Sunday, May 18, 2008

British grandmother overjoyed by go-ahead to sue over hospital superbug MRSA

A great-grandmother was "overjoyed" after being given the go-ahead to bring a test case against the National Health Service for allegedly infecting her with the MRSA superbug. Elizabeth Miller, 71, contracted MRSA while recovering from a heart operation at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary in 2001. Her legal team argues that a failure to implement the hospital's hand hygiene policy led to her infection.

Although patients have sued hospitals for failing to treat the superbug, no cases have been brought against the health service for giving it to patients. If successful, Mrs Miller's case could lead to scores of others.

Speaking after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that a full hearing into the claim should be held, Mrs Miller said: "I really am overjoyed that we have won the first battle and I just feel it has taken a long, long time. The main thing is that the hospitals get cleaned up. It has ruined my life. I spend most of my life sitting in a chair, and depression is one of the worst things it has done. I just feel my life will never be the same again. But if the case can prevent it happening to someone else, that will be a bonus."

Mrs Miller, from Kilsyth, near Glasgow, is seeking damages of 30,000 pounds from NHS Greater Glasgow. She says that she can no longer play with her great-grandchildren because she is too unwell. Her legal team claims that she contracted the bug because of a series of errors that led to staff failing to wash their hands properly. The problems were understood to include faulty taps and sinks and a lack of soap and paper towels. According to court papers lodged on her behalf: "If the hospital's hand hygiene policy had been implemented, enforced and adhered to, Mrs Miller would not have become infected with MRSA."

Lawyers for the NHS board called for the legal action to be dismissed. They claim that the infection was identified and treated as early as possible and that a nasal swab taken from Mrs Miller did not rule out the possibility that she had MRSA before being admitted.

However, in a written ruling yesterday, Judge Lady Clark said that the case should proceed to a full hearing. She said that there were still some factual matters to be determined. A date has not been fixed yet for the full hearing.

Mrs Miller's solicitor, Cameron Fyfe, said that he had 160 other clients who intended to pursue similar claims if the case was successful. In some cases patients had died or lost limbs, and those claims could run into six figures, he suggested. Mr Fyfe added: "This is a big step forward. If at this final hearing we can prove that the hospital was to blame, Elizabeth will be compensated and it will open the door to hundreds of claims."


Seasonal food only? Sod off, Gordon

Toilet-mouthed British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has suggested we should only eat food `in season'. That would mean letting Nature tell us what to do

`Chefs should be fined if they haven't got ingredients in season on their menu. I don't want to see asparagus in the middle of December, I don't want to see strawberries from Kenya in the middle of March.' Gordon Ramsay, the world's sweariest chef, believes we should be eating local, seasonal food. What the f*ck?

`I want to see it homegrown. There should be stringent laws, fines and licensing laws to make sure produce is only used in season. If we get this legislation pushed through parliament then the more unique this country will become', added Ramsay, suggesting that we should be concerned with creating a distinctive national food culture and cutting down on food miles (1).

There have been plenty of people lining up to point out the hypocrisy of Ramsay's position. Food critic Jay Rayner, writing in the Observer, was reduced to nausea: `His declaration. that chefs who use ingredients that are neither local nor seasonal ought to be fined did make the bile rise. This is a man who operates a restaurant in Dubai, for God's sake, where absolutely nothing is local or seasonal. Everything arrives there from somewhere else, according to whatever season happens to be in progress in whichever hemisphere happens to be the most convenient at the time.' (2)

Even in his London restaurants, there are plenty of ingredients on Ramsay's menus that are far from seasonal and local. TV chef Anthony Worrall Thompson told the Telegraph: `I trawled through his menus from Claridges and Maze and there were at least 15 items that would have warranted a fine.' (3)

Strangely, while there were plenty of people willing to point out Ramsay's hypocrisy or question the practicality of criminalising the importation of food when the UK cannot grow enough food to meet its needs, most commentators seemed to think Ramsay had a point. His co-presenter on Channel 4's The F-Word, and fellow member of the rent-a-gob union, Janet Street-Porter, was quick to defend Ramsay from his critics: `He has a point, only slightly undermined by his driving a gas-guzzling vehicle and spending most of his time jetting around the globe to oversee his rapidly expanding restaurant empire. Eating out should mean we have a chance to enjoy great food created with local produce, rather than fish, meat and exotic veg flown in from the other side of the planet.' (4)

The fact that such an approach to `strawberries from Kenya' might have a negative impact on producers in the developing world has been widely ignored. It took Duncan Green from the charity Oxfam - an organisation with a dubious attachment to `sustainable development' - to point this out: `I'm sure the million farmers in East Africa who rely on exporting their goods to scrape a living would see Gordon Ramsay's assertions as a recipe for disaster.' (5)

This latest furore is typical of the confused discussion of food today. This was made clear to me recently during a debate I took part in at London's Real Food Festival. Ecologist publisher and Conservative Party environment adviser, Zac Goldsmith, told the gathered audience that local food was crucial - perhaps even more important for green foodies than organic food. But when a member of the audience who lived in inner-city London asked the panel how she could eat `local' food, Goldsmith was a bit stuck. It depends, said the billionaire's son, offering that `local' might mean the Caribbean if you were talking about bananas. So, `local' means anywhere within 4,500 miles?

In truth, the Real Food Festival illustrated the importance of going beyond local food for the sake of the kind of small, quirky producers so beloved of foodies and greens. While pottering around the stalls before the debate, I tried three-year-matured parmesan cheese from Italy, fruit-flavoured wine from Scotland and ready-made stews and soups from Yorkshire. One Shropshire pig farmer - sick of selling to the supermarkets for little or no profit - was selling direct to customers in London, roughly 200 miles away. Good for him - but it's hardly local, is it?

As for seasonal food, why shouldn't we aim to have all foods available to us all-year-round? In this respect, we should follow what Ramsay practises, not what we preaches. Why should we only be able to enjoy strawberries in the summer and autumn, or asparagus during the narrow northern season? Ramsay does have one slight point: sometimes this out-of-season produce isn't quite as tasty as the domestic, in-season equivalent. But that is a minor point. Far better to make these things available and allow us to choose than bow down before Mother Nature and put up with what she deigns to give us.

If eating such food has negative consequences for the planet - and it is far from clear that it does - then surely the right approach is to figure out how to get the benefits of a global food market without the negative side effects. But this problem-solving approach doesn't fit into the moralising and often authoritarian approach to consumption so typical today, exemplified by Ramsay's demand to criminalise chefs.

Even worse was Ramsay's less-reported comment about TV food goddess Delia Smith's new book, How to Cheat at Cooking. Smith has endeavoured to get as much of the benefit of made-from-scratch cooking while finding ways to cut a few corners. Trying to find a halfway house between the slog of `proper' cooking and the takeaway should have received the approval of Ramsay, who has campaigned in the past to get people cooking more. No chance. `I would expect students struggling on 15 pounds a week to survive eating from a can but the nation's favourite, all-time icon reducing us down to using frozen, canned food - it's an insult', he said (6). As I can testify from personal experience, Smith's new recipes are, by and large, excellent. Of course, Ramsay isn't going to use tinned meat in his cooking (though it is surprising how many top restaurants buy their chips from McCain's). But to seek to impose his snobbery on the rest of us really is an insult.

In the past, Ramsay was the TV chef who stood for excellence and took little interest in politically-correct concerns about food miles and sustainability. But in recent times, perhaps because he's been spending too much time in the company of campaigning cooks like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver, he's started to come out with just the same junk ideas that they promote. As the vulgar-tongued Ramsay might put it, this more-ethical-than-thou approach to food is just f*cking sh*t.


UK: Call for sell-off of Royal Mail: "The postal regulator has called for Royal Mail to be partly privatised to safeguard the quality of the UK's mail delivery service. Postcomm warned that Royal Mail's financial difficulties would worsen unless bold action was taken. Nigel Stapleton, Postcomm's chairman, told the BBC that without private sector involvement, Royal Mail may require a government subsidy." [Privatizing the post-office! An excellent idea!]

Oil in England's green and pleasant land? "More than 200 communities in the English countryside may be sitting on billions of pounds of undiscovered oil, according to prospectors. Scores of greenfield sites across southern and eastern England are being mapped for viability as world oil prices soar. The Government has received 60 applications from 54 companies to explore 182 plots, but is keeping the details confidential because they are commercially sensitive. Villages, hamlets or new estates will learn about a prospector's interest only if permission is sought to drill or extract oil. The Times has learnt that rural locations from the South Downs to the Lincolnshire Wolds have been designated potential oilfields. There is a 70-mile stretch of small oil deposits in limestone and sandstone from Poole in Dorset, through Hampshire to West Sussex, and pockets in Surrey, the East Midlands and South Wales".

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