Saturday, January 03, 2009

What the dreadful treatment of this war hero tells us about compassion in the NHS today

No compasssion or concern even for a man aged 101! Decent people would have treated him with honour, not contempt

John Platt was used to facing life-threatening situations with courage. In World War II he won the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership in one of the fiercest battles of the Italian campaign. But nothing, even in his wartime experience, prepared him for the treatment he received from the NHS.

Aged 101, he was sent away in a taxi to die by Salisbury District Hospital, wearing only a nappy and a set of ill-fitting pyjamas. He was discharged unable to feed himself and clutching a bag of soiled clothing. He was confused and incontinent after a spell in hospital that had left him, according to his family, 'degraded and humiliated'.

During his five days at the hospital, someone stepped on his hearing aid, his false teeth went missing and soiled pyjamas piled up unwashed in a locker. His daughter-in-law said: 'All that he had at the end of his 101 years was his dignity and they took that away from him.'

What kind of institution does that to an old man? What kind of people are forcing a dying patient to undergo an hour's taxi ride in someone else's pyjamas and a nappy tied so tight around his waist it left red marks? Did they think they'd done a good day's work when they went home that night? If criticised will they, like the social workers of Baby P, complacently point to targets reached, meetings attended and boxes ticked? Why has compassion, which after all costs nothing, suddenly become the scarcest commodity in the NHS?

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the King's Fund, an independent health Think Tank, believes the NHS is fast losing its caring attitude towards patients. He said: 'I have very little doubt that we've seen deterioration in the level of compassion that is shown by staff to patients. 'If we can't get compassion into our healthcare, the system is failing.' Sadly, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the system is indeed failing, at all levels. Take, as another example, the case reported by one nurse at a packed meeting at the Royal College of Nursing last summer.

When one of her patients had died, managers rang the staff nurse in charge four times within two hours to see if the bed was free. 'On the final call, one of them said: "Haven't you got rid of that body yet?" ' the nurse recalled. 'It was disgraceful. When a patient dies, they are entitled to respect and dignity.' Indeed they are. But often they get neither. So what is going wrong? Dickson points to shorter stays and sicker patients putting pressure on staff and turning hospitals into 'medical factories'. He blames 'very difficult situations' rather than staff suddenly 'turning into nasty people'.

But it is not just the sheer numbers of patients that is creating this situation. It is the culture of the NHS itself. During a year-long investigation of the NHS that I undertook a little while ago, I met many medical staff who gave their patients outstanding care. But, sadly, they proved to be the exception. I saw far more examples of indifference and disorganisation. As in any institution, from the NHS to your local restaurant, not everyone gives good service all of the time. What sets the NHS apart is its refusal to give anyone the authority to put that right. It is shocking to discover that no one person has the power to oversee all elements of a patient's care, pull them together and take responsibility for that person's wellbeing.

So, for example, there is little incentive for a nurse to check an old lady for bedsores except her own humanity and professionalism. Nor is there any punishment if she forgets or does not bother. As one nurse at the meeting on dignity observed: 'I have seen staff doing full sets of observations on patients without saying anything to them. It is really hard to imagine how you could do that, but it happens.' Over and over again, matrons and sisters complained it was impossible to discipline a nurse for incompetence, let alone for unkindness. In the no-blame culture of the NHS, the emphasis is on making sure it is no one's fault.

Modern management is meant to 'nurture' its employees - even if they have proven woefully inadequate. The errant nurse is offered training, supervision and given chance after chance. This can go on for a year. 'In the meantime,' complained a former matron, 'patients are going through her hands and suffering.' Or as one consultant said: 'We are meant to be the caring profession. But sometimes we put caring for each other above caring for our patients.'

A nurse's training is another bar to compassion, as it has become more theoretical and less about the practicalities of patient care. Twenty years ago nursing turned itself into an academic profession. Nurses became embedded in a power struggle against doctors, the NHS and even patients. Woe betide anyone who asked them to perform any duty that undermined their status. An Irish sister complained that her recently qualified nurses were horrified to discover that 90 per cent of their time 'is doing things for the patient' rather than 'sitting in front of a computer'. She went on: 'I see nurses walk past a patient ignoring his distress-This lack of consistency and authority can have dire consequences for the most vulnerable patients. I saw this for myself staying overnight in hospital to be with a dying friend.

He had slipped into unconsciousness, but at about 6am began to moan with pain. No one came near. The moans turned into screams. The nurses at the nurses' station did not glance his way. Finally, I approached and asked for pain relief. One looked briefly at my friend. 'He's not my patient,' she said. Where was his nurse, I persisted. 'She's giving a bath and cannot be disturbed,' she reproved. It was only by becoming angry that I forced her to fetch something to ease what turned out to be his last few hours. I wondered if she would have treated a howling dog better. It is bad enough being ill and in pain. To be abandoned or treated unkindly is almost insupportable.

In fairness, the Government has responded to public concern by listing compassion as one of six core values in its recent draft constitution of the NHS. It is developing ways of measuring compassion and has even appointed a dignity ambassador, Sir Michael Parkinson. But like the 'Superbug Tsar', another NHS government initiative, will it actually achieve anything or is it a PR sop? Lizzie McLennan of Help The Aged pointed out that health and care providers 'are assessed on lots of things, but dignity and compassion are shamefully not included'. Until the caring professions really start to care again, we have no right to call ourselves a civilised nation.


British married couples 'punished by tax system'

Married couples are thousands of pounds worse off than parents who do not live together under the tax and benefits system, according to a report by an influential think tank. Despite Gordon Brown's pledge to support "hard working families", those who marry or set up home together and establish a stable family are up to 20 per cent poorer, the Civitas study shows. Campaigners warned last night that the situation "punishes" families trying to do the right thing. A senior MP said it was "insane".

The findings will lead to further allegations that the system of benefits and tax is fuelling "Broken Britain". They will also reignite political debate over whether married couples should receive tax breaks, a policy abolished by Mr Brown in 1999 and likely to be a key battleground in the next general election. The report also found that so-called "pushy, middle-class parents" who provide a supportive home and try to find the best education for their children improved schools and communities. It said such people were "vital to the success of any society" and accused Labour of failing them.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "The current benefits system has huge inbuilt biases against socially responsible behaviour and the tax system punishes families who try to do the right thing. "Not only is this situation completely unfair, but it also undermines the creation of a better, more socially just society." The report, Individualists Who Co-Operate, said the system "penalises" couples who live together, adding to accusations that Labour's taxes and handouts are encouraging the death of traditional family structures. It found, in one case, that where a lone mother earned 10,000 pounds a year, and her partner earned 25,000, they were 5,473 worse off if they decided to live together. If the lone mother did not work, they were 4,522 worse off for cohabiting.

The report echoed claims that Government policies have led to the "perpetuation of single-parent families", adding: "Potential partners on low incomes (precisely those who can only make ends meet by combining their efforts) are discouraged from partnering (or re-partnering)." One in five of those who stopped receiving benefits did so to move in with a partner, it said, suggesting that more couples might live together if they were rewarded in tax breaks. "For many their decision to live together is a triumph of romance over economics. From their behaviour we can conjecture that, without powerful economic incentives to live separately, re-partnering would have been more common," it said.

Chris Grayling, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "Britain suffers massively from the problems caused by family breakdown. "It is little short of insane that we have a tax and benefits system that encourages couples to live apart rather than together. This is something the Conservatives are committed to changing." Last month it emerged that a mother with a two-year-old son lost a 9,400 pound child care grant after marrying her partner. Kayleigh Tidswell-Brown, who was studying to become a teacher, and her husband Leigh were considering separating to claw back the cash.

The report found that marriage combined with full-time work was the best way out of poverty for couples with children. Research last year, from the Millennium Cohort Study, found that married parents are more than twice as likely to stay together as those who are unwed.

As Chancellor, Gordon Brown abolished married couples' allowance in 1999 and introduced tax credits that reward single mothers over couples. In his first Labour Party conference speech as Prime Minister, in 2007, Mr Brown said: "I reach out to all those who work hard and play by the rules, who believe in strong families and a patriotic Britain, who may have supported other parties but who, like me, want to defend and advance British values and our way of life.'' In his New Year address yesterday he insisted that his "guiding principle" was the wellbeing of British families and businesses, adding: "What keeps me up at night, and gets me up in the morning, are the hopes and aspirations of the British people."

The Tories are proposing a 1,000 pound tax break for married couples although there were reports in November that leader David Cameron is rethinking the plans in light of the economic downturn.

The Civitas report also suggested taking all schools out of state control, and ending taxation on savings, offering further support for those backing The Daily Telegraph's Justice for Pensioners campaign. It said that those who received more in cash benefits and tax credits than they paid in personal taxes had soared from 35 per cent of all families in 1979 to 45 per cent in the current financial year. On average each household with a total income of 25,000 paid taxes of 10,362 and received state benefits of 10,503, it found. The extent to which people depended on benefits had also deepened, with costs nearly trebling to 13 per cent of the UK's gross domestic product over the past 60 years.

A Treasury spokesman said: "As a result of tax and benefit changes since 1997, four out of 10 families now pay no net tax. The government makes no apology for targeted policies that have lifted over 600,000 children out of poverty, and greatly reduced the tax burden on working families."


Are British children being poisoned by food additives in their sweets?

The poor sap writing below believes what "government scientists" say, quite overlooking that what government scientists say is heavily pressured by the shrieks of food faddists, who are in turn wound up by the irresponsible speculations of epidemiologists and rodent experimenters. And don't get me started on British government crime statistics, on British government global warming pronouncements or British government backtracking on peanut allergies etc. You have to be half mad to trust British government pronouncements. Even the number of alcoholic drinks that you can "safely" have was made up out of thin air. Sadly for his kids, he has been conned. One wonders how he accounts for all the perfectly healthy kids around who eat "dangerous" sweets all the time

My four-year-old daughter and I sit in front of a great heap of sweets. Her eyes are alight, like a pirate's with his treasure: Sweets are her greatest passion. Just back from a friend's party, she thinks she's hit the jackpot. But I'm going to have to tell her she cannot have any of them. Not a wine gum, not a chewy snake, not one Roses chocolate. I've been sitting painstakingly going through the ingredients list on the back of each jazzy-coloured packet - occasionally with a magnifying glass. Amazingly, almost all of them contain some additives that I've had to decide are actively dangerous to her. These are additives that are banned in many countries, ones that our government's Food Standards Agency (FSA) decided over a year ago should not be in our children's sweets. But they are still on sale in every supermarket and sweet shop across Britain.

I'm no health-obsessed 'helicopter parent'. We don't hover above our children, banning sweets and sugar. In fact, I roll my eyes at the army of organic-only fusspots: Children can usually be relied upon to eat what their bodies need. A little pleasure won't hurt them. But what I've discovered about chemical food colourings and preservatives terrifies me, as it should the most happy-go-lucky parent. British sweet manufacturers, I've had to conclude, no longer deserve our trust. Six commonly used colourings in sweets, soft drinks and even children's medicines have now been proven to cause attention disorder and hyperactivity in children - not just those already prone to such problems, but all children.

What that means is that the notorious 'sugar rush' that we've all seen in children on a sweetie or pop binge may not be caused by sugar at all, but by obscure colourings and preservatives. And there are added dangers from these completely unnecessary chemicals. My daughter, like nearly one in 20 British children, is prone to allergies: in her case, severe asthma that means a trip to A & E once a month during winter.

During my investigation, I found dangerous colourings and preservatives in famous names such as Cadbury Roses chocolates, Maynards, Wrigley's gum, Jawbreakers, Jelly Babies, Kiddies Mix, Refreshers, Lovehearts, Hubba Bubba bubble gum and Fizz Bombs, as well as a huge range of corner-shop sweets sold as Nisha's or Family Favourites. Novelty sweets branded on Bratz dolls and cartoon character Scooby-Doo had them too. A build-it-yourself gingerbread house from the John Lewis toy department had more bad dyes than any other item I found.

If it's cheaply made and highly coloured, it seems, it's more likely than not to have an 'azo-dye' (a synthetic nitrogen-based compound dye) in it - and that includes all the children's favourites: the snakes, marshmallows and bootlaces sold loose in corner shops.

The chief villains - the ones everyone agrees are dangerous - are mainly colours derived from coal tar. These are known as the 'Dirty Six' and go under the names sunset yellow (or E number 110), carmoisine (E122), tartrazine (E102), ponceau 4R (E124), quinoline yellow (E104) and allura red (E129). They're reds and yellows, and commonly found in sweets, jellies, ice lollies, fizzy drinks and many obviously coloured foods, such as icing on cakes. Three of them have been linked with asthma and other allergies. Many of them are banned in medicines, or must carry warnings. All of them, government scientists now agree [If government scientists agree, that is cause for skepticism], can cause or exacerbate hyperactivity or attention disorder.

For my daughter - who's pretty busy, not hyperactive - the worry is what's known as the cocktail effect: these colourings combined with commonly used benzoate preservatives (which go under E numbers 210 to 219) may exacerbate other allergic conditions as well as hyperactivity. The benzoates, according to the FSA, are thought to worsen symptoms of asthma and eczema in children who have these conditions - and they're banned in food products for the under-threes. Yet they appear in all sorts of soft drinks, from flavoured waters to Scottish favourite Irn-Bru and many brands of cola. Amazingly, carmoisine colouring is in the best- selling children's pain reliever, Calpol - which we use during our daughter's asthma attacks.

But the most outrageous thing I found on the sweet shelves was in the familiar blue box of family favourite Roses Chocolates. Their ingredients list has been cleaned up: the E numbers have all gone. Now under colour is listed 'sunset yellow'. This pleasant-sounding phrase is the layman's term for the Dirty Six colour E110 - banned in Norway and Finland, linked to all sorts of allergies, banned for use in food here for the under-threes, and supposed to carry a health warning if used in medicines. It is a version of the notorious carcinogenic Sudan 1....

I asked Dr Clair Baynton, head of novel foods, additives and supplements at the Food Standards Agency, why politicians have been so slow to act on these colourings. The evidence, she said, was 'just not strong enough' to ban the Dirty Six colours outright - and sodium benzoate plays a useful health role as a preservative.


Britain's "New Labour" attempts to export its police state

I lived almost five years in the UK, and during that time, I got to watch what happens to a relatively free Western society when the Nanny State crosses the line over into a police state. And make no mistake, New Labour's Britain is undoubtedly a police state these days. When I lived there, I watched as prison and/or draconian fines became a standard punishment for even the most minor of "crimes." Buy the wrong class of ticket for a train? Fine and prison. Use a garden hose during a "water shortage" (caused by leaky pipes in a country where most of the year is rainy and overcast)? Fine and prison.

Demonstrate within one mile of Parliament? Fine and prison. (This law was passed after ruling party MPs got tired of seeing angry anti-war demonstrators out of their windows on their way to work). Incidentally, this law means that most of Central London, including Trafalgar Square, is now off-limits for political speech and demonstrations. The outrage over that trick was great enough that the government has promised it will repeal the law at some point. Maybe.

Cameras popped up everywhere. Britain is the most-watched society on earth, with the government boasting that it can track you on foot, and even track your car's movements at every step of the way... and keep the information for two years. Own more than one mobile phone? The government is encouraging citizens to report you as a potential terrorist.

Are you a dark-complexioned Brazilian traveling on London's underground? Well, police may shoot you eight times in the head for no reason and then lie about you "being suspicious," but the chief of police will be "sorry" about your death -- while warning that such shootings could happen again.

Mandatory ID cards with biometric imprints have been created and implemented recently, first for new migrants to the country. Eventually, they will be mandatory for everyone. Don't have the card and cannot present it on demand to authorities? Fine and prison.

Don't have a TV license to watch television? We're watching you and we're coming to get you -- it's all in the database. The license, used to pay for the BBC, is mandatory for all TV owners and the British government is spending millions on a campaign to promote its ability to track you down. Don't have the proper car tax disk? You're being tracked, and we'll come to crush your car.

But the Labour Party government in London isn't content to stop here. It has a new idea -- let's censor the Internet!
The kind of ratings used for films could be applied to websites in a bid to better police the Internet and protect children from harmful and offensive material, Britain's minister for culture has said.

We have to protect the CHILDREN!
Giving websites film-style ratings would be one possibility. "This is an area that is really now coming into full focus," Burnham told the paper. Internet service providers could also be forced to offer services where the only sites accessible are those deemed suitable for children, the paper said.

And helpfully, the Good Minister Of What We Should And Shouldn't See offers this helpful observation:
He said some content should not be available to be viewed. "This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people. We have got to get better at defining where the public interest lies and being clear about it."

Riiiiiight. "We" meaning government, "public interest" meaning government officials' interests, and "being clear" meaning a whole new hosts of fines, penalties and prison time for noncompliant nasties who dare to publish content Labour judges "not in the public interest."

So why am I blogging on this? Because Britain's totalitarian ruling party isn't merely interested in starting this latest revolution in its Brave New World -- it wants to export it here to the United States!
Andy Burnham told The Daily Telegraph newspaper, published on Saturday, that the government was planning to negotiate with the administration of President-elect Barack Obama to draw up new international rules for English language websites.

"The more we seek international solutions to this stuff -- the UK and the U.S. working together -- the more that an international norm will set an industry norm," the newspaper reports the Culture Secretary as saying in an interview.

Unfortunately for the Minister, the pesky First Amendment over here would quickly put the kibosh on such a scheme (although the US government did make an attempt to implement a weaker version of censorship with the Clinton-era Communications Decency Act, which was largely stricken by federal courts. This is one carefully-wrapped package from London that the new administration should return to its sender, post-haste.

Source (See the original for links)

Big Brother spying on 4-year-old pupils

Schools have installed CCTV cameras and microphones in classrooms to watch and listen to pupils as young as four. The Big Brother-style surveillance is being marketed as a way to identify pupils disrupting lessons when teachers' backs are turned. Classwatch, the firm behind the system, says its devices can be set up to record everything that goes on in a classroom 24 hours a day and used to compile `evidence' of wrongdoing. The equipment is sold with Crown Prosecution Service-approved evidence bags to store material to be used in court cases. The microphones and cameras can be used during lessons and when a classroom is unattended, such as during lunch breaks.

But data protection watchdog the Information Commissioner has warned the surveillance may be illegal and demanded to know why primary and secondary schools are using this kind of sophisticated equipment to watch children. Officials said they would be contacting schools to seek `proper justification' for the equipment's use. Classwatch is set to face further scrutiny over the role of Shadow Children's Minister Tim Loughton, the firm's 30,000 pounds-a-year chairman.

The equipment, which includes ceiling-mounted microphones and cameras and a hard drive recorder housed in a secure cabinet, is operating in around 85 primary and secondary schools and colleges. The systems cost around 3,000 to install in each classroom or can be leased for about 50 pounds per classroom per month. The firm says the devices act as `impartial witnesses' which can provide evidence in disputes and curb bullying and unruly behaviour and protect teachers against false allegations of abuse - plus provide evidence acceptable in court.

The firm also promotes its equipment as an educational tool, allowing `key lessons and class discussions to be recorded for revision, or for pupils who have missed important material or who may need extra help'. Schools are required to inform all parents that microphones and cameras are monitoring their children.

But last night an Information Commissioner's Office spokesman said the system raised `privacy concerns for teachers, students and their parents'. He said the ICO would contact Classwatch and schools using the devices. He added: `The use of microphones to record conversations is deeply intrusive and we will be seeking further clarification on their use in schools and, if necessary, we will issue further guidance to headteachers.'

Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, added: `We strongly object to schools or colleges having free rein to use CCTV and microphones, especially in sensitive areas such as classrooms, changing rooms and toilets. `We expect CCTV be used appropriately and not to spy on staff or pupils.'

Classwatch director Andrew Jenkins, who set up the firm with his wife, said he welcomed further discussions with the Information Commissioner. He said Classwatch had tried to guard against accusations of bringing Big Brother into schools. `The system can be turned on and turned off as they wish,' he said. `It is a bit like a video at home. This is not Big Brother. The system is under the control of the teacher.'

Asked whether the company had taken account of the Commissioner's strict rules on workplace monitoring, he said: `Compliance with the Data Protection Act has always been a priority. `Schools are required to ensure they follow protocols which recognise the privacy of pupils and staff. The overwhelming experience has been that pupils feel safer and that teachers feel more in control of their classrooms.'

Last night, Tory frontbencher Mr Loughton insisted there was no conflict between his political role and part-time job. He said: `I am not the Shadow Minister for Schools, I am the Shadow Minister for Children. I don't speak on school security.' He declares his involvement with the firm on the MPs' register of interests and added: `I have never sought to advocate this. I went through this very carefully before I got involved in it and it doesn't conflict with anything I do.'

Labour MP Barry Sheerman, the chairman of the Commons Education Committee, said: `If the Information Commissioner is concerned, we all should be concerned and I think that my committee should look at it when Parliament returns.' A Schools Department spokesman said: `We do not prescribe what schools must do to tackle security.'


Prison inmates should not be called 'inmates', says British government

We read:
"Prison officers have been told not to refer to their charges as "inmates" because it might offend them. Ministers claim the age-old term is not appropriate if criminals are to be treated with "respect and dignity". One prison officer leader attacked the move and warned jails have already become too soft as he called for a return to tough prisons in 2009. Opposition MPs said it was "politically correct nonsense".

In a scathing outburst, Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, called for an end to the "namby pamby attitude" that has led to soft prisons. "It never ceases to amaze me, the hypocrisy of politicians and senior civil servants," he said. "On the one hand they say we are not going to have soft prisons but on the other phraseology that has been around for a long, long time suddenly becomes offensive to our dear charges. "As far as I am concerned they are convicts, they are prisoners, they are inmates. "We should treat them fair and properly but prison should be tough. As we come to 2009, prisons should move away from being seen and actually being soft options to be challenging and demanding places of punishment. "Without that we will continue to slide down in the views of the general public and will send people out of prison more likely to reoffend."

Prisons minister David Hanson revealed the Ministry of Justice stance in a letter to an inmate in HMP Wakefield, in which he said: "Prison staff are expected to treat prisoners with dignity and respect and for this reason the term 'prisoner' should be used in preference to the term 'inmate'." He went on to say the term "offender" was not inappropriate.

Earlier this year prison inspectors at Bullingdon jail in Oxfordshire, said prisoners should be addressed by their first names, given free condoms and be served evening meals later time to stop them feeling hungry in the night. In 2006, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, criticised jail staff for calling prisoners "cons". [Short for "convict" or "convicted person". Must not call a convicted person a convicted person, apparently]


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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