Thursday, May 31, 2007

NHS knows how to treat war veterans

"Let the B****s die" is the underlying attitude. The fact that he paid his National Insurance contributions for all his working life means nothing to the bureaucrats. When the government is the provider, collecting what you have paid for is a very uncertain business

A 90-year-old war veteran suffering from ten complaints including bowel cancer, dementia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma has been denied NHS nursing care and told that he must pay the 600 pounds -a-week bill himself. Eric Friar, who is almost blind and can hardly walk, served as an RAF navigator in India and Africa during the Second World War. He has been categorised as having "moderate" disabilities by his NHS trust, ruling out state funding for his care.

Mr Friar has been cared for by his wife of 60 years, Norma, since he first suffered from cancer in 1992. She is now unable to care for him as she has osteoporosis. Mrs Friar, 78, has been told that the State will contribute 40 pounds a week to his care, because the couple have too much in savings. Mr Friar, of Highnam, Gloucestershire, is in hospital with pneumonia. While there he has caught MRSA and shingles has been diagnosed. He cannot eat unaided, needs a catheter and is in constant discomfort.

Mrs Friar fears she will not be able to cope when he is discharged and cannot afford the 30,000 pounds -a-year nursing home cost. She said: "How bad has he got to be? We have never asked for anything in our lives. I'm angry, really angry. It's an awful lot to for us to pay. I say to people now - spend the lot and let the Government pay for it." The NHS will contribute the weekly 40 pounds towards costs until Mr Friar's savings drop below 21,500 pounds. Then the State will provide more until his savings reduce to 13,000, when its contribution rises again.

Mr Friar's case is regarded as falling into the third of four bands: critical, substantial, moderate and low. Mrs Friar said that nursing homes that would be suitable for her husband charged about 600 a week.

Gloucestershire Primary Care Trust said that to qualify for "continuing nursing care", which is funded by the NHS, medical needs must be "complex, or intense, or unpredictable". A spokesman for the trust said that it could not comment on individual cases but was sorry to hear that Mr and Mrs Friar were unhappy with the outcome of their case. He added: "We always aim to work with a patient and their family in carrying out an assessment so we can be sure that all of the facts are available and our assessment is understood. "Every assessment is based on individual need and in cases such as these, financial support is provided as a contribution towards meeting the patient's ongoing nursing care. An appeals process is in place and this option is available if the individual or carer believes that the outcome is not the right one." [In other words, "Drop dead!"]


Burgers revival on British school menus

Food freaks forced to back down

England's school food watchdog has denied it is watering down its healthy food guidelines after many pupils opted out of school dinners. Seven months after healthy food guidelines were introduced, the School Food Trust is revising the standards. Canteens will now be allowed to offer manufactured meat products like pies, sausages and healthier burgers four times a fortnight instead of just once. The trust said it was responding to calls for more clarity and flexibility.

New standards were brought into force in September 2006 after TV chef Jamie Oliver revealed the poor nutritional standards of meals on offer in school canteens. But a number of reports and surveys, including one for the BBC, suggest that fewer pupils have been taking school meals.

A trust spokeswoman said the 2006 standards were always going to be refined and clarified, but denied the move was a result of pupils opting for the chip shop instead of the school canteen. "We undertook consultations with cooks, schools and manufacturers and decided clarifications of the standards were needed. "Having listened to people we understand how difficult it is to get from having chips and Turkey Twizzlers every day to not having burgers and chips at all. "There's still a ban on lower quality economy burgers - schools have to serve a good quality one and it might be grilled."

She added: "It's about being informed about making these choices and understanding that having burgers every day is not a choice that is normal. "This is a response to help and encourage children make healthy choices, not because swarms of them are going to the chip shop."

The changes to the meat products restrictions mean canteens will be able, no more than once a fortnight, to offer pupils one item from each of the following four groups:
  • Burgers, hamburgers, chopped meat and corned meat
  • Sausages, sausage meat, link, chipolata and luncheon meat
  • Meat pies, meat puddings, Melton Mowbray pie, game pie, Scottish pie, pasty, pasties, bridie and sausage rolls
  • Any other shaped or coated meat product

Other changes mean kitchens can now serve breadsticks and crackers - as long as they are served with fruit, vegetables or dairy foods. They were previously banned along with crisps, salted nuts and other flavoured snacks, but the trust thought they might encourage pupils to eat more fruit, vegetables and dairy food.

School kitchens are still being encouraged to serve more fruit, vegetables, fresh meat and fish, and deep-fried food should not be served more than twice a week. A small snapshot survey of secondary schools for the trust suggested the take-up of the new healthier, school meals has remained roughly stable. Some 30% of the 74 secondary schools that responded said they had seen a reduction in the numbers of pupils having school meals, while a further 30% said they had seen an increase. The rest said things had not changed.

The survey suggests the results were better in primary schools. A poll of 206 for the trust found half had seen no change, a third had seen an increase and just under a fifth had seen a decrease.


Britain: The rise of the contingent racists

After Margaret Hodge's recent comments, how true is it to say that the working class are more prone to racism than the middle class? Maybe the difference lies in different experiences. As the old New York saying goes: A conservative is a liberal who was mugged last night

Margaret Hodge says that white working-class voters in her Barking constituency are being tempted by the BNP. Mrs Hodge told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend: "The political class as a whole is often frightened of engaging in the very difficult issues of race and ... the BNP then exploits that and try to create out of a perception a reality which is not the reality of people's lives." She said the area's "difficult" change from a white area to a multi-racial community had caused some people to seek out "scapegoats".

There are more and more respected voices suggesting that the indigenous working classes may not be benefiting from competition in the labour market from immigrant competitors (see, for example, the work of Harvard economist George Borjas).

The left-leaning Young Foundation has controversially argued that administration of local housing policy has benefited newcomers, causing resentment among the white working class and contributing to the rise of racism in Tower Hamlets through the 1980s and 1990s. Ms Hodge's remarks on housing policy, that it should favour those who were born here, even have some pedigree in the left.

So it seems that, arguably, the white working classes might very well not be profiting from immigration in the way that Britain as a whole is said to be benefiting. The middle classes, however, seem to be doing very well from it of course: they must be gleeful at the increased competition in certain quarters of the labour market (such as among waiting staff in restaurants and housecleaners).

My question is about the middle classes. Are we right to keep identifying the white working class as more prone to racism than the middle classes? Are Margaret Hodge and others who use essentially the same language effectively saying that the middle classes do not show racism because they do not have to confront "difficult change" locally, to use her language, because such change never visits the leafy seclusion of comfortable areas of north London or the other tidy neighbourhoods where the middle classes live? When I asked a friend if this was right, her answer was that it was a lack of education that made the white working class seek out scapegoats and that the middle classes had this tendency educated out of them.

But does that ring true or is the truth rather more uncomfortable? Do we all bear a latent tendency towards racism, which manifests itself only when we have personally lost something tangible because of immigrants, such as a job or a housing allocation? If that's the case, then maybe the only thing keeping the middle classes from showing racist proclivities is that their homes are indeed getting cleaned, their restaurant tables being served and their dry-cleaning getting done. In other words, are the middle classes contingent racists, whose racism is held at bay by a decent standard of living, but who could turn nasty the day they have to do their own dirty work.


Britain's new Greenie righteousness: Don't drive your kids to school

For the sake of the planet, let them get attacked by pedophiles and other predators. People are pollution, after all

If there is one thing likely to make parents like me send our children to school in a stretch limo, it is sanctimonious lectures about how not walking risks global destruction. It is government-backed Walk to School Week, billed as "a celebration of how walking to school can reduce air pollution and help save the planet". I admit that, when needs must, my wife, rather than the Devil, drives our daughters to the local junior school. Otherwise, I enjoy walking them - often my most strenuous exercise, and our longest uninterrupted chat. I now discover, however, that it is also meant to be my moral duty.

In the leaflet for Walk to School Week given to children, "Strider", a cartoon talking foot, attacks car-produced "evil pollutants" that increase global warming and are "going to destroy your planet". Strider warns children: "Each time you use a car their army gets stronger and stronger." It's war! So, "Come on mum," say the multi-ethnic kids in the pictures, "let's walk to save the world!"

Let us pass over questions about Strider's scientific expertise at this point, since none of this has anything to do with teaching the complex science of climate change. It is about delivering a simplistic moralistic warning of man-made doom to our children - and through them, to us. The Walk to School website even declares that "We want people to see walking to school as a great way to `do your bit' in the same way as recycling your bottles or turning off lights". When did it become the job of schools to help to forge a pseudo Blitz spirit in the Government's "war" on global warming?

Educational crusaders are using alarmist warnings to re-educate our children in how to behave. Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, plans to make geography lessons even more explicit morality tales about man-made global warming, in order to help to "lock in a culture change that could, quite literally, save the world". So messing around with the curriculum or walking to school can avoid an apocalypse? In the name of global warming it seems that we are now expected to believe "quite literally" anything.

This policy of indoctrination, indoctrination, indoctrination risks raising children's "awareness" at the expense of their education. They can end up "aware" that life on Earth is ending but ignorant of where the planet's great rivers begin; less well-schooled in geography than in guilt-tripping their parents.

Campaigners complain that "only" 49 per cent of primary pupils walk to school. By coincidence, a survey suggests that half of 7 to 11-year-olds often lose sleep worrying about the havoc they have heard climate change will wreak. Maybe they are too scared to get out of bed - or just too tired to walk the straight and narrow path with Strider.


Green attack on British football

What did you do on Saturday, the sunny day of the FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Chelsea which took place at the rather spectacularly done-up Wembley Stadium? Maybe you were one of 89,826 fans jammy enough to get tickets for the game and to watch it underneath Wembley's new gleaming, cathedral-style arc. Or perhaps you were one of the estimated 500million people who watched it on TV (United and Chelsea's fanbases stretch way beyond the white cliffs of Dover into Europe, Africa and Asia). Maybe, like thousands of others, you watched the game over a pint in a local pub. Or perhaps you don't very much care for football and did something completely unrelated instead: shopping, sleeping, sunbathing.

Or.were you one of a small handful of miserabilist windbags who spent the day pointing out how destructive the FA Cup Final is likely to be for the environment? We should have seen it coming. A few hours before the Cup Final kicked off, it was reported that the event would make an `eco-footprint' 3,000 times the size of the Wembley pitch. Academics totted up the number of pies and other unsavoury savoury products the Wembley-attending fans were likely to consume (the fat bastards) and the number of miles they were likely to drive, and worked out that each fan's `eco-footprint' would be nearly 10 times what it would have been if he or she had watched the game from home.

What curmudgeonliness. The anti-FA Cup miserabilism provided a striking (if somewhat unwitting) snapshot of the inherently elitist streak in the politics of environmentalism. Where millions of people around the world were glued to watching a major annual event in that most mass of mass sports, football, certain green-minded individuals seized an opportunity to lecture and hector the nation about its dirty habits. It was the political equivalent of a dirty tackle from behind. It's high time we showed these greens the red card.

Claims that the first FA Cup Final to be played at Wembley in seven years would make a damaging dent in the natural environment emanated from academics at Cardiff University. I know - you would think that a university has better things to do than put the dampers on a big sporting event. And Cardiff? Maybe they're bitter that Wembley has re-assumed its rightful place as Britain's big national stadium, thus kicking Cardiff's Millennium Stadium into touch. According to the Guardian, Cardiff University found that `the average fan's taste for beer and pies makes up a large chunk of the ecological impact [of the FA Cup Final in Wembley]'. Cardiff's Andrea Collins said, `They are highly processed food and drink products which require a lot of energy to produce' (1). She also said that a lot of waste would be `generated outside [Wembley] stadium', especially by fans driving their cars or using up some other breed of `transport miles' (2).

Cardiff's claims were based on a study it carried out of the FA Cup Final of 2004 when Manchester United played Millwall at the Cardiff Millennium Stadium. Back then researchers found that before, during and after the game Man Utd and Millwall fans ate 37,624 sausage rolls, pies or pasties, 26,965 sandwiches, 17,998 hot dogs, 12,780 burgers, 11,502 packets of crisps and 23,909 portions of chips. They rinsed it all down with 303,001 pints of lager, 66,584 pints of beer, 38,906 pints of cider, 12,452 bottles of wine, 90,481 shots and 63,141 bottles of alcopops. This `binge' left a mark on Cardiff city centre: 37 tonnes of glass, eight tonnes of paper and 11 tonnes of uneaten food were left behind, and none of it was recycled! Can you believe it? Football fans watched a game and then went out to celebrate/commiserate over grub and booze and they didn't even take their rubbish home with them to deposit it in their recycling compost machines (3).

During the 2004 Cup Final, fans' use of transport contributed the largest part of the `eco-footprint'. The researchers found that fans travelled an average of 367 miles each (well, if you are going to hold an English Cup Final in Wales.), 47 per cent of them by car, 34 per cent by rail and the rest in coaches or minibuses. Apparently, all this travelling made an `eco-footprint' that measured 1,670 `global hectares' - though quite how you get from miles travelled by football fans to a footprint measured in hectares is anyone's guess (4). Extrapolating from these 2004 findings, the Cardiff boffins now say that Saturday's final at Wembley will have caused an `eco-footprint' 3,000 times the size of the Wembley pitch. Got that? A study of what fans ate and drank during an FA Cup Final in 2004 can throw light on the amount of land (the eco-footprint) required to provide the necessary resources to replenish those used up by fans at an FA Cup Final in 2007. And they say that those who question the green ethos use dodgy science..

Having colonised the educational sphere and the political sphere, the rapacious green ethos is now spreading into the world of leisure. Even that previously purely emotional sphere of football fandom is being subordinated to the demands of the green priests. Last year's World Cup was similarly measured in terms of its ecological impact. The German authorities claimed that the event would emit 100,000 tonnes of CO2, which they tried to offset by investing $1.5billion in environmental protection projects in Africa and Asia. They also `educated' fans attending World Cup games by issuing them with green advice leaflets, making them drink from recyclable and refillable beer cups, and serving hotdogs without any packaging (5). In Britain, the Football Association has set itself the task of making football `carbon-neutral' (6).

Behind the claims that big cup finals are destroying the environment there lurks an old-fashioned fear and loathing of football fans, of their cavalier attitudes and their potentially destructive and violent impact. Old concerns about large gatherings of working-class men (and some women) are now swaddled in PC environmentalist lingo. Where thousands of fans were traditionally seen as a heaving riot waiting to happen (and sometimes still are), now many see them as toxic waste-creators; where fans used to be looked upon as a threat to public order, now they are described as a threat to the natural order. You can see the fear of the masses in those scary-sounding numbers of how many pints they drink and portions of chips they eat: they are not seen as individuals coming together to cheer their team, but as an out-of-control mass, an intolerable blob, eating tonnes of food, drinking tonnes of booze and leaving behind tonnes of shit.

The anti-fan component to the greening of football is clear in the solution put forward: to change mass behaviour. David James, until recently the England team goalkeeper and a leading light in the football world's efforts to make the game more planet-friendly, says the real problem is `habit and tradition': `Football is pure bloke territory: it's still acceptable to spit out gum and chuck bottles on the floor, and the industry mirrors this selfishness across the scale.' James says the football authorities must re-educate people and reshape their `attitudes' - that is, effectively de-bloke them. `We've got to make use of football as a driving force for environmental change. We'd be stupid not to. It doesn't take a think tank to see that the game holds a powerful influence over kids and adults around the world.' (7) In short, the authorities should exploit football to change the way fans think and behave. Even the old fan-hating law'n'order lobby never tried that - they might have whacked fans across the head, but they didn't try to change what was inside their heads.

It takes a killjoy of the highest order to hector football fans for not thinking about the consequences of their behaviour while they're watching a game. Like Catholic priests of old, the greens demand that we stop and think before doing anything potentially `destructive' or `immoral'. They seem not to understand that there are moments in life when we simply lose ourselves in passion or fury and throw `good sense' and `good behaviour' to the wind. No self-respecting football fan is going to think about recycling a hotdog napkin when his team is 1-0 down and there are only five minutes left; no fan whose team has just won the FA Cup is going to collect together all his beer bottles as he drinks himself silly and put them in a bottle bank on the way home. Life, love, football: they just don't work like that. And if you can't see why, then maybe you'd be better off watching bowls.


Attempt to destroy the unique Oxford University system underway

Fabulous success must be levelled down

Funding reforms will put at risk the one-to-one tutorials in Oxford colleges, according to dons and students. They say that the proposals risk turning the university into a two-tier system. The row over the change in funding rules comes after John Hood, the vice-chancellor, was defeated last year when dons threw out his plans to hand the strategic control of the university to business and political outsiders.

In a letter to undergraduates, union representatives from 23 colleges are urging the student body to reject the funding plans, which could come into effect in October next year. Under the joint resource allocation mechanism, the university will distribute government money “as earned” between departments and colleges, so that research-intensive colleges receive more. Colleges will also be compensated for taking more graduates and overseas students.

The students’ college representatives say that poorer colleges, such as St Catherine’s, Keble, Hertford and Pembroke, will lose funding to richer colleges and face having to cut their distinctive one-to-one tutorial system. This will be divisive, they say, splitting the university between the rich and poor colleges.

“Richer ‘mixed’ colleges such as St John’s and Christ Church, while subject to the same incentives to turn to research, will be rich enough to subsidise their tutorial systems,” they wrote. “The evident result of some colleges maintaining the tutorial system, while others are forced to move to classroom-based teaching, is that Oxford will fragment.” Since 1998 colleges and departments have shared out the government block grant, based partly on research and partly on student numbers, so that no college should suffer. Oxford wants to change the system to reward research. Donald Hay, the chairman of the funding committee for the new system, said that it was being phased in over a decade and that the university would subsidise tutorials.


Tony Blair Still Gets It: "I was stopped by someone the other week who said it was not surprising there was so much terrorism in the world when we invaded their countries (meaning Afghanistan and Iraq). No wonder Muslims felt angry. When he had finished, I said to him: tell me exactly what they feel angry about. We remove two utterly brutal and dictatorial regimes; we replace them with a United Nations-supervised democratic process and the Muslims in both countries get the chance to vote, which incidentally they take in very large numbers. And the only reason it is difficult still is because other Muslims are using terrorism to try to destroy the fledgling democracy and, in doing so, are killing fellow Muslims. What's more, British troops are risking their lives trying to prevent the killing. Why should anyone feel angry about us? Why aren't they angry about the people doing the killing? The odd thing about the conversation is that I could tell it was the first time he had even heard the alternative argument."

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Christian Teaching Banned; Wiccans OK

Edinburgh University in Scotland has a history of Leftist nuttery -- and declining academic standards:

"Some would call it the Devil's work. Two ancient religions have locked horns in a bizarre "freedom of speech" row that is echoing around the corridors of one of Scotland's oldest academic institutions. The University of Edinburgh has granted permission to the Pagan Society to hold its annual conference - involving talks on witchcraft, pagan weddings and tribal dancing - on campus next month. Druids, heathens, shamans and witches are expected to attend what is a major event in the pagan calendar.

But the move has enraged the Christian Union, which accuses the university of double standards after banning one of its events on the "dangers" of homosexuality. Matthew Tindale, an Edinburgh-based Christian Union staff worker, claimed some faiths and beliefs appeared to be more equal than others on campus. "This seems to be a clear case of discrimination," he said. "It's okay for other religions, such as the pagans, to have their say at the university, but there appears to be a reluctance to allow Christians to do the same. All we are asking for is the tolerance that is afforded to other faiths and organisations."

The Union has won strong backing from the Catholic Church in Scotland, whose spokesman, Simon Dames, felt that allowing the pagan festival to go ahead while barring the Union meeting was an example of "Christianphobia". "This appears to be a clear case of double standards," he said. "The principles of a pluralistic democracy revolve around an acceptance of competing ideas and universities should be enshrining this principle. Anti-racism groups would never be asked to put up posters saying there are alternative views."

The row has its roots in last year's decision by university officials to ban the Christian Union from using campus premises to run a course which claimed that gay sex was morally wrong. The course was deemed to be in breach of university anti-discrimination guidelines although a compromise measure was later offered to allow the course to take place if posters offering differing views were prominently displayed. Much to the displeasure of some campus Christians and the Catholic Church, no such conditions will be attached to the pagan gathering.


Truly insane British immigration rules

Here's a quiz. Not a very good quiz because you will know the answer before you've finished reading the question. Whether you can comprehend it is another matter. An awful lot of immigrants are allowed into Britain these days and very few deported because they are undesirable. However, as a nation we must draw the line somewhere. So, using your understanding of How Britain Is, estimate which of the following four aspirant British citizens has been told to get out and stay out. And which three can stay?

1) Mouloud Sihali, Algerian. Lived at Finsbury Park mosque, breeding ground of Islamic terrorism. Described in court as "unprincipled and dishonest". Illegal immigrant.

2) Yonis Dirie, Somalian. Drug addict, armed robber and burglar. Convicted of raping a young woman in London. Illegal immigrant.

3) Tul Bahadur Pun VC, Nepalese. Won the Victoria Cross for taking out a Japanese machinegun post in 1944 in Burma single-handedly. Now 84, of unblemished conduct, suffering from heart problems and diabetes and would like treatment here. Legal applicant.

4) "AS", Libyan. Islamic extremist involved with Milan terrorist group. Court accepts that he is likely to try to kill us all again quite soon. Illegal immigrant.

You got it, didn't you? Old Pun's application was rejected because - and here's another punchline, in case the first wasn't funny enough - he "failed to demonstrate" that he had "strong ties with Britain". How much stronger do you want? There can be hardly a soul who wouldn't be happy to have Pun here. And not one who could make a case for allowing Dirie, the robber-rapist, say, to get preferential treatment. Some of us would have happily dispatched him back to Mogadishu strapped to a missile.

There is no great objection to immigration in this country; the objection is to how it is done and who benefits, exemplified by the cases I quote above. I suspect the public feels there are people who should be allowed in - people to whom we owe a profound debt of gratitude (like Pun), or those whose countries we have let down in one way or another (such as the Hong Kong Chinese or the black Zimbabweans). And yet it seems we do precisely the opposite.

Libyan and Algerian extremists who feel the regimes in their home countries are not sufficiently rigorous are allowed to stay because we worry they might be bumped off at home - regardless of what threat they pose to us. I would vote for any party that pledged to extricate us from the international legislation that insists on such absurdities. By then, however, it will most likely be too late for Tul Bahadur Pun VC. The Japs couldn't kill him - but we're not making a bad job of it.


Dangerous "Green" car

The shocking image of this tangled wreck of what was a Reva all-electric car has prompted road safety authorities to keep it off Australian roads. The wreckage of the Indian-built car is the result of a simulated crash at just 48 km/h.

The crash test dummy at the wheel of the Reva has its legs crushed, and hangs limply and exposed out of the door, its head having taken the full force of the disintegrated bonnet and windshield during the crash. Watch the crash test below:

But the man who wants Australian metropolitan commuters to go green in the Reva, says the shocking crash test has little relevance and that he knows the car is not as safe as other vehicles on our roads. Adrian Ferraretto, general manager of The Solar Shop in Adelaide, has been pushing for trials of the Reva here for years, and yesterday defended its safety record on the basis that it is allowed on roads elsewhere under the classification of a heavy quadricycle.

"We know the car's not as safe as say an S-Class Mercedes Benz or a Hummer or other passenger cars, but it has a different application," Mr Ferraretto said. "It's for low-speed city motoring. I don't think (the crash tests are) relevant. While it's not as safe as other passenger cars, it's safer than a motorbike."

The test on the Reva was conducted by UK motoring magazine Top Gear. It prompted road authorities in Britain to conduct their own crash tests and re-examine the road laws which allowed it on the roads there. Footage from the test was shown at a recent Australian Transport Council meeting of state and federal transport ministers. At the start of this month, as an outcome of that meeting, the Reva all-electric car was banned from use on Australian roads as it had failed a frontal crash test and did not comply with safety standards. An application by the West Australian Government to trial the Reva, an automatic two-door hatch, was rejected by the Australian Transport Council.

In Britain, however, the Reva - known as a G-Wiz - is classed as a heavy quadricycle and therefore has not had to meet the same safety standards as a car. Australia has no such vehicle category.


Global cooling? Britain colder than Alaska!

The Brits were widely certain that their unusually warm summer proved global warming. What now?

More than 74,000 homes across the east of England were left without electricity yesterday as wind and heavy rain brought down power lines. EDF energy said last night that it had restored power in most areas but 4,000 homes were still without electricity. The disruption came as millions of Britons shivered through the washed-out Bank Holiday, which weather forecasters had predicted.

Plummeting temperatures, gales and torrential rain persisted. Public transport was disrupted, events were cancelled and emergency services were kept busy. In Alaska temperatures hit 16C (61F) – practically balmy compared with England’s average of 11C. Parts of Siberia were warmer than High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, the coldest spot in the country, where temperatures fell to 5C. The Met Office reported that the weekend was one of the wettest and coldest bank holidays for years, far below the May average of 17C.

However, indoor attractions were celebrating the bad weather. Shops and museums in London were bustling and the new 62 million Dickens World, an indoor theme park in Kent, was filled to capacity. Thames Water confirmed that the deluge had made water restrictions less likely this summer.

Seaside resorts were heavily booked by families counting on bursts of sunshine. But by Saturday afternoon all hope had evaporated. Much of England endured downpours topping 50mm (2in). St Catherine’s Point, on the Isle of Wight, had received almost 75mm since the start of the Bank Holiday. Ferries to the island were cancelled and two yachts from France had to be rescued in the Channel.

In Exeter, three teenagers who camped beside the River Exe had to be rescued after being surrounded by fast-flowing water. One of Britain’s biggest carnivals, the Luton International Festival, which was expected to attract more than 100,000 people, was cancelled.

Most of Western Europe suffered too. The weather will improve today, then it is misery again for most of the week.


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?"

Monday, May 28, 2007

The BBC blames Israel for 'unstable borders.'

Post lifted from American Thinker. See the original for links

In a shameless effort to rewrite history:

"The BBC News website is publishing a series of articles about the attempts to achieve peace in the Middle East and the main obstacles. Yesterday, Martin Asser looked at the question of Israel's borders and settlements."

Surprise! It turns out that Israel is to blame for its "unstable borders." By Gum, it's just as if Israel wasn't attacked by invading Arab armies from its first day of life in 1948, and again in 1967 and 1974, when it pushed back the invaders to achieve some measure of border stability. Reading Martin Asser's wildly anti-Israel BBC "history" of the past sixty years, those events never happened. So Israel's defensive push-back is twisted into offensive imperialism, and the Beeb manages to "confuse the fire with the fire brigade," in the apt words of Winston Churchill.

The BBC's dishonesty is beyond belief. But constant, relentless propaganda works. Most people can't resist the Big Lie when it is repeated over and over again. Naturally the Beeb's British and international audience hates Israel for making all the trouble in the world. Appeasers always look for scapegoats, and Israel is the natural choice. The BBC is run by the far Left in Britain, and once again, the extremes of fascism and the Left are allied, just as they were in the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1938.

As the Beeb's favorite philosopher said, "history repeats, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." [Marx]

The BBC's malevolence has unintended consequences, however --- such as the radicalization of thousands of domestic terrorists in Britain's own alienated cities. The men who suicide-bombed the London Underground on "7/7" were radicalized by Islamist imams peddling Wahhabi world conquest. British police and intelligence agencies have warned that thousands of homegrown Islamist extremists may be ready to place more bombs. But the ideological ground was laid for them by ... the BBC, which continues to pump out industrial-strength hatred for America and Israel.

The leftists who run BBC have naturally persuaded themselves that Islamist terrorism is not a real threat. Terrorism is all the fault of Bush and Blair. So today, an upside-down "history" of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is being peddled to push the incoming Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, into an anti-Israel stance. This is the message from the Labour Left, which controls the biggest tax-funded propaganda empire in the world --- more than six billion dollars per year.

Yet Islamist terrorism is a very real threat in Londonistan and Britanostan. Islamists hate Britain and the West, as well as Israel, for being Christian, Jewish or atheist, for being pro-Gay and pro-women, for being richer and more productive than the Muslim world, and for a hundred other reasons. So the BBC itself is radicalizing Britain's Muslim population, even while seeming to displace all blame on Israel. While the aim is to discredit and ultimately destroy Israel, the Islamist backlash will inevitably harm the people of Britain, just as the Underground Bombing did. The Beeb ends up cutting its own throat. So the biter was bitten on 7/7, and has learned nothing in consequence.

It may take more terror attacks to finally convince ordinary people that they have been systematically misled for decades. Unfortunately, Islamist terror bombs are far more likely to hurt innocent people than the sources of pernicious propaganda. George Orwell worked for the BBC, and satirized it in his dystopian novel 1984 as the "Ministry of Truth" --- which is of course the Ministry of Lies. The BBC continues to reveal a shameful black mark against a once-great country. Orwell lives.

Don't get mesothelioma in England

Excerpts from a doctor who was recently diagnosed as having it. It is cancer of the lungs, most usually caused by high levels of asbestos fibre inhalation

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer and, until recently, there was little to offer in the way of treatment. Treatments are available now, but as ever in parts of the UK the drug that is used as a frontline treatment is not available on the NHS.

This is because for each year of (quality-adjusted) life it brings it costs too much, more than 30,000 pounds. Diagnosed with a mesothelioma in Scotland, Australia and many European countries, you will receive the drug - but not in England. Nice (which should perhaps stand for the National Institute for Curtailing Expenditure rather than the National Institute for Clinical Excellence) has made a ruling on cost-effectiveness grounds that the only drug that has been shown to have effectiveness, albeit of a limited nature, will not be available.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with limiting treatment on cost grounds, but we need to be honest and open that that is what we are doing. It might seem reasonable to limit how much might be spent but I am not at death's door yet, nor are many mesothelioma sufferers. Politicians will often come out with the old chestnut, "you cannot put a price on life", well, they do put a price on it. In my case, a year is not worth spending more than 30,000.

Patricia Hewitt, my boss, has said: "A modern health and social care system has to be completely focused on the needs of its users," and "We are trying to find out what patients need, rather than what it suits us to provide." There are many sufferers from mesothelioma out there, Mrs Hewitt, who have justifiable healthcare needs and who will not be provided with drugs which may prolong their lives because it suits you not to provide it on cost grounds. I do not think they feel completely focused on. Mind you, 30,000 is a lot of money to waste on a very sick person. You could, for example, employ for nearly a year a "senior parenting practitioner" in the London borough of Tower Hamlets.

I have gone from highly strung (for no good reason, now I think of it) consultant, father and husband into highly strung (now with a good reason) patient, father and husband. I can string a few words together when the fatigue, nausea and sleep deprivation are not so bad. I have not suffered badly from the chemo-therapy, but for some it must be like seasickness. There is a period when you think you are going to die followed by a period when you wish you were.

It is good for medics to be on the other side, you appreciate the good and spot the bad. I have liked the internet as a source of medical information for many years. It empowers patients to ask questions that encourage doctors to explain more fully. However, it cannot answer all the questions. You may not discover all that you do not know and sadly, some of the stuff you find may not be helpful.

Being a pain specialist, I looked at the pain management section of a leading university unit dealing with mesothelioma. Big mistake - I know pain is a major problem in mesothelioma and I know that resources allocated to it are inadequate. What I was not prepared for was facing the issue from the other side. By the end of my reading, I felt like looking for the weblink that would allow me for $39.99 - a special offer - to have a loaded 9mm Browning delivered to my door.

Reading one paper I felt angry that an expert had been blunt to the point of callousness. We need to care for patients, as well as treat them. Caring involves giving information in a sensitive fashion, not "click on here" to find out just how bad it can get. My esteemed colleague who, at the beginning of a presentation on mesothelioma had a slide which showed a photograph of the "shit creek paddle shop", should realise that it is accessible from the internet.


British private schools popular in China

It should help them give more "scholarships" to poor but bright British students -- something the government is urging them to do -- but they will have to be super-careful to avoid attack as "racist"

PRIVATE schools are imposing unofficial limits on the numbers of Chinese pupils they admit because of fears that British parents will be deterred from sending their children there. Schools including Wellington College in Berkshire, the Leys school in Cambridge and Brighton college, East Sussex, have decided to restrict their numbers of foreign pupils under pressure from growing Chinese demand. Some schools are adopting the policy to preserve their character, while others are reacting to concerns among parents. According to the most recent figures from the Independent Schools Council, the numbers from mainland China have risen from a few hundred in 2000 to 2,345 this year. When added to pupils from Hong Kong, the total rises to 8,652, 40% of all foreign pupils. There are just 1,888 German pupils, the next biggest foreign contingent.

Ralph Lucas, editor of the Good Schools Guide, said many schools did not want to take more than 10% of their pupils from China although, given the demand, they could easily surpass this number. "To keep the traditional feel of an English public school, they are setting limits," he said. "Chinese pupils sometimes tend to keep themselves to themselves."

The growing numbers have sparked a backlash among some British parents. Margie Burnet Ward, headmistress of Wycliffe college in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire, has cut the number of pupils from China in recent years. "The fact that dare not speak its name is that parents are saying, `We don't want to come to you because you have too many Chinese pupils'," she said. "Five years ago we had 90 pupils from China and now we have 45 . . . Chinese children want to study maths and physics and parents are concerned that their child could be the only UK student in those classes."

Mark Slater, headmaster of the Leys, which has about 8% of its pupils from the Far East, said he believed in limiting the intake, although he added: "Up to a certain percentage it is a very healthy aspect of the school." Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Wellington, said: "They're desperate in China to come to England." He plans to set an informal limit of 15%-20% of foreign students. At Brighton, the ceiling is 8%.

For some independent schools Chinese pupils are, however, a lifeline. Some single-sex schools, particularly girls' boarding institutions, are struggling as more British parents opt for coeducational day schools. Chinese parents, by contrast, almost always pay full boarding fees and are willing to send their children to single-sex schools.

Nick Leiper, director of admissions for Ampleforth college, North Yorkshire, said some schools were now moving so aggressively into China that they were employing brokers to supply pupils in return for 10% of the first term's fees. Before British rule ended in 1997, many Hong Kong Chinese opted for a British private education because of its social cachet. Now, with mainland China's economy booming, the motives have changed. Parents from China see an English-language education as the gateway to an international career.

While most applicants are the children of the country's new rich, others come from less well-off backgrounds, with members of extended families clubbing together to pay fees. Many leading schools argue they are so popular that they could fill their places with children from Hong Kong and mainland China. Some, including Harrow and Dulwich college in London, have even opened branch schools in China.

Others have no plans to curb the numbers of Chinese. At Roedean, the girls' school near Brighton, one-third of the sixth form are from China and one-third from other foreign countries. "Some schools may have quotas, but we do not," said a spokeswoman.

Heathfield St Mary's school in Ascot, Berkshire, has resisted the financial benefits of recruitment from China. Frances King, the headmistress, said: "We are a very small boarding school and the interest in our school has increased. The Chinese are looking for entry into UK or American universities. If there are a lot pupils coming from one place I have to look at it every year. "We are an English boarding school and the Chinese pupils want to feel that they are coming to an English school. We like to have cultural diversity."


Pockets of Christianity left in the Church of England

"Strait is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" -- Matthew 7:14

Ninety-five per cent of Britons are heading for hell, according to the principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, who has been under fire from some staff for taking one of the leading Anglican theological training colleges in a conservative direction.

Richard Turnbull, appointed two years ago, made the claim in a speech to the annual conference of Reform, a conservative evangelical pressure group within the Church of England. If he truly believes it, the figure would encompass at least all non-evangelical Christians, including many members of the Church of England, and those of all other religions and none.

A recording of the speech, made in October last year and seen by the Guardian, was posted last night on the Thinking Anglicans liberal website. In it, Dr Turnbull also warns against the danger of liberalism in the church, talks of "the strategic nature" of evangelical control of training colleges and calls on conservatives to syphon off 10% of their financial contributions to the Church of England to help pay the costs of like-minded colleges. The message excludes even evangelicals who are regarded as more liberal in their beliefs.

Dr Turnbull told them: "We are committed to bringing the gospel message of Jesus Christ to those who don't know [him] and in this land that's 95% of the people: 95% of people facing hell unless the message of the gospel is brought to them."

Traditionally Wycliffe, a permanent private hall of Oxford University founded in 1877, has trained evangelical Anglicans for the clergy, but its reputation has been as an open evangelical college, welcoming would-be ordinands from a wide range of theological and liturgical beliefs.

Critics within the college have accused the principal of taking it in a much more restrictive and exclusionary direction. At least a third of the academic staff have resigned and its best-known member, the Thought for the Day contributor Elaine Storkey, has been threatened with disciplinary action, allegedly for raising concerns at an internal staff meeting.

In his speech, the principal criticised the Church of England for "restrictive trade practices" in limiting funding for its students and added: "I view [my] post as strategic because it would allow influence to be brought to bear upon generations of the ministry...capture the theological colleges and you have captured the influence that is brought to bear." He warns that unless like-minded parishes fund colleges such as his own, they face closure within 10 years. At the same conference in Derbyshire, Reform members agreed to remain within the Church of England for the time being but to set up an advisory panel to support conservative clergy and encourage ordinands of their viewpoint. They were told by one senior member, the Rev David Holloway, vicar of Jesmond, that the church was a dysfunctional body with incompetent leadership.

In an article to be published in tomorrow's Church of England Newspaper - a more broadly-based evangelical publication - Dr Turnbull's message appears rather more tolerant. He writes: "For me and for Wycliffe, inclusive means exactly that, rather than the exclusion of particular views. So issues which divide ... have to be debated in the open, albeit with care and sensitivity ..."


Sunday, May 27, 2007


Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister-in-waiting, said today that the NHS had to "be there for people when they need it" after a damning report on the death of a woman who was forced to consult eight out-of-hours GPs in four days over an Easter weekend. Penny Campbell, a 41-year-old journalist and mother, died in March 2005 from multiple organ failure. She had become infected with septicaemia during an operation for haemorrhoids but none of the doctors she spoke to or met diagnosed it. A report by a panel of independent investigators published today found that the actions of at least one of the GPs, together with problems in how the out-of-hours service was run, meant that she was not offered appropriate care.

Camidoc, a private company contracted to provide out-of-hours cover, had no procedures to ensure that notes on patients were easily available to all GPs, so that each time she rang for help they treated her as a new patient. This was a "major system failure" and was a direct factor leading to Miss Campbell’s death, the report said. Ms Campbell's partner, Angus McKinnon, said today that he was convinced that a similar tragedy could happen again. "I’ve had dozens of people contact me, cases where people had really narrow escapes," he said.

Mr Brown was asked about the case at a South London school and said that the Health Service had to "do better". "What I’ve been talking about is how we can extend the range of facilities for healthcare at the weekends and out of hours," he said. "So we need more access to doctors, we need walk-in centres, we need local healthcare centres to be more effective, we need NHS Direct to be working. "And we need pharmacies, interestingly enough, to have more ability to, for example, do blood tests and some of the basic things where you can just walk in off the street and get some of the basic tests done. And we need prescriptions to be translated to people, directly to the chemist, in a way that you don’t have to queue up at the doctor’s for a repeat prescription. "So in all these areas we need more access for patients. The health service has got to be there for people when they need it and we need to do better in the future."

But Mr Brown's intervention was scorned by the Tories. “It is odd that Gordon Brown should now realise that GP cover needs to be improved," said Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary. “Just three years ago he allowed a new GP contract to go ahead, which doubled the costs of providing out-of-hours care and led to worsening services for patients.

Today’s report identified weaknesses in the arrangements for out-of-hours care. Responsibility for providing the care passed from individual GPs to Primary Care Trusts in 2004 when the new GPs' contract came in. The report criticises the speed at which the change was implemented, and urges the Department of Health to provide a clear definition of the role of out-of-hours care.

Ms Campbell, from Islington, North London, was diagnosed with various conditions by the GPs, including colic, flu and viral infections, an inquest heard last year. The coroner ruled that the doctors contributed to Miss Campbell’s death because they failed to recognise the seriousness of her condition. All eight doctors voluntarily stepped down from out-of-hours care while the investigation into her death was carried out - although they continue to work as GPs.

Today’s report said that six GPs provided Miss Campbell with a "reasonable standard" of care but one, named as Dr Chuah, did not adequately explore her symptoms to see if she had an acute illness. Dr Chuah failed to offer Miss Campbell a reasonable standard of care during an 11-minute call at 4.50am on Monday, March 28, the day before her death. A transcript of their conversation shows that, when she checked with him that it was "not anything serious", he replied that if it was more serious, she would be a lot more sick and "wouldn’t be talking to me like this".

It adds: "Reviewing this transcript, it is apparent that Penny Campbell was articulate and coherent. In the course of the conversation she describes her symptoms quite clearly. "It is also evident that Dr Chuah did not pick up the cues offered by her or further explore any of these symptoms to clearly and definitely exclude any serious pathology that could have accounted for these symptoms."

The investigation found that the care offered by an eighth GP, Dr Bengi Beyzade, could not be adequately assessed in retrospect. Camidoc has said the six cleared of wrongdoing will be able to work again for them following a review. Dr Beyzade and Dr Chuah would have to go through a much more rigorous process involving a performance review with their PCT if they wished to return to work, it said.

Mr MacKinnon, 40, said the fact that the two doctors may be able to work again showed a "total lack of accountability" and was indicative of a wider problem regarding the work of doctors. "To get justice where doctors have performed unprofessionally, to get justice for the victims of their incompetence, you have to sue them. That’s a broader problem within our health system," he said. "Dr Chuah should be struck off." Mr MacKinnon plans to write to the General Medical Council (GMC) about the conduct of four of the doctors. He is also pursuing civil action over the case.

Islington Primary Care Trust (PCT), which commissions Camidoc’s services, issued a statement today extending its sympathy to Ms Campbell's family and admitting failings in her care.

Today’s report says the system of "safety netting" - where Miss Campbell was told to call back if she did not recover - was "seriously flawed". Each of her calls to doctors were treated as an individual "episode", with Miss Campbell having to recount her symptoms again and again. Although Camidoc had put in place methods to transfer to a computerised records system, it failed to address existing risks and take steps to overcome the problems. The report says that Camidoc was unprepared for its shift to a major out-of-hours provider of care. It also criticises Camidoc’s lack of process for driving up standards, saying that the systems for ensuring clinical governance was in place were not fit for purpose.

The system of out-of-hours care in England has been much criticised, with a recent study from the Public Accounts Committee saying that the Government thoroughly mishandled its introduction. Prior to 2004, out-of-hours care was managed by GPs but this was handed over to PCTs as a result of the new GP contract.

Mr MacKinnon backed those criticisms today. "If Tesco can open till midnight every night, why can’t our GPs open till midnight every night?" he said. "The National Audit Office said last year that the reform of out-of-hours has been incredibly expensive - it’s massively over-budget - so if they had spent a little less money on doubling doctors’ wages they would be able to afford better night-time and weekend care." Ms Campbell had a son, Joseph, who was 6 at the time of her death.


Dumbed-down British vocational qualification

Tens of thousands of teenagers are taking a new qualification worth up to four good GCSEs but which government experts say an average 11-year-old could pass. Half of all secondaries are estimated to be opting for the OCR national level 2 in ICT, where tasks include sending an email and searching the internet. It is being adopted as a replacement for the GNVQ in ICT, which controversially helped many low performing schools leap up the league tables. As with its predecessor, schools can use the OCR exam to gain the equivalent of four A*-C GCSEs, even though it only requires the teaching time of one.

But a document leaked to The TES shows consultants from the Government's National Strategies have found a pass in the qualification's compulsory unit "generally" equals level 4 of the key stage 3 national curriculum - the standards expected of an 11-year-old. Some points matched level 5, those of a 14-year-old. The revelation is a new blow to the Government's attempt to ensure vocational qualifications gain parity of esteem with academic ones.

A local authority ICT adviser has rated some of the qualification's most popular optional units and told The TES he found exactly the same standards uncovered by the National Strategies consultants. "The demands of this specification are very low indeed," he said. "Schools are using it to get soft certificates. Many are now putting all their students in for this in the expectation that they will all pass."

Some schools argue the consultants' verdict is too harsh. Mike Reid, an ICT teacher at Broughton Hall high in Liverpool, said: "The level of the tasks they have to perform are industry standard." To gain a distinction in the OCR national, equivalent to A* GCSEs, pupils must master extra tasks that include using quotes and words such as `and' and `or' when searching the internet. The local authority adviser described it as a "tick-box" course, enabling E grade pupils to gain the equivalent of Cs.

A spokesman for the OCR exam board said the National Strategies consultants could not have carried out a genuine comparison because the first results of the new qualification or details about the candidates taking it were still unknown. He said: "The ICT national level 2 is doing incredibly well because it was created in partnership with teachers and is interesting enough to be very learnable for students."

Clare Johnson, a National Strategies ICT programme adviser, said the conclusions by consultants from the West Midlands were part of a draft document that would not be distributed to schools. She did not know of anything that contradicted their conclusions, but said comparing vocational qualifications with an academic programme of study was inappropriate. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said it will monitor the new qualification.


Absurd British "human rights" laws to be suspended?

John Reid faced growing anger as he signalled the Government was ready to declare that Britain faced an "emergency" over terrorism and opt out of human rights legislation. As the recriminations flew over the disappearance of three radical Islamists who had been on control orders, he made clear his determination to bring in tougher curbs on terror suspects. The Home Secretary said that could mean "derogating" from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) so he could impose tougher control orders on suspects. The convention, which entered British law via the Human Rights Act, allows countries to suspend parts of the ECHR in "time of emergency".

Control orders, which restrict movements and contact with other people for terror suspects who cannot be brought to court, were introduced two years ago. They replaced the detention without trial of the "Belmarsh detainees," which was ruled illegal. The latest disappearances bring to six the number of people on control orders who have vanished in the past year and have left the control-order system in disarray.

A major police search was under way last night for Lamine Adam, 26, his brother Ibrahim, 20, and Cerie Bullivant, 24, after they went missing this week. Police believe they may try to travel to Iraq or Afghanistan. A third Adams brother, Anthony Garcia, 25, was jailed for life last month for his part in the "fertiliser bomb" plot to attack targets including a shopping mall and a London nightclub. Bullivant is due to stand trial over claims he breached his control order on 13 occasions over the past 10 months. All three had been assessed at the lower end of risk, but the fact that they co-ordinated their disappearances has alarmed the police.

Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, said: "Nobody can be perfectly satisfied they are not a risk to the public here, but the intelligence is pointing in another direction." However, Mr Reid had said the men were "not considered at this time to represent a direct threat to the public in the UK".

News of the absconders triggered fiery clashes over the control-order system in the Commons. The Home Secretary admitted that he would prefer to detain terror suspects or deport those who are foreign nationals, but said he was constrained by legal and political opposition to that approach. He said he wanted to impose tougher control-order regimes, but was hampered from doing so by court judgments under the ECHR. Mr Reid said he wanted the convention modernised by European leaders to reflect the realities of the terrorist threat. But he added: "We will consider other options, which include derogation, if we have exhausted ways of overturning previous judgments on this issue."

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "By threatening to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights, John Reid reveals a worrying mix of sloppy thinking and buck-passing." He said it was "wildly inaccurate to claim that the three escapees were somehow helped by our respect for human rights".

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said the escapes were caused by the Government failing to use existing powers, such as tagging suspects. He also said the delay in releasing the identities of the fugitives had allowed them to flee abroad. "He is now blaming his own Human Rights Act when he has not even tried to derogate under its provisions. He can blame the courts and the opposition, but the problems are of his own making," Mr Davis said. Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the campaign group Liberty, said: "This is last year's rhetoric from yesterday's Home Secretary."


Claims are mounting against child-rearing "experts"

CLAIMS are mounting that child-rearing experts such as Supernanny and Gina Ford are damaging family life by undermining parents' authority in the home. There was growing confusion among parents over how to bring up children because of the parenting advice "industry", a leading sociologist has warned. He said that relying on techniques from the so-called experts could be destroying some parents' confidence in their own child-rearing abilities, weakening their control over their offspring.

Professor Frank Furedi also cautioned that the spread of the nanny state was adding to bewilderment among parents.
The Kent University sociologist was among academics to challenge increasing interference in family life at a two-day conference at the British university. He claimed figures including TV Supernanny Jo Frost, whose discipline techniques include the "naughty step", portrayed mothers and fathers as incompetent. "They basically assume the high ground 'I am the supernanny, unlike you, the incompetent, bumbling idiot'," Professor Furedi said.

But he warned that the wealth of advice available, from Frost and others including the no-nonsense author Gina Ford, risked demoralising parents. "Parents who don't believe in themselves are not going to be very confident," he said. "The main thing is that it leads to estrangement. Mothers and fathers become estranged from each other and their children. Rather than a family developing a strong sense of itself, it is looking too much to the outside."

Professor Furedi, author of Paranoid Parenting and the Culture of Fear, went on to accuse governments, particularly the British Labour Government, of politicising parenting. "Over the past 10 years, virtually every aspect of childrearing is turned into a problem that requires their support or intervention," he said. "This undermines parents' confidence. "Targeting parents has become a national sport. New Labour politicians appear to take the view that almost every social problem is caused by bad parenting. This allows failed politicians to avoid confronting their policy failures - in health, in education and in community building."

He also criticised as patronising advice booklets published by the British Government. For example, a "Dad Pack" published last year advised men not to have affairs during their partner's pregnancy. Professor Furedi added: "Parenting has become an industry. It's no longer about the relationship with your children, it's something for politicians and professionals to have an opinion about."


Britain: Comparing apples and oranges

A multiculturalism debate didn't get off the ground last week - mainly because the panellists failed to define what they were talking about

On Friday night I attended a charity fundraiser where the big draw was a debate with Trevor Phillips and Kenan Malik arguing that "multiculturalism encourages separateness", and the MP Sadiq Khan and Arun Kundnani arguing that it doesn't. When questions were invited from the floor, I castigated the panel for their failure to define "multiculturalism", which had resulted in a dog's dinner of a debate with rambling monologues at cross-purposes. The subsequent attempts by each of the panellists to define the word were rather revealing.

Reminding them of last week's Rowntree report, produced by the New Policy Institute, I raised one particular finding. The income poverty rate of the British population as a whole stands at around 20%. The same rate for Bangladeshis is about 65%. The researchers had discovered that half of the difference was due to the fact that huge numbers of Bangladeshi women were not in paid work. I asked Khan if this was because values in that community were keeping women from going out to work?

Khan's response was to enumerate a litany of complaints about racism, discrimination in employment, unfair housing policy and all the rest of it. Khan must have been very tired when he read the report (or its summary) because he evidently failed to note that the report itself states that half of the difference is the figure it arrives at after taking into account those very factors that Khan mentioned. Clearly Khan, like the other panellists, was more comfortable discussing vague terms like multiculturalism, especially when they're left undefined.

When the chair pressed them to define the term, Arun Kundnani said that multiculturalism was "ethnic pluralism recognising difference between groups within the public sphere". Sadiq Khan said multiculturalism was "mutual respect based on common ethics". Trevor Philips said that multiculturalism was "valuing the things that divide us more than the things that unite us". Finally, Kenan Malik spoke of multiculturalism as consisting of "policies of cultural diversity which require us publicly to celebrate difference".

There we have it: a plurality of definitions and no two the same. This is Babel. It's not possible for two people to have a debate about the truth of a proposition, if they are both considering different propositions: you ask me if I think apples are tasty, and I tell you that oranges are delicious. The debate was ultimately farcical, a mix-up, a fruit-salad of a debate. Philips was talking about apples, Malik about oranges, Kundnani about pears and Khan about goodness knows what.

Take Khan's definition, "mutual respect based on common ethics". Who on earth would think that "mutual respect based on common ethics" could encourage separateness? Surely not even Trevor Philips, the bane of multiculturalists? And isn't Khan's definition as far from Philips's as you can get? Khan's "common ethics" might arguably be opposed to Philips's "valuing the things that divide us more than the things that unite us". Here are two almost diametrically opposed and certainly inconsistent definitions.

Which definition is right is irrelevant: the point is that without a common definition, there's no sensible debate, just a multiculturalism debate gone mad. When pressed, we see that the panellists reached for "thin" definitions, which invariably are not robust or controversial enough for divisions to show or which, alternatively, build in the arguments their advocates seek to advance.

There is, however, a way out of these sorts of thin and unsatisfying discussions. But it requires courage, something touched on by Malik, who brought a shaft of light in an otherwise dreary debate. Multiculturalists, he said, want public affirmation of cultural difference and this undermines much of what is good about diversity as a lived experience. By affirming those differences, we limit the scope of disputes, of a healthy kind, from taking place. After all, Malik observed, what is diversity good for? "It allows us to consider alternatives and thereby enhance debate. These clashes and conflicts are what multiculturalists most fear."

We need culture clashes and conflicts, not race riots but lively debate and discussion. While we discuss abstract distended nouns of unwieldy "ismic" proportions, like multiculturalism, we must make greater space to pose challenging questions and say difficult things about "thick values". Are women being held back by your culture's values? Your culture doesn't value marriage and that's wrong. Do you value friendships with non-Pakistanis as much as you value your friendships with Pakistanis? Your culture doesn't value family enough: you abandon your elderly.

Creating space for a diversity of views means ending the state- and establishment-endorsed fetish for celebrating diversity of ethnicity and faith. But a diversity in the views we ventilate is not an end in itself. Clashes and conflicts are vital for creating the circumstances in which citizens engage in a discussion about values so that society and culture can evolve in directions that draw everyone in.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Arrogant and life-threatening British bureaucracy gets a well-deserved black eye

These walking anal orifices cared more for their precious little bureaucratic procedures than they did for the life of a distressed person. You wonder if they are really human beings

A Citizens Advice Bureau adviser who was dismissed after she broke confidentiality rules to help to save the life of a suicidal caller has won her claim for unfair dismissal. Terri King, 58, of Southampton, had acted after a distraught client called the service to say she had taken an overdose of pills because she could not deal with her debt problems. Rather than following the time-consuming procedure of contacting her manager, who would then have had to consult a committee for advice, Mrs King immediately alerted the caller's GP, who was able to get to the woman and treat her.

Despite her lifesaving actions, the divorced mother of three was dismissed from her 13,000 pound-a-year job, on the ground of breaching confidentiality. Peter Wales, her boss at the Lymington branch of the CAB in Hampshire, said that she had made an "irrational and emotional error", the hearing was told.

Delivering a judgment yesterday, the tribunal chairman, Ian Soulsby, condemned the management's attitude towards the incident, which tested the extent to which patient confidentiality should be respected in the event of an emergency. Mr Soulsby said it was ridiculous to say that Mrs King's actions had been an irrational error. "Viewed objectively, there is no criticism of the claimant to act in this way. A life may have been in imminent danger. From any point of view this was a sensible course of action to take."

Mrs King was granted damages of a little more than 18,000 pounds by the Southampton Employment Tribunal, which said she had done the right thing in phoning the caller's doctor. The hearing was told that Mrs King had worked for five years at the bureau.


Appalling and unhealthy results of recycling mania in the Unhinged Kingdom

Sharon Lock, 36, has three bags of rubbish in her cluttered garage. They have accumulated there in the three days since her husband spent his Sunday morning driving to the tip seven miles away. Since February, when East Cambridgeshire District Council introduced fortnightly black-bag collections in Bottisham, he has been making the journey twice a week. "It's a real pain in the butt, to be honest with you", the mother of one said. "My son, Drew, is 2 and we can't have dirty nappies and food sitting in the garage for a fortnight. The smell is horrendous."

Lucy Baynes, who gave birth to her first child Zac only five weeks ago, tells a similar story. Two days before the fortnightly collection in leafy Bottisham, there is already a pile of black bags stacked against a post outside her garden, one of the communal collection points for the village. "Initially I thought the scheme was a good idea, but the stacks of rubbish are disgusting. That pile will be humming in the summer, and there will be more foxes and cats."

The council halved black bag collections in Bottisham only weeks ago, having already done so last summer in the village of Witchford. The pilot schemes are a response to the Government's controversial drive to push councils into cutting down on landfill and boost recycling, which Ben Bradshaw, the Environment Minister, said has resulted in 144 councils already experimenting with fortnightly collections.

Voters in many of these local authorities, including East Cambridgeshire, will be taking part in local elections next week. If sitting councillors are going to suffer as a result of their decisions to cut back on the dustmen, you would expect it to be at the hands of people such as Mrs Lock and Ms Baynes. Yet neither of these women will be voicing their frustration over refuse at the polls next week, because neither of them will be voting at all. Both cite their young children as a reason why they have not engaged with the election campaign, and both seem decidedly uninterested in whether the 17 Liberal Democrat councillors, 16 Conservatives and 6 independents will hold their seats on May 3.

Among those in the village who will vote, post office closures and council tax were both mentioned as reasons to back one party over the other, but not one person told The Times that the backlog of binbags would influence their decision. Which is perhaps why Colin McLean, the village's Conservative councillor, is relatively relaxed about the issue: "People have not been shaking hands over it on the doorstep," he said, "but nor have they been shaking fists."

Back in Bottisham, where the residents have had less time to adjust to the changes, John Humphreys expresses the mood of many people: "It is a diminution of the service which they tell us is an improvement, which gets up people's noses, and its an imposition, but compared with the big issues like the NHS it is not important. The retired teacher is less than thrilled about having to store nonrecyclable rubbish for two weeks before it is taken off his hands. But he will not be swayed by the battle of the binbag when he goes to vote. "We are the compliant people of England, and life's too short," he said. "It's not worth going to the barricades over."



British government is all talk

BP has abandoned plans to build a "green" power plant in a snub to Alistair Darling on the day that the Trade and Industry Secretary unveiled a new energy strategy aimed at reducing carbon emissions. Just hours after Mr Darling announced his Energy White Paper yesterday, the oil giant halted work on a 1bn-plus carbon capture and storage facility in Scotland, blaming delays in state subsidies.

BP's decision is an embarrassment for the minister, whose White Paper is designed to underline the Government's commitment to take a global lead in cutting greenhouse gases. The oil company, in a joint venture with Scottish & Southern Energy, has spent 30m during the past 18 months preparing to build a gas-fired power plant that would generate electricity and store 90pc of the emissions created in a depleted North Sea oil field. Similar projects are planned by other power companies.

But because the advanced technology makes such plants uneconomic, the Government promised to kick-start two or three facilities with subsidies. BP said yesterday that it had hoped to get a decision on state aid by the end of 2006, but this was pushed back to the end of 2007. But the White Paper indicated that a decision might not come until well into 2008 or beyond. "That's an extension too far," said a BP spokesman. "It would have been difficult to keep the project alive when there is uncertainty about funding. We have already spent a lot of money on the project."


Alcohol and pregnancy: Bureaucracy trumps science

Lying to people as a way of getting them to behave in an approved manner is a hoary old Leftist strategy -- e.g. their patently absurd but endlessly-repeated claim that there is no such thing as race

Women who are pregnant or trying for a baby should stop drinking alcohol altogether, the Government's leading doctors give warning today. The new advice radically revises existing guidelines, which say that women can drink up to two units once or twice a week. Fiona Adshead, the deputy chief medical officer, said that the change was meant to send "a strong signal" to the thousands of women who drank more than the recommended limit that they were putting their babies at risk. But she admitted that it was not in response to any new medical evidence

Women are often confused about what drinking in moderation really means, the new guidelines say, and surveys suggest that many accidently or deliberately exceed the limit. "Our advice is simple: avoid alcohol if pregnant or trying to conceive," Dr Adshead said. "We have strengthened our advice to women to help ensure that no one underestimates the risk to the foetus." She suggested that bottles of beer, wines and spirits should carry the new warning that pregnant women give up drinking. However, it emerged yesterday that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists intended to stick with its advice that moderate drinking was perfectly safe, which could leave many pregnant women confused. The college said that it would examine the new advice and decide whether to adopt it "in due course".

The change brings Britain into line with a growing list of countries which recommend abstinence. For years, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have recommended that pregnant women abstain from alcohol. France joined them last autumn, saying that research had linked moderate levels of drinking and permanent brain damage.

Research from the Office for National Statistics has shown a sharp rise in fatal drinking habits among women. The study, of "preventable mortality", found that the annual rate of alcohol-related deaths had risen by two thirds between 1993 and 2005, to 1,873. However, the statistics only refer to death certificates where alcohol-related conditions such as cirrhosis are specifically mentioned. Charities put the annual death toll for both sexes at about 22,000.

Ministers were moved to act over drinking in pregnancy after recent research found that 9 per cent of expectant mothers drink more than the recommended limit. Other data found that a quarter drink right up to the limit. The existing advice to drink in moderation has been in place for about ten years. Previously, midwives regularly told pregnant women to drink up to eight units a week, and even recommended Guinness to prevent anaemia.

Heavy drinking can cause foetal alcohol syndrome, an incurable condition resulting in retardation, poor memory and, in the worst cases, facial abnormalities. About 1 in 1,000 babies are born with the syndrome each year worldwide. But a milder condition, foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, is more common, affecting more than 6,000 children in Britain each year, and is a leading cause of learning difficulties.

Because many women do not realise that they are pregnant for the first few months, the advice was extended to those trying to conceive as well. It also states that should a pregnant woman choose to carry on drinking, she should not get drunk and keep to the previous recommendation of one to two units once or twice a week in order to minimise risks to the baby.


Dumbing down Britain's doctors

The collapse of Britain's online Medical Training Application Service (MTAS) has been widely welcomed. The web-based system was designed to match junior doctors to specialist training posts, but following junior doctors' complaints about a lack of available posts, poorly designed recruitment forms and technical failures in the new online system, it has now been scrapped. However, the real threat to standards of medical practice - and ultimately patient care - comes from the Modernising Medical Careers programme, of which MTAS is merely one aspect.

`If one of my own children had been in that position', UK health secretary Patricia Hewitt told Channel 4 News on the day she finally suspended MTAS, she would have fully shared the distress of the parents of those affected by the series of scandals afflicting the new computerised application system for specialist medical training (1). This curious presentation of the issue from a parental perspective is echoed on the website of RemedyUK, the grassroots organisation of junior doctors that has led the revolt against MTAS, staging unprecedented mass demonstrations in March (2). The site prominently displays a colourful poster proclaiming `Mums4Medics' (with subsidiary slogans, `Dads4Medics', `Partners4Medics', `Everyone4Medics').

By the time they have completed five or six years of medical school and two years of the new post-qualification `foundation programme', the youngest of the doctors applying to MTAS is 25 and many are over 30. Yet it seems that these `junior' doctors are regarded by the health minister as children and that they even regard themselves in similar terms. The infantilisation of doctors implicit in these representations reflects the real threat to the medical profession and to the quality of medical practice posed by the current wave of `modernising' reforms.

Hewitt was quick to emphasise that, though doctors are angry about MTAS, the `underlying principles of Modernising Medical Careers' are widely accepted by both junior doctors and the professional bodies that have been closely involved in the development and implementation of this programme. Before looking more closely at Modernising Medical Careers (MMC), let's briefly look at the MTAS fiasco.

In many respects MTAS is just another National Health Service IT failure: an online system that is vastly expensive, badly designed, difficult to use and which crashes frequently. When the system made publicly available doctors' personal details, including religion, sexual orientation and criminal records, this was more than a breach of confidentiality. It raised questions over why a medical appointment scheme should require that candidates submit such information. Though it is these failures that have led to the collapse of MTAS, its defects go much deeper.

In its modernising zeal, MTAS gives priority to doctors' subjective `learning experiences' and downplays objective indicators of performance. It allocates 75 per cent of its points to 150-word vignettes of clinical cases, in which doctors display fashionable concerns about `reflexive learning', `team-working' and ethical dilemmas. According to critics this amounts to meaningless self-promotion as well as being open to plagiarism (which the system lacks the software to detect). Only 25 per cent of points are allocated to academic or research achievements. Extracurricular activities are marginalised, references sidelined and interviews rigidly standardised.

The elite Academy of Medical Sciences has condemned MTAS for its discrimination against talent and excellence, as `a threat to UK biomedical research and healthcare' (3). For the Academy, MTAS reflects `a mindset in which academic, educational and research achievement are seen as almost irrelevant to the future quality of healthcare'.

It is true that the old system of selection for specialist training posts was susceptible to nepotism, favouritism and discrimination against those from ethnic or other minorities. It is New Labour's signal achievement, in this as in many areas, to have replaced a corrupt and inefficient system with one that is potentially more corrupt and certainly more inefficient - and even more damaging to the morale and standards of the medical profession.

The spirit of political correctness that imbues MTAS has already established deep roots in the modern medical profession. These can be traced back to the adoption by the General Medical Council in 1993 of the document Tomorrow's Doctors, which outlined the `goals and objectives' of a new medical curriculum under the rubric `knowledge, skills and attitudes' (4). While `knowledge' was reduced to a `factual quantum', extensive and detailed attitudinal objectives `reflected the values of the culture of therapy and the demands of political correctness' (5). Launched in 2004, Modernising Medical Careers sought to extend the approach of Tomorrow's Doctors from the medical school into the world of post-graduate medical practice, in hospital and in primary care (6).

The first major MMC initiative was the replacement in 2005 of the traditional year doctors spent as `house officers' in hospitals immediately after qualification with a two-year `foundation programme' (part of which could be completed in General Practice). There can be no doubt that the old system had many flaws: many young doctors were exploited by absentee consultants, obliged to work excessive hours and received minimal supervision or training (to the detriment of both themselves and their patients). The foundation programme sought to replace the old `apprenticeship' model - celebrated in the surgical saying `see one, do one, teach one' - with a closely supervised programme of instruction in the attitudes and values deemed appropriate for the modernised doctor.

The new programme is `trainee-centred, competency-assessed, service-based, quality-assured, flexible, coached, structured and streamlined'; it is managed and structured, progressive, robust and seamless; it is `outcome-based' and evaluates `observed behaviour, skills and attributes'. No doubt some of this jargon conceals valuable educational and clinical activity, but it is difficult to believe that all the ticking of boxes reflects any improvement in the rigour of medical training. What remains unquantified in this system is the quality of doctors' clinical knowledge and their experience of taking responsibility in treating and caring for patients.

The 1858 Medical Act, which is established the General Medical Council, sought to establish a system of medical education that produced a doctor who, on qualification, was a `safe general practitioner'. This concept of an independent and competent general practitioner symbolised the confidence of the modern medical profession at the moment of its emergence in the nineteenth century. By contrast, the `never quite competent' doctor, one who requires continuous formal instruction and regulation, monitoring and mentoring, support and counselling, symbolises the abject state of the profession in the new millennium. While the junior hospital doctor of the past may have been used and abused, today's doctors appear to have lost all initiative or autonomy in relation to their own professional development and in relation to their patients. If tomorrow's doctors are reduced to the status of children, to be patronised by politicians and parents, as well as by their trainers and tutors, the future of the medical profession is in jeopardy.

For the Academy of Medical Sciences, MTAS is `an object lesson in what happens when we take medical education out of the hands of those who value objective academic achievement and put it in the hands of those who wish to create a uniform and biddable workforce unencumbered by the spirit of inquiry needed to challenge dogma and central directives'. The consequences of this lesson are not confined to MTAS, but go back through MMC to Tomorrow's Doctors, and the wider framework of medical education and training established over the past decade.


The BBC still hates America: "White lynch mobs are back in the Deep South. At least according to the BBC, which is broadcasting a special program on it, headlined "Stealth Racism Stalks the Deep South." Apparently six young black men have been charged in an attack on a white student. The Bolshie Beeb knows this story line. It hasn't changed in a hundred years --- if you believe the Beeb".