Saturday, December 20, 2008

Oliver Twist's life not so gruelling

DOCTORS say they have uncovered the gruel truth of the Victorian workhouse. Charles Dickens, they contend, was exaggerating when he portrayed Oliver Twist and other orphans driven to the brink of starvation by a miserly diet of watery porridge. In fact, food provided under 1834 Poor Law Act, which set up workhouses for the destitute in mid-19th-century Britain, was dreary but there was plenty of it and the diet was nutritious enough for children of Oliver's age, their British Medical Journal paper says.

In Oliver Twist, Dickens wrote that the orphans were given "three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week and half a roll on Sunday". On feast days, they received an extra 2 1/4 ounces (64 grams) of bread.

Four medical experts say in the report such a diet would have killed or crippled children, inflicting anaemia, scurvy, rickets and other diseases linked to vitamin deficiency. They sifted through contemporary documents and even replicated the gruel that workhouse children most likely had. Using a recipe for water gruel taken from a 17th-century English cookbook, the authors calculate Oliver would have had around three pints (1.76 litres) of gruel per day, comprising 3.75 ounces (106 grams) of top-quality oatmeal from Berwick, Scotland. Far from being thin, the gruel would have been "substantial", the authors say.

"Considerable amounts" of beef and mutton also went to London workhouses. The authors added a caveat, saying that their assumptions were made on the basis that inmates actually received the quantity and quality of food prescribed.


NHS patients are cheated by 100m pounds a year extra for their dental work

Patients are being ripped off by more than 100million a year thanks to the Government's 'botched' reforms to NHS dentistry, figures suggest. Loopholes in a new contract for dentists are being exploited so that patients are effectively being charged twice for what should be one course of treatment, critics say. Dentists are accused of recalling healthy patients for checkups and splitting up courses of treatment unnecessarily. The Department of Health admits there is evidence that the tactic has become widespread since the introduction of the contract in April 2006.

Now data obtained from every primary care trust shows patients could have saved up to 109million in incorrect charges - almost a quarter of the 475million paid every year. And without the loophole, up to 6.5million appointments could have been freed up for people who currently do not have a Health Service dentist.

The Tories have calculated that the overcharging works out at an average of 7.77 pounds a year per patient, almost a quarter of the average annual charge of 33.80.

A deal drawn up by the Government means dentists can claim twice as much by spreading treatments across different appointments or calling patients back for unnecessary check-ups. NHS guidance, stating that no patients should be called back to their dentist for a check-up or have courses of treatment split up within a three-month period, appears to be being widely ignored.

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who obtained the figures, said: 'Labour's management of NHS dentistry has been appalling. Not only have millions been left without a dentist, but now we learn that those who do have one are often being charged more money than they should be. 'The blame here lies with Labour's botched dental contract, which incentivises dentists to increase the number of charges to patients and has led to such drastic cuts in the number of people being able to find an NHS dentist. 'The Government urgently needs to admit that the dental contract has been a monumental failure, get a grip and put an end to these practices immediately.' Dentists' leaders insist there is no evidence that anyone is playing the system.

But last week, the Government effectively admitted that its reforms have backfired when it announced an independent review of access to treatment. Health Secretary Alan Johnson appointed a team to investigate why 1.2million people have lost their NHS dentist since the changes were implemented.

Average dentists' earnings stood at just over 96,000 in the first year of the deal - a rise from 87,000 from the year before. For the top-earning dentists who own their own practice, income rose by a third to 172,494.

A decade ago, the Government pledged that all patients would have access to treatment on the Health Service within two years. But surveys suggest one in 20 patients is resorting to DIY treatment, in some cases pulling out their own teeth. And one in five says they have gone without treatment because they could not meet the cost.


The diet aid delusion: Low-fat labels and pills don't deliver, says British watchdog

Those who over-indulge this Christmas may think the solution is to add some weight-loss products to their shopping basket. The idea that the festive flab can be banished by switching to `lite' versions of favourite brands or by taking a supplement certainly sounds tempting. But research by the consumer group Which? claims that the only pounds that many diet aids help you shed are the ones in your wallet.

The report, published today in the group's magazine, raises questions about the slimming claims of some leading brands and weightloss supplements. It points out that Kellogg's Special K, marketed as a low-fat cereal, has the same calories (171 per 30g) as Kellogg's Corn Flakes and more than Kellogg's Bran Flakes (157 per 30g). Weight Watchers thick-sliced white bread (68 calories per 29g slice) is nutritionally so similar to Warburtons Toastie sliced white (69 per 29g slice) and Asda Danish white bread (63 per 25g slice) that Which? recommends buying the one you think tastes best.

McVitie's light digestive biscuits have less fat than McVitie's original digestives, but more sugar (2.9g rather than 2.5g per 15g biscuit), meaning the difference between the biscuits is only four calories. M&S's Count On Us lasagne has 440 calories, far less than the M&S standard range, which has 620, but only a little less than the standard Morrisons lasagne which has 464. None of the seven over-the-counter weight-loss supplements examined could prove they offer long lasting beneficial effects, Which? experts said.

The consumer group's head of services research, Nikki Ratcliff, said: `If you're looking for a New Year quick fix to shed a few pounds, weight-loss products aren't the answer. The harsh reality is that exercise coupled with a healthy balanced diet is the only effective way to lose weight. `Just because foods are labelled as light or advertised as diet brands, it doesn't mean they're the lowest calorie option. Look at other similar products on the shelf - you might find some that don't brand themselves as light actually have fewer calories or less fat or less sugar, so you'd be better off buying them instead.'

But Dr Pamela Mason, an expert in herbal remedies and spokesman for the Health Supplements Information Service, insisted such products can help dieters lose weight. `Once someone has decided they need to lose weight, these products can play a good supportive role. Of course, anybody looking to lose weight needs to focus on diet and exercise,' she said.

The Food & Drink Federation, which represents food manufacturers, said: `The improved labelling that now appears on all major brands is helping consumers to quickly spot whether or not a particular product meets their needs.'

A spokesman for Kellogg's defended Special K, saying: `There are very few products that offer you really tasty food and help you manage your shape and Special K absolutely delivers on both counts. `Consumers aren't stupid. The reason Special K is one of the UK's biggest selling cereals is because it works.'


Immigration to Britain 'must be slashed' to keep population below 70m

Net immigration in to the UK has to be slashed by 80 per cent if the Government wants to keep the population below 70 million, the official statistician has warned. The balance of those settling here over those leaving must be cut to just 50,000 a year if the population is not to pass the landmark total. But that would require an enormous reduction from the current net level of 237,000 a year and makes a mockery of immigration minister Phil Woolas' pledge to keep numbers under control.

Karen Dunnell, the National Statistician, has revealed for the first time the dramatic changes required to keep population growth in check. It comes as the Home Office will today announce it is keeping restrictions in place for at least another year on low-skilled workers from Romania and Bulgaria.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch, said "This is a stunning admission which we have had to wring out of the statisticians. "The Government claims that they can hold the population of the UK under 70 million by means of their new points based system is blown completely out of the water.

Mr Woolas vowed in October that the Government would not let the population go above 70 million but on current projections it will pass that within two decades. But in a letter to MPs, Ms Dunnell said, assuming fertility and mortality projections remain the same, annual net migration would have to drop to 50,000 if the population is to stay below that level by 2081. But she added: "In practice, this may not be a realistic scenario."

Current long term projections have net migration at 190,000 a year, which would see numbers pass 70 million by 2028. But even that could be an overestimate as net migration last year stood at 237,000 - the second highest level on record.

Labour MP Frank Field, co-chairmen of the Cross Party Group for Balanced Migration, said: "This shows the huge scale of the task required to get our population back under control. These figures show that Ministers have yet to start taking decisive action".

Mr Woolas, said: "We have made it clear that the points based system will allow us to manage immigration which in turn will help contribute to future population projections and control. "The points system means only those with the skills Britain needs can come - and no more. If the new rules had been in place last year there would have been 12 per cent fewer people coming in through the equivalent route."


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