Friday, April 20, 2007

NHS knowingly used contaminated blood

Victims of the contaminated blood scandal renewed their calls for compensation yesterday, as evidence emerged that the Government was told about the dangers of using "skid row" blood products as early as 1975. At an independent public inquiry into the supply of tainted blood to haemophiliacs during the 1970s and 1980s, survivors and relatives of those who died said that questions still needed to be answered about what successive governments knew.

At least 4,500 haemophiliacs were infected with HIV and hepatitis C from contaminated plasma. A total of 1,757 have died and thousands more are terminally ill.

One letter presented to the inquiry showed that in January 1975 the Wilson Government was warned that one of the US companies it bought plasma treatments from sourced all its blood from "skid row derelicts". The letter, written by Stanford University Medical Centre to the Blood Products Laboratory at the Lister Institute, said that these clotting products, known as Factor 8, had proven to be "extremely hazardous", with recipients having a 50 to 90 per cent chance of developing hepatitis.

The inquiry, chaired by Lord Archer of Sandwell, a former Solicitor-General, heard that other products were bought from companies that acquired blood from prisoners in America.

Those giving evidence yesterday spoke of their harrowing ordeals. Sue Threakall, whose husband died in 1991, aged 47, after contracting HIV following the use of Factor 8, told the inquiry: "This terrible tragedy should never have happened; it was wholly avoidable. Warnings were ignored, lessons were not learnt and our community was lied to by the people it should have trusted most."

The Government has not confirmed whether it will allow ministers or civil servants to give evidence to the inquiry, which is scheduled to report by late summer.


Malnutrition in NHS patients

Patients are at risk of malnutrition because of a shortage of nursing staff to feed them properly, a survey suggests. Almost half of the 2,000 nurses questioned by the Royal College of Nursing said that they did not have enough time to make sure that patients got their meals and were able to eat them because they were too busy. The findings come six years after the Government spent 40 million to improve nutrition in hospitals.

Difficulties getting food for patients outside set mealtimes was cited as the main problem by 49 per cent of nurses. Almost as many (46 per cent) nurses blamed a lack of staff to assist those patients who needed help eating.

Campaigners from the charity Age Concern say that elderly patients in particular are regularly going without meals because they are placed out of their reach or because they are unable to eat without assistance. The survey was released at the annual congress of the college in Harrogate yesterday.


NHS goes private to hit target

EMERGENCY funding totalling 160,000 pounds has been set aside so that more than 40 patients can be treated at a private hospital and waiting list targets can be achieved in East Lancashire. General surgery and orthopaedics cases being dealt with by East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust were in danger of exceeding 20-week in-patient treatment targets. The hospitals trust has undertaken a series of waiting list initiatives to meet the NHS goal and a number of patients had been transferred to the private sector Abbey Gisburne Park Hospital, near Clitheroe, for treatment.

But since an initial batch of patients were relocated to Gisburne Park in December, the transfer rate appears to have dried up, according to a Blackburn with Darwen Primary Care Trust report. The report adds: "East Lancashire Hospitals Trust has repeatedly been reminded, via performance meetings and e-mails, of the opportunity to transfer patients to the independent contract, if additional capacity was needed to meet the March targets. "They have however made, limited use of this, preferring to retain the patients at the hospital trust, and giving assurances that they could manage the lists internally."

Every patient on the 20-week waiting list should have been given an appointment date by February 16 and the hospital trust has been asked if any outstanding patients can still be moved to Gisburne Park. Some of the 40-plus outstanding cases, were not medically suitable for transfer to Gisburne Park, others refused to attend the hospital, and a proportion were reluctant to change their consultant mid- treatment. But in the meantime the primary care trust has also held talks with Beardwood Hospital, the privately-run facility in Preston New Road, Blackburn, about dealing with NHS patients there.



This is completely desperate stuff. The minute elevation of risk reported below is way below the 100% increase normally considered necessary for a finding in a low-incidence area to be taken seriously. To sum up: It is just scare-mongering HOKUM. What the data really shows is that HRT is a NEGLIGIBLE risk. Yet again the once-reputable "Lancet" publishes garbage. They just KNOW what is good for you -- like the Leftists they generally are

Women were advised yesterday to think "very carefully" about taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after evidence was published showing that it has killed 1,000 women in Britain since 1991 by increasing their risk of ovarian cancer. HRT increases the risk of the disease by 20 per cent, the biggest investigation of links between HRT and cancer has found. Although the absolute risk is low, millions of women took HRT in the 1990s and so the total impact is large: an extra 1,300 cases of the disease and 1,000 deaths between 1991 and 2005, according to the Million Women Study.

Previous results from the same study have linked HRT with an increased risk of breast and womb cancer. The latest findings suggest that HRT raises the combined risk of all three diseases by more than 60 per cent, the researchers say. Despite a sharp decline in recent years in HRT use, there are believed to be about one million women in Britain still on it.

Valerie Beral, director of the Cancer Research UK epidemiology unit at the University of Oxford, said: "The results of this study show that not only does HRT increase the risk of getting ovarian cancer, it also increases a woman's risk of dying of ovarian cancer." Ovarian cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women in Britain. Each year about 6,700 women develop the disease and 4,600 die from it.

The findings come from a study of 948,576 post-menopausal women, or a quarter of all women aged 50 to 64 in the country. It was largely funded by Cancer Research UK. About a third of those in the study were taking HRT, and another fifth had taken it in the past. The women were followed for an average of more than five years for signs of ovarian cancer, and seven years for death. During the follow-up period a total of 2,273 women developed ovarian cancer and 1,591 died from it.

These results imply that the use of HRT - of whatever sort - increased the risk of developing and dying from ovarian cancer by 20 per cent, the team reports in the online version of The Lancet. To put the findings in perspective, they mean that over a period of five years there is likely to be one extra case of ovarian cancer among every 2,500 women receiving HRT, and one additional death for every 3,300 women on the therapy.

HRT is used to combat unpleasant symptoms of the menopause, including hot flushes, vaginal dryness and night sweats. It was promoted strongly by doctors in the 1970s, and many women claimed that it had transformed their lives. But in recent years numbers have plummeted after a series of health scares. According to the GP Research Database, the number of women in Britain on HRT fell from two million in 2002 to one million in 2005. John Toy, the medical director of Cancer Research UK, said: "Considering this alongside the increases in risk for breast and endometrial cancer, women should think very carefully about taking HRT. Women who choose to take HRT should aim do so for clear medical need and for the shortest possible time."

The findings were challenged by John Stevenson, of the Royal Brompton Hospital in London and the chairman of the charity Women's Health Concern. "The study grossly overestimates the breast cancer risk, and now we have findings from a five-year study that have to be extended to a 14-year time frame to make them more sensational," he said. "This is not science, and the findings themselves fly in the face of cancer biology."

Breast, ovarian and endo- metrial cancer, which affects the womb lining, account for almost 40 per cent of cancers in women in Britain, and a quarter of female cancer deaths. HRT appears to raise the combined risk of all three diseases by 63 per cent, according to the Million Women Study. "When ovarian, endometrial and breast cancer are taken together, use of HRT results in a material increase in these common cancers," the study authors wrote.

Journal abstract below:

Breast cancer and hormone-replacement therapy in the Million Women Study

Background: Current use of hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) increases the incidence of breast cancer. The Million Women Study was set up to investigate the effects of specific types of HRT on incident and fatal breast cancer.

Methods: 1084110 UK women aged 50-64 years were recruited into the Million Women Study between 1996 and 2001, provided information about their use of HRT and other personal details, and were followed up for cancer incidence and death.

Findings: Half the women had used HRT; 9364 incident invasive breast cancers and 637 breast cancer deaths were registered after an average of 2·6 and 4·1 years of follow-up, respectively. Current users of HRT at recruitment were more likely than never users to develop breast cancer (adjusted relative risk 1·66 [95% CI 1·58–1·75], p<0·0001) and die from it (1·22 [1·00–1·48], p=0·05). Past users of HRT were, however, not at an increased risk of incident or fatal disease (1·01 [0·94–1·09] and 1·05 [0·82–1·34], respectively). Incidence was significantly increased for current users of preparations containing oestrogen only (1·30 [1·21–1·40], p<0·0001), oestrogen-progestagen (2·00 [1·88–2·12], p<0·0001), and tibolone (1·45 [1·25–1·68], p<0·0001), but the magnitude of the associated risk was substantially greater for oestrogen-progestagen than for other types of HRT (p<0·0001). Results varied little between specific oestrogens and progestagens or their doses; or between continuous and sequential regimens. The relative risks were significantly increased separately for oral, transdermal, and implanted oestrogen-only formulations (1·32 [1·21–1·45]; 1·24 [1·11–1·39]; and 1·65 [1·26–2·16], respectively; all p<0·0001). In current users of each type of HRT the risk of breast cancer increased with increasing total duration of use. 10 years' use of HRT is estimated to result in five (95% CI 3–7) additional breast cancers per 1000 users of oestrogen-only preparations and 19 (15–23) additional cancers per 1000 users of oestrogen-progestagen combinations. Use of HRT by women aged 50–64 years in the UK over the past decade has resulted in an estimated 20000 extra breast cancers, 15000 associated with oestrogen-progestagen; the extra deaths cannot yet be reliably estimated.

Interpretation: Current use of HRT is associated with an increased risk of incident and fatal breast cancer; the effect is substantially greater for oestrogen-progestagen combinations than for other types of HRT.

Correspondence to: Prof Valerie Beral, Cancer Research UK Epidemiology Unit, Gibson Building, Radcliffe Infirmary, Woodstock Road, OxfordOX2 6HE, UK

More "Big Brother" in Britain

CCTV cameras with children shouting rap lyrics at anti-social yobs are to be introduced in Reading. The town has been given a 25,000 pound grant to develop talking cameras which will use children's voices to warn litter louts and hooligans to think again. Four-line recorded verses will embarrass culprits in public places, before reminding them of their civic responsibility to keep the town clean and safe. A competition will be organised among the town's schoolchildren to come up with and record appropriate rap lyrics for the warnings - effectively meaning children will be telling off adults for their behaviour. CCTV operators will also be able to talk live to people thought to be causing a nuisance.

Some townsfolk have reacted angrily to the scheme, which they claim smacks of Big Brother and is an extension of the nanny state. But talking at the scheme's launch yesterday, both the police and Reading Borough Council insisted the talking cameras will prove an effective deterrent. Superintendent Steve Kirk, Reading's police chief, said: "I do understand the Big Brother tag but we are not watching people any more than we have been watching before. "Rather than have the Big Brother tag we want an environment where people feel safe." He added that the talking cameras would be invaluable if the town had to be evacuated for any reason.

Tony Page, lead councillor for community action, said: "Hopefully the presence of these will deter crime and actually encourage people to act more responsibly. "The cameras are there already. This is just an enhancement to existing technology. Law abiding people have nothing to fear from them."

Locations and the number of cameras to be fitted with voice technology are yet to be confirmed, but it is thought they will be mainly based in the town centre and will operate from towards the end of the year. The town already has more than 500 CCTV cameras, including 162 in The Oracle alone. Reading is one of 20 areas sharing a 463,574.50 pot for the cameras as part of the Government's Respect scheme. The move follows a trial scheme in Middlesborough, which organisers claim has been a "100 per cent success" in cleaning up the town.

Home Secretary John Reid said the cameras would make people feel less vulnerable and would promote good behaviour while tackling bad conduct. He denied we were living in a police society and added: "There is always a minority and this is a way of trying to embarrass them, short of taking people to court, short of getting the police involved, to make sure it is a better local society."


UK Doctors Refusing to Commit Abortion Alarm Royal College

"Unprecedented numbers" are opting out - threatens British abortion industry

More and more doctors in Britain are refusing to commit abortions, according to a recent release by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). In "unprecedented numbers," British doctors are opting out, a development that threatens to undermine the British abortion industry which now stands at about 190,000 babies a year with four fifths of the deaths paid for by National Health. The RCOG cites "distaste" and ethical and religious convictions for the increase in "conscientious objectors" requesting exemption. A statement from the RCOG says the organization "believes that proper education and use of contraceptives are essential to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections."

Since the institution of widespread "sex education" programs in schools and the free availability of contraceptives, Britain's rate of pregnancy among teenagers has skyrocketed to become the highest in Europe.

Responding to an article in the Independent, the RCOG called abortion an "essential part of women's healthcare services." Recent statistics show Britain's abortion levels at an all time high and one in three women in Britain will have an abortion during her lifetime.

Kate Guthrie, an abortionist and spokesperson on family planning for the RCOG told the Independent, "There is an increasing number of young doctors who are not participating in the training. The college and the Department of Health are really worried."

Richard Warren, honorary secretary of the RCOG and a consultant obstetrician in Norfolk, said, "In the past, abortion was an accepted part of the workload. People did not like it but they accepted that it was in the best interests of the woman concerned." He added, "There is an ethos that people go into medicine to save lives and look after people. Usually, a decision for termination is taken reluctantly even though it is recognised that it is in the best interests of the woman. It is difficult and upsetting work and it is done with obvious reticence. We are seeing more doctors who are reluctant to be involved in the process and this is happening in the context of growing demand."

This is good news to the pro-life leadership of Britain who said, "We are pleased to hear that an increasing number of medical staff are refusing to perform abortions, but this situation is being talked up by those who want nurses or other non-doctors to perform abortion." John Smeaton, head of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children pointed to a recent examination by health experts of Britain's abortion law that showed it was legal for nurses and midwives to abort babies. "I do hope the profession is coming to realise the profound contradiction between its caring and life-preserving role, and the act of destruction of innocent human lives." Smeaton added, "Maybe after the six and a half million children who have died since legalisation 40 years ago, and countless mothers hurt by their abortion experience, we are finally seeing abortion for the social horror that it is."

Since the 1990s, the Faculty of Family Planning and the RCOG has included a conscientious objection clause for health staff who refuse abortion on religious or moral grounds. But Smeaton warns that doctors and nurses opting out still suffer "immense pressure to refer women and girls to colleagues who will perform terminations."


The British Left gets nervous about immigration

Large-scale immigration has damaged the poorest communities and deeply unsettled the country, Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister, says today. Mr Byrne says that inequality and child poverty are two of the main side-effects of migration, which has been running at record levels since Labour came to power. He also highlights the pressures caused by migration on schools and housing, and how they are affecting attempts to improve educational standards.

Mr Byrne makes his remarks before publication tomorrow of official figures showing net migration of 185,000 in 2005, four times the figure when Labour came to power in 1997. He tells his party that if Labour fails to address public concern about the level of immigration, and its effects on the country and public services, it could lose the next general election.

The scale of net migration has caused a marked change in public concern about immigration, Mr Byrne says. Globalisation and immigration have made Britain richer but have also "deeply unsettled the country", he writes in a pamphlet titled Rethinking Immigration and Integration, published by Policy Network, a centre-left think-tank. He says: "We also have to accept that laissez-faire migration runs the risk of damaging communities where parts of our antipoverty strategy come under pressure."

Mr Byrne says sudden increases in immigration into poor parts of Britain hit government attempts to improve life for the indigenous population. "When a junior school such as the school in Hodge Hill, my own constituency in Birmingham, sees its population of children with English as a second language rise from 5 per cent to 20 per cent in a year, then boosting standards in our poorest communities gets harder," he says.

Mr Byrne says existing communities were not sure that change arising from immigration had been fair. He says the speed of migration meant that public services in some communities had found it difficult to change as quickly as the communities around them are changing. "It is true that a small number of schools have struggled to cope, that some local authorities have reported problems of overcrowding in private housing and that there have been cost pressures on English language training, but the answer is in action that is simultaneously firm and fair."

Last month research published by the Home Office said that thousands of impoverished asylum-seekers had been dumped in socially deprived areas of the country under the Government's dispersal policy. The study found they were met with resistance from local people, racial harassment and racist attacks. Their arrival also had a significant impact on local health and education services. It said placing asylum-seekers in poorer areas of the country, such as Everton, Glasgow, Tyneside and parts of Manchester, had accentuated existing deprivation among the indigenous population.

The report, which was produced in 2002 but only released under freedom of information laws last month, highlighted some of the difficulties caused by the arrival of new migrants in poor areas. Fifty different languages had been introduced into Newcastle upon Tyne, and in other areas doctors dealing with new migrants experienced difficulties treating unfamiliar diseases such as malaria and TB. A health centre in Liverpool found that there were 24 different languages spoken by asylum-seeking patients.

In a separate article in today's pamphlet, Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for Dagenham and a deputy leadership candidate, says that the communities undergoing the most rapid demographic change because of migration are the most poorly equipped to deal with it as they suffer high levels of poverty, social immobility and poor public services. John Reid, the Home Secretary, met the French Interior Minister yesterday and raised the issue of a centre being built offering showers, information and food to migrants gathering in Sangatte, northern France. The Conservatives fear that the building will act as a magnet for those seeking to enter Britain illegally.


Britain to follow Australia's immigration example

Britain will next year adopt an Australian-style model for restricting immigration to those with skills in need. British Immigration Minister Liam Byrne unveiled the timetable for introducing the points-based system during a fact-finding visit to Australia, which uses a similar model to attract migrants with in-demand skills and reject those who would compete with local workers for unskilled jobs. "With the exception of an elite group of highly-skilled migrants, all other foreign workers or students will need a UK sponsor to vouch for them and help us make sure they are playing by the rules," Mr Byrne was quoted as saying in The Guardian newspaper. Under the system, would-be migrants would need to amass a certain number of points according to their skills and sector gaps in the UK.

It was first announced by Home Secretary John Reid last year and will replace more than 80 routes of entry to the UK with five tiers for workers with different skill levels. The first tier, for highly-skilled migrants such as scientists and entrepreneurs, will be launched at the beginning of next year. It will be followed later in 2008 by new tiers for skilled workers such as nurses, teachers and engineers with job offers, temporary workers and young people on working holidays. A further tier for students will begin at the start of 2009.

The announcement comes ahead of Thursday's publication of official statistics which The Times newspaper predicted would show net migration into Britain of 185,000 in 2005. The figure is down from the previous year's 222,600, but four times the level in 1997.

Writing in a pamphlet due out later this month and widely reported in British media on Wednesday, Mr Byrne warned uncontrolled migration could damage the poorest communities. He said while migration had made the UK richer, it had also "unsettled the country". Mr Byrne is attending an international conference on immigration issues in Sydney.


UN rebuff for Britain on global warming

BRITAIN has run into a wall of reluctance spearheaded by China after telling the United Nations that there are few greater threats to global security than climate change. The British Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, chaired the UN Security Council's first debate on global warming on Tuesday. Fifty-two countries lined up to speak in the debate, which Britain initiated as it holds the rotating presidency of the council. "This is an issue which threatens the peace and security of the whole planet - this has to be the right place to debate it," Mrs Beckett said.

But China's deputy ambassador to the UN, Liu Zhenmin, was blunt in rejecting the session. "The developing countries believe that [the] Security Council does not have the professional competence for handling climate change, nor is it the right decision-making place for extensive participation," Mr Liu said. China and Russia, among others, warned that the council's mandate was limited to peace and security. So did Pakistan, on behalf of 130 developing nations, which argued that the council was encroaching on more representative bodies, such as the 192-member General Assembly.

Inside the forum, Mrs Beckett said that recent scientific evidence reinforced, or even exceeded, the worst fears about climate change. She warned of migration on an unprecedented scale because of flooding, disease and famine. Drought and crop failure would also cause intensified competition for food, water and energy, and result in economic destruction comparable to World War II or the Great Depression. "Climate change is a security issue but it is not a matter of narrow national security - it has a new dimension," she said. "This is about our collective security in a fragile and increasingly interdependent world."

Mrs Beckett quoted a remark made by the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, that global warming was "an act of aggression by the rich against the poor". She was supported by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. "Projected changes in the Earth's climate are not only an environmental concern," Mr Ban said. "Issues of energy and climate change can have implications for peace and security."

British diplomats said the intention of Tuesday's session was to lift climate change to the top of the international agenda. Britain has pointed to the violence in the Darfur region of Sudan as an example of conflict partly caused by land degradation. The Maldives, Bangladesh and other low-lying countries more susceptible to flooding and climate change also pleaded with industrialised nations for action.

Last November, the Stern report suggested that 200 million people could be displaced by rising sea levels and drought by 2050. It said the global economy could shrink by one-fifth. Even Osama bin Laden accused the US in 2002 of harming nature "more than any nation in history". China has created artificial snow in Tibet after experts warned of melting glaciers in the Himalayas. The Tibetan meteorological station had created a fall of 2.2 millimetres, which accumulated to one centimetre, last week, about 4000 metres above sea level in northern Tibet, the Xinhua news agency said yesterday.


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