morally wrong."

The report says the Regulations will not "prevent pupils from being taught as part of their religious education the fact that certain religions view homosexuality as sinful," but they may not teach "a particular religion's doctrinal beliefs as if they were objectively true".

Published February 26, the report says, "We do not consider that the right to freedom of conscience and religion requires the school curriculum to be exempted from the scope of the sexual orientation regulations."

With the Equality Act 2006, the government empowered itself to create regulations making it illegal for anyone providing goods, services, facilities, premises, education or public functions, to discriminate against that person on the grounds of "sexual orientation". The SOR's are scheduled to come into effect in England and Wales and Scotland in April this year after a ratifying vote in Parliament. They came into effect in Northern Ireland January 1.

Fr. Tim Finigan, founder of the Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life and pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic parish in Blackfen, wrote an ominous warning on his weblog that the government's interpretation of the SOR's may represent the end of freedom of religious expression in Britain's schools. "Make no mistake - this proposal will make it illegal for Catholic schools to teach that the Catholic faith is true," Fr. Finigan wrote Friday. "If the recommendations of the Committee are accepted, it is difficult to see how Catholic schools could continue in Britain." Fr. Finigan, who teaches sacramental theology at St John's Seminary, Wonersh and is a trustee of Britain's Faith Movement, said the wording of the report was "deliberately muddied". "Our faith does not teach that 'homosexuality' itself is necessarily sinful, it teaches that it is disordered. It is homosexual acts that are sinful."

He points out, however, that the distinction is moot in government circles. "The people who framed this guidance will not accept our teaching that homosexuality is a disorder nor that homosexual acts are sinful." The homosexual political doctrine, accepted by the British as well as other governments, requires that no distinction be made between the person, the act and the condition or "orientation", making any criticism of the movement's political goals an offence against persons.

British legislators have fully incorporated this doctrine in the law. "They have the bit between their teeth," Fr. Finigan writes. "Although the direction in which public policy has been moving is obvious enough, I am a little surprised at the pace it has now picked up."

The bishop of the Scottish Catholic diocese of Paisley warned his flock last month in blunt terms to become spiritually prepared for open persecution with the implementation of the SOR's. Speaking on the problem of Catholic adoption agencies, Bishop Philip Tartaglia wrote, "This unfortunate episode may well herald the beginning of a new and uncertain time for the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom."


Incredible British bungling: "A new radio system for the Armed Forces, developed at a cost of 2.4 billion pounds, is too heavy for the average soldier to carry, a report by MPs has revealed. Soldiers using the Bowman digital radio have also found that they cannot talk to other communication systems deployed with allies on the battle-field in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bowman, which is beginning to replace the 30-year-old Clansman radio, should have been in service ten years ago, the MPs on the Public Accounts Committee said. However, delays had been caused by substantial technical problems, not helped by a Ministry of Defence decision to hand the contract to the Archer consortium, which was "unable to deliver the required product". Transferred to General Dynamics, the Bowman system began entering service in March 2004, but with 27 "provisos" and a number of capabilities removed from the specification. One of those was the ability to communicate secure data to the radio systems of allies to help to reduce the danger of "friendly-fire" attacks by coalition partners in a war."

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