Thursday, May 21, 2009

Why is the NHS killing so many with drugs?

An extraordinary rise in the number of patients killed by drugs given out by the Health Service has led to calls for an investigation. The figure has more than doubled since Labour came to power, rising from 520 in 1998 to 1,299 last year. Official figures also show that the number of such deaths last year was up by more than a quarter on the figure of 1,030 recorded in 2007.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb, who obtained the statistics following a parliamentary question, said: 'The Government needs to urgently investigate this extraordinary rise. 'The public needs to know why these adverse reactions are happening more frequently and why the trend appears to be increasing so much. 'Patient safety is being compromised. Ministers must ensure that better information on prescription drugs is available for patients and doctors.'

Some experts blamed the increase on failures in the training of hospital doctors and Labour's decision to hand greater prescribing powers to nurses.

The figures show that in 2008, a total of 25,424 reports of adverse reactions to drugs - both fatal and non-fatal - were made to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the government organisation in charge of drug safety. They were up by 17 per cent on 2007 and by 41 per cent in a decade. Of these patients, 4,487 had to stay in hospital for several days following side effects from medication - around the same as in 2007 but up by more than 50 per cent on 1998. The figures mainly cover drugs handed out on prescription, but they also relate to over-the-counter and herbal medicines.

Peter Walsh, of pressure group Action Against Medical Accidents, said: 'There are far too many complications resulting in harm or death. These numbers must be reduced, and it must be in the gift of a modern NHS to get them down. 'The true figure will undoubtedly be much higher, because not all incidents are reported [by hospitals and GPs]. And in many cases doctors simply do not know what caused a sudden deterioration or a death - the drugs or another cause. 'Problems with medicines are one of the biggest patient safety issues faced by the NHS.'

Mr Walsh said better reporting of adverse reactions could be the reason behind some of the rise. But there was also the problem of new drugs, and complicated therapies that include combinations of drugs. These 'cutting-edge' treatments often have unknown side effects. Adverse reactions can also occur where doctors do not know what other drugs a patient is taking, or about allergic reactions they suffer from. Errors in identifying patients - with drugs being given to the wrong patient - and in dosages, also cause numerous deaths, he said.

The Daily Mail revealed in January that the number of patients killed by hospital blunders has soared by 60 per cent in only two years. Official records show that 3,645 died as a result of outbreaks of infections, botched operations and other mistakes in 2007/2008, up from 2,275 two years before.

Critics say that the quality of NHS care has suffered as doctors and nurses come under pressure to meet Government waiting time targets. A spokesman for the MHRA said a number of factors are thought to have played a role in the rise in fatal adverse drug reactions including changes in pharmaceutical companies' reporting of the reactions and increased prescribing of drugs. 'It is not possible to pick out one single factor influencing this trend,' she added.


British Mother banned from breastfeeding at poolside 'breached food and drink rules'

But publicity works its usual wonders. Unrepentant authorities suddenly go into reverse

A mother was told to stop breastfeeding because she was contravening a leisure centre's poolside food and drink ban. Laura Whotton began feeding her three-month-old son Joshua after they had a swim together, because he was hungry and starting to cry. Both had towels draped around them as they sat on a bench by the poolside. But a male lifeguard spotted them and marched over to question Mrs Whotton.

The mother of two said she had taken care to cover up and he had to ask her: 'Are you breastfeeding?' She was then told: 'You are in a public area, you can't breastfeed because there are children here.' The shocked mother explained she was entitled to 'by law' and told him she was not indecent and not offending anyone. She was offered a 'private room' to breastfeed Joshua but refused because she was keeping an eye on her four-year-old son Thomas, who was swimming in a nearby toddler's pool. When the lifeguard refused to back down, she decided to leave the leisure centre.

Mrs Whotton, 26, of Carrington in Nottingham, said: 'I felt really angry at being treated like that. 'I wasn't embarrassed because I didn't have anything on show. People in bikinis were showing more skin and breast than I was. 'It's the most natural thing in the world - and I was made to feel like I was doing something terrible. 'I've fed my baby on the bus and on a tram and in McDonald's. If he needs feeding I will do it.'

The incident happened on a Saturday afternoon earlier this month at the John Carroll Leisure Centre in Nottingham. Mrs Whotton, who is married to Craig, 26, a hire car driver, lodged a complaint with Nottingham City Council.

A spokesman for the local authority said: 'The council's policy is to enable mothers to breastfeed in all council centres, including leisure centres.
The only exception to this rule at leisure centres is in the swimming pool and surrounding area, where, in the interests of safety and hygiene, there is a policy of no food or drink. This rule also covers breastfeeding, as it would the bottle feeding of a baby.'

Now the council has given her a 'full and open apology' and has 'reviewed and amended' its breastfeeding policy. Operations manager Lee Kimberley told her the lifeguard at the pool was 'acting in accordance-with current policy'. But he added: 'The manner in which it was done was not appropriate.'

Breastfeeding mothers are to get extra legal protection by the Equality Bill, which will become law next year if passed by Parliament. This will give them the right to breastfeed a child in any public place and protect them from being forced out of cafes and shops. It is being introduced after campaigners argued the rights were not clearly outlined or properly enforced under existing law.


Britain's antisemitic cultural Left at work

A row threatened to engulf the Edinburgh International Film Festival yesterday after it bowed to pressure from the director Ken Loach and returned a £300 grant it had received from the Israeli Embassy.

Sir Jeremy Isaacs, the former chief executive of Channel Four, accused the festival’s organisers of making “an appalling decision” and called on them to rescind it. Describing Loach’s intervention as an act of censorship, he said: “They must not allow someone who has no real position, no rock to stand on, to interfere with their programming.” The grant was intended to enable Tali Shalom Ezer, a graduate of Tel Aviv University, to travel to Scotland for a screening of her film, Surrogate.

After days of protest against the award from pro-Palestinian organisations, Loach, an outspoken opponent of Israel’s policies in Lebanon and Gaza, urged filmgoers on Monday to boycott Edinburgh. “The massacres and state terrorism in Gaza make this money unacceptable,” he said. “With regret, I must urge all who might consider visiting the festival to show their support for the Palestinian nation and stay away.”

The intervention brought an immediate capitulation from the organisers. In a statement the festival said it accepted that Loach spoke “on behalf of the film community, therefore we will be returning the funding issued by the Israeli Embassy”.

Sir Jeremy said that he was disgusted both by Loach’s actions and by the capitulation of the festival organisers. “Ken Loach has always been critical of censorship of his own work, albeit it was many years in the past. The idea that he should lend himself to the denial of a film-maker’s right to show her work is absolutely appalling,” he said. He was “equally horrified” that festival organisers should accept that Loach was speaking on behalf of all British film-makers.

Sir Jeremy worked closely with Loach in the 1980s when, as chief executive of Channel Four, he commissioned a number of controversial documentaries from him. One, A Question of Leadership, was made in 1981 but never broadcast, leading to accusations of political censorship from Loach. The irony of the director’s present position was all the more obvious, given the spirit of the Edinburgh festival, Sir Jeremy said. “It must be good for cinemagoers at an international film festival to see films by Jews, Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, to the benefit of all,” he said. “I have admired the Edinburgh International Film Festival for many years and would like to think that this appalling decision will be rescinded.”

Loach’s acclaimed new film Looking for Eric has made him the toast of the Cannes Film Festival. It is, uncharacteristically, a comedy, although its lead character is an authentic Loach creation — a Mancunian postman who goes off in search of his idol, the footballer Eric Cantona.

Ezer’s film makes no reference to war or politics. It is a romance set in a sex-therapy clinic. It won the audience award at an international women’s film festival in Israel recently.

Lord Janner of Braunstone, a Labour peer and former chairman of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said that he was disappointed by the festival’s decision. “By banning the Israeli Embassy from supporting a film-maker the festival is helping to exclude Israelis from British cultural life, something that is clearly unfair.”

Last night a spokesman for the EIFF said that although it had returned £300 to the Israeli Embassy, the festival itself would fund Ms Shalom-Ezer’s travel to Edinburgh out of its own budget.


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