Friday, June 27, 2008

NHS hospital pronounces ten-month-old girl dead -- despite her being alive

An investigation has begun into how a ten-month-old girl, feared drowned in the Thames, was wrongly pronounced dead by hospital staff. It was believed that the child had died after she fell in during an outing to feed the ducks with her mother and three-year-old sister. She was airlifted to John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, but after efforts to resuscitate her, doctors declared her dead. Police confirmed the tragedy at 11am, more than an hour after officers were first called to the scene on the towpath at Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, yesterday morning.

A faint heartbeat was discovered later, and the girl remains in hospital in a critical condition. Neither the hospital nor the police would give details of how long it took hospital staff to discover that the child was still alive, nor could they confirm how the child got into difficulty in the water.

A spokeswoman for John Radcliffe Hospital said: “A full paediatric clinical team immediately attempted to resuscitate the child in the emergency department of the John Radcliffe. “After a lengthy period of resuscitation, a unanimous decision was made by the clinical team to stop treatment, in the best interests of the child. [It's in her best interests to be dead?????]

“Subsequently, the child showed very fragile signs of life. This does occasionally happen and the child was moved to the paediatric intensive care unit of the hospital. She remains there in an extremely serious and critical condition.”


So now Britain will have degrees in quackery

It's hard to grade nonsense on a scale, but of all forms of medical quackery, psychic surgery must be judged one of the least scrupulous. You might recall the odd television expose of its practitioners - so-called 'surgeons' who appear to be operating on patients with their bare hands, and who seem to be able to remove allegedly diseased tissue without making any incisions. Despite being exposed as hoaxers, 'psychic surgeons' continue to cast their spell over the gullible and desperate – mostly in Brazil and the Philippines. The odd case still crops up in the supposedly less superstitious United Kingdom.

About a year ago the Conservative MP Robert Key wrote to the Department of Health following a complaint by one of his constituents, who had been a victim of such fraudulent "healing." I have the full ministerial reply in front of me. Lord Hunt of Kings Heath told Mr Key: "We are currently working towards extending the scope of statutory regulation by introducing regulation of herbal medicine, acupuncture practitioners and Chinese medicine. However, there are no plans to extend statutory regulation to other professions such as psychic surgery. "We expect these professions to develop their own unified systems of voluntary self-regulation. If they then wish to pursue statutory regulation, they will need to demonstrate that there are risks to patients and the public that voluntary regulation cannot address. I hope this clarifies the current position."

Indeed, it does. It makes it clear that the lunatics have taken over the asylum. For a start, how could Philip Hunt, previously director of the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts, possibly have thought that "psychic healing" constituted a "profession" – let alone one which would "develop its own system of voluntary self-regulation? What might this involve? A code which declares that members must never perform genuine surgery, lest it brings the "profession" into disrepute?

Last week, in fact, the Department of Health published the report which outlines the regulation hinted at by Lord Hunt. It is called the Report to Ministers from the Department of Health Steering Group on the Statutory Regulation of Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine and other Traditional Medicine Systems Practiced in the United Kingdom.

It is a scary document, and not just because many of its recommendations stem from something called the "Acupuncture Stakeholder Group". You thought they just used needles, didn't you?

Acupuncture is at the most respectable end of the alternative health spectrum – its practitioners would be affronted to be lumped in with psychic surgeons. Yet what, really, is the difference? There are many "patients" in the Philippines and Brazil who will insist that psychic surgery has cured chronic ailments which conventional medicine failed to alleviate. Such is the power of placebo – the driving force of all unconventional medical treatments, including acupuncture.

A few months ago an investigation into acupuncture, involving 1,162 patients with lower back pain, made a splash in newspapers across the world. The researchers at Regensburg University declared that just 27.4 per cent of those who had only conventional treatments such as physiotherapy felt able to report an improvement in their condition. However, of those who also underwent acupuncture, 47.6 per cent reported an improvement. So all that stuff about "different levels of Qi", "meridians", "major acupuncture points" and "extraordinary fu" is scientifically validated, then? Well, not quite, despite what some of the news reports said.

You see, the cunning researchers of Regensburg had one control group of back-pain sufferers who were told that they were undergoing traditional acupuncture – whereas in fact the needles were inserted entirely at random; and instead being put in to a depth of up to 40mm (as required by the acupuncture textbooks) were merely inserted just below the skin. This was sham acupuncture. And guess what? It worked – within the statistical margin of error – just as well as the "real" acupuncture: 44.2 per cent of the recipients of the sham treatment said that their back pain had been alleviated in a way which they had not experienced through conventional medicine.

Now here's another remarkable thing: the main body of the report produced for the Government last week does not contain the word "placebo" – and it crops up only twice in the appendices. One can understand why the various "stakeholders" who were consulted might have wanted to steer away from this fundamental question, but it's surprising that the chairman of the report, Professor Michael Pittilo, principal of Robert Gordon University, didn't insist upon it.

After all, Professor Pittilo claims that his report was an "echo" of the House of Lords' Science and Technology Committee report on the same subject – which had declared that the single most important question that any such investigation must address is: "Does the treatment offer therapeutic benefits greater than placebo?"

That indefatigable quackbuster, Professor David Colquhoun of University College London is on the case, however. His indispensable blog points out that Professor Pittilo is a trustee of the Prince of Wales's Foundation for Integrated Health, which advocates exactly the sort of therapies that this committee is supposed to be regulating.

Pittilo and his band of "stakeholders" have come up with their own way of "regulating" the alternative health industry – which the Government has welcomed. It is to suggest that practitioners gain university degrees in complementary or alternative medicine. Pittilo's own university just happens to offer such courses, which Professor Colquhoun has long campaigned against as "science degrees without the science."

It will be a particular boon to the University of Westminster, whose "Department of Complementary Therapies", teaches students all about such practices as homeopathy, McTimoney chiropractic, crystals, and 'vibrational medicine'.

One can see how this might fit in with the Government's "never mind the quality, feel the width" approach to university education. One can also see how established practitioners of such therapies might see this as a future source of income – how pleasant it might be to become Visiting Professor of Vibrational Medicine at the University of Westminster.

Thus garlanded with the laurels of academic pseudo-science, the newly professionalised practitioners of "alternative medicine" can look down on such riff-raff as the "psychic surgeons". Yet in one way those charlatans are less objectionable than Harley Street homeopaths: they openly admit that they are faith-healers, rather than pretend to academic status; and while they have made fools of their patients they haven't-yet-made a fool of the Government.


Britain to get new border police force?

Plans for a new police border force are to be floated by the government, it has been revealed. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith made the admission in a 16-page response to a report by Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of UK terrorism legislation. The proposal for a 3,000 strong force, put forward by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), will be in a police reform Green Paper.

The Conservatives accused the government of "playing catch-up". A Home Office spokeswoman said they wanted to use the Green Paper "to invite wider views".

The proposed border force would include uniformed officers and officers from Special Branch. It comes just months after the UK Border Agency was launched - comprised of officers from the Border and Immigration Agency, HM Revenue and Customs and UK visas. At the time the Conservatives dismissed the agency as "lacking the powers to chase people traffickers and employers of illegal labour".

On the idea of a police border force, the Home Office said the Green Paper looked at a "number of proposals for policing at the border, including the Acpo proposal". "No decision has been taken about the future of border policing and we are keen to use the Green Paper to invite wider views," a spokeswoman said.

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said such a force would be "welcome but very overdue". "For two years we have been calling for a dedicated border police force - something ministers have consistently rubbished," he said. "Having dithered, the government have now realised their error and are trying to play catch up."

A spokesman for Acpo said it saw merit in creating a separate agency or force to work closely with the UK Border Agency. "The government's focus should be on border control and this agency would focus on security, and would preserve the distinction between operational policing and the government."

The Home Office revealed its plans as the independent reviewer of UK terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, warned in his annual report there was "real anxiety" among senior police officers at the potential use of light aircraft as "vehicle bombs". He also criticised police for overusing anti-terrorism stop-and-search powers, saying their use should be halved.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said aviation security has been a theme of Lord Carlile's reports. In his latest, Lord Carlile highlights the risk of terrorists hijacking executive jets which travel at high-speed across continents. Although there is said to be no intelligence about this, Lord Carlile said senior police officers had concerns, given the large number of private aircraft and small airfields.

Also in the report, the peer criticised police for over-using powers to stop-and search-people under the Terrorism Act - there were five occasions in 2007 when officers did not have authorisation. He said there was an "inconsistency of approach" among chief constables about the powers. It emerged last December that Sussex police had wrongly deployed the measures at Gatwick airport, where they unlawfully stopped and searched hundreds of people.

Lord Carlile's document showed that similar errors were made by the Greater Manchester and South Wales forces last year. The police must obtain ministerial authority before they designate an area a stop-and-search zone under the Terrorism Act 2000. To remain legal, this must also be renewed regularly, otherwise the police could be sued for wrongful detention.

Lord Carlile said 12 people were detained. He hoped they had been informed of the mistake in writing, so they could consider suing the police. The peer also said that 257 people were arrested under terrorism powers in 2007, of whom 126 were eventually released without charge. "The realities of this kind of policing increase the possibility of arrests later found to be of innocent members of the public," he said. But he added: "I am satisfied that the level of arrests is proportionate to perceived risk."

Lord Carlile also expressed "serious worries" about the Crown Prosecution Service's practice of charging terrorist suspects on the basis of less evidence - the so-called "threshold test". He said it contained "at least as many and certainly more concealed risks of causing unfair extended detention" as the proposal for 42 days' detention.


British Tories back have-a-go citizens

The public should be able to use physical force to restrain yobs without fear of being prosecuted for assault, according to a new Conservative policy. Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary, said: "We have a duty to prevent crime, and law-abiding citizens should not be discouraged by either the state or the police."

It was necessary to clarify the law in order to "reignite the citizenry", he said. "If you grab a 12-year-old by the scruff of the neck now, you might be in trouble and this is something that we should be looking at. "People should act sensibly, but they can do a lot to stop crime."

Grieve believes people have become wary of intervening to stop delinquency after a series of cases in which members of the public and teachers have been charged with assault for trying to restrain violent teenagers. The disappearance of traditional reprimands by parents, teachers and neighbours, he said, meant many teenagers were being dealt with unnecessarily by the criminal justice system.

To redress the balance, Grieve wants the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to be given new guidelines for dealing with people who intervene to prevent crime. He argued that it was often better in the long run for teenagers to be tackled by an authority figure than to end up in court with a criminal record, which could start them on the path to serious crime.

Many teenagers who got into trouble, he said, went on to lead law-abiding lives. To illustrate the point, Grieve admitted that when he was 12, he and a friend broke into an abandoned house and smashed it up, shooting out the windows with an air rifle.


Wind turbines are 'unreliable and will cost each British home 4,000 pounds

The Government's plan to build thousands of new wind turbines across Britain is misguided, doomed to failure and will cost every household at least 4,000 pounds, a new report claims. Rather than trying to solve the UK's energy crisis by investing in wind power, ministers should focus on tidal energy, clean coal and nuclear power, it says.

The report from the Centre for Policy Studies - a right of centre think tank - comes on the eve of the Government's announcement on the future of green energy. Ministers will tomorrow reveal how the UK will meet the EU's target for producing 15 per cent of all energy from renewable sources within 12 years.

The plans include a six-fold expansion of wind farms on land, and a 30-fold increase in offshore turbines. To meet the targets, Britain will need to build one new turbine every day between now and 2020. The dash for wind is also being fuelled by concerns that Britain is running out of power. By 2015 new European clean air laws will have shut many coal power stations while many of the UK's ageing nuclear power stations will be shut, leaving a energy gap of up to 32 gigawatts.

"A rush to wind energy is not the answer to these problems," said Tim Knox, of the CPS. The report says wind is unreliable - and only provides power if the weather conditions are right. The UK will need a fleet of coal, gas or nuclear power stations in reserve for when the wind drops.

Turbines are also expensive. The Royal Academy of Engineering estimates that wind energy is two and a half times more costly than other forms of non- oil and gas electricity generation, according to the report Wind Chill: Why Wind Energy Will Not Fill the UK's Energy Gap.

The shift to renewables could cost 100 million - or 4,000 for every household in the country, it adds. "It is also impractical," Mr Knox added. "The UK does not have the capability to build the 3,000 new offshore wind farms that are proposed, nor can the national grid handle the enormous new strains that will be imposed upon it. "This matters. The increase in consumers' electricity prices required to pay for and maintain expensive wind energy will contribute to the difficulties faced by the six million householders facing fuel poverty."

A poll carried out for the report found just three per cent of people were willing to pay higher electricity bills to fund renewable power such as wind. Another 37 per cent were "very unwilling," while 24 per cent said they were "fairly unwilling". Only 12 per cent said they were happy to pay more.

The report - written by energy analyst Tony Lodge, concludes: "Greater reliance on wind power could lead to electricity supply disruptions if the wind does not blow, blows too hard or does not blow where wind farms are located."

The wind industry dismissed the criticisms. "The National Grid has said many times they can cope with the variability of wind," said Chris Tomlinson of the British Wind Energy Association. "Never in history has there not been wind blowing somewhere in the UK." Creating thousands of new turbines would be a "challenge", but the job was not impossible, he added.


Another characteristically humorous article from London Mayor Boris Johnson here. Another indication of why he is arguably the second most popular man in Britain (Jeremy Clarkson obviously comes first). If you are familiar with British doings, there is a good article ABOUT Boris by humorist Anne Treneman here. I am a great lover of British humour but I think you may have to know Brits well to "get" it.

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.

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