Thursday, April 02, 2009

Ill-informed alcohol hysteria now being used by pocket dictators -- the characteristically ignorant "We know best" brigade

Mother-to-be is ordered out of a pub by staff concerned for health of her baby. Pregnant Caroline Williams was ordered out of her local pub after bar staff saw her sipping a friend's pint

A pregnant woman was refused a drink at a pub and then asked to leave by staff who said they were protecting her unborn child. Caroline Williams, 26, who is five months pregnant, says she felt humiliated by the treatment. She insists she is a responsible mother and would never endanger her baby.

The incident at the Cricketer pub in Hove, East Sussex, has reignited the debate on drinking during pregnancy. Advice from the Chief Medical Officer says that women trying to conceive or who are pregnant should avoid drinking alcohol. Excess alcohol consumption can be the cause of a condition known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome which causes mental retardation and birth defects. But other experts say an occasional glass of wine will not harm a child.

Mrs Williams, who lives in Hove with her computer engineer husband Ben, 34, was at the pub with friends last Saturday. She said: 'I was on a rare night out with some friends. I had a pint of lager and a friend offered to get me another half - that was going to be my limit. 'He was refused service because it was for me and when I later took a sip from another friend's glass the assistant manageress asked me and my friends to leave. 'I never felt so singled out and humiliated in my life.

'I don't think what I did was doing any harm. This is my second baby and I'm feeling much more relaxed about this pregnancy than I did with my first. But I'm still very careful. 'I understand what the pub was thinking about but they didn't approach me to discuss it - they were just rude and ordered us out. 'I've never been ordered out of anywhere before and I'm not one to cause a scene, so we just left. 'I know the management has the right to refuse service but the assistant manageress was using that right to impose her opinions about what pregnant women should and shouldn't be consuming.'

Pubs have the right to refuse to serve customers and do not need to give a reason for doing so. An assistant manageress, who did not give her name, confirmed she had asked Mrs Williams to leave. She described her as 'a heavily pregnant lady who was drinking alcohol'. Another staff member defended the decision, adding: 'The assistant manageress was only thinking of the welfare of the mother and child.'

But a spokesman for the Mitchells and Butler chain which owns the pub apologised and said an investigation had been launched. He said: 'We would like to apologise unreservedly to all of the guests involved for any offence that may have been caused. While the team member may have believed she was acting with her own good intentions, she did not handle the situation in an appropriate manner.'

Since May 2007, the Health Service has advised women to avoid alcohol completely. This is in line with the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France. But in October 2008, a large-scale study was published showing no link between having the occasional drink during pregnancy and behavioural problems in the child. And GPs often advise women that one or two drinks a week will not be a problem.

The National Organisation of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome said the action by the pub staff was heavy-handed. The group's founder Susan Fleisher said: 'We believe pregnant women need understanding and support to change their habits.'



An email from Richard S. Lindzen [rlindzen@MIT.EDU], Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, MIT, Cambridge, MA

It's interesting to see that Stern, as usual, is about a year behind on the matter of rationalizing cooling. [See here]. Realists unwisely used 1998 as a baseline to claim cooling, and the automatic response from the alarmists was that 1998 was an anomalously warm El Nino year.

One could avoid this foolishness by simply noting that there has been no statistically significant warming since at least 1995 (see fig. 4 in my Heartland talk). 15 years may not be long in terms of climate, but it is about the length of each of the two warming episodes that constitute the warming 'trend' for the past century. The 'trend' could well be a matter of getting two heads in a row in a coin toss. Experience tells us that that is not a rare occurrence -- even if one knows no probability theory.

Quarter of British 11-year-olds fail English and maths

More than a quarter of 11-year-olds leave primary school without mastering the basics of English and maths, official league tables will show today. Around 150,000 pupils failed a performance measure the Government is introducing. It shows the proportion of pupils who took SATs for 11-year-olds last summer and achieved the Government's expected level in both English and maths.

As many as 28 per cent of pupils started secondary school in September without having met the benchmark, the tables are expected to show. However, the figure is expected to vary widely between primary schools, whose results are being published in school-by-school tables this morning.

Youngsters who missed the benchmark will need extra help to cope with the curriculum at secondary school because they failed to reach level four in the core subjects of English and maths.

Separate official figures showed yesterday that a fifth of bright children - those who exceed Government expectations at 11 - make no progress in key subjects in their first three years at secondary school. More than 20 per cent of pupils who gain level five in English and science are still at level five three years later after 'coasting' once entering secondary school. Opposition politicians said teaching should be better tailored to pupils' abilities.

The trends emerged as the Government faced fresh criticism over the decision to publish today's tables amid claims they are tainted by last summer's marking fiasco. A catalogue of blunders in the administration of the tests led to a sharp rise in the number of delayed, missing or incorrect results. An official report concluded earlier this month that while the reliability of results was no worse than in previous years, it was possible that up to half of awarded levels in any given year are wrong.

Today's tables, which are being published at 9.30am, are certain to trigger renewed calls by teachers' leaders for SATs for 11-year-olds to be scrapped. Ministers said performance had improved on last year following literacy and numeracy drives costing hundreds of millions of pounds. But Tory schools spokesman Nick Gibb said: 'Too many children are leaving primary school without the basics they need to succeed later on. We simply cannot allow things to continue in this way.'

Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove said: 'We need to ensure teaching is tailored to individual pupils. 'We would give heads much more power over budgets so they can better reward great teachers and attract specialists.'

Schools Minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry said: 'In 1997, almost half of children left primary school having failed to reach the expected level in both English and maths. 'We now see three quarters of children leaving primary school having reached the expected level in both subjects.'


Careless British abortionists kill healthy black girl

A girl of 15 died five days after an abortion because of a blunder at her clinic, an inquest heard yesterday. Alesha Thomas was supposed to have been given antibiotics to combat infection after the procedure. But she never received the medication and was struck down by a heart attack caused by a bacterial toxin.

The sexual health organisation Marie Stopes International, which ran the clinic, was strongly criticised by the coroner for procedural failings. He warned it could face legal action. Due to inefficient practices at the clinic it was not uncommon for patients to leave without being given their prescribed medication, the inquest heard.

Alesha was a 'healthy and fit adolescent' who confided in her mother Rose Bent that she was pregnant in June 2007, Huddersfield Coroner's Court heard. After discussing her options, they chose an abortion at the Marie Stopes International clinic in Leeds. Two weeks later, when Alesha was just over 15 weeks into the pregnancy, the 25-minute procedure was performed successfully by gynaecologist Dr Peter Paku.

An hour and 20 minutes after the operation the doctor issued an electronic prescription for Alesha to be given the antibiotic Doxycycline to prevent infection. But the doctor did not realise Alesha had been discharged 45 minutes after the operation and was no longer at the clinic. The inquest heard there was no system which meant nurses would re-check a patient's notes when they were being discharged to make sure instructions had been followed.

Dr Paku said patients leaving without their medication was a regular problem at the family planning clinic. 'It has happened many times. Prescriptions would be forgotten many times and we would have to make arrangements,' he said.

Three days after the operation, Alesha's concerned mother called the clinic's helpline, a call centre based in Manchester, and told a nurse that her daughter was suffering stomach cramps and heavy bleeding. The nurse advised she give her daughter Ibuprofen. She spoke to a nurse at the clinic again, who said her daughter's tests for the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia had come back positive. The nurse advised her to ring her GP for antibiotics. It does not appear that any of the nurses ever referred to Alesha's online notes - which would have highlighted the earlier failure to take antibiotics.

Five days after the abortion Alesha, from Huddersfield, became extremely ill. She could not move her legs, had glazed eyes and was unresponsive. She was taken to hospital but had a heart attack on the way to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary on July 11. The bacterial infection toxic shock syndrome was responsible for the heart attack, the inquest was told.

Recording a narrative verdict Coroner Roger Whittaker said if she had taken the drugs prescribed to her 'the balance of probability suggests she would have been more able to survive than die'. The coroner told the court he would be writing to Marie Stopes International in the hope it might develop better systems to prevent patients leaving without their medication.

A spokesman for Marie Stopes International said its staff were 'deeply saddened' by Alesha's death. 'We will look closely at the coroner's comments and take further steps, as appropriate, to address any areas of concern that have been identified,' the spokesman added.


UK: Mental services ’shut to elderly’

Older people are often denied access to the full range of mental health services available to younger adults, a watchdog has found. At four out of six mental health trusts examined in England decisions were based as much on age as clinical need, the Healthcare Commission found. Out-of-hours, alcohol and crisis services, and psychological therapies were often unavailable to the over 65s. A body representing trusts said new policies would benefit older patients.

Healthcare Commission chief executive Anna Walker called the findings "unacceptable".

The research showed that older people were often prevented from accessing care because of stretched services or a lack of age-appropriate care. Some staff said patient groups considered to be of high risk to the public or where government targets were applicable were often prioritised, leaving older people's services lagging behind with little funding.

Ms Walker said: "Trusts are not always providing appropriate mental health services to the over 65s. "It is truly unacceptable that out of hours and crisis services were often not available to older people. "There needs to be a fundamental shift towards providing care based on a person's clinical need rather than their age. "Considering a quarter of admissions to mental health inpatient services are over 65, this issue needs urgent attention."

Kate Jopling of Help the Aged said: "It's shocking to think that, despite the need, older people are routinely being denied treatment for mental health services. "The date on a birth certificate should not be the measure of whether or not someone receives the help they need for a mental health problem."

And Gordon Lishman of Age Concern said the services that did exist for older people were often chronically under funded and are not of the same quality to those offered to adults of working age. He said the situation was scandalous and urged the government to use laws to stamp out age discrimination.

Care Services Minister Phil Hope said any unfair discrimination against older people was unacceptable. "We are taking action and we expect NHS trusts to make improvements."

Steve Shrubb, director of the mental health network which represents the majority of mental health trusts said: "We have some of the best mental health services in Europe yet it is clear that there are still improvements to be made to mental health services especially to ensure that older people get access to the correct care when they need it." He said new policies, such as quality accounts, would put the needs of patients into sharper focus.

Meanwhile, a second study from the Commission of all 68 NHS specialist community mental health trusts in England, found that almost half of under 65s needing specialist mental healthcare still do not have an out-of-hours number if they are in a crisis. Half of people with schizophrenia have not been offered recommended psychological therapies, it suggested.


Bogus colleges are 'Achilles Heel' of immigration system, says British government minister

Tougher requirements for overseas students seeking to study in Britain

Bogus colleges that help illegal immigrants slip in to Britain are the "Achilles Heel" in the immigration system, Home Office minister Phil Woolas has admitted.

The immigration minister said fake colleges and language schools are the "biggest loophole" in the system as figures showed almost one in four applying to sponsor students under new rules are potentially bogus. Hundreds of colleges were barred from taking in foreign students under the new points-based system.

But ministers have softened their stance on foreign students having to show they can financially support themselves while here. Initial proposals would have meant they had to demonstrate they had enough money for a year but that has now been cut to nine months.

Mr Woolas said: "In my estimation abuse of the student visa has been the biggest abuse of the system, the major loophole in Britain's border controls. "I believe that the new system will benefit major institutions, colleges and private universities, but the backstreet bogus college is being exposed."

New visa rules, that began yesterday, mean international students need to be accepted by genuine institutions before they can come here. Officials estimate up to 2,000 "bogus" colleges will be forced to close because of the changes. All colleges and universities who want to take foreign students now have to register with the Home Office. Of the 5,000 thought to take foreign students only 2,100 have so far applied to have their credentials checked. And of those 460 have been rejected.

Frank Field MP co-chairman of the Cross Party Group on Balanced Migration, said: "This is a worrying but not totally astonishing revelation. While Ministers are right to tighten the immigration system, this uncovers the shambles that they have allowed to develop – a huge number of dodgy colleges, some of which are simply designed to get round immigration controls."

His co-chairman Nicholas Soames MP added: "Given there are nearly a quarter of a million non-EU students in British higher education institutions, the question this poses is 'how many are here under false pretences?' Ministers need to answer that question now in Parliament."

Dr Sharon Bolton, head of international student support at Imperial, said she was concerned about bureaucracy in the new system. The 17-page application form for existing students to renew their visas was now 55 pages long, she said.

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, said: "These new measures make sure people who come here to study - and the people who teach them - play by the rules. "This new tier of the points based system allows us to know exactly who is coming to the UK to study and crack down on bogus colleges. "I have made it clear that I will not tolerate either the fraudulent applicants trying to abuse Britain's immigration rules, or the dodgy colleges that facilitate them. However Britain will always welcome legitimate students who are coming here to receive a first-rate education."


Botox 'helps us be happy' by stopping the face from frowning

What extraordinary nonsense! For a start, how could they get statistical significance out of such a small sample? And the fact that Botox users might be different to start with seems to have been ignored

It is known for smoothing away the ravages of time. But Botox may also put a smile on your face. By stopping the face from frowning, Botox makes patients feel happier, a study suggests. Researchers believe our expressions affect our mood. So the wrinkling of the brow when annoyed reinforces our irritation. Botox paralyses the muscles we use to frown - leaving no option but to feel better.

Cardiff University psychologists looked at the effect of cosmetic treatments on the mood of 25 volunteers. Some had Botox to smooth their furrowed foreheads, others had laser surgery, cosmetic peels and other treatments designed to make them appear younger.

Both groups believed their treatment to be equally effective - but those given Botox were much happier. They were less anxious, irritable or depressed, the British Psychological Society's annual conference will hear today.

Researcher Michael Lewis said the mood differences between the groups was too great to be explained by the Botox patients being happier in general and was most likely to be a side-effect of Botox. Dr Lewis said: 'When you make an expression of happiness, it makes us feel happy. If we frown, it makes us feel sadder.' He said the research may help develop treatments for depressive illnesses.

Nigel Mercer, president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, said while Botox could possibly raise mood it would not be right to tell patients they would feel happier after treatment.


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