Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Standard of care at NHS children's hospital 'worse than in the developing world'

Treatment at Birmingham Children's Hospital is worse than in the developing world and parents are 'told lies' to cover up sub-standard care, a doctors' report claims. In the document, surgeons at the hospital claimed they had less support during kidney transplant operations than when they performed the same procedures in Lagos, Nigeria.

Consultants also complained that complex operations were delayed because staff did not recognise common surgical implements, and said children were receiving a third-class service. It is also claimed that children with neurological problems have been involved in 'close calls' because of delays in admitting the to the right specialist ward, and that nurses on the ward have resigned because of dangers to patients. Doctors said they had stopped reporting the problems because 'there is no point' as hospital managers did nothing to address the issues.

The report was commissioned by the NHS primary care trusts in Birmingham after senior doctors at the hospital and at neighbouring University Hospital Birmingham said their repeated attempts to raise the alarm had been ignored. Speaking on the BBC Politics Show, Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, also vowed to 'keep a close eye' on inquiries and promised the Healthcare Commission would investigate. MPs have called for a full inquiry into the quality of care at the hospital, where children are treated for life-threatening conditions such as liver or kidney failure, neurological problems and chronic heart complaints.

Among the most serious failings highlighted in the report was the lack of any specialist junior doctor cover on the liver transplant ward between 9pm and 9am, and staff forced to remain on call seven days a week. It also said that doctors lie to parents about why their child has undergone a major operation because they cannot admit the hospital does not have the staff and infrastructure to carry out safer procedures.

The report authors added: 'Theatres are not prepared for the procedures carried out, equipment and knowledge of the procedure is lacking at Birmingham College Hospital owing to the trust not having dedicated teams to support the tertiary service.'

Paul O'Connor, the hospital's chief executive said there was no immediate clinical risk to patients but has commissioned a separate inquiry by Dr Jane Collins of London's Great Ormond Street Hospital which he has promised to publish.

Andrew Lansley, the shadow Health Secretary, called for an urgent response, while John Black, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, called the report alarming. Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the British Medical Association's consultants' comittee, said the report showed hospital managers had put financial concerns ahead of improving care for highly vulnerable patients.

The report calls for better general management and leadership and urges doctors to follow the formal process of reporting incidents of bad practice. A spokesperson for the Department of Health added: 'The Department of Health is waiting to receive the findings of this investigation. When we do we will consider these findings very carefully and respond in due course. We take these matters extremely seriously.'

One disturbing story to have emerged about the state of care of Birmingham Children's Hospital was that of Lisa Weale and her partner Jason Smith. Their four-month-old baby, Thomas, died after surgery on a hole in his heart, when his heart machine was accidentally switched off as a doctor was cleaning it. Miss Weale said: 'When he tried to turn the machine on again the doctor had put it into reverse and air was being pumped into Thomas's bloodstream.' Thomas's parents complained to the Healthcare Commission and after a two-year inquiry their complaint was upheld. They have received an out-of-court settlement over the death of their son.

Lisa Weale said of the new report: 'I knew that it was no only us who had been through such bad treatment. I feel the hospital have been getting away with this silently.'


British police warn of growing threat from eco-terrorists

Fear of deadly attack by lone maverick as officers alert major firms to danger of green extremism

Police have warned of the growing threat of eco-terrorism after revealing they are investigating a group which has supporters who believe that reducing the Earth's population by four-fifths will help to protect the planet. Officers from a specialist unit dedicated to tackling domestic terrorism are monitoring an eco-movement called Earth First! which has advocates who state that cutting the Earth's population by 80 per cent will ease pressure on other species. Officers are concerned a 'lone maverick' eco-extremist may attempt a terrorist attack aimed at killing large numbers of Britons.

The National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, which collates intelligence and advice to police forces, has revealed that eco-activists are researching a list of target companies which they believe are major polluters or are exacerbating the threat of climate change. The unit is currently monitoring blogs and internet traffic connected to a network of UK climate camps and radical environmental movements under the umbrella of Earth First!, which has claimed responsibility for a series of criminal acts in recent months.

A senior source at the unit said it had growing evidence of a threat from eco-activists. 'We have found statements that four-fifths of the human population has to die for other species in the world to survive. 'There are a number of very dedicated individuals out there and they could be dangerous to other people.'

Earth First! says its mission is 'about direct action to halt the destruction of the Earth' and advocates 'civil disobedience and monkeywrenching', tactics that include sabotage and disruptive behaviour. The movement has links to US environmental extremists which have waged a campaign of violence in America, including the firebombing of a string of 4x4 car dealerships in California in 2003 and alleged arson attacks on other property. The anti-extremist unit has already alerted a number of major companies which have been accused of being carbon polluters with advice on how they can withstand being targeted by eco-terrorists. Companies are thought to include airport operator BAA, an international mining conglomerate BHP Billiton and firms connected to UK coal-fired power stations.

'They are doing research of possible targets, looking at shareholders and financiers. For example, they could research an airline and see how many of its aircraft are not environmentally friendly,' said the NETCU source.

Although green extremists have yet to embark on an orchestrated campaign of violence in the UK, officers warn that they may be about to launch a campaign of intimidation and fear aimed at disrupting businesses. 'For some people, if they can justify it in their minds, then it's a noble cause even if it's a criminal action. They haven't started yet, but we believe they will come up with a strategy and tactics,' said the source at the unit, who described the movement as well-funded and organised.

A spate of recent attacks, for which Earth First! supporters have claimed responsibility, has included vandalism of branches of seven German banks such as Deutsche Bank and Allianz AG. The actions were apparently because the banks hold shares in UK Coal, which plans to build new coal-fired power stations.

A statement on the Earth First! website explains the attacks by saying: 'Exploitation of the environment and people by the state and industry go hand in hand. They cannot be separated and both must be attacked. Social war, not climate chaos.'

Another attack hit a quarry in Staffordshire which belongs to Bardon Aggregates, a company hat also owns a controversial quarry at Glensanda on the north-west coast of Scotland. The Scottish quarry is accused of spoiling the Highlands environment. The Earth First! website states: 'We slashed tyres, stripped paint jobs, glued locks and trashed conveyor belts. All the earth movers were hit and many of the cement and aggregate trucks. This action cost us very little but should cost Bardon thousands.'

Among the network of groups under the Earth First! umbrella are various climate camps. Last August police found a stash of knives and weapons beside one such camp in Kent. Protesters, however, said they had nothing to do with the weapons and accused police of launching a 'smear campaign'.

A spokesman for Derby Earth First! said the movement was strictly non-violent, if not always law-abiding. He said: 'If someone does ecological damage we would perhaps break the law and protect the ecology, but the ecology also includes humans. 'We're all about communities. Capitalism is the problem and we want to return to a more sustainable time. But we are not about reducing the population, that is just scaremongering by the police.'

The rise of eco-extremism coincides with the fall of the animal rights activist movement. Police said the animal rights movement was in 'disarray' and that its ringleaders had either been prosecuted or were awaiting prosecution, adding that its 'critical mass' of hardcore extremists was sufficiently depleted to have halted its effectiveness. Last Thursday a prominent animal rights activist accused of planting petrol bombs at Oxford University was cleared of possessing an explosive substance with intent.

Reports on the Earth First! Journal website, which tells users how to send encrypted emails, reveals connections to the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) which has been linked to a series of violent attacks in the US. ELF was classified as the top domestic terrorism threat in the US by the FBI in March 2001. The ELF was founded in 1992 in Brighton by members of the Earth First! movement who wanted to form a breakaway group that would use more extreme tactics.


Soccer causes motor neurone disease?

Hard to see why. Sounds like hysteria over a random correlation

A senior doctor urged the Football Association last week to investigate whether the sport contributes to motor neurone disease (MND). "I shall be in touch with the FA about carrying out this research," said Ammar Al-Chalabi, a neurologist at King's College London. "The FA does not seem hostile to the idea."

Andrin Cooper, a spokesman for the FA, said it had no plans to conduct a "specific MND study" at present. However, he added that the organisation was involved in a 10-year study on how "heading the ball affects the brain" and that its medical committee would be meeting next year to assess the preliminary results.

Five thousand people in Britain suffer from MND, which claimed the life of David Niven, the actor, and has also felled several prominent footballers. They include Jimmy "Jinky" Johnstone, the Celtic forward, who died in 2006, aged 61, and Don Revie, the England and Leeds United manager, also 61 when he died in 1989; and Rob Hindmarch, the former Derby County and Sunderland player, who died in 2002 at the age of 41.

Al-Chalabi was a member of a research team that discovered an apparent "cluster" of three MND sufferers who played for the same amateur football club in Kent. They had another potential risk factor in common, however: all had suffered a big electric shock once in their life. "They all got the disease at the same time and two died in the same weekend," he said. "Since then it has emerged that another of their friends has got it."

Del Deamus, 34, from Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire, is convinced there is a link between sport and the disease. Diagnosed with MND in February, he had played football for England as a schoolboy and later as an apprentice for Tottenham Hotspur. "I heard that head injuries might be a factor and thought, that's me - I had lots of head injuries," he said last week. "But boxers don't seem to suffer from it. So maybe it's something in the grass. We just don't know."


Big British welfare shakeup: "People living in council houses will no longer be entitled to a subsidised tenancy for life under Whitehall proposals to address waiting lists. New tenants would have fixed-term contracts under the plans, with regular reviews every few years, The Times has learnt. If a tenant's financial position improved he or she would be encouraged to take an equity share or to move to the private sector. If they refused they could face higher rents. The right to a council home is also likely to be tied to a requirement to have or be actively looking for a job. The measures are being considered by Margaret Beckett, the new Housing Minister, in the most radical shake-up of the social housing system for decades to ensure that those who deserve council homes get them."

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