Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Private medical treatment saves British woman

Under NHS rules she would have died

Sarah Burnell was 43 when breast cancer was diagnosed in November 2005. Despite having had the all-clear after a mammogram a year earlier, she had developed 11 tumours and had to have a mastectomy and chemotherapy. Because of a family history of breast cancer – her mother had the diagnosis at 51 – she had insisted on annual mammograms from the age of 38. They probably saved her life.

Her mother had been perimenopausal when her diagnosis was made, Ms Burnell, a radiologist, said, so she would not have been screened by the NHS until she was 46. “It was only because of my work as a radiologist that I was able to get screening before this age,” she said. “This meant that I caught the cancer early, before it had a chance to spread to my lymph nodes.”

A colleague at the private Princess Grace Hospital in Central London did the mammogram, and showed Ms Burnell the results. “I only saw the largest tumour. It was only when I went for ultrasound that I found out I had 11 tumours,” she said. “Thankfully, they were all very small.”

Ms Burnell, of Battersea, had a mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and chemotherapy. A year later her aunt, 70, was told that cancer was present in both breasts, indicating an even stronger genetic link.

Ms Burnell’s daughter, Xanthe, 9, is now worried that she will develop the disease and wants to have genetic testing. “Xanthe is concerned, but we are glad at this breakthrough in research,” Ms Burnell said. “We hope it will help her decide when to start screening. If she has the gene, I think she should start being screened at the age of 25. “I would hate her to go through what I went through. It’s been a very tough time.”


NHS dentistry: Splendid British bureaucratic logic at work

They only treat you if you have GOOD teeth! Don't you love it?

DENTISTS on the National Health Service are turning away people with bad teeth because they say they are only paid enough to treat patients with a good dental health record. One surgery admitted that people who have not had a dental appointment for three years will be refused treatment. Others are employing more subtle methods to reject patients.

Dentists' leaders say the NHS dental contract, introduced in April last year, has had a perverse effect because dentists earn the same for giving a patient one filling or 10. The Oakwood Dental Centre in Derby, for instance, says on Derby City Primary Care Trust's website that it "will only accept patients who have visited a dental surgery within the last three years". Aneu Sood, who runs the practice, said it had no time to treat those who "need a tremendous amount of work".

According to dentists' leaders, potentially unprofitable patients are screened out by giving preference to those patients who have recently been dropped by an NHS practice which has gone private. This sort of patient is likely to have had recent and regular treatment and therefore is unlikely to need extensive new surgery. Dentists will also take on the relatives of existing patients with healthy teeth in the expectation that family members will need little treatment as well.


Leeds academics fight back against censorship by threat of violence

Following the controversial last-minute cancellation by the University of Leeds of a lecture from Dr Matthias Kntzel, 'The Nazi Legacy: the export of anti-Semitism to the Middle East', the University authorities went to considerable lengths to persuade Leeds UCU that no issues of principle were involved - that the lecture was cancelled on public safety grounds only. The initial response of local union leaders was to accept their explanation - we were told that the union needs to maintain a 'constructive' relationship with the University (which no-one would dispute).

A few of us felt that the issue was too important to be brushed under the carpet, and decided to fight. With no backing from the local leadership, we canvassed support for an Extraordinary General Meeting to discuss the lecture cancellation and the wider issue of academic freedom. We were successful - 34 members supported the call (local rules require 25), and the meeting took place on Tuesday 8th May.

In the meantime, the matter was discussed at a meeting of the Joint Committee of the University and the UCU, which concluded that the University's statement was 'a truthful and complete account' of the incident. This statement claims that the lecture was cancelled 'on safety grounds alone', that no issue of academic freedom was involved, and that 'the University was not given sufficient notice' by the organisers of the meeting. Our union representatives reported to us that there was no reason to doubt the claims, or the Vice Chancellor's assurances that 'nobody was leant on by the University authorities to cancel the speech'.

This completely misses the point. We now know that only three emails of protest were received, at least one of which did not even ask for the meeting to be cancelled. None of us ever believed that there was a real threat to public safety, or that anyone had tried to put pressure on the University authorities. The sad fact is that the threats and the pressure were figments of the University's imagination. Apparently it's not possible, if you are a Muslim, to send a protest to the University without its being interpreted as a threat of violence - a rather disturbing state of affairs.

In response to our successful call and our submitted motion, some of the local officers put forward a very much watered-down version, which criticised the University only to the extent that its 'handling of the situation was unfortunate'. So, our task at the meeting was to convince people that the officers' compromise motion did not adequately address the seriousness of what had happened and its implications for academic freedom, and they should therefore support ours.

After a lively but civil debate, our motion was passed by just one vote! A message will now be sent to the University that UCU members disapprove of their action, do not accept their explanation, and will not tolerate any attempt to interfere with academic freedom and freedom of speech on our campus.

Carol Wilson (Medicine)
Eva Frojmovic (Centre for Jewish Studies)
David Miller (Medicine)
Annette Seidel-Arpaci (Modern Languages and Cultures)
Morten Hunke (Modern Languages and Cultures)

The motion:

Leeds UCU is deeply concerned about the University's decision to cancel a lecture by Dr Matthias Kntzel, "The Nazi Legacy: the export of anti-Semitism to the Middle East", organised by the German department. Both the initial decision and subsequent public statements have damaged the University's reputation by demonstrating an apparent lack of concern for its duty to uphold the principle of academic freedom.

The initial statement from Roger Gair, University Secretary, treated the justifiable concerns of staff, students, the invited speaker and the public in a wholly inappropriate manner. It incorrectly blamed the organisers of the meeting for a failure to abide by the Freedom of Expression policy, and labelled their protests as 'making mischief'. The replacement, whilst moderating its tone, repeated the same untrue claim.

The incident has raised serious concerns, both inside and outside the University, about the wider implications for academic freedom.

We note that:

* The University has failed to give a coherent and plausible explanation of the cancellation, either to Dr Kntzel and the academics concerned, or in its public statements.

* Although the University publicly asserted that it took the decision because of security fears it has produced no evidence of any threat of violence or disruption, and there were no reasonable grounds for regarding the talk as posing a safety problem.

* The University's handling of the incident was inept throughout, and has left a public impression of extreme discourtesy towards Dr Kntzel.

* The new Freedom of Expression policy allows the University too much discretion to ban an event (especially Clause 6, which includes a potential 'verbal attack' on 'religion and belief' as a reason for a ban). The wording effectively gives a right of veto over freedom of speech to anyone who objects to a controversial meeting, should the University choose to interpret it in this way.

We seek assurances from the Vice-Chancellor that:

* The University recognises that the decision to cancel the meeting was a serious blunder, which will not be repeated.

* Those involved in the decision will be given guidance in (1) the correct operation of the Freedom of Expression policy; and (2) the extent of the University's responsibilities in upholding academic freedom.

* The University will rectify its misleading public account of the events leading to the cancellation, invite Dr Kntzel back to give his lecture at the University's expense, and apologise to him and to the academics concerned.

* The Freedom of Expression policy will be revised, in collaboration with Leeds UCU, to ensure that it can under no circumstances be used to obstruct free speech within the law.


Selective schools improve nearby non-selective schools

They set up a standard for comparison. Both types of school are publicly funded

David Cameron is facing a fresh challenge to his authority with a member of his frontbench team producing new evidence showing that grammar schools dramatically improve the exam results of a whole neighbourhood. Graham Brady, the Shadow Europe Minister and a former grammar school pupil, has passed data to The Timesshowing that GCSE results are significantly better in areas that have an element of selective education - with ethnic minority children benefiting most.

The figures show that in comprehensive areas with no selection, 42.6 per cent of GCSE pupils get 5 or more A* to C grades in subjects including English and maths. This rises to 46 per cent in partially selective areas and 49.8 per cent in wholly selective areas where all pupils take the 11 plus.

This new frontbench division will dismay both Mr Cameron and David Willetts, the Shadow Education Secretary, who unveiled further controversial policy reforms yesterday. He wants city academies to choose pupils by a range of nonacademic criteria, including race, which he hopes will halt growing segregation in some inner city areas. Mr Cameron yesterday called critics of his refusal to bring back grammar schools "inverse class warriors".

Mr Brady's figures challenge a key element of Tory thinking - that pupils who fail to get into grammar schools suffer more than those who go to schools where there is no local selection. His figures show: Areas with academic selection appear to benefit ethnic minorities, and Chinese and Bangladeshi children most. Chinese students get a 82.4 per cent rating for good GCSEs in selective areas but average 61.2 per cent in comprehensive areas. Bangladeshi students get 57 per cent in selective areas but 37.9 per cent in nonselective areas. Eight out of the top ten highest-scoring local authorities in maths and seven out of ten in English are either fully selective or partially selective. Children in areas with nonselective schools are more likely to go backwards between the ages of 11 and 14, according to data released this week.

In a further challenge, Mr Brady questioned whether free school meals - the measure of poverty used by Mr Willetts - was appropriate. He passed a letter to The Times from the headmaster of Altrincham Grammar School for Boys, who says that the educational maintenance allowance, which has a higher cutoff, provides a "truer reflection" of the profile of the school.

Mr Brady said: "These facts appear to confirm my own experiences: that selection raises the standards for everyone in both grammar and high schools in selective areas. "I accept the party's policy on grammar schools. But it is vitally important that policy should be developed with a full understanding of all of these facts - which might lead to the introduction of selection in other ways, including partial selection in academies and other schools."

Professor Alan Smithers, of the University of Buckingham, said that the figures were significant. "It's acknowledged that grammar schools work very well for children in them, but the argument against has always been that children who don't go to the grammar achieve below what they would get in a comprehensive system. But it does look as though it is difficult to sustain the argument." He noted that grammar school pupils often came from more privileged backgrounds.


A strangely selective conscience : "There is an article on the Guardian site called Throw a pebble at Goliath: don't buy Israeli produce, by Yvonne Roberts, in which she urges people to boycott Israel because of its human rights record. Now I know nothing about Yvonne Robert and have never even heard of her before, but I assume she also an avid campaigner for people to boycott products from Cuba, Burma, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, China (good luck doing that), Iran, Syria, Belorus, Zimbabwe, North Korea (assuming they actually produce any products) etc. etc. etc... after all, if she is such a tireless campaigner for human rights, surely she could not possibly feel it was alright for people to trade with all those places, given the state of human rights in those places. Right? Anyone want to take any bets on this?"

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