Monday, November 05, 2007

Doctor banned overseas is finally suspended from NHS

A SOUTH AFRICAN doctor employed by the NHS despite falling foul of the medical authorities on three continents has been suspended after an investigation by The Sunday Times. Maurice Saadien-Raad, who has been working as a psychiatrist treating vulnerable patients, was told by the General Medical Council (GMC) last Friday that he would not be allowed to practise for 18 months while it investigates his practice in Britain. Saadien-Raad, who is 59 and lives in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, has previously been threatened with removal from the medical register in South Africa for "disgraceful conduct" and banned from practising in Tasmania.

His record also earned him a reprimand by the GMC in Britain in 2004. The council has declined to disclose what Saadien-Raad did in South Africa or what led to his suspension in Britain. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has reported that he carried out a series of botched surgical procedures before he began to specialise in psychiatry.

The case has raised concerns among health workers and patient groups that the NHS is failing to check foreign doctors adequately. Katherine Murphy, director of communications for the Patients Association, said: "The NHS has a responsibility to the people it is providing a service to. "If it is as easy as this to get a job working as a doctor in Britain then we should not be surprised that there are so many problems with patient safety."

Saadien-Raad was employed as a locum psychiatrist by Bradford District Care Trust between November 2006 and July 2007 working with patients with learning disabilities and mental health problems. As a locum, he would also have worked for other trusts.

The Sunday Times began investigating Saadien-Raad after being alerted by a former colleague of his concern that he was practising in Britain. Saadien-Raad has been in Britain since 2002. After a series of disciplinary hearings in South Africa, he later lied about his record to register as a doctor in Tasmania. He was forced to leave when his deceit was uncovered after complaints about his medical competence.

Saadien-Raad said: "It is ridiculous they are raising this now. This happened a long time ago and it has been dealt with. It is finished and it is wrong to go over it again now." Bradford District Care Trust declined to comment


Immigration row hits Brown's support in the polls

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's party is still trailing in the polls and 80 percent of Britons think his government is being dishonest about immigration, surveys showed Saturday. A poll in The Sun showed the Conservatives on 40 percent, Brown's Labour Party on 35 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 13 percent. The results would produce a hung parliament if replicated in a general election. The Conservatives have been ahead for nearly a month after Brown, who took over from Tony Blair in June, decided against holding a snap early poll.

In a separate survey on whether the government had been honest about the true scale of immigration into Britain -- a topic which flared up last week -- 80 percent said it had not. The government admitted Tuesday to making mistakes over the number of foreign workers coming into the country, leaving Brown seeking to calm a simmering immigration row. New figures also revealed that up to half of all newly-created jobs over the last decade of Labour government had gone to foreign-born nationals.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she was "sorry" the government had to correct official figures on the increase in foreign nationals working in Britain since 1997, from 800,000 to 1.1 million. Then, citing a written answer to parliament dug up from July, the Conservatives said the figure was actually 1.5 million people.

The Sun's poll found 51 percent strongly disagreed that the government had been honest; 29 percent tended to disagree; 11 percent tended to agree and three percent strongly agreed. Asked whether public services would cope with the influx, 49 percent said they were not at all confident; 33 percent said they were not very confident; 11 percent said they were fairly confident and four percent said they were very confident. Overall, 48 percent agreed immigration was good for Britain, 36 percent disagreed and 13 percent said neither. IPSOS-Mori interviewed 1,013 random adults by telephone on Wednesday and Thursday.

The subject is a regular hot topic in Britain, with critics branding the asylum and immigration system as "open-door" and "chaotic". The Daily Telegraph said: "All of a sudden, immigration is just another political issue, like housing or schools. There is no longer anything risque about raising the subject. "We want settlers to come here; but we also want to have a rough sense of whom we are admitting, and in what numbers. "The problem in recent years has been that we feel we have lost all control of our borders, and that politicians are making promises about immigration that they will not, or perhaps cannot, fulfil."

Treasury statistics released under the Freedom of Information Act showed that one in six of Britain's highest earners are foreign-born, said the Financial Times newspaper. The data showed that about 1,000 foreigners who register themselves as foreign residents for tax purposes were among the 6,000 people who had a taxable income of more than one million pounds in 2005-2006. The prevalence of "non-domiciled residents" was likely to reflect the importance of foreign nationals in well-paid jobs in London's City financial district, as well as senior positions in manufacturing and the oil and gas industry, the business daily said.


Disastrous British schools

The 600 worst-performing secondary schools in the country face being taken over by the best or shut down completely under a new drive by the Prime Minister to improve classroom standards. Gordon Brown laid out his vision for education, saying that he wanted to raise educational aspirations across the board to ensure 100 per cent success for young people and close the social-class gap in school attainment.

His priorities include the introduction of cash incentives worth about 10,000 pounds to attract teachers into the toughest schools and a drive to increase the take-up of apprenticeships. Although he recognised improvements in schools in the past decade, the Prime Minister said that there was still much to do. "This is a determined and systematic agenda to end failure," he said. "We will see it through. We will not flinch from the task."

Mr Brown raised the bar for school performance. Previously the Government expected a minimum of 25 per cent of pupils to get five GCSEs at grade C or above. Now schools will be expected to ensure that at least 30 per cent of pupils do so. The number of schools below this level has declined from 1,600, when Labour came to power in 1997, to 670 today [due to grade inflation], but this was still too many. Schools that fall below this threshold will be given annual improvement targets. The worst among them may face "complete closure or takeover by a successful neighbouring school in a trust or federation, or transfer to academy status, including the option of takeover by an independent school".

Mr Brown said that he wanted to ensure that every 18-year-old was either headed for university with good academic qualifications or ready to go to work with vocational qualifications.

As part of a drive to increase the number of apprenticeships from 130,000 today to 400,000 by 2020, employers will receive o3,000 for every apprentice they take on. A clearing service to match aspiring apprentices with businesses would be introduced and there would be a guarantee of an apprenticeship place in every local authority for everybody who wants one.

A new scheme called Teach Next will be set up to attract leading people from other professions into teaching. Those working in the toughest schools will be given "golden hello" payments that could be worth at least 10,000, and all teachers will be encouraged to update their qualifications.

Alan Smithers, Professor of Education at the University of Buckingham, said that the floor target of 30 per cent good GCSE grades, including maths and English, was not the right approach. "Mr Brown has not addressed the question of how the children in the worst-performing schools get there," he said. "If some schools end up with high levels of children from low incomes, they may be doing a very good job with those children but still not meeting the criteria." John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, agreed: "Improvement trends, not just raw results, must be taken into account when judging the performance of teachers and schools."


Crazy ethnic mixing plan in Britain

How would YOU like a crime-prone group to be moved in next door to you?

Ethnic minority families will be moved in large groups on to "unwelcoming" all-white council estates under controversial guidelines from a Government agency. The Housing Corporation claims that Asian or black tenants may be less likely to face racism if they are transferred in numbers. The recommendation is included in a book of guidelines for councils and housing associations on how to create racial harmony. [Talk about theory flying in the face of the facts! This is just hatred of the working class]

Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, warned last week of a public perception that "white families are cheated out of their right to social housing by newly arrived migrants". He called for an independent inquiry to establish the truth.

The new plan was criticised by politicians on all sides who claimed that it could stir up racial tensions and be exploited by the far Right. Jon Cruddas, a Labour MP who has fought against the racist British National Party in his Dagenham constituency, said: "If there's a sense that housing allocations are being racialised, that might reinforce the message that the BNP are putting out, and lead to the perception of queue-jumping. "I'm not sure how effective this would be in terms of diluting tensions - it might serve to do precisely the opposite."

The Housing Corporation, which hands out 2 billion pounds a year of public money for the construction of new social housing, endorses the "group lettings" policy in a book of guidelines published this month, Community cohesion and housing - a good practice guide. The book, published with the Chartered Institute for Housing, says that such measures may be needed "when a 'white' estate is unwelcoming to newcomers but has larger properties that should be accessible to all those in need". The solution, it suggests, is to make an exception to the normal rules in order to ensure that "households from a particular minority move to the same area at about the same time".

The recommendation comes despite an admission by the book's authors, John Perry and Bob Blackaby, that white people already feel that housing allocation is biased against them. A Government survey in 2005 found that 21 per cent of white respondents believed they would be treated unfavourably because of their race, compared with only 13 per cent of ethnic minority respondents.

Group lettings were first proposed in the 1980s but have been tried in only a handful of areas. The backing of the Housing Corporation could make their use more widespread. Professor Ted Cantle recommended group lettings in his report on the Oldham riots in 2001, but the policy was never adopted in the town.

Rod Blyth, Liberal Democrat spokesman for community cohesion on Oldham council, said: "I think group lettings could provoke worse community relations. The far Right would certainly pick up on it and exploit it. I think people in Oldham realised after the riots that there's no quick fix."

Grant Shapps, the Conservative shadow housing minister, said: "I think we would all support the notion of mixed communities, but well-meaning attempts at social engineering often have unintended consequences and can backfire badly."

However, Prof Cantle insisted that group lettings could work so long as housing chiefs worked closely with white communities to prepare the ground. He said: "Most of the people in these communities are reasonable, but often there's a few thug-like families who are completely unreasonable and they have to be isolated. If you try to do it without the co-operation of the community, you will just get accusations of political correctness and social engineering."


Britain: Popularity of hunting with dogs defies ban

Two years after the hated ban, hunting is more popular - and more colourful - than ever. So, have hunts learned to live with the law, and exactly how long can they endure the status quo?

Luna, the European eagle owl, stares at me with luminous brown eyes, swivels her head, then nips Jordan Ross's finger. Ross is the "countryman" of the Avon Vale Hunt. (He might once have been known as a terrierman, but using terriers, still legal in some circumstances, is a b^te noire of the anti-hunt lobby.)

As well as preparing the land for hunting, he acts as hunt falconer. Luna and other birds of prey have become another colourful adjunct of foxhunting, alongside red coats, horns and foxy language. Luna has yet to catch a fox, but to Jonathon Seed, joint master of the Avon Vale, that is immaterial. "Legally, hounds can be used to flush any wild mammal towards hawks and owls. The Hunting Act doesn't say they have to be foxes."

Welcome to the mad world of foxhunting, on its first big weekend of 2007. Hunting has always been unintelligible to outsiders, involving almost as much risk to participants as to their quarry. Ian Farquhar, revered joint master of the Beaufort, says that he has broken every bone in his body, from ankle to neck, during 32 years in - or out of - the saddle. This summer, he broke six ribs. But the sport, arcane at the best of times, has become even more bonkers since the Hunting Act came into force in February 2005.

Against expectations, hunting has been able to continue, legally for the most part, with little difference in style. As Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, puts it, "most people would find this season's sport quite difficult to differentiate from old-fashioned hunting". It is more popular than ever. "It's a bit like prohibition," declares Seed. "If you want to make something popular, ban it." No hunt has closed since 2005; two have been started. "A lot of people came out at a time of controversy and decided they liked it," says Farquhar.

The threat of extinction through lack of subscriptions forced hunts to become more welcoming, and websites have given them a new means to promote their sport. Contrary to what some of the MPs who spent 700 hours debating the Hunting Act may have intended, the ban has made hunting more fun.

Part of the charm of hunting a live fox was unpredictability: a day of furious activity might be followed by one of standing in the rain, waiting for hounds to find a scent. But hunts which set off in pursuit of a scent trail that they laid themselves can guarantee a gallop across good riding country.

What happens once hounds are away from roads and footpaths is a matter of speculation. It is only a crime to hunt foxes intentionally. But, as Farquhar notes inscrutably, "there have been accidents". Nobody would be rash enough to speak on record, but it might be supposed that in some hunts, away from the public eye, the "accidental" hunting of foxes takes place more often than might seem statistically probable. It would be difficult to prove.

There have been more than 30,000 days of hunting since 2005; the League Against Cruel Sports has secured 20 convictions under the Hunting Act, only three of them relating to the activities of established hunts. More people have been convicted for hunting rats than foxes.

Just as hunting looks strangely like its former self, so the League Against Cruel Sports' monitors - though their activities, too, are perfectly legal - can look like the old saboteurs. Curtis Thompson, the Avon Vale's kennel huntsman and whipper-in, is often pursued by a posse blowing horns and spraying citronella to put hounds off the scent. "They ought to keep to the footpaths but don't seem to know where they are. I saw one reading the map upside down the other day."

Police seem more concerned to prevent clashes between "monitors" and hunt staff than to follow hunts lest they breach the Act. Hunting offences do not count towards their targets. The frustration of the anti-hunt lobby is apparent in the proposal made by Ann Widdecombe on the Today programme last week, by which League Against Cruel Sports monitors would be contracted as evidence-gatherers for the police.

Before 2005, the hunting world feared that its infrastructure would be dismantled after the ban. "One of the things we do feel very strongly about," says Farquhar, "is keeping the continuity of the pack going and keeping the bloodlines." With records going back through 55 generations of hound until 1743, the Beaufort hounds must be "the most chronicled animals in the world". A mass of caramel and cream backs leap up at him as he enters the kennel. "They are the most charming animals," he declares. "Very brave, very kind, very loving - the most lovely dogs to work with: tough as old boots and straight as a die." Once dispersed - or shot - a pack of this kind could never be reconstituted. Before 2005, there were particular fears for smaller hunts. But subscribers have not fallen away. Money still comes in through the hunt balls, point to points, ferret races, skittles evenings and darts matches.

Everyone in hunting is buoyed up by David Cameron's commitment to repeal the Hunting Act if the Tories gain power. This gives hope that some limit will be set to the present period of adversity. It could not be endured indefinitely. "In the long term, the determination of the hunt community would begin to wane," admits Farquhar. Although the Avon Vale employs the 16-year-old Callum Walsh as a trainee whipper-in, there is concern in other quarters than too few young people are entering hunt service.

Hunts in the West Country have been more severely disrupted than others in England and Wales. While stag hunts have been able to keep going by using couples of hounds in relay, rather than a full pack, flushing deer towards guns, the law is framed more tightly against them. Last month, a judge upheld a conviction against Richard Down, huntsman, and Adrian Pillivant, whipper-in for the Quantock Staghounds, at Taunton Crown Court.

I catch Ann Mallalieu, QC, life peer and president of the Countryside Alliance, on her mobile just as she has mounted her horse for a day with the Devon and Somerset. "Prosecutions are not a victory for the League," she maintains, "because they only convince people down here of the absurdity of the law.

"There is no other casualty service for deer, other than the hunts. They have continued to provide one, and to manage the deer herd by reducing its numbers. But a lot more farmers have been shooting deer since the Act." Research by the Exmoor and District Deer Management Society Consensus has revealed a 20 per cent decrease in deer numbers in 2006 against a trend of steady rises over the previous decade.

This is the great irony of the Act: it has led to the shooting of more deer and foxes. Farmers and landowners no longer have a reason to tolerate animals that destroy crops, lambs or pheasant chicks. Stag hunting targets deer that are old, sick or weak, improving the quality of the herd. According to Farquhar, foxhunting before the Act would also "catch the sick, lame or lazy". Stag hunts are still called upon to kill wounded deer, on welfare grounds; but it is much more difficult to bring a wounded animal to bay using two hounds than a full pack.

In 1885, the Duke of Beaufort, introducing the hunting volume in the Badminton Sporting Library, feared that a sport "denounced with so much eloquence and energy" could not continue. Nearly a century and a quarter afterwards, this iconic British activity has simply become more eccentric. Tally-ho


The deceit behind global warming

The article below has just appeared in Britain's largest-selling quality newspaper

No one can deny that in recent years the need to "save the planet" from global warming has become one of the most pervasive issues of our time. As Tony Blair's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, claimed in 2004, it poses "a far greater threat to the world than international terrorism", warning that by the end of this century the only habitable continent left will be Antarctica

Inevitably, many people have been bemused by this somewhat one-sided debate, imagining that if so many experts are agreed, then there must be something in it. But if we set the story of how this fear was promoted in the context of other scares before it, the parallels which emerge might leave any honest believer in global warming feeling uncomfortable.

The story of how the panic over climate change was pushed to the top of the international agenda falls into five main stages. Stage one came in the 1970s when many scientists expressed alarm over what they saw as a disastrous change in the earth's climate. Their fear was not of warming but global cooling, of "a new Ice Age".

For three decades, after a sharp rise in the interwar years up to 1940, global temperatures had been falling. The one thing certain about climate is that it is always changing. Since we began to emerge from the last Ice Age 20,000 years ago, temperatures have been through significant swings several times. The hottest period occurred around 8,000 years ago and was followed by a long cooling. Then came what is known as the "Roman Warming", coinciding with the Roman empire. Three centuries of cooling in the Dark Ages were followed by the "Mediaeval Warming", when the evidence agrees the world was hotter than today.

Around 1300 began "the Little Ice Age", that did not end until 200 years ago, when we entered what is known as the "Modern Warming". But even this has been chequered by colder periods, such as the "Little Cooling" between 1940 and 1975. Then, in the late 1970s, the world began warming again.

A scare is often set off - as we show in our book with other examples - when two things are observed together and scientists suggest one must have been caused by the other. In this case, thanks to readings commissioned by Dr Roger Revelle, a distinguished American oceanographer, it was observed that since the late 1950s levels of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere had been rising. Perhaps it was this increase that was causing the new warming in the 1980s?

Stage two of the story began in 1988 when, with remarkable speed, the global warming story was elevated into a ruling orthodoxy, partly due to hearings in Washington chaired by a youngish senator, Al Gore, who had studied under Dr Revelle in the 1960s.

But more importantly global warming hit centre stage because in 1988 the UN set up its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC). Through a series of reports, the IPCC was to advance its cause in a rather unusual fashion. First it would commission as many as 1,500 experts to produce a huge scientific report, which might include all sorts of doubts and reservations. But this was to be prefaced by a Summary for Policymakers, drafted in consultation with governments and officials - essentially a political document - in which most of the caveats contained in the experts' report would not appear.

This contradiction was obvious in the first report in 1991, which led to the Rio conference on climate change in 1992. The second report in 1996 gave particular prominence to a study by an obscure US government scientist claiming that the evidence for a connection between global warming and rising CO2 levels was now firmly established. This study came under heavy fire from various leading climate experts for the way it manipulated the evidence. But this was not allowed to stand in the way of the claim that there was now complete scientific consensus behind the CO2 thesis, and the Summary for Policy-makers, heavily influenced from behind the scenes by Al Gore, by this time US Vice-President, paved the way in 1997 for the famous Kyoto Protocol.

Kyoto initiated stage three of the story, by formally committing governments to drastic reductions in their CO2 emissions. But the treaty still had to be ratified and this seemed a good way off, not least thanks to its rejection in 1997 by the US Senate, despite the best attempts of Mr Gore.

Not the least of his efforts was his bid to suppress an article co-authored by Dr Revelle just before his death. Gore didn't want it to be known that his guru had urged that the global warming thesis should be viewed with more caution.

One of the greatest problems Gore and his allies faced at this time was the mass of evidence showing that in the past, global temperatures had been higher than in the late 20th century. In 1998 came the answer they were looking for: a new temperature chart, devised by a young American physicist, Michael Mann. This became known as the "hockey stick" because it showed historic temperatures running in an almost flat line over the past 1,000 years, then suddenly flicking up at the end to record levels.

Mann's hockey stick was just what the IPCC wanted. When its 2001 report came out it was given pride of place at the top of page 1. The Mediaeval Warming, the Little Ice Age, the 20th century Little Cooling, when CO2 had already been rising, all had been wiped away.

But then a growing number of academics began to raise doubts about Mann and his graph. This culminated in 2003 with a devastating study by two Canadians showing how Mann had not only ignored most of the evidence before him but had used an algorithm that would produce a hockey stick graph whatever evidence was fed into the computer. When this was removed, the graph re-emerged just as it had looked before, showing the Middle Ages as hotter than today.

It is hard to recall any scientific thesis ever being so comprehensively discredited as the "hockey stick". Yet the global warming juggernaut rolled on regardless, now led by the European Union. In 2004, thanks to a highly dubious deal between the EU and Putin's Russia, stage four of the story began when the Kyoto treaty was finally ratified.

In the past three years, we have seen the EU announcing every kind of measure geared to fighting climate change, from building ever more highly-subsidised wind turbines, to a commitment that by 2050 it will have reduced carbon emissions by 60 per cent. This is a pledge that could only be met by such a massive reduction in living standards that it is impossible to see the peoples of Europe accepting it.

All this frenzy has rested on the assumption that global temperatures will continue to rise in tandem with CO2 and that, unless mankind takes drastic action, our planet is faced with the apocalypse so vividly described by Al Gore in his Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth.

Yet recently, stage five of the story has seen all sorts of question marks being raised over Gore's alleged consensus. For instance, he claimed that by the end of this century world sea levels will have risen by 20 ft when even the IPCC in its latest report, only predicts a rise of between four and 17 inches. There is also of course the harsh reality that, wholly unaffected by Kyoto, the economies of China and India are now expanding at nearly 10 per cent a year, with China likely to be emitting more CO2 than the US within two years.

More serious, however, has been all the evidence accumulating to show that, despite the continuing rise in CO2 levels, global temperatures in the years since 1998 have no longer been rising and may soon even be falling.

It was a telling moment when, in August, Gore's closest scientific ally, James Hansen of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was forced to revise his influential record of US surface temperatures showing that the past decade has seen the hottest years on record. His graph now concedes that the hottest year of the 20th century was not 1998 but 1934, and that four of the 10 warmest years in the past 100 were in the 1930s.

Furthermore, scientists and academics have recently been queuing up to point out that fluctuations in global temperatures correlate more consistently with patterns of radiation from the sun than with any rise in CO2 levels, and that after a century of high solar activity, the sun's effect is now weakening, presaging a likely drop in temperatures.

If global warming does turn out to have been a scare like all the others, it will certainly represent as great a collective flight from reality as history has ever recorded. The evidence of the next 10 years will be very interesting.


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