Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Incredible British medical negligence again

You are just one of a herd of cattle to NHS doctors

A BOY who spent most of his life being deaf in one ear has been cured after he discovered the wayward tip of a cotton bud. After being deaf in his right ear for nine years, 11-year-old Jerome Bartens identified the cause of his ailment while playing with friends at a church hall in Haverfordwest, in Wales. The Daily Mail said Jerome heard a popping sound in his ear and, after using his finger to investigate the cause of the noise, discovered the tip of a cotton bud.

His father told the newspaper he was shocked that doctors did not discover the object after years of examinations. “It was just incredible – his hearing returned to normal in an instant,” Carsten Bartens told the newspaper. “He was cured as suddenly as he became deaf… I had always suspected Jerome had stuck something in his ear when he was little and that was causing the problem. “But the doctors and hearing specialists said it was wax and he would probably grow out of it.”

Jerome said it was strange to have his full hearing back again. “I can hear much better now and I think I’ll be happier at school now my ear does not ache all the time,” Jerome said. “It’s great that people don’t have to shout to me and that I don’t have to turn my head all the time.”


British nurses leaving in droves

Thousands of nurses are leaving the NHS in search of better pay and working conditions abroad. More than 10,000 nurses and midwives left to work abroad in 2006-07, leaving the NHS just a few years from a staffing crisis, the country’s top nurse said. Nearly 35,000 nurses - enough to staff the entire health service in Wales – have emigrated in the past four years. During the past three years there has been a 75 per cent rise in the number of nurses leaving for Australia alone, data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) suggests.

Despite an anticipated shortfall of 14,000 nurses by 2010, Clare Chapman, the Department of Health’s director-general of workforce, has said that the NHS no longer needs to increase overall numbers of nurses and doctors.

Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), told The Times that the Government was guilty of a “yo-yo approach” to workforce planning, exacerbating low morale. “We are just a few short years away from a crisis,” he added. “There is every sign that being short-staffed on overstretched wards puts patients at risk, yet an estimated 20,000 nursing posts have been cut in hospitals and surgeries across the country. “At the same time as they are offered a miserly pay deal, they are being bombarded with advertising for a better life abroad. When you are offered comparable salaries and a higher quality of life in Australia, the Cayman Islands or South Africa, is it any wonder that some might choose to kickstart their careers abroad?”

The average salary for an NHS nurse was 24,000 pounds, Dr Carter said, about 10,000 less than the average police officer or teacher, while a below-inflation pay rise of 0.6 per cent in real terms last year had been an insult.

In total, 33,513 nurses left the UK and registered to work abroad between 2003-04 and 2006-07, but this was likely to be a conservative estimate, Dr Carter said. Meanwhile, 6,144 nurses from abroad were registered to work in the UK last year, 4,624 of them from outside the EU.



An "overwhelming majority" of Europeans believe immigration from Islamic countries is a threat to their traditional way of life, a survey revealed last night. The poll, carried out across 21 countries, found "widespread anti-immigration sentiment", but warned Europe's Muslim population will treble in the next 17 years. It reported "a severe deficit of trust is found between the Western and Muslim communities", with most people wanting less interaction with the Muslim world.

Last night an MP warned it showed that political leaders in Britain who preach the benefits of unlimited immigration were dangerously out of touch with the public.

The study, whose authors include the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, was commissioned for leaders at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. It reports "a growing fear among Europeans of a perceived Islamic threat to their cultural identities, driven in part by immigration from predominantly Muslim nations". And it concludes: "An overwhelming majority of the surveyed populations in Europe believe greater interaction between Islam and the West is a threat."

Backbench Tory MP David Davies told the Sunday Express: "I am not surprised by these findings. People are fed up with multiculturalism and being told they have to give up their way of life. "Most people in Britain expect anyone who comes here to be willing to learn our language and fit in with us." Mr Davies, who serves on the Commons Home Affairs Committee, added: "People do get annoyed when they see millions spent on translating documents and legal aid being given to people fighting for the right to wear a head-to-toe covering at school. "A lot of people are very uncomfortable with the changes being caused by immigration and politicians have been too slow to wake up to that."

The report says people have little enthusiasm for greater understanding with Islam and attempts to improve relations have been "disappointing". And with the EU Muslim population expected to reach 15 per cent by 2025 it predicts: "Any deterioration on the international front will be felt most severely in Europe."

But leading Muslim academic Haleh Afshar, of York University, blamed media "hysteria" for the findings. She said: "There is an absence of trust towards Muslims, but to my mind that is very much driven by an uninformed media. "To blame immigration is much harder because the current influx of immigrants from eastern Europe are by-and-large not Muslim. The danger is that when people are fearful of people born and bred in this country it is likely that discrimination may follow."


Another Greenie censorship attempt -- from Britain's red heart

A senior mayoral adviser ordered the authors of a report on road safety to rewrite it so it was politically acceptable, it was claimed today. His alleged intervention came after a three-year study by Transport for London into whether motorcyclists should be allowed to use bus lanes. A trial had found that accidents on two routes where motorbikes were allowed into bus lanes were nearly halved. But aide Kevin Austin allegedly ordered the rewrite to avoid the loss of the "green vote", because cycle groups opposed sharing bus lanes with motorcyclists.

Now the authors fear the new version will be a whitewash and conceal the road safety benefits shown by the trial, which took place in Brixton Road and Finchley Road. It found the bus lanes were much safer for pedestrians, cyclists, car drivers and motorcyclists when motorcycles were allowed access, with a 42 per cent fall in the rate of collisions. The report, presented to the Mayor in September, stated this, but officials claim they have been told to "bury" the findings and rewrite key sections to show the trial produced no safety gains.

City Hall insiders allege the order came amid fears that opening up bus lanes would alienate thousands of cyclists opposed to the move. A source told the Standard: "We have been told to cook the books and expect the new report to be a whitewash. The original report showed that the trial sites were far safer than on other 'control' roads, including for cyclists. "It meant the Mayor would have to open up bus lanes across London, followed by other regions closely watching the experiment. Now it has to be rewritten to appear the trial sites are no safer, so the Mayor can announce he will not proceed."

The study of the trial routes found accidents directly involving motorcycles fell by 45 per cent, compared with 19 per cent increase on a nearby 'control' route. Pedestrian casualties fell by 39 per cent against a three per cent rise on control routes. Collisions between cyclists and motorcyclists fell by 44 per cent. The draft report said: "These figures demonstrate that crashes involving powered two-wheelers and other vulnerable road-users become more infrequent even when considering the increased concentration of riders."

Cycling campaign group CTC said "noisy" motorcycles travelling at higher speeds would intimidate cyclists, threatening the increase in commuters turning to bicycles. But the draft report said: "The measure has no tangible adverse consequences to cyclists. In contrast to the level of concern... the number of casualties from collisions between cyclists and powered two-wheelers users is remarkably small."

A spokesman for the Mayor said: "There are serious issues of safety and efficiency involved in this issue so it required proper consideration based upon the collection and analysis of the relevant evidence. "Transport for London had concerns about the validity of some of the early results of the study. These concerns were shared by GLA officials. TfL therefore undertook further work. "All the results will be included in a final report, which will be submitted to TfL senior management and the Mayor. A decision will be made on the basis of full consideration of all of the evidence and this will be made public."


A rather stunning move from the British Left

Anything to minimize academic knowlewdge and critical thinking, I guess

McDonald’s and other big businesses will award their own qualifications equal to GCSEs, A levels and degrees, in subjects such as fast-food restaurant management, the Government will announce today. Network Rail, Flybe and McDonald’s will become the first companies to be given such powers by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). Gordon Brown will announce the move today as he seeks to regain the initiative over the issue of the unskilled unemployed from the Conservatives. “The biggest barrier to full employment now is not the shortage of jobs, but the shortage of skills among the unemployed and inactive,” he will say.

The QCA announcement gives the three companies official “awarding body” status, allowing them to confer nationally accredited certificates. The qualifications will not be finalised or fully endorsed until the autumn, but some trials are beginning this month. McDonald’s will train employees for a certificate in basic shift management, recognised by the QCA as equal to an A level. Trainees will learn about the day-to-day running of a restaurant, including finance, hygiene and human resources.

The budget airline Flybe will be able to award certificates up to the equivalent of degree level. Its airline trainer programme will confer qualifications from level 2 (GCSE at A*-C) to level 4 (degree) on its cabin and engineering staff.

Network Rail will introduce track engineering qualifications as high as PhD (level 8), covering technical issues and health and safety. It said its entire 33,000-strong workforce would take the course eventually, as well as contractors. Most trainees would receive certificates at level 2 and level 3. The company was criticised for its standards of track maintenance in a report into the Cumbrian train crash last February in which an elderly passenger was killed. It described the failures of Network Rail’s maintenance operation, with some track inspectors having lapsed accreditation, meaning that they were not certified to carry out such work.

Critics question the worth of “McGCSEs”, claiming that they could devalue academic qualifications and casting doubt on whether they would be recognised outside the companies concerned. Educational experts said that it would become increasingly common for private institutions to award qualifications, rather than it being the preserve of publicly funded colleges and universities. In September a private outfit, BPP College, became the first allowed to award law and business degrees. John Denham, the Universities Secretary, wants to introduce the scheme in companies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. He said: “This is an important step towards ending the old divisions between company training schemes and national qualifications, something that will benefit employees, employers and the country as a whole.”

The move was welcomed by business leaders. John Cridland, the CBI’s deputy director-general, said: “Today marks a significant milestone on the road to reforming qualifications so that they better reflect the skills employers and employees need.”

But Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment research at the University of Buckingham, cast doubts on the validity of such qualifications outside the companies in question. He said: “Employees may find they are locked into that business because these awards don't have credibility outside the company, like GCSEs, A levels or NVQs do. The qualifications would be more valuable to holders if they were awarded by an independent body.”



It was appropriate that, just as our MPs were voting last week to hand over yet more of the power to run this country in the EU treaty, the EU itself should be unveiling easily the most ambitious example yet of how it uses the powers we have already given away. The proposals for "fighting climate change" announced on Wednesday by an array of EU commissioners make Stalin's Five-Year Plans look like a model of practical politics.

Few might guess, from the two-dimensional reporting of these plans in the media, just what a gamble with Europe's future we are undertaking - spending trillions of pounds for a highly dubious return, at a devastating cost to all our economies. The targets Britain will be legally committed to reach within 12 years fall under three main headings. Firstly, that 15 per cent of our energy should come from renewable sources such as wind (currently 1 per cent). Secondly, that 10 per cent of our transport fuel should be biofuels. Thirdly, that we accept a more draconian version of the "emissions trading scheme" that is already adding up to 12 per cent to our electricity bills.

The most prominent proposal is that which will require Britain to build up to 20,000 more wind turbines, including the 7,000 offshore giants announced by the Government before Christmas. To build two turbines a day, nearly as high as the Eiffel Tower, is inconceivable. What is also never explained is their astronomic cost. At 2 million pounds per megawatt of "capacity" (according to the Carbon Trust), the bill for the Government's 33 gigawatts (Gw) would be 66 billion (and even that, as was admitted in a recent parliamentary answer, doesn't include an extra 10 billion needed to connect the turbines to the grid). But the actual output of these turbines, because of the wind's unreliability, would be barely a third of their capacity. The resulting 11Gw could be produced by just seven new "carbon-free" nuclear power stations, at a quarter of the cost.

The EU's plans for "renewables" do not include nuclear energy. Worse, they take no account of the back-up needed for when the wind is not blowing - which would require Britain to have 33Gw of capacity constantly available from conventional power stations.

The same drawbacks apply to the huge increase in onshore turbines, covering thousands of square miles of countryside. They are only made viable by the vast hidden subsidies that wind energy receives, through our electricity bills. These make power from turbines (including the cost of back-up) between two and three times more expensive than that from conventional sources.

This is crazy enough, but the EU's policy on biofuels is even more so. The costs - up to 50 billion by 2020 - would, as the EU's own scientific experts have just advised, "outweigh the benefits". To grow the crops needed to meet the target would require all the farmland the EU currently uses to grow food, at a time when world food prices are soaring. Even Friends of the Earth have called on the EU to abandon its obsession with biofuels. Yet the Commission presses on regardless.

As for the "emissions trading scheme" (a system originating with the Kyoto Protocol, whereby businesses can buy or sell "carbon credits", supposedly to allow market forces to ensure that targets are met), the Commission last week predicted that by 2020 this could be raising 38 billion a year from electricity users. Of this, 6.5 billion a year would be paid by the UK, equating to 260 pounds for every household in the country.

The Commission itself predicts, in recently leaked documents, that this will have major consequences for the EU's economy, and that heavy industries, such as steel, aluminium, chemicals and cement, will have to raise their prices substantially, some by as much as 48 per cent. Yet when it was pointed out that this will put EU industries at a competitive disadvantage, the Commission's only response was to suggest tariffs on imports from countries such as China or America that are not signed up to Kyoto.

It looks like the most expensive economic suicide note in history. But just as alarming is how little this madness has been exposed to informed analysis. It seems, finally, that the price we pay for membership of the EU and the price of our obsession with global warming are about to become very painfully synonymous. And no one seems to have noticed.


New AIDS drug

A new class of drug for people with HIV is being introduced in Britain today, having been described by researchers as a huge step forward in treating the deadly infection. Raltegravir, available as tablets to be taken twice a day, is approved for use with other antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV in about one in ten patients whose therapy has stopped working. Because of their potential to prolong life by decades, HIV drugs are considered cost-effective and raltegravir is likely to be available on the NHS for all infected patients.

Doctors believe that the drug could become standard treatment, potentially preventing HIV progressing into full-blown Aids. Three quarters of trial patients showed a significant reduction in viral load - the prevalance of the virus in their bloodstream - compared with 40 per cent taking current medication alone. Some patients had a marked improvement to the point where levels of the virus were "undetectable", doctors said.

An estimated 73,000 people in Britain are infected with HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, which culminates in Aids (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Although HIV infection is still considered serious, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can allow for a relatively normal lifespan.

HIV continually changes and can become resistant to treatment, leading to a continuing search for new drugs. Raltegravir is the first in a new class of HIV treatments called integrase inhibitors, which it is hoped will avoid the risks of heart attack and cancer associated with existing medication. It works by blocking integrase, an enzyme that HIV relies on to replicate itself. It affects the ability of the virus to infect other cells, thus reducing the blood's viral load.

During the trials, patients were given raltegravir or the dummy drug plus optimised background therapy (OBT), a regime of antiretroviral drugs tailored to individual patients.

One study published in The Lancet in April last year was based on 178 patients with advanced HIV. They had been taking regular antiretroviral drugs for about ten years but were not responding to them. Patients taking raltegravir had an average of a 98 per cent drop in their HIV ribonucleic acid (RNA) count, compared with 45 per cent in the dummy group. The number of CD4 cells, an indicator of the immune system's ability to fight disease, was also boosted.

Made by the US-based company Merck, the drug is also known by the brand name Isentress. Mark Nelson, director of HIV services at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, said that it had already provided a life-line to 30 of his patients. "While this is not a `cure' for HIV it does mean we can suppress the virus to where it is virtually undetectable."

Dr Nelson added that the drug's long-term safety record would be very important, given that more adverse effects from existing treatments were emerging after many years of therapy.

"Raltegravir is going to be popular because it's very effective and it seems to have a good safety profile," he said. "Previous drugs have done a terrific job keeping people alive. But now we have to start thinking about safety."

Eight years and four different drug cocktails after Philippe B, 41, learnt that he had HIV, he almost gave up.

"Ten years ago nobody told you anything about the drugs or how to take them, so I stopped for a few months. I became resistant and had to change my combination. Every new combination meant new side effects - nausea, diarrhoea. Sometimes the fatigue was so bad, I couldn't get out of bed."

Philippe, who works for the Terence Higgins Trust, had a viral load of 500,000 (more than 100,000 is considered high) and was in hospital with toxoplasmosis, ulcers and paralysis. After three months, he started a new regime that was the first to work - his viral load is below 50.

Philippe says that he is lucky because he has yet to run out of drug options. "It's very important that there are new drugs. HIV is not a death sentence any more but there's still no cure. After you become resistant, you start running out of options."


Learn more skills or face losing benefit, British jobless will be told: "There should be no "free-riding" on the welfare state, the new Work and Pensions Secretary said yesterday as the Government outlined a "carrot and stick" approach to reform. James Purnell, the most Blairite minister in the Cabinet, set out, with Gordon Brown, proposals to require people to obtain the skills they need or face sanctions. Every unemployed person would have a "skills check" to help Britain to raise its skills game to world class, Mr Brown said. One in five under-21s would be steered towards an apprenticeship, and private and voluntary sectors would be used to create the training posts. People refusing to take the chances given to them would lose benefit, first for two weeks, then for four weeks, and then for up to 26 weeks."

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