Thursday, July 31, 2008

British Sikh girl beats anti-religious ban

With good British hypocrisy, the ban was not overtly anti-religious but there is little doubt that that was part of the underlying motive

A Sikh teenager excluded from school for breaking a "no jewellery" rule by refusing to remove a wrist bangle which is central to her faith was a victim of unlawful discrimination, a judge ruled today. The victory in the High Court for Sarika Watkins-Singh, 14, means that she will be returning to Aberdare Girls' School in South Wales in September - wearing the Kara, a slim steel bracelet. Her lawyers had told Mr Justice Silber that the Kara was as important to her as it was to England spin bowler Monty Panesar, who has been pictured wearing the bangle.

Sarika, of mixed Welsh and Punjabi origin, of Cwmbach, near Aberdare, was at first taught in isolation and eventually excluded for refusing to take off the bangle in defiance of the school's policy, which prohibits the wearing of any jewellery other than a wrist watch and plain ear studs. Today, the judge declared that the school was guilty of indirect discrimination under race relations and equality laws.

After the judgment, Sarika's mother, Sinita, 38, said: "We are over the moon.It is just such a relief." Afterwards, a spokeswoman for the family hailed it as a "common sense" judgment. Sarika said: "I am overwhelmed by the outcome and it's marvellous to know that the long journey I've been on has finally come to an end. "I'm so happy to know that no-one else will go through what me and my family have gone through." She added: "I just want to say that I am a proud Welsh and Punjabi Sikh girl."

Anna Fairclough, Liberty's legal officer who was representing the Singhs, said: "This common sense judgment makes clear you must have a very good reason before interfering with someone's religious freedom. "Our great British traditions of religious tolerance and race equality have been rightly upheld today."


It's certainly difficult to see what harm she was doing. I wonder whether this will prevent bans on Catholics wearing crosses too? Very annoying that the "purity ring" case was not similarly decided. The British government claims to be concerned about teenage promiscuity and pregnancy but Christian efforts to combat it were disallowed in that case! That Left-run Britain is an anti-Christian country is however now rather well-established.

"Unhealthy" to display the flag of England in England??

A retired teacher says she was banned from waving her Cross of St George flag during a Proms performance on health and safety grounds. A steward told Rosalind Hilton to put the five foot flag away during the Last Night of the Halle Proms event at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall.

She and sister Susan Stanyard were preparing to hoist the flag above their heads for Land and Hope and Glory in the rousing finale, having unfurled the flag over the balcony by her seat. She was later told it could have been a danger to those below. Mrs Hilton, 58, from Chester, said: "Every year I always go with my sister Susan. We make a real deal of it and dress up in red, white and blue. "Every year I take the flag which is quite large. There are English, Scottish and Welsh flags and towards the end, when they play Land of Hope and Glory, everyone stands up and waves them around. It's a fantastic atmosphere. "But in the second half after about five minutes a steward arrived and asked me to take it down. She said: 'You can't have that flag up.'

"When I asked the manager why, he said it was policy in the Bridgewater Hall that you can't have anything hanging from the sides. I told them they were just being kill-joys." Ridiculing the assumption that dangling flags were dangerous, she plumped the furled-up standard on the manager's head and asked him: "Would that really hurt if it fell on your head?"

She said the interruption last Saturday "ruined the whole evening" and commented: "Who wants to get up and sing, 'Britons never, never shall be slaves,' when the health and safety Nazis are making a mockery of our freedom?" Her party was offered eight-inch plastic Union Jacks instead, leading her husband Keith to conclude: "They are trying to suppress us using the English ensign." Mrs Hilton has vowed to get an answer on why her flag was banned: "I have asked them to look in their policy document and send me a photocopy of where it says you can't hang flags."

Popular anthems from the Last Night of the Proms include Thomas Arne's Rule Britannia and Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1.

But such flag-waving patriotism has come under attack before. In March Margaret Hodge, the culture minister, criticised the BBC Proms for not being multicultural enough. She said the BBC Proms, which run from July to September at the Royal Albert Hall, did not do enough to encourage a British sense of "shared identity". She said: "The audiences for many of our greatest cultural events - I'm thinking in particular of the Proms - is still a long way from demonstrating that people from different backgrounds feel at ease in being part of this." Her comments were roundly condemned. Gordon Brown's spokesman said: "The Prime Minister's position on this is quite clear - he thinks the Proms are a good institution."

Nick Reed, chief executive of the Bridgewater Hall, said: "No-one was refused admission to the concert because of a flag, and flags were in abundance as they always are at proms concerts. "We do not allow large flags to be draped across the balconies in case they fall on patrons below and we take exactly the same approach with coats, bags and other items. "The Halle proms concert was enjoyed by a capacity audience and we received no other comments."


Poor NHS nutrition 'harming patients'

The number of errors relating to poor nutrition in NHS hospitals has almost doubled in two years, figures obtained by the Tories show. The number of incidents rose 88% between 2005 and 2007, from 15,473 to 29,138 across England. Such errors are reported by NHS staff to the National Patient Safety Agency and relate to incidents "which could have or did lead to harm for one or more patients receiving NHS care".

The figures showed big regional variations, with a 248% rise in the North East Strategic Health Authority (SHA) and a 178% jump in the West Midlands SHA. The rise was lower at 46% in the North West SHA and 63% in the Yorkshire and the Humber SHA.

A poll last year from the Royal College of Nursing found that patients are at risk of malnutrition because there are not enough nurses to make sure they are properly fed. Almost half (46%) of nurses said there were not enough staff to help patients who may need help with eating and drinking. A similar number (42%) said they do not have enough time to make sure patients ate properly.

A report in 2006 from the charity Age Concern revealed that 60% of older patients - who occupy two thirds of general hospital beds - are at risk of becoming malnourished or seeing their health get worse. Those aged over 80 are particularly at risk, having a five-times higher rate than the under-50s.

The figures were released in a parliamentary answer to the Conservatives by health minister Ann Keen. Shadow health minister Stephen O'Brien said: "This is a further disgraceful statistic from a Government which has failed patients and the public. "People go to hospital expecting to get better, yet in 2007, 29,000 people suffered unnecessary and completely avoidable harm from poor nutritional care."


Alzheimer's sufferers given hope by new generation of drugs

Millions of Alzheimer's sufferers have been given fresh hope after a new generation of drugs were shown to reverse the symptoms of the disease

The treatment can bring the "worst affected parts of the brain back to life" and scientists say it is twice as effective as any medication currently available. They even suggested the drug works so well it might be given to patients in the future to prevent the onset of the illness. The results of the human trials were hailed a "major new development" in the fight against the disease, which threatens to overwhelm the NHS within decades. Alzheimer's currently affects more than 400,000 people in Britain and the number of sufferers is expected to rise rapidly as the population ages. The cost of treating the condition will double from $34billion to $70billion by 2026.

The researchers say that if further tests of the drug, called rember, are successful it could be available within four to five years. "We appear to be bringing the worst affected parts of the brain functionally back to life," said Prof Claude Wischik of Aberdeen University, who carried out the trials on 321 people with the illness. He added: "It's an aspiration for us to develop a drug that we could give preventatively from a certain stage."

Jimmy Hardie, 72, from Aberdeenshire, was one of the patients who took part in the trials. He used to put sugar in the fridge and suffered mood swings caused by his disease. But his wife Dorothy, 69, believes that his condition has improved enormously since he started taking rember in 2006. "Two years ago if Jimmy had gone to his shed he may have forgotten what he was about to do," she said. "Now he is able to plan what he wants to do, go and get the tools he needs and do the task. It is encouraging."

Helen Carle, 68, of Cove, near Aberdeen, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2003 after becoming forgetful and panicky. She says that she has seen a great difference since she began taking rember three years ago. "I still have the same personality and I think I am more alert," she said.

Those involved in the human trial and were divided into four groups - three were given a different dosage of the drug, called rember, while the fourth group took a placebo. Even after 19 months, patients receiving the highest dose had not experienced significant decline from original position.

"This is a major new development in the fight against dementia," said Prof Clive Ballard, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society. The results were the "first realistic evidence" that a new drug can improve cognition in people with Alzheimer's by targeting a leading cause of brain cell death and suggested that it could be "over twice as effective as any treatment that is currently available," he said.

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said, "This is an encouraging development in the fight against a devastating disease. In this exploratory trial, rember reduced the decline in blood flow to parts of the brain that are important for memory. She added: "We need more human trials to assess the treatment's possible side-effects."

Larger trials - phase three trials on around 1,000 people - of the best dose are still needed to establish the benefit and safety of the drug, which means it could be five years before it is available. The drugs are expected to cost the same as current treatments for the illness such as Aricept, which are $5 a day.

However, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) the Government's drugs watchdog, ruled that Aricept, which has been shown to improve the memory and day-to-day life of those in the late stages of the disease, was too expensive for widespread use in Britain. Terry Pratchett, the best selling author who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, disclosed earlier this year that he was being forced to pay for the drug himself.

The latest breakthrough will lead for increased calls for Nice to reconsider its policy on dementia drugs. A spokesman for the Alzheimer's Society said: "NICE remit needs to be take into account the wider benefits of treatments to society and the way the drugs can save money in other areas such as Social Care in order to cater for conditions like dementia."

Previously Alzheimer's treatments have targeted the formation of protein molecules, or plaques, in the brain of patients which clump together to wreck the networks that hold memories, enable us to perform tasks or knit together when we learn something new. The new family of drugs works by preventing the build up of different molecules called tau protein inside brain cells.

Prof Wischik has been working on the link between Alzheimer's and tau protein for more than 20 years. His work was presented today in Chicago to the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease.


Increasing number of British children being taught by classroom assistants

Children are being increasingly taught by untrained classroom assistants, despite fears over lesson standards, teaching union leaders claim.

Schools are relying on poorly-paid assistants - most of whom do not have full teaching qualifications - to plug gaps in the teaching workforce leading to accusations of teaching on the cheap. Some physical education lessons are even being taken by staff without training in how to use heavy equipment - fuelling fears that children are at risk of serious injury.

But Lord Adonis, the schools minister, insisted that schools should be allowed to leave classes in the hands of assistants, provided they are properly supervised by trained teachers.

It followed claims by Voice, the 35,000-strong teaching union, that assistants were being "routinely abused" by schools who demand they work as full teachers for just a fraction of the wage. Speaking at the union's annual conference, delegates said it was cheaper for schools to use support staff than pay for supply teachers - if regular teachers were absent. Most earn an average of just $100 a day, compared to supply teachers who earn $300.

Rhena Sturgess, a school nursery nurse from Leicestershire, said: "Teaching assistants are professionals who play a key role in our schools but their hard work, dedication and knowledge of the children should not be taken advantage of by schools that are using them as cheap labour A as cut-price teachers." She said schools were "exploiting them because it's cheaper than bringing in supply teachers and because they can't say 'no'".

In the last 10 years, the number of teachers in England has increased by ten per cent from 399,000 to 440,000. At the same time, the number of classroom assistants has soared almost three-fold from 61,000 to 177,000. They are supposed to be used - under the supervision of a fully-qualified staff member - to give teachers more time to plan lessons and mark children's work. But Mrs Sturgess said assistants were often providing lesson cover for teachers, even in PE, where many lack specialist health and safety training.

Lord Adonis said: "Provided teaching assistants are properly managed by both teachers and headteachers we don't think it is right to unduly constrain the roles they do in schools."

Nick Gibb, the Tory shadow schools minister, said: "Teaching assistants are a very helpful addition in schools to enable teachers to focus on the core task of academic teaching, but they should not be used to take classes. It can only serve to reduce standards of teaching and therefore the quality of education children are receiving."


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