Monday, May 26, 2008

NHS hospital kills the elderly

When Edna Purnell was referred for “gentle rehabilitation” at a local healthcare unit after a hip replacement operation, her family thought she would be given exercises to get her back on her feet and sent home after a fortnight. Instead she was put to bed in a darkened room and put on a regime of morphine within a day of her arrival. Less than a month later she was dead.

This weekend the full story has emerged of Purnell’s death and her family’s subsequent campaign, which led to a series of investigations of the deaths of 92 elderly people at Gosport War Memorial hospital in Hampshire between 1996 and 2000. An inquest into 10 of the deaths was ordered earlier this month by Jack Straw, the justice secretary, as revealed by The Sunday Times last week.

The families allege that their relatives’ deaths were hastened by a regime of heavy morphine use and little or no food, drink or exercise. The inquest will be heard this autumn and is expected to raise serious questions about treatment of the elderly in Britain’s hospitals and care homes and the value attached to their lives.

Purnell, a twice-married extravert, had enjoyed an expatriate lifestyle across the world from Cuba to Hong Kong. She became frail only as she entered her nineties and moved into an old people’s home, where she had a fall in the late autumn of 1998. Despite her age she was considered fit enough for hip replacement surgery at the Haslar hospital, Portsmouth, and within three days of the operation she was out of bed and moving around.

Mike Wilson, Purnell’s 71-year-old son, says that she was well on the mend before she was moved to Gosport. Hospital records show she had not required even the mildest of painkillers in the five days preceding her transfer. “She was a fighter; she was out of bed, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and moving around with a [walking] frame after the operation,” he said. “Two days after she got [to Gosport] she was like a zombie, in a completely trance-like state.”

Wilson said nurses told him the elderly could deteriorate quickly when moved but he became convinced that it was the sedation, not her underlying condition, that was the problem. “When I complained about the morphine, they said it was to help her sleep at night, but in fact they were giving it to her all day long as well,” he said. “She became extremely dehydrated.” By the hospital’s own admission Purnell was given little or nothing to drink.

Despite her son’s complaints, not only high doses of morphine were administered to Purnell, but also mida-zolam, a sedative three to four times more powerful. It is meant to be used only under close supervision because of its dangerous nature and the extreme variability of individual responses to it. As he became more concerned, Wilson began a diary chronicling his mother’s treatment. The diary and notes he has obtained from the hospital include a threat to have him arrested for trying to feed his mother. “If he tries to do this again the police should be called and he should be arrested on the technicality of assaulting his mother,” the notes read.

Purnell died in December 1998, three weeks after her transfer to Gosport. “It is my belief that, intentionally or otherwise, she was being deprived of the basics to sustain life,” Wilson said.

After his mother’s death Wilson delivered leaflets to local surgeries and health centres asking for other families with similar experiences to come forward. Complaints flooded in with stories of recovering patients referred for rehabilitation but given large doses of painkillers. Most relatives had been urged to go home or even to go on holiday in the final days of their loved ones’ lives. A series of police and other investigations petered out, although some experts continued to believe there were reasons for suspicion at Gosport.

Richard Baker, professor of clinical governance at Leicester University, studied the deaths six years ago. Baker, whose statistical analysis of mortality among patients of Harold Shipman helped to convict the Manchester GP of mass murder, believes there is a need for further investigation. “I hope this [investigation] does eventually get somewhere,” he said last week.

A spokesman for Hampshire primary care trust, which runs the hospital, declined to comment on specific cases but said: “Since a 2002 investigation and the introduction of new clinical procedures, the level of clinical incidents has been entirely normal for a hospital of this size.”


Britain's phony war on terror

The British are too concerned with multiculturalism and political correctness to combat the threat of Islamism effectively. Comment below by historian Michael Burleigh

After spending time recently with senior Pentagon officials and other Americans involved in counter-terror-ism, I was struck by the global scope of their concerns. Above all I was reminded how different their attitudes are from those of their British counterparts, still obsessed with "community cohesion" and the "radicalisation" of young Muslims.

In Britain the views of the non-Muslim majority are largely ignored - or lead to them being branded as potential "Islamophobes". In the United States the unthinkable and unsayable are debated openly.

Last month, for example, the Senate committee on homeland security heard evidence about the likely effects of a terrorist nuclear attack on Washington. It started with a chilling scenario: a 10-kiloton bomb in a truck beside the White House. First, the committee was told, it would kill about 100,000 people and erase a two-mile radius of mainly federal buildings. Most of the casualties would be burn victims, the majority of them African Americans who worked for the government.

About 95% of them would die in agony, because capacity to treat such cases is limited to about 1,500. Since the winds blow west to east, the ensuing radioactive plume would drift towards the poor black neighbourhoods of the capital's southeast, where there is only one hospital. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the committee, concluded: "Now is the time to ask the tough questions and then to get answers as best we can." I can't help wondering what preparations for such a nightmare scenario are being made here in Britain. Does anyone know if our parliamentarians are asking similar questions?

As the main target of jihadist violence, the United States has a sober estimation of the threat we face and a polyvalent strategy for dealing with it. In Britain use of the phrase the "war on terror" has been proscribed by the Brown government; local representatives of the global jihadist insurgency process through British courts in startling numbers. A recent Europol report showed that in 2007 the British arrested 203 terrorist suspects, against 201 for the rest of Europe.

By contrast, the United States is fighting a global war - against an Al-Qaeda-inspired nebula of extremists - with arms and ideas and a vast array of analytic intelligence. In essence, America wants to destroy Al-Qaeda as a brand. One strategy is to highlight the moral squalor of those who denounce the West, which means exposing the criminal underpinnings of jihadism - including reliance on conflict diamonds, counterfeiting, drug trafficking, fraud and robbery. Yet the British government has done almost nothing to undermine the noble self-image of the jihadists in the eyes of those who are drawn to Osama Bin Laden.

Elsewhere in the world jihadists are going through "deprogramming" courses in which they are given authoritative instruction in a religion most of them know only as a handful of banal slogans. The combination of aid from the West and rehabilitation schemes explains why southeast Asian jihadism is now in disarray.

The use of military force, aggressive counter-terrorism measures and diligent police work is also indispensable to defeating the insurgency; after three years of horrendous death tolls in Iraq, the United States has at last succeeded in turning the "Sunni Awakening" movement against the foreign Al-Qaeda-inspired jihadists, many from Libya or Saudi Arabia. It turns out that local people had balked at such Islamist customs as breaking the fingers of smokers and shooting anyone selling alcohol. The Sunni counter-insurgents may not relish US occupation, but they like the jihadist reign of terror even less.

No European country faces the global challenges confronting the United States, but because of its success in integrating Arab immigrants, America largely faces an external threat. Europeans face one hatching among second or third-generation north Africans, Bangladeshis or Pakistanis, not to speak of indigenous converts.

Europe can be weak in combating terrorism at a political level, largely because of the effects of officially decreed multiculturalism and a failure to do much about the impact of population movements on the host culture and economy. Not surprisingly, the failure of European governments to get a grip on what are still relatively small Muslim minorities provokes exasperation in America.

Many of the 1.6m Muslims living in Britain, for example, still do not seem fully to appreciate the outrage that a finger-jabbing minority causes at home and abroad with each escalating demand for Islamist enclaves. Like a perennial student, new Labour favours debate and dialogue. But in dealing with the Muslim Council of Britain, the government has unwittingly accepted as "community" interlocutors men who have blamed Islamist terrorism primarily on British foreign policy, while failing to condemn suicide bombing outside the UK.

Hardly anything is being done to stem the flow of Wahhabist money and its intolerant ideology not only into mosques but also to university "Islamic studies" programmes. Others are also complicit in this process. Did banks think about the cultural implications of sharia-compliant finance, noticeably absent in Egypt? This was allowed by Gordon Brown without triggering the public outrage that attended the Archbishop of Canterbury's sly unclarities about sharia.

The police seem to be turning a blind eye to "honour crimes" and to the informal resort to sharia, even when this involves manifestly criminal offences. They have preferred to turn on the makers of a Channel 4 documentary about homegrown extremists, accusing the producers of distorting the views of Muslim clerics, rather than to investigate the extremists themselves - leading Channel 4 to sue the police for libel and win.

A robust response to the jihadist threat is also stymied by ideologue lawyers who have made a decent living out of defending terrorists and by judges who, with honourable exceptions, seem to have greater allegiance to abstract notions of human rights than to our primary right of not being blown to pieces.

Attempts to free Abu Qatada, the alleged Al-Qaeda spiritual leader in Europe, amounted to a national disgrace. Lawyers claimed that if he were deported to Jordan, he might be tortured (despite agreements to the contrary). They also claimed the Jordanians might produce witnesses who had themselves been tortured.

Judges have recently undermined the government's attempts to interdict terrorist financing - even in the case of a dangerous Al-Qaeda operative known for legal reasons as "G". And it was judges who subverted the regime of control orders that was introduced at their own behest after they had released detainees from long-term custody in Belmarsh. Even the Royal Navy is reluctant to detain Somali pirates on the grounds that their "human rights" might be infringed in Saudi Arabia, Somalia or Yemen.

The government's recent attempts to sponsor British citizenship and values to counteract the multiculturalism propagated by a previous wave of state patronage seem tired and unconvincing. There is little sense in asking Muslims to "become us" when that evidently implies to them a culture of considerable coarseness: binge drinking, crime, drugs and chronic family breakdown. Why shouldn't they insulate themselves within the various ghettos that Britain has complacently allowed to form?

One has yet to hear a British politician of any stripe talk about what changes he wishes to see in the Muslim world - for example, in Saudi Arabia, to which we sell arms in return for passively accepting their citizens' funding of subversive religious activities in Britain.

By contrast, Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to give north Africa (and Israel) EU associate status suggests that he has expanded his horizons since 9/11. Meanwhile, anything that serves to strengthen liberal Muslim voices in Indonesia or Turkey is worth encouraging. It may be that the dictators - the Assads, Bouteflikas, Mubaraks, Gadaffis and others - will cling to power longer than optimists imagine. But if they don't, how will the West help those moderates - judges, lawyers, journalists, liberals and socialists - who find themselves in temporary oppositional coalitions with fundamentalists? How do we ensure such a coalition does not go the way of the one that toppled the Shah of Iran, after which Khomeinites imprisoned or murdered their secular allies?

The one British politician who grasps the need to be as frank as our American cousins about the threat from terrorists who are actively plotting indiscriminate slaughter is not the prime minister, who appears to be locked into the globalising vapidities that thrill Davos seminars, but David Cameron. The leader of the opposition understands the existential threat from jihadism and has comprehensive ideas about how to combat it that will link foreign, defence and security policies. He is fully conscious of the need to balance ancient liberties with the right to stay alive.

Like the United States, Britain needs a dedicated border police and defences against terrorism that begin when someone buys an air ticket. It needs to dismantle the bureaucratic residue of state multiculturalism, and the deportation of foreign agitators is essential. Any appeal they may mount should take place after they have been deported. As for human rights lawyers - they can pay for their own.

A more imaginative approach to the Muslim world should go hand-in-hand with a clearer statement of what the domestic majority is not prepared to tolerate. That is the difference between a properly thought-out strategy and the government's clueless alternation between appeasement and knee-jerk authoritarianism.



Gordon Brown is being urged by ministers to scrap rises in car taxes and petrol duty as he struggles to regain popularity after a humiliating by-election defeat. The Prime Minister faces the gravest crisis of his career after seeing the safe Labour seat of Crewe lost to a resurgent Tory party. Yesterday a backbencher said openly that it was time Mr Brown stood down.

Cabinet colleagues are privately urging him to tackle the issue of motoring costs as a way of helping households struggling with rising fuel, energy and food bills. The new car taxes have proved so unpopular that one Labour MP described them as "a poll tax on wheels". [After a tax that led to the downfall of Margaret Thatcher]

Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, is facing more calls to cancel the 2p increase in petrol duty this autumn following a month of record prices at the pump and a recent surge in the price of oil. The Treasury is understood to be considering an about-turn on the plans, which would see hundreds of pounds added to the tax bills of millions of drivers.

On Thursday Mr Brown saw a 7,000 Labour majority in Crewe and Nantwich turned into a majority of just under 8,000 for the Conservatives. David Cameron claimed it was a "remarkable victory" and said the campaign marked the "end of New Labour". If the by-election swing was repeated in the next general election, nine Cabinet ministers including Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, and Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, would lose their seats.

Labour ministers yesterday blamed traditional "mid-term blues" when people are feeling the pinch. But Mr Brown's colleagues are urging him to show that he understands the pain people are feeling by addressing problems that will be caused when the rises take effect. One former minister said: "They should be discussing this in the Treasury. ''It is a grievance that can be addressed and it would do Gordon some good."

A junior minister added: "Every MP is getting it in the neck about the cost of driving and it isn't going to be enough to keep talking about world oil prices. We should be thinking about what we can do to help. "It's going to cost money but we found money for 10p tax so if we have to borrow a bit more for this, so be it." The Labour MP Derek Wyatt, who is defending a majority of only 79 in his Kent seat, called for immediate cuts in fuel duty.

In his first comments since the loss of Crewe in such humiliating fashion, Mr Brown yesterday appeared to indicate that he was prepared to look at helping motorists. He said: "People want us to address what are very real challenges, challenges of rising petrol prices when people go to the petrol station, challenges at the supermarket when people see rising food prices, gas and electricity bills that have gone up as a result of oil prices going up.

"We will address these problems and the message that I think is absolutely clear and unequivocal is that the direction of the Government is to address all these major concerns that people have, and the task that I have is to steer the British economy through these difficult times." Treasury sources said no decisions will be taken on any measures before the Pre-Budget Report in the autumn.

The Daily Telegraph has launched a campaign to get a Fair Deal for Motorists after Budget measures announced in March included a "showroom tax" of up to 950 pounds [$1900] a year for cars emitting high levels of carbon dioxide. It will be introduced in 2010 in the run up to a possible general election. Under other changes motorists will see their road taxes increase. Cars will be divided into 13 groups depending on their CO2 emissions. The move will hit dozens of popular family cars, including models such as the Renault Espace, Vauxhall Zafira and Ford Galaxy, which will see their road tax rise from 210 this year to between 430 and 455 by 2010.

One Labour MP, who is a parliamentary aide to a senior Cabinet minister, said: "There is a real fear among backbenchers that these taxes could be the last straw with petrol already soaring in cost. One MP said to me it will be our very own poll tax but on wheels." After Labour MPs forced through a major policy reversal on the abolition of the 10 pence tax rate, with a 2.7 billion change in income tax allowances, they feel emboldened to press for more concessions. One former minister said: "Middle England is in serious revolt. We have to prove we are listening by announcing now we will shelve the next increase in petrol duty.''

Yesterday Mr Brown's leadership was openly questioned by Labour MPs. Some in the party believe he has just two months to save his premiership. Graham Stringer, the Labour MP for Manchester Blackley, said: "The real debate that goes on within the Labour Party among MPs and party members is 'Is it more damaging for the party to change leader, or to hope that things will get better in the next two years?'

"If the party is to renew itself and get its policies in line with what the people we represent want, then it is the responsibility of senior members of the Cabinet to say we're going in the wrong direction, it's impossible to change the situation that we are in at the moment and to say to Gordon that they intend to stand for election. Without that, we are heading for electoral disaster."

In a day of recriminations, Labour's Compass group disowned the party's by-election literature which accused Edward Timpson, the winning candidate, of opposing ID cards for migrants - ignoring the fact he opposed them for everyone. George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, said: "There is a new nasty party in British politics today."


Authoritarian Science In London

Tomorrow, May 24, the G-8 environment ministers will be in Japan to commence their annual meeting. Back in London, though, the world's oldest science academy, the Royal Society of London, recently has become a vocal advocate of climate alarmism. RS fellows have included Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

But, under the previous leadership of Lord Robert May, the Society seems to have taken a wrong turn. They even tried to enlist other science academies into joining them in an alarmist manifesto. However, the U.S. National Academy, though sharing some of these views, decided not to sign up, and the Russian Academy of Sciences has taken an opposing position.

In June 2007, the Royal Society published a pamphlet, titled "Climate Change Controversies: a simple guide," designed to undermine the scientific case of climate skeptics. They presented what they called "misleading arguments" on global warming and then tried to shoot them down.

In countering the RS pamphlet, I have prepared a response that is being published tomorrow by the London-based Centre for Policy Studies under the title "Not so simple? A scientific response to the Royal Society's paper."

Throughout, the Royal Society has relied heavily on the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which used to be regarded as a reliable source of scientific information. The RS thus adopts the IPCC claim that current warming is almost certainly anthropogenic (human-caused) but presents no independent evidence to support such a claim.

In its pamphlet, the Royal Society purports to speak on behalf of a consensus of scientists. But no such consensus exists. Direct polling of climate scientists has shown that about 30% are "skeptical" of anthropogenic global warming. More than 31,000 American scientists recently signed the Oregon Petition, which expresses doubt about the major conclusions of the IPCC, and opposes the drastic mitigation demands of the Kyoto Protocol and the proposed "cap-and-trade" legislation of the U.S. Congress.

My response to the RS is based on the work of some two dozen independent climate scientists from 16 nations who contributed to the report of the Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change, or NIPCC, titled "Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate." NIPCC corrects many of the errors and misstatements made in the IPCC report, discusses evidence ignored by the IPCC, and cites evidence available since May 2006, the cut-off date for the latest IPCC Report of May 2007.

The science-based arguments for a more rational approach to global warming and climate change can be summarized as follows:

* The Earth's climate always has changed, with cycles of both warming and cooling, long before humans were a factor. The cycle lengths range from decades, to the 1,500-year cycle discovered in Greenland ice cores, to the 17 ice ages that dominated the past 2 million years.

* The NIPCC report presents solid evidence that any man-made global warming to date has been insignificant in comparison with these natural climate cycles. By contrast, the IPCC has no real evidence to support their claim of anthropogenic global warming.

* While recent man-made increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide may, in principle, make some contribution to temperature rise, the linkages assumed in order to predict significant future global warming are not proven.

* Contrary to the computer simulations of climate models, temperatures have not risen over the last decade - despite a continuing rise in CO2 levels.

* Other factors, such as variable solar activity, solar wind, and cosmic rays, all seem to have a more significant impact on the earth's climate.

* Panicky reactions to exaggerated scenarios of global warming are bound to be costly and do great damage to world economic development.

* Adaptation, not mitigation, is a more appropriate response to climate change - particularly for poorer countries.

Fear of global warming is distorting energy policy. Urgent action is needed to secure future energy supplies: the closure of existing coal-powered stations and old nuclear stations over the next 10 to 20 years risks causing a serious energy shortage until new nuclear power can be brought on stream. Yet resistance by anti-fossil fuel protesters already is retarding the development of much needed conventional generating capacity.

The choices that are being made now about the use of resources and the costs imposed on global development will have a huge impact on both current and future prosperity. It is imperative, for the sake of rational policy development worldwide, that the debate on the true nature of global warming and its causes move from being a matter of assertion and exaggerated scaremongering to a more reasoned debate based on the scientific facts.

It is a pity that the Royal Society, rather than facilitate debate, has tried to misrepresent the honest views of those who are skeptical of what has become climate change orthodoxy.


British universities skew admissions towards poor pupils

This may not be as bad as some forms of affirmative action. Students who come from "sink" schools but who have yet scored well enough to hope for university entrance probably do have greater talent than similarly-scoring students from a better background

Britain's leading universities have overhauled their admissions procedures in an attempt to socially engineer their intake by favouring students with lower exam grades if they come from poor families. Admissions staff have been instructed to give extra points to candidates whose parents did not go to university and to favour talented applicants if they attended poorly performing comprehensives. The policies show attempts at positive discrimination in favour of those from deprived backgrounds as universities try to curb the domination of higher education by the best-performing state and independent schools.

The institutions that have drawn up the most systematic policies to favour pupils from poor families include Edinburgh and St Andrews. Cambridge and some departments at Bristol also use statistical models to favour pupils from less successful schools, while Liverpool and Manchester have signalled they will move in that direction. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that numerous universities try to give various advantages to candidates from poor families.

The policies are a reaction to government pressure to change the social profile of higher education. John Denham, the universities secretary, has accused leading institutions of “social bias” against the poor, leading to a “huge waste” of talent. The institutions all deny social engineering. They insist their systems are designed to uncover candidates with the greatest academic potential regardless of social background. Critics, however, warn that universities cannot hope to cancel out the failings of secondary schools.

“It’s a minefield,” said Alison Wolf, professor of public sector management at King’s College London. “Of course there should be a mechanism for spotting those who can really make it and of course one should take into account where they went to school, but you cannot sort out a deep-seated social problem by giving kids extra points because of the schools they went to.”

At Edinburgh, ranked 14th in The Sunday Times University Guide, tutors use a complex points system to aid candidates from poorer backgrounds. All applicants for the most popular courses are given a score based on their GCSE grades and predicted A-levels, or their Scottish equivalents. Any candidate considered disadvantaged is awarded extra points – someone who would be the first in their family to attend university, for example, gets two. There is also a sliding scale of points to compensate those who attended poorly performing schools (up to six points) and another to help those from comprehensives in the surrounding area (up to two points).

The university advises staff that a total of eight points – in addition to the basic entry requirement of three Bs at A-level – should be enough to secure an offer. It means candidates from the most deprived backgrounds can win a place there with three Bs while most others would need at least two As and a B. “We are trying to look at students who don’t have advantages and to reflect their achievements in context,” said Elizabeth Lister, Edinburgh’s director of admissions. “If we operated a system simply of academic grades, [some] students would be extremely advantaged because they have such support and the quality of teaching and educational environment. So would that be fair?”

Cambridge operates a more limited points system, helping applicants whose schools come low down GCSE league tables. Geoff Parks, Cambridge’s admissions director, said: “Nobody gets in or out because of GCSEs; it is simply an attempt to capture what I would say is the unarguable fact that your performance at GCSE is influenced by the quality of the school you attend.”

Some departments at Bristol, including the law school, also use a points system. Oxford has a less formalised approach. It asks on application forms about the performance of a candidate’s school but has advised staff it should be used to “gain a general understanding” of the pupil.

St Andrews, which was attended by Prince William, marks application forms with code letters indicating whether the candidate is entitled to help under a series of “access” schemes. Its admissions handbook advises staff that “any requirements may be waived . . . to promote wider access”.

Other universities have a less sweeping approach. “It is never going to be an exact science but we do want to change our social profile so we are more representative of society,” said Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of Exeter University, where 27.5% of students come from the private sector, compared with more than 32% five years ago. “We may soften our offers, perhaps from AAA to AAB . . . for someone who comes from a school that performs badly.”

Several universities, including Birmingham and Manchester, do not automatically give extra points to pupils from poor backgrounds but run rigorous courses to find the most able. Kimberley Anderson, 19, a comprehensive pupil from Sutton Coldfield, benefited from the A2B scheme at Birmingham, in which pupils are put through a series of essays and assessments. Only if they do well are they given a head start in admissions. “A few did go to university from my school but not many. I was worried that you needed very high grades to get in,” Anderson said. “The programme lowers the grades you need and that’s why I chose Birmingham.”

Claims of university discrimination against middle-class candidates under government pressure erupted in 2003 when independent schools discouraged pupils from applying to some courses at Bristol and elsewhere, alleging unfair policies. Few of the new systems discriminate explicitly against independent schools, but that may change. Documents from Liverpool University state: “Students from independent schools appear to do less well than those from state schools and colleges, all other things being equal.” The university is now considering how data on the type of school attended by a candidate should affect their application.

David Willetts, the shadow universities secretary, warned there was a “real danger of rough justice” if institutions adopted blanket policies to compensate applicants from poorer backgrounds. “This results from universities having to pick up the consequences of very limited educational opportunities in too many parts of our country,” he said.


Muslim gangs taking over UK prison: "Prison officers at one of Britain's maximum security jails are losing control to Muslim gangs, according to a confidential report obtained by The Observer. An internal review of Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire warns that staff believe a 'serious incident is imminent' as several wings become dominated by Muslim prisoners. The report, written by the Prison Service's Directorate of High Security, says there is an 'ongoing theme of fear and instability' among staff at Whitemoor, where just under a third of the 500 prisoners are Muslim. It claims: 'There was much talk around the establishment "

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