Friday, June 13, 2008

Does mass immigration cause problems?

The British government has a solution: More bureaucrats! Only in Britain

The first specialist team designed to help local councils cope with the massive influx of immigrants will begin work this summer. A rural council in Norfolk will receive three experts from the Department for Communities and Local Government to ease the problems associated with new arrivals from abroad. Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said she was confident that the specialist cohesion teams would successfully tackle immigration related problems.

The first pilot team will begin working in Breckland district council in the summer and will remain there for about three months. Ms Blears also indicated that she did not believe that individual hospitals and police forces should receive money from a new fund raised from a levy on immigration applications.

Instead, the cash should be spent on integrated websites for migrants, on English language training or other, broader, projects, she said. "I think we can make the most of it by not providing bits and bobs to individual hospitals and local police forces," she told an audience in north London.

Ms Blears' statement is the first indication of how money from the new fund, first announced in February, may be spent by the Government. It is due to operate from next April.

Cambridgeshire chief constable Julie Spence indicated earlier this year that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith had said police forces struggling to cope with an influx of migrants may have been entitled to some extra cash from the fund.

Speaking at the launch of a strategy designed to manage the impact of migration, Ms Blears said Breckland council saw its population rise by more than 1,300 in 2005/06, almost entirely due to the arrival of immigrants from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Portugal.


What is wrong with Britain's proposed new polyclinics? Try the death of GP care

Britain may get more opening hours and new equipment but the doctor-patient relationship will suffer

Those mourning the absence of the English football team from Euro 2008 have a new spectator sport to distract them: the battle between health ministers and the medical profession over polyclinics, the Department of Health's brave new vision for healthcare. Doctors argue that the Government is adopting a Steve McClaren approach, with ill-conceived tactics that will end in tears; while politicians accuse the medics of acting like prima donnas - interested only in themselves, while currying favour with patients by kissing the NHS club badge.

The debate boils down to this. Last year's review by Lord Darzi of Denham into healthcare in London suggested the development of new facilities to increase the range of services for patients - polyclinics. The Government is mightily impressed with this idea and wants to run with it the length and breadth of England. The medical profession isn't, and wants to trip it up. Shiny new facilities, extended opening hours, multiple services under one roof? What's not to like?

Quite a lot, in fact. Open-all-hours surgeries may appeal to time-pressed, worried-well commuters. But to the most needy users - young families, the chronically sick, the elderly - geographical convenience is more important. Centralised services may make impressive buildings and economic sense, but are little use to Zimmer-frame-hampered patients.

Another disadvantage is the loss of continuity. It may be difficult to establish doctor-patient rapport in a polyclinic, given the number of staff, their shift patterns and the facelessness of the service. Cynics say that continuity is less sacred than the medical profession would have you believe - and, if the worst of a patient's problems is an ingrowing toenail, they may have a point. But for patients with multipathology - and, in our ageing society, that is a significant constituency - continuity is key. With it, patients have a clear point of reference, someone with his finger on the physical and metaphorical pulse; without it, there is a real risk of duplication, omission and disintegrated care.

"Care" is a killer word in the polyclinic debate. A clear message from countless patient-satisfaction surveys is that, while GPs may not always be able to cure, they do care. Whether this key facet of general practice will be retained in the new era remains to be seen. There are certainly concerns that the threat of privatisation - which many believe goes hand in hand with polyclinics - could make staff and managers focus more on income than illness.

Of course, ministers have ready answers to these objections. To a degree, they have a point: the new plans might work well for some people in some areas. They would argue that much of the opposition is simply the reflex rant of a profession notorious for its resistance to change - although this is not surprising if the change involves being coerced into new working patterns or environments, or seeing your lovingly nurtured patient list swallowed up by the corporate clinic down the road.

But the Department of Health might do well to look behind the rhetoric to ask why we medics - backed by the BMA, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the King's Fund and many patients - are quite so sceptical. Partly, it's change fatigue. Doctors emerge from one set of time-consuming reforms to find that another pile has landed on their desks - each reinventing the wheel and distracting from patient care. Then there is the feeling that we are being bullied. GPs are still licking their wounds from the fight with the Government over extended opening, in which they were given a choice between a slap round the face and a doing-over with a baseball bat.

These latest changes feel as if they are being imposed from above. Then there is a nagging suspicion that the polyclinic is just another bright idea. One which, like NHS Direct, walk-in centres, choose and book, computerised records, smacks of expensive, focus-group-driven initiatives, pandering to those with plenty of health wants but few genuine health needs.

Most of all, though, the medical profession's fire is fuelled by anxiety that the precious fundamentals of traditional healthcare - personalised care, continuity and patient advocacy - are in jeopardy. The polyclinic is perceived as a threat to the heart and soul of general practice.

A brief scroll down the GP forums confirms this - "One-to-one GP care will be lost forever", "The structure of family medicine in this country is being destroyed" and "This is the death knell for general practice". This depth of feeling won't be appeased by any semantic re-jigging of the concept - politicians should be less fixated on gratuitous innovation and more appreciative of what they have already. Otherwise, they will score an own goal that will relegate traditional general practice to the status of the English football team: talented, sorely missed and criminally redundant.


Batty Britain again: Breastfeeding is a danger to health and safety!

Anybody in any position of authority in England just loves dictating to people

A mother was told she should not use a doctor's surgery to breast-feed her baby because she wasn't a patient there. Terri-Ann Barnes, 23, went into the practice with her three-month-old son Christian to shelter from a storm. She asked the receptionist if she could breast-feed him, as the waiting room was empty - and was told she could. But afterwards, a nurse at the Heavitree Health Centre in Exeter told her she should not have been allowed to feed him there, for health and safety reasons.

The young mother said: 'I was only in there for a few minutes but a nurse said I shouldn't use the waiting room because I wasn't a patient there. 'The waiting room was empty so I assumed it would be fine. She said it wasn't a drop-in centre. I was shocked. If you can't breast-feed in a doctor's surgery where can you?'

But practice manager Len Young said: 'The nurse asked her which doctor she was registered with, and she said she was not with the surgery. 'The nurse responded that she did not know if she should be using the facilities from a health and safety point of view.'



Every day we hear that Britain is facing a 'fuel crisis'. The world oil price breaks records every week. The cost of petrol and gas soars. Foreign suppliers of gas and oil are holding Britain to ransom and charging exorbitant prices. The average family, we are told, faces fuel bills of 1,500 pounds a year. Yet all this pales into insignificance compared with the real energy crisis roaring down on Britain with the speed of a bullet train as, within six or seven years, we stand to lose 40 per cent of all our existing electricity-generating capacity.

Thanks to decades of neglect and wishful thinking by successive governments - and now the devastating impact of a directive from Brussels - we are about to see 17 of our major power stations forced to close, leaving us with a massive shortfall.

Even after 2010, the experts say our power stations cannot be guaranteed to provide us with a continuous supply, meaning that we face the possibility of power cuts far worse than those which recently - largely unreported - blacked out half-a-million homes. By 2015, when the power stations which meet two-fifths of our current electricity needs have gone out of business, we could be facing the most serious disruption to our power supplies since the 'three-day week' of the 1970s.

But the impact of such power cuts on the Britain of today would be far more damaging than they were in the time of Edward Heath 35 years ago. Compared with then, our dependence on continuous electricity supplies is infinitely greater - thanks, above all, to our reliance on computers. We are no longer talking just about factories shutting down or lighting our homes with candles. Without computers, our entire economy would grind to a halt. Scarcely an office, shop, bank or hospital in the land would be able to function. Our railway system would be immobilised. Road traffic would be in chaos as traffic lights ceased to operate and petrol stations closed down. Yet this is the scale of the catastrophe which may be facing us, thanks to the failure of government to give Britain a proper energy policy.

Scaremongering? Just look at the hard facts. At the moment, to meet Britain's peak electricity demand, our power stations need to provide a minimum 56 gigawatts (GW) of capacity. Ten gigawatts, nearly a fifth, comes from our ageing nuclear power stations, all but one of which are so old that over the next few years they will have reached the end of their useful working life. On top of that, however, we shall also have to shut down nine more major power stations - six coal-fired, three oil-fired - forced to close by the crippling cost of complying with an EU anti-pollution law, the so-called Large Combustion Plants directive. This will take out another 13GW of capacity, bringing the total shortfall to 22GW - a staggering 40 per cent of the 56GW we have today.

Waking up at last to the scale of the abyss that is yawning before us, our Government - not least Prime Minister Gordon Brown - has realised the only way to avert this disaster must be to build as fast as possible at least 20 new power stations, gasfired, coal-fired or nuclear.

Part of the cause of this crisis was that, for more than two decades, we went for gas-fired power stations, in the days when we still had abundant supplies of cheap gas from the North Sea. But that is fast running out. Within 12 years, we shall have to import 80 per cent of our gas, at a time when world prices are soaring - and it would be folly to become over-dependent for our energy on countries as politically unreliable as Mr Putin's Russia, where gas is produced.

Building new coal-fired stations might have made more sense if we hadn't closed down most of our own coal industry, and if this didn't now involve the colossal extra costs imposed by the new EU rules. As we saw from the recent response to a proposed new coal-fired plant in Kent, any mention of coal-burning has the green lobby screaming up the wall.

As the Government itself has belatedly recognised, by far the most sensible way to try to fill the gap would be to build a new generation of nuclear power stations. But how on earth is this to be done? There are only a handful of companies equipped to build these nuclear power plants, and countries all over the world are queuing up to place their own orders. Until October 2006, the British Government itself owned one such firm, Westinghouse, but in an act of supreme folly we sold it to Toshiba in Japan for a knockdown 2.8 billion - and it has 19 new orders on its books already.

Our best hope, it seems, is the state-owned French company EDF (ElectricitÈ de France), which has recently been bidding to buy British Energy, owner of almost all our existing nuclear power stations. These would provide the most obvious sites on which to build new ones.

France, of course, went for nuclear energy in a big way just when we were retreating from it - having been world leader for 20 years - and currently derives 80 per cent of its electricity from 58 nuclear power stations. But with such a worldwide demand for new nuclear power, what chance is there that even EDF could provide enough reactors to meet our needs, when building each new one might take ten years or more?

Yet another reason why we have allowed this mindbogglingly serious crisis to creep up on us has been the obsession of those who rule us - both in London and in Brussels - with 'renewable' energy. Incredibly, we are 'obliged' by the EU, within 12 years, to generate no less than 38 per cent of our electricity from renewable sources - such as tens of thousands of wind turbines - when currently only 4 per cent comes from renewables, with wind farms providing barely 1 per cent. As our Government privately recognises, we have no hope of achieving even a fraction of that target (we would anyway need to build a mass of new conventional power stations simply to supply back-up when the wind is not blowing).

Whichever way it is looked at, Britain is threatened by what, thanks to years of dereliction and misjudgment, has become arguably our most serious potential crisis of modern times. Politically, the blame for this astounding mess lies in all directions - with the Tories, with Labour, with Brussels, with those smugly shortsighted 'environmentalists'. But all that matters now is that we put the need to avert this disaster right at the top of our national political agenda. We need to get on with solving as terrifying a problem as our politicians have ever faced.


Another British security bungle: "One of Britain's top intelligence officials left a file with secret documents about Iraq and al-Qaeda on a train, in an embarrassing government security breach that was exposed today. A passenger found the orange folder on a train and handed it in to the BBC, which said it contained top secret documents on Iraq and al-Qaeda. The Cabinet Office, the central government department that supports the work of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, acknowledged the incident and said it had called in a police investigation. "The documents were secret. They were in the possession of a senior intelligence official who works in the Cabinet Office. They were lost on a train," a Cabinet Office spokesman said. "They were retrieved by a member of the public who handed them to the BBC," he said. "When the official realised what had happened, he reported it immediately to the Cabinet Office. We called the police in and they launched an investigation."

Jeremy Clarkson on the Prius: "Wikipedia says the Toyota Prius looks like and performs like a normal car but delivers 50% better fuel economy. That's not true. A Prius doesn't look or perform like a normal car and it will do only 45mpg - far, far less than you'd get from a Golf diesel, say. I harbour a belief, founded on an admittedly limited grasp of science, that if you removed the electric motor and the batteries from a Toyota Prius, you'd save so much weight that it would become more economical and therefore even kinder to the environment. But saving polar bears, of course, is not the point of a hybrid car. The point is not to save the planet but to be seen trying. I saw a Prius in California the other day with the registration plate "Hug Life" and that's what the car does. It says to other road users, "Hey. I've spent a lot of money on this flimsy p.o.s. and I'm chewing a lot of fuel too. But I'm making a green statement."

"Bed & Breakfast" hosts hit by EU directive on pets: "Cats, dogs and other household pets are about to be banished from the kitchens of Britain's 20,000 B&Bs. No longer will hosts be able to prepare a farmhouse fry-up for their guests while the family labrador snoozes in a basket by the Aga. B&B owners, who already complain of being overburdened by regulation, now face the enforcement by health inspectors of a European Union directive banning animals from food preparation areas. In response many are thinking of closing their doors to guests at a time when the domestic holiday market is booming. The EU directive became law in 2006 but its effects are only now filtering through. The regulations apply to all food preparation areas, regardless of size. Those finding it hardest to adapt to the new rules are farmhouse B&Bs, where guests are put up in the family home and treated to a freshly cooked breakfast in the owner's kitchen.

The workshy British are losing out to migrants: "Low-skilled British workers are losing to foreign migrants in the jobs market because they are unemployable and lack the motivation to work, according to a government report published yesterday. The arrival of an estimated one million Eastern European migrants had not increased unemployment among native Britons or lowered their wages, according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) study. While migrants from the eight former Soviet bloc states that joined the EU in 2004 found it easy to find work, Britons encountered difficulties because of "issues around basic employability skills, incentives and motivation". [I doubt if there would be any Australians surprised by this]

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