Friday, January 04, 2008

A review from Yorkshire of the past year in Britain

By Bernard Ingham -- presumably Sir Bernard Ingham, a journalist best known as Margaret Thatcher's press secretary

In the good old days, when we celebrated Christmas without thinking we might offend anybody, we had reached Boxing Day feeling that all was right with the world. Most of it was coloured pink in our atlases and we knew it was a privilege to be British. We were the best, even if we couldn't afford a turkey and, as ever, Halifax Town could not be relied upon to keep us cheerful beyond 4.45pm. Pride, they say, goeth before a fall. So 50 years on, let us take stock of our reduced condition over the remains of the turkey, assuming you could get one because of pestilence.

I shall try to be positive. We are possibly the least corrupt society in the world, if you ignore the link between the funding of our political parties and peerages and cronyism and our guilt by association with the European Union, which has now gone 13 years without its auditors being able to approve its accounts.

We are dab hands at spending the oodles of money we earn or can borrow. Statistically, we are up to our ears in debt and don't seem to worry unduly, which amounts to a revolution in attitudes. Retail therapy is practised widely with apparently beneficial psychological results. Materially, we want for nothing, but keep our manufacturing-lite economy going by buying.

We are immensely mobile, especially at Christmas. Some 27m are said to be on the move this year, fog, clogged roads, airport security, strikes and railway companies permitting, since the last allow "essential engineering works" to get in the way of uniting families.

No-one can surpass our political correctness. It passeth all understanding how easily Christmas is banned, watered down and generally considered shameful by the multiculturists and how the "health and safety Taliban" discover the possibility of death and mutilation even in changing a Parliamentary light bulb.

We are amazingly tolerant of spinmeisters who promise the earth and deliver nothing; cheats, conmen and rip-off merchants who infest the land; "celebrities" - an infinitely elastic term - who are anything but role models; footballers who are paid a king's ransom for their vulgar Viking tendencies off the field and their mediocrity on it; and climate changers with an urge to make us all feel guilty. This is not to mention 4,000 suspected terrorists running around loose in the name of Islam.

Indeed, we have become so passive that conspiracy theorists might conclude that somebody is putting something in our water or, more likely, alcohol. We can hardly summon up a squeak when the Football Association appoints an Italian, who cannot speak English, to manage our national soccer team, who admittedly are similarly afflicted, y' know...

In short, we are wonderfully self-satisfied. Students of empires would identify this as the penultimate stage in the inevitable process of decline into oblivion. Let us test this theory by considering what we are bad at.

Well, we are not very good at getting married. Most children are now born out of wedlock, thereby pretty well ensuring intensified social problems in the future with indisciplined youth. To cap that, we cannot as a state educate our young people. We are in free-fall in the international league tables of achievement. This does not augur well for the future.

Nor does our inability to control our borders. We haven't a clue how many immigrants are in our midst, legally or otherwise. You can take that as read when the Home Office admits 11,000 illegal immigrants are working as security guards, one of them on its HQ reception desk. We are reduced to bribing illegal immigrants to go home with money to start ostrich farms.

We are certainly being out-bred by immigrants called Mohammed. How long before we have a country to call our own? Come to think of it, that was an academic question long before Gordon Brown churlishly brought himself to sign the new superstate-building EU treaty.

Nor can we police our towns and cities. Only one offender is jailed for every 100 crimes committed. Things are so bad that our priests daren't celebrate midnight mass for fear drunks will wreck it.

Amid all this impending doom, we have a Prime Minister who is forever "doing all in his power" to improve matters, having done all in his power for 10 years to make them worse, and a generation of politicians whose greatest ability is to depress us. The message is clear. Britain's only relevant New Year resolution is: "We must do better. And no backsliding".


Revolt as 200,000 people demand to opt out of new NHS database scheme

Intimate details of the first 100,000 patients have been uploaded to the controversial new NHS database despite a mounting revolt by doctors and campaign groups. Around 20 GP surgeries have added 110,000 individual records to the scheme, which will contain details on patients' medical history, current medication and allergies. But the Daily Mail has learned more than 200,000 people have requested documents that allow them to demand their personal medical records are excluded from the system, which will "go live" in January.

There is growing concern about the security of the o12bn IT programme - the biggest civilian computer project in the world - which will ultimately contain the details of 50 million people. A poll showed that more than three-quarters of doctors are either "not confident" that data will be safe or "very worried" that it will leak once the system is up and running. Some senior medics are now encouraging a campaign of disobedience against the database by supporting a campaign to urge patients to opt out.

Activists in the British Medical Association (BMA) have produced a letter that people can send to their GP to stop their records going onto the database. The letter can be downloaded from the website of the Big Opt Out campaign, Critics fear patient records could be misused if they can be accessed by NHS staff across the country.

Campaigners also highlighted the Government's "appalling" record on data security, which saw the personal and banking details of 25 million child benefit claimants lost last year. Nine NHS trusts were forced to admit losing hundreds of thousands of health records.

So far, more than 550,000 patients in Bolton, Bury, Dorset, south Birmingham and Bradford and Airedale have been asked to register with the new NHS IT scheme. It will be rolled out across the country later this year, once the pilot sites have been evaluated. Patients were initially told they would have no choice over whether their information would be included on the database. But ministers were forced to offer concessions because of concerns over privacy and security.

Patients can now choose to opt out altogether - though they are warned this could compromise their NHS care. Alternatively, patients can choose only to allow access to NHS staff who have their explicit consent.

But NHS manager Helen Wilkinson, who is masterminding the opt out campaign, said patients were not being told of their rights. She launched her campaign in 2006 after discovering that she had been wrongly labelled an alcoholic after seeing a consultant about routine surgery. She has now forced the Health Department to wipe all of her records from NHS files. "My concern is that patients' records are being uploaded without their consent," she said. "The Government says every patient should be getting a leaflet setting out their options. But the reality we are finding is that many are not. "Even when they do, we are not satisfied that the literature is clear about the risks associated with this database. "The Government has demonstrated only too clearly that it cannot be trusted with this sort of personal information. "Its record on keeping data secure is frankly appalling."

Joyce Robins, of the campaign group Patient Concern, said: "Our main problem is that they are doing it on an opt-out basis - we think they should ask for consent before records go up." Dr Paul Cundy, chairman of the BMA's general practitioners IT committee, who helped compose the protest letter, said: "Some doctors are actively encouraging their patients to rebel. "This letter is an easy way for patients to express the rights that the BMA feels they ought to have by default."

Ministers insist that the current NHS records system, which relies predominantly on paper files, can lead to unnecessary delays and risks. Marlene Winfield, head of public engagement for the NHS IT programme, said: "Patients are always surprised that their records aren't already available in other parts of the NHS - they say we thought the NHS has been doing this for years. "Patients have to go through a security process before they can set up the record. "The NHS has always had a confidentiality culture as patient information is regarded by everyone as sensitive - it's in everyone's training and contracts." But a poll carried out by the website showed that only a fifth of doctors believe the system will be secure.


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