Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Boris ignores political correctness to fly England's flag and celebrate St George

Boris Johnson slew the dragon of political correctness yesterday by announcing London would mark St George's Day with a week of celebrations. The capital's mayor said he would proudly fly the red and white flag of England's patron saint from his City Hall office on April 23.

St George's Day has been a low-key event in London in recent years, dwarfed by a St Patrick's Day parade funded to the tune of £100,000, and enormous crowds at Gay Pride. The Mayor's endorsement of St George's Day appears to mark an official determination to make English patriotism more acceptable. In recent years, many local authorities have banned taxi drivers, builders and firemen from displaying the Cross of St George – often citing spurious health and safety reasons.

Mr Johnson said: 'St George's Day has been ignored in London for far too long, but I'm truly pleased to announce some fantastic events to mark this occasion. 'We have much to be proud of in this great country. England has given so much to the world, politically, socially and artistically.'

A music festival on Sunday April 25 in Trafalgar Square will feature artists 'finding innovative ways to express music that is inspired by English folk tradition'. And as April 23 is also Shakespeare's birthday, there will be an event commemorating the Bard's work at the Globe Theatre in London.

Many councils have shied away from endorsing St George and the English flag over a perception that they were the preserve of far-Right political parties and racists. St George's adoption by Crusaders against Islam in the Holy Land has been a further obstacle. But in recent years, English patriotism has become more acceptable, with the flag more likely to be associated with the national football team.

The news was welcomed by the Left-wing musician Billy Bragg yesterday. He said: 'I think it's great that the Mayor is grasping the nettle. Good luck to him. If you don't use the flag in a positive way then you leave it to be used by the far-Right and it will have negative connotations.'

Until the 18th century, St George's Day was a celebration on a par with Christmas. But it fell out of favour. Despite being the patron saint of England, St George is thought to have been a Roman soldier born in Turkey. The legend of George slaying the dragon is believed to have been brought back from the Middle East by Crusaders, growing in popularity until he was canonised in the 1400s.

Last year, Gordon Brown flew the flag of St George over Downing Street for the first time in recent years. But the day has not received much backing from government. Over the past five years, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport spent just 230 pounds promoting St George's Day.


NHS hospital scandal: missed warnings

The shocking extent of the failures at an NHS hospital where hundreds of patients died unnecessarily can be disclosed today. Senior managers at Stafford Hospital were told repeatedly that the standard of care they were delivering was not good enough but each time the warnings were ignored. The disclosures follow the publication last week of a damning report by the NHS regulator, the Healthcare Commission, that found that hundreds of patients died at the hospital because of the "appalling" treatment they received.

Today, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose that executives at Stafford Hospital were warned as early as 2002 by the commission's predecessor that it had problems with the standard of its emergency care services and that it was not adequately staffed. However, they failed to act on the warnings. In 2006, a former government adviser warned the hospital about the standards of hygiene in A&E. Again, the warning was ignored. It was only when alerts were issued over the high mortality rate at the hospital that alarm bells rang.

At that stage an investigation by the Healthcare Commission began, resulting in the publication of last week's report and the suspension on full pay of Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust's chief executive, Martin Yeates, and the resignation of its chairman, Toni Brisby.

The Sunday Telegraph launches a campaign today for a series of measures to ensure that the crisis in Staffordshire is never repeated in the NHS. The Heal Our Hospitals campaign demands the establishment of an independent inquiry into the regulation and supervision of NHS hospitals. This has been endorsed by the Patients Association and the Cure the NHS campaign group, which worked to expose the crisis at Stafford Hospital. The two groups today launch a petition demanding an inquiry.

Richard Branson, the vice-president of the Patients Association, said: "The most important thing is that patients are happy and safe. I've signed the petition because I think patients need to have confidence that they will be. Inquiries are not about laying blame, they are about finding answers to important questions." This newspaper is also calling for:

* A review of hospital targets to ensure that they work to improve quality of care.

* Nurses to focus on patient care - not form-filling - as their central duty.

* Routine publication of comprehensive death rates for hospitals.

* Patients to be given a stronger voice in the running of hospitals.

* Assurance that senior hospital staff will not be rewarded for failure.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph yesterday, the chairman of the Healthcare Commission condemned the board at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and bosses at the strategic health authority for failing to act. Sir Ian Kennedy said it was clear that serious problems at the hospital were evident as far back as 2002, yet no action was taken by managers. Sir Ian said board members and managers who had not already left should "examine their consciences". "Anybody who had any responsibility for leadership and management must ask how they allowed this place to get into the state where patients were dying," he said.

Terry Deighton, an expert in risk assessment who carried out the inspection of A&E in February 2006 that led to another warning for Stafford Hospital, described the conditions as "absolutely disgusting". He found blood encrusted on seats, puddles of urine on the lavatory floors and doctors and nurses washing their hands in sinks encrusted with grime. Mr Deighton's report said standards of cleanliness risked placing patients in danger of infection but Mr Yeates insisted that Stafford Hospital was "very clean" and refused to meet Mr Deighton for over a year.

The commission has also criticised standards of care at Birmingham Children's Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (BCH) after it struggled to meet rising demands.

The commission is also investigating allegations that West London Mental Health Trust did not do enough to prevent patients harming themselves and other people.

The disclosures have led to concern about standards of care in the NHS and calls for a change in the target-driven culture that many emergency care specialists believe is distorting clinical priorities within A&E departments.

The Sunday Telegraph's campaign has received the backing of health experts and practitioners. Claire Rayner, the president of the Patients Association, said: "The target culture has led to a dreadful waste of professional time and extra layers of management." John Heyworth, the president of the College of Emergency Medicine, said: "The lack of doctors and nurses identified in Stafford is a dramatic example of what can happen when the focus on care in departments is lifted." Dr Peter Carter, the chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "Many of the catastrophic failings identified at the Mid Staffordshire trust could have been avoided if there were simply enough nurses to care for patients."

The Conservatives will set out their own plan to put patient safety first this week. It includes giving patients power to hold failing hospitals to account, an end to the target culture and tougher inspections to root out failure. Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, said: "I welcome The Sunday Telegraph's campaign. We need to make sure that patients are listened to and give responsibility to doctors and nurses."

A survey for Channel 4's Dispatches programme to be broadcast tomorrow indicates that many nurses believe that the lives of patients were being placed in danger by a lack of training, staff shortages and long hours. It also indicates that more than a third (37 per cent) think that patient care in the NHS has become worse in the past five years. Mr Yeates refused to comment but his replacement, Eric Morton, said: "Care standards fell below those that our patients had a right to expect of their hospital and we regret this. We would like to offer our very sincere apology. "We would like to reassure the local community that our focus is, and will remain, on providing high-quality, efficient and safe health care for the people of Staffordshire. "We have put in place effective governance structures to address the key issues."

The Department of Health responded to the launch of The Sunday Telegraph campaign by insisting that the problems in Mid Staffordshire were down to "a complete failure of management" at a local level, which had been revealed through a "meticulous" inquiry by the Healthcare Commission.

A spokesman said the system of regulation and management would be reviewed; trusts were expected to monitor mortality rates, and there was no secrecy over the figures; and the system of targets set minimum standards which patients would expect.


Just move on: What boss of careless NHS hospital told boy's parents after missing fatal injury

The boss of Stafford Hospital, where appalling treatment may have killed hundreds of patients, sent a `callous and arrogant' letter to the grieving family of one victim. Chief executive Martin Yeates told the parents of 20-year-old John Moore-Robinson it was time to `move on'.

Mr Moore- Robinson died because doctors at the hospital failed to discover he had ruptured his spleen in a cycling accident. They sent him home with painkillers - and he bled to death. A year later, an inquest told the hospital to improve its standard of care. But it was another nine months before Mr Yeates wrote to the family. He told them: `I hope that the way the matters have been resolved speedily will go some way to help and your family feel that it's time to put the matter behind you and move on. `Please accept my apologies and regret for the death of your son.'

Mr Yeates is suspended on full pay - 15,000 pounds a month - after a damning report from the Healthcare Commission found that his NHS Trust board prioritised Government targets over basic patient care. An inquiry has been launched into his role in the scandal. Last night, Frank and Janet Robinson, both 57, branded his words ` despicable' and `insulting'. Mr Robinson said: `It makes my blood boil to think that Martin Yeates has got away with it and he's living it up it on full pay. `We can't possibly start to move on when we know that John lost his life needlessly. We've lost our boy and he thinks he can make everything OK with a letter. 'The arrogance of it is despicable. The letter is an insult. I don't for one minute think that he's truly sorry. `He was in charge of the hospital and he's at least partly responsible.'

Mr Moore-Robinson, a telecommunications worker, was thrown over the handlebars of his mountain bike on a day trip to Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, with friends in April 2006. He was taken to Stafford Hospital A&E department where an X-ray revealed broken ribs. He was vomiting and in agony but doctors prescribed pain medication and discharged him, his family said.

Friends drove him back to his home in Coalville, Leicestershire, but within hours his family called 999 because he was still in severe pain. He died minutes before paramedics arrived. His father said last night: `It's every parent's worst nightmare to lose their child but when somebody's incompetence is to blame it becomes worse. `John's treatment was shambolic and I am demanding that senior management be brought to account for the shocking waste of life.' Mr and Mrs Moore-Robinson plan to join other grieving families in suing the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust.

Health Commission investigators uncovered a shocking series of failings between 2005 and 2008, including staff shortages and unqualified receptionists carrying out initial checks on A&E patients. More than 100 people told them that patients were ignored as they called for help on filthy wards covered in blood and excrement. Staff showed a general lack of compassion, dignity and respect, the commission's report said. As many as 1,200 patients may have died as a result of the appalling treatment they received.


British wave power project hits the rocks

Mechanical setbacks on a key project have come at the same time as the collapse of one of its backers

A pioneering 8m pound British green energy project has been halted because of a series of setbacks, including malfunctioning of the innovative equipment designed to turn wave energy into electricity and the financial collapse of one of the scheme’s backers. Pelamis Wave Power, based in Edinburgh, said its equipment had been towed back to shore in Portugal after it broke down. It will not be repaired immediately. Pelamis’s wave-energy converters are considered to be the most advanced of their kind, and the future of the technology is now in doubt.

If the problems persist they could threaten a similar deal between Pelamis and Eon, the energy group. The partnership was the first instance of a big utility ordering a wave-energy converter for installation in British waters. The equipment was to be tested off Scotland next year.

Energy analysts say the difficulties over the Portuguese project, named Agucadoura, call into the question the viability of this type of wave power. The technical problems were compounded by the collapse of Babcock & Brown, the Australian company that has a 77% stake in the project and which went into administration last week. “We are in limbo,” said Max Carcas at Pelamis. “We are progressing and sorting out some problems on a cash-manage-ment basis. But we can’t get the equipment back in the sea on our own.” Carcas was confident the project would continue but could not say when.

Agucadoura was launched amid a lot of hype last summer as a joint venture between Pelamis, Energias de Portugal (EDP), Efacec, the Portuguese electrical engineering company, and Babcock & Brown. The official unveiling in September was attended by the Portuguese economy minister. The venture was hailed as “the world’s first commercial wave-power project” and began transmitting electricity to the national grid.

Named after the sea snake Pelamis, each machine is 140 metres long, 3.5 metres wide and is partially submerged in the sea. The sections are linked by flexible joints and each section contains a hydraulic pump. The wave motion drives the pumps, which in turn work hydraulic motors that generate an electric current.

In the first phase, three Pelamis wave-energy converters were towed three miles out to sea with the aim of generating 2.25MW of power. If successful, a second phase was planned in which energy generation would rise to 21MW from a further 25 machines – enough to provide electricity for 15,000 Portuguese homes.

Even before the launch, though, the installation was plagued by problems. The date had to be set back after part of the structure sprang a leak. In November, after two months of generating electricity, the three converter units developed further problems and the apparatus had to be disconnected from the grid and towed back to shore. Then came the news about Babcock & Brown.

Anthony Kennaway at Babcock & Brown, said: “Our business is winding down over the next two years. Agucadoura is one of the assets that we hope to sell. “This is early-stage technology and you would expect the machines to be in and out of the water. It would be deeply disappointing if people start writing it off at this stage.”

The problems in Portugal cast a shadow over plans to repeat the experiment in trials at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney. Last month Eon announced that it had ordered a more advanced P2 machine from Pelamis which, at 180 metres long, is about 40 metres longer than the Pelamis units in Portugal. It will be built at Pelamis’s Leith Docks facility in Edinburgh.

Both companies claim that the deal will go ahead. A spokesman for Eon said: “We still expect to be the first utility company to test a full-size wave-powered generating plant in UK waters. But we have to bear in mind that this technology is in its early stages. It’s where wind power was a decade ago.”

The failure of the Portuguese project highlights the problems engineers have in attempting to harness the power of the sea to create renewable energy. It could also put a question mark over the future of wave energy in the EU’s plan to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Ian Fells of Newcastle University, who has his own energy consultancy, said: “Wave power is very immature and very expensive compared with other renewable resources because you have to overengineer it to cope with extremes of weather. “We have to get these things in perspective. Throughout the world wave power generates about 10MW of electricity. You would need something like 10,000 wave power units to replace one nuclear power station.”


Homosexual couple sue Christians for barring them from hotel bed

The Christian owners of a seaside hotel may be prosecuted after refusing to allow a gay couple to stay in a double room. Peter and Hazelmary Bull are facing an unprecedented court case under controversial new equality laws.

Martyn Hall, who lives with his civil partner Steven Preddy, has lodged a county court claim for up to 5,000 in damages alleging 'direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation'.

But the Bulls deny the charge, saying they have a long-standing policy of banning all unmarried couples, both heterosexual and gay, from sharing a bed at the Chymorvah Private Hotel in Marazion near Penzance in Cornwall. Mrs Bull, a 62-year-old great-grandmother, said that even her brother and his female partner had to stay in separate rooms when they visited the hotel.

The Bulls, who have the backing of the Christian Institute, have operated their 'married only' policy since they bought the hotel in 1986. The hotel website says: 'We have few rules but please note that out of a deep regard for marriage we prefer to let double accommodation to heterosexual married couples only.'

Last August, the Bulls received a letter from Stonewall, the gay rights organisation, saying it had received a complaint and warning the hotel it was breaking the law.

The following month Mr Preddy, from Bristol, rang to book a double room for two nights. Mrs Bull, who took the call, said last night that she had wrongly assumed that he would be staying with his wife before she accepted the booking. When Mr Preddy and Mr Hall arrived, they were told by the manager, Bernie Quinn, that the hotel could not honour the booking. The couple told him he was acting illegally before leaving and reporting the incident to police.

Mrs Bull insisted last night: 'I have had people clearly involved in affairs and under-age people who have tried to book in here for sex, and I have refused them the same as I refused these gentlemen because I won't be a party to anything which is an affront to my faith under my roof.'

The couple's solicitor, Tom Ellis, from the Manchester-based firm Aughton Ainsworth, said: 'Our argument is that the regulations impinge on the Bulls' human rights. 'Under the European Convention on Human Rights, people are able to hold a religious belief and manifest it in the way they act.'

A spokesman for Stonewall said: 'We look forward to the hotel changing its policy to reflect equality, the 21st Century and the law.'


British scientists 'to create synthetic blood from embryonic stem cells'

Many people will object to this on moral grounds but, even though abortion horrifies me, I cannot see the harm in using material that would otherwise be discarded

British scientists are planning a ground-breaking research project to create synthetic human blood from embryonic stem cells, it has been disclosed. The results could provide an unlimited supply of blood for emergency transfusions free of the risk of infection. It could revolutionise blood transfusion services, which currently rely on a network of human donors to provide a constant supply of fresh blood.

The three-year project will be led by the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and includes NHS Blood and Transplant and the Wellcome Trust, the world's biggest medical research charity.

The artificial blood will be made from the stem cells of human embryos left over from IVF treatment. Researchers will test the embryos to find those that are genetically programmed to develop into the "O-negative" blood group. This is the universal donor group, whose blood can be transfused to any patient without the fear of tissue rejection. The rare blood group, which is applicable to only 7 per cent of the population, could then be produced in unlimited quantities because of the embryonic stem cells' ability to multiply indefinitely.

The objective is to stimulate the cells to develop into mature, oxygen-carrying red blood cells for emergency transfusions. Such blood would have the benefit of not being at risk of being infected with viruses such as HIV and hepatitis.

The SNBTS is expected within weeks to sign an agreement with the Wellcome Trust for a grant to fund the multi-million pound research project. A spokeswoman for the SNBTS confirmed that the research project was to go ahead but said that no further comment could be made because it was bound by a confidentiality agreement with the Wellcome Trust.

According to The Independent, the project will be led by Professor Marc Turner, of Edinburgh University, the director of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service. Professor Turner has been involved in studies examining ways to ensure donated blood is free of the infectious agent behind variant CJD, the human form of "mad cow" disease.

Last year, Advanced Cell Technology, a US biotechnology firm, claimed it had produced billions of functioning red blood cells from embryonic stem cells. However, US projects have been delayed due to funding problems as a result of the ban on embryonic stem cell research introduced by the Bush administration, which Barack Obama has since overturned.


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