Monday, March 23, 2009


Heroism that the major media ignored: "The Army Chief of Staff, Gen. George Casey, presented seven Fort Campbell soldiers with awards for their heroism in Iraq and at home. Casey said he was honored to give the medals to the soldiers, saying their actions were incredibly courageous. First Lt. Nicholas Eslinger, a West Point graduate from Oakley, Calif., was awarded the Silver Star. He was leading a patrol on foot in Samarra, Iraq, north of Baghdad, when a grenade was tossed in the middle of his platoon. "I saw the hand come over the wall and I quickly did a hop, skip and a jump and landed on my side pinning the grenade between the ground and my chest," Eslinger said. Eslinger was able to grab the grenade and toss it back over the wall, where it exploded seconds later. No soldier was killed or wounded that night"

Men die in lake because cowardly British police had a boat but no lifejackets: "Two men died today and two more were feared drowned after their boat sank just hours after they arrived for a fishing trip at a picturesque loch. The men, aged between 30 and 47, had got into difficulties in heavy fog as they returned to their campsite by boat from a pub across the loch in the early hours. A rescue operation was launched after the one man who remained on shore heard their cries for help and raised the alarm. But it took more than two hours to reach them, as rescuers waited for a boat and life jackets to arrive by road from Renfrew near Glasgow, almost 70 miles away. Police admitted that one of the reasons a rescue had not been launched earlier in another boat was because their own men at the scene and firefighters had no life jackets. Shortly after the rescue boat arrived Mr Carty and Mr Currie were discovered unconscious in the water and died shortly afterwards... The 38-year-old man who had remained on shore had been sleeping but awoke when he heard their cries for help at about 3.40am. He called the emergency services but the rescue boat did not arrive until just after 6am. Speaking at the scene, Detective Inspector Andrew Mosely said: ‘It’s not about commandeering a boat, it’s about the visibility and hazards. 'It’s not about a boat. It’s about having buoyancy aids for your staff.’ [No guts]

NHS a goldmine for lawyers

While mistreated patients get peanuts

LAWYERS are earning 800 pounds an hour from the National Health Service and taking “indefensible” fees of tens of millions of pounds in legal disputes. The money is coming from a government scheme intended to compensate patients for medical blunders and inadequate care, an investigation has found.

The compensation lawyers are claiming costs and “success fees” worth about 100m pounds a year out of the scheme. In some cases the payouts claimed are 10 times more than the damages won by the patient. Health professionals warn that it could get much more expensive. There is an estimated backlog of cases against the NHS amounting to 12 billion in claims, of which lawyers could get up to 6 billion.

The NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA), which operates the compensation scheme, has lambasted the fees in a submission to Lord Justice Jackson, the judge. He is reviewing civil litigation costs. The document warns that some “no-win, no-fee” lawyers are allowed to charge the NHS compensation scheme £804 an hour to pursue patients’ claims. It states: “The whole costs structure is indefensibly expensive in relation to the compensation awarded or agreed. It is difficult to believe that it would be sustained were it not for the lack of motivation to change it.”

Mark Simmonds, the shadow health minister, said the huge fees being earned by the lawyers would be better spent on patient care. “It is unacceptable in some cases that the legal fees are many times higher than the awarded damages,” he said.

Bertie Leigh, a lawyer who defends the NHS in litigation cases, said he regards many of the cases he sees as a “buccaneering attack on the funds of the NHS”.

In one case involving Barking, Havering & Redbridge Hospitals NHS Trust, a legal firm claimed nearly 78,000 in costs and fees, having won just 7,000 for a female patient. A Liverpool firm submitted a legal bill for £4.4m for a single case.

The figures for 2007-8 show that more than one in four NHS trusts are paying out more in legal costs than in damages. The clinical negligence scheme paid 264m in compensation in 2007-8 of which 90m was in claimants’ fees.

Compensation lawyers say the success fees help to cover the cost of fighting cases they lose.


NHS patients ‘died of neglect’

VULNERABLE patients with learning disabilities have died because of neglect in NHS hospitals, an official report is expected to say this week. The report by the parliamentary and health service ombudsman will find widespread failures by doctors and nurses to care properly for people who are mentally handicapped.

The inquiry began after a report by the charity Mencap, Death by Indifference, found six patients had died through neglect while in NHS care.

One man, Martin Ryan, 43, from Surrey, died after he starved for 26 days while in Kingston hospital following a stroke. Staff had failed to use a nasal feeding tube to prevent his condition from deteriorating. This left Ryan too weak to undergo surgery to have a tube inserted into his stomach. Kingston hospital NHS Trust has apologised and says it has improved care for such patients.

Another patient, Emma Kemp, 26, from Buckinghamshire, died from cancer in 2004 after doctors said she had a 50% chance of survival but delayed treatment, the charity claims. Doctors believed Kemp, who had behavioural problems, would not cooperate. Mencap did not say which hospital she was in.

The three other cases the watchdog examined follow similar patterns, with warnings ignored or problems missed until it was too late.

The watchdog is likely to find NHS failings were responsible for some but not all of the six deaths. An earlier independent inquiry by Sir Jonathan Michael, managing director of BT Health, found that although people with learning disabilities had more physical health problems than the general population, they received less effective treatment. Michael found “appalling examples of discrimination, abuse and neglect”.

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Mencap, said: “Mencap’s Death by Indifference report exposed the horrendous deaths of six people with a learning disability who suffered a catalogue of neglect while in NHS care.” Mencap is calling for disciplinary action against the doctors and nurses responsible.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “Preventable deaths of people with learning disabilities are absolutely unacceptable. We are now taking action that will lead to people with learning disabilities getting equal access to healthcare”


New rights spark ‘nanny state’ row in Britain

Ministers are to introduce new “human rights” covering housing, healthcare and education in a move critics fear could lead to a massive and costly expansion of the welfare state. Plans for the new bill of rights will be unveiled tomorrow by Jack Straw, the justice secretary. He will suggest that new entitlements such as rights to good healthcare, education and freedom from poverty could be added to traditional freedoms such as trial by jury and free speech.

The new rights would be offset by responsibilities, such as a duty to look for work in return for receiving benefits or to look after one’s children.

Tomorrow’s green paper is expected to face attack from those who believe such reforms are a distraction from the task of battling the recession.

There will also be fears that the plan would be another step towards a “nanny state”, providing further lucrative work for lawyers who have cashed in on the 1998 Human Rights Act.

David Heathcoat-Amory, a Conservative member of the Commons European scrutiny committee, warned that the introduction of “socio-economic rights ” would herald increased power for the state and restrict reforms. “I very much doubt Margaret Thatcher would have been able to carry out the reforms she made in the 1980s if the institutions she reformed were covered by some kind of bill of rights,” he said. It is understood several cabinet ministers privately urged Gordon Brown to scrap the plan.

Straw’s deputy, Michael Wills, writing in today’s Sunday Times, insists the recession has made a bill of rights more important. He says: “Better articulating the responsibilities we owe and the rights we have is not an alternative to decisive action on the economic front but an essential complement to it.”

The Human Rights Act, which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, has been much criticised, particularly by Tories. In his article, Wills says the government has no intention of scrapping the law. He says there may well be a case for not making the new rights enforceable in the courts, but adds: “Words have power in their own right. They can move us and mould our society even though they are not law.”


Obesity 'causing rise in kidney stone operations'

This is just speculation dressed up as science

The number of patients requiring operations for painful kidney stones has risen by one third in five years, driven in part by the growing obesity crisis [How do they know that?], experts have warned. More and more patients are having to undergo invasive surgery and other procedures to remove the stones, which can cause excruciating pain and dangerous complications.

Official figures from the NHS Information Centre show that 18,964 of these procedures were carried out in 2006/07, an increase of a third on 2002/03, when the number was just 14,306. Although operations were most common on those in middle age or older the statistics also revealed that 203 were carried out on under-18s in 2006/07, up from 189 five years earlier.

Almost one in four British adults is now classed as obese, and doctors predict that the figure will rise in coming decades.

Daron Smith, urology consultant at University College London Hospital, said: "One of the major causes of kidney stones can be diet and lifestyle and the growing obesity problem is related [to them]. "Eating too much protein and high levels of salt is not good for the build up of chemicals in the urine which can cause stones. "This can be exacerbated by a condition called metabolic syndrome, which is also one of the links between obesity and Type II diabetes." He said that his clinic had noticed an increase both in the number of patients and in the size of the stones that required treatment in recent years.

Caused mainly by a build up of calcium or uric acid in the urine, stones are usually small enough that patients will "pass" them over time without the need for surgery. However, large stones can migrate from the kidneys into other parts of the body, where they can become stuck, cause infection, or lead to permanent kidney damage. Symptoms can include severe pain in the stomach or back, a frequent urge to urinate, as well as a fever.

Procedures to remove the stones include using an X-ray to locate where they are in the body, and then passing an electric current through the area to break them up so that they are small enough to be passed in urine, as well as invasive surgery on the kidney.


Prince Charles' Duchy Originals ordered to remove 'misleading' herbal remedy claims

Prince Charles' Duchy Originals brand has been ordered to remove claims about the effectiveness of its herbal remedies from its website, after regulators ruled they were "misleading". The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has upheld a complaint over the online advertising of two remedies, Duchy Herbals Echina-Relief Tincture and Duchy Herbals Hyperi-Lift Tincture, which are sold for 10 pounds for 50ml in selected Boots and Waitrose stores.

Although the MHRA has given the company a license to sell the remedies it does not allow them to make any claims about their effects, merely to stress their "traditional use". Since the ruling, made at the end of January but only made public, Duchy Originals has since amended its website and agreed not to make similar claims in any future advertising.

The remedies have been available in stores and through the company's website since the end of January and the MHRA made its ruling after a complaint from a member of the public. The move comes just a week after a leading scientist accused the Prince of "exploiting the gullible" with the Duchy Originals' tinctures.

Prof Edzard Ernst, from the Peninsula Medical School, dismissed one of the remedies, the company's Detox Artichoke and Dandelion Tincture, as "quackery" and dubbed the brand "Dodgy Originals". The Duchy Herbals brand is also being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over claims made about its Detox Tincture product.

According to the amended website Duchy Herbals Hyperi-Lift Tincture is a “traditional herbal medicinal product used to relieve the symptoms of slightly low mood and mild anxiety, based on traditional use only.” Similarly Duchy Herbals Echina-Relief Tincture is a “traditional herbal medicinal product used to relive the symptoms of the common cold and influenza type infections.”

A spokesman for Duchy Originals said: “Duchy Herbals Detox Tincture is an excellent and safe product, traded as a food supplement and compliant with all of the relevant sections of both UK and European food laws. It is a natural aid to digestion and supports the body’s natural elimination processes. It is not – and has never been described as – a medicine, remedy or cure for any disease. “There is no “quackery”, no “make believe” and no “superstition” in any of the Duchy Originals herbal tinctures. We find it unfortunate that Professor Ernst should chase sensationalist headlines in this way rather than concentrating on accuracy and objectivity.”


More than 100,000 children languish in 'coasting' British schools, figures show

More than 100,000 children are being taught in "coasting" schools which fail to stretch their most able students, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal. The schools, many of which are located in leafy suburbs and shire counties, have avoided scrutiny in the past because they achieved average or better than average exam results. But the statistics hid the fact that talented pupils failed to achieve their full potential.

Figures obtained by this paper from more than half of England's 150 education authorities suggest that at least 130 schools across the country can be classed as "coasting". The figures are an embarrassment for the Government which has poured millions of pounds into raising standards in secondary schools and improving provision for bright pupils.

Michael Gove, the shadow children's secretary, said: "It is worrying that so many schools are being identified as coasting. Parents have a right to expect that heads are continually striving for improvement. We need to shine the light of accountability on all schools to ensure that parents do not have to put up with a second class education for their children."

Schools are classed by the Government as "coasting" if they display one or more of a list of indicators. These include pupils starting school with good SATs results but going on to get poor GCSEs, "unimpressive" pupil progress, static exam results, disappointing Ofsted ratings, "complacent" leadership and lack of pupil tracking and early intervention.

The Sunday Telegraph asked education authorities if they had entered any of their schools into a new Government scheme, called Gaining Ground, which aims to tackling coasting secondary schools.

Of the 83 councils which responded, 34 said they have entered more than 76 schools between them. Some, such as Calderdale, Leicestershire, Bedfordshire, Herefordshire and Norfolk, have entered at least five coasting schools each.

If the responses were replicated across all 150 authorities in England, it would mean that more than 130 schools, with more than 130,000 pupils, would be affected.

The 40 million pound Gaining Ground scheme aimed at "kick starting" coasting schools will start next month. It will pay for consultants and training in the schools and for possible federations with successful secondaries. If schools fail to respond, local authorities have the power to intervene, by replacing governing bodies or head teachers.

Councils with schools in the scheme denied that they were "coasting" and said none were complacent. A number of shire counties also complained of years of low per pupil funding, with the lion's share of Government spending focused on inner cities.

Karen Charters, the head of school improvement at Gloucestershire County Council, which has five schools in the Gaining Ground scheme, said: "These schools are not seen as 'coasting' – they had already been addressing issues and measures are in place to support improvement. There should be no suggestion of complacency on the part of the authority or the schools."

Leicestershire County Council said: "The term 'coasting' is not a phrase the authority wishes to subscribe to. It is not clearly defined and for some implies negative characteristics, such as complacency, that cannot be fairly ascribed to the schools."

Norfolk County Council also objected to the term. It said the eight schools it had proposed for the scheme, which were yet to be signed off by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, were judged by Ofsted to be satisfactory but with the potential to improve.

Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment research at Buckingham University questioned how successful the Gaining Ground measures would be. "What is proposed smacks of bureaucratic intervention" he said. "Labour does not have a very good track record and has spent immense amounts of money on education in the last 12 years but we still have failing and coasting schools. Sending in consultants sounds like tinkering at the edges. "Research shows that what makes the greatest difference is the quality of teaching. The quality of teaching and shortages of specialist teachers in areas like maths, physics and foreign languages needs to be addressed."

Head teachers criticised the crudeness of the indicators used by the Government to categorise schools. John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Local authorities should not be forced to label schools as 'coasting' on the basis of only one indicator. Five of the indicators on the list do not qualify as good reasons on their own to judge a school."

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said: "These schools are not 'failing' schools – they will have acceptable, or sometimes even good results, but may not be fulfilling the potential of their pupils. Sometimes they may not be stretching their most able pupils, or perhaps not meeting the needs of their pupils who face difficulties. "These schools may not have received focused attention to date, but will now qualify for additional funding and support to raise their ambition and improve pupils' progress."


Busted justice system in Britain: "The Crown Court in England and Wales is at "breaking point" after a 5 per cent rise in cases to 136,000 a year, an independent watchdog has found. As a result there are delays of several months in the hearing of serious criminal trials and the congestion is so bad that the Courts Service, the agency in charge, is spending millions of pounds converting magistrates' courts to tackle the backlog. Meanwhile, only 70 per cent of cases last year were committed for trial within 16 weeks of coming before the magistrates and the Courts Service missed its target of dealing with 78 per cent of cases within 26 weeks. Delays are worst in London and the South East. The findings by the National Audit Office were put this week to Chris Mayer, chief executive of the Courts Service, when she came before the Commons Public Accounts Committee. Edward Leigh, its chairman, who has described the system as "almost at breaking point", condemned the delays and "time-wasting" as "scandalous", adding: "Is this really a dysfunctional organisation? Can you run it properly?

Britain's decayed Foreign Office: "Our man in Havana and the staff in other embassies worldwide are supposed to be the frontline ambassadors putting the best shine on Britain’s image abroad. Back home it is a different story. A damning report has painted a picture of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) as full of incompetents, “cowards” and “clones”. Films like Carlton-Browne of the FO, starring Terry-Thomas, used to portray the pin-striped failures of British diplomacy. The upper-class twits may have been replaced by a new generation of bright young ethnically diverse civil servants, but they are being ruined by inertia and ineffective leadership, according to the study. In the report, which the FCO has suppressed, management consultants mourn the “tragic” descent into mediocrity of a once fine institution, expressing disbelief at the culture that operates in the offices behind closed doors at its imposing Whitehall headquarters."

British unionists prefer the Conservatives: "Confidence in Gordon Brown has crumbled so badly that members of Unite, the country’s biggest union and one of Labour’s most generous donors, now think David Cameron would make a better prime minister. According to a poll by Populus, more than half, 52%, of Unite’s members thought Cameron was “up to the job” of leading the country, against just 42% for Brown. The poll suggests the prime minister is failing even to shore up Labour’s core vote in the recession. More Unite members still intend to vote Labour than Conservative, but this lead has plunged from 26 points at the 2005 general election to three now. Although the poll was commissioned by the Conservative party, its results will be taken seriously because it was carried out by Populus, a respected independent company. It questioned a sample of just over 1,000 Unite members earlier this month".

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