Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Europe's 48-hour working week will be 'catastrophic' for patients, says UK's top surgeon

Patients’ lives will be put at risk and hospitals forced to close because of new European rules which limit doctors’ working hours, according to the country’s top surgeon. John Black, president of The Royal College of Surgeons, has warned of an impending ‘catastrophe’ in the NHS if all doctors are forced to comply with a directive which limits them to working a 48-hour week.

Most doctors – and particularly those still in training – work considerably longer than 48 hours and Mr Black says restricting their working week will lead to a ‘shortage of surgeons’, with not enough staff to keep hospitals open. He said it is ‘not an exaggeration’ to say that the new rules, which come into force on August 1, will lead to operations being cancelled and wards closed down. He said patients’ lives are already being endangered as doctors’ hours are driven down in advance of the legislation taking effect.

He believes that there is a ‘scandalous lack of political will’ to address the problems. Writing in The Mail on Sunday tomorrow Mr Black says: ‘Unless the Government comes to its senses, the result will be catastrophic for the NHS with patient safety on a knife edge, surgeons not being properly trained, waiting lists going up again and even hospitals closing. ‘We have already reached the point where patients’ health has been endangered.

'There is a serious risk of units in hospitals having to close to emergencies, with resulting chaos, not to mention the danger and inconvenience brought about by patients going long distances to a hospital that has enough staff to stay open. 'This is truly a nightmare, and I despair that the Government will not take action.’

Hospitals have been told they face steep financial penalties for failing to comply with the new regulations. The European Working Time Directive, drawn up by Brussels, is designed to limit the working hours of all employees in the EU to an average of 48 hours a week. It has applied to most employees since 1988 with the exception of doctors in training. In August 2007 junior doctors’ hours were limited to 56, which will be reduced to 48 on August 1 this year. Many EU countries are ignoring the directive, while the UK has been working towards implementing it for ten years.

Mr Black said junior doctors will be ‘worse off’ because they will work shorter but busier hours and have less time to train. Trainees will have to spend more time dealing with emergencies, rather than spending time with senior surgeons. Some fear it could lead to a shortage of newly qualified specialists including cardiologists, neurologists, plastic surgeons and obstetricians.

Mr Black adds: ‘Having one doctor where there should be three makes an already difficult job much more difficult. It is chaotic and frankly dangerous.’ He is calling for the Government to agree to junior doctors voluntarily working a 65-hour week but Health Secretary Alan Johnson has described that plan as ‘mission impossible’.

He said the NHS is prepared to comply with the directive by the August deadline. However, he said that Government has notified the European Commission that it plans to operate a ‘derogation’ of the rules in places where there is a shortage of trainee doctors. This will allow them to work a 56-hour week.

A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Everyone’s overriding objectives is the quality and safety of patient care. Where there are problems we will work together with the professions and staff on the ground to implement sustainable solutions.’


Why do my son's books tell him all men are useless?

Sitting on the sofa, with my four-year-old son Billy, I was reading aloud to him from a book by Anthony Browne. He's our favourite male children's author. We love reading together. For one thing, it's about bonding. My son asks me about the world and I try to explain it to him. It's a classic moment between father and son. This particular book is called Gorilla. It's about a girl called Hannah who is obsessed with gorillas and whose father takes no notice of her.

There he is, the awful man, introduced on page two, sitting at the breakfast table, hiding behind his newspaper. His daughter wants to talk to him, but he's not interested. He's there, physically, at the table. But in all other respects, he's absent. 'He didn't have time for anything,' writes the author Browne. On the next page, the father says: 'Not now. I'm busy. Maybe tomorrow.' And as I read this out to my son, he looked puzzled. 'Why?' he asked, gazing up towards me for an answer. 'I don't know,' I said.

Later, I considered my son's question in more detail. And I realised that it wasn't just some dads. It was lots of dads. Why? Why is the dad in Zoo, another book by Browne, about a family trip to the zoo, such an idiot? Not just an idiot, but a grumpy, overweight idiot who tries to make jokes, but is never funny and, what's more, is always on the verge of ruining things for everybody else. He's a greedy slob, just like Homer Simpson. He's more childish than his children, even though he has hair sprouting from his ears. Then there's the dad in Into The Forest, another book by this author. This one's about a dad who goes missing. He is clearly a weakling. He walks out of the family home and goes to stay with his mum.

A recent academic study confirmed that men - particularly fathers - are under-represented in almost all children's books. And when they do appear, like the fathers in Gorilla and Zoo, they are often withdrawn, or obsessed with themselves, or just utterly ineffectual.

Take our favourite female author, Julia Donaldson. I started with her most famous book, The Gruffalo. The Gruffalo is male and he's also a dad. His main characteristic is that he's an idiot. A complete fool. The butt of the book's jokes. He's outsmarted by a mouse. Actually, the mouse outsmarts various other animals, too - a fox, an owl and a snake. They're all male. But we never get to know if the mouse is male or female. The mouse is just a mouse. Again, I thought of my son's question. Why? Why are so many male characters in books such idiots?

I don't think Julia Donaldson is a male-basher. But still, a gentle thread of male idiocy runs through her books. Two of our favourites are The Snail And The Whale and Tiddler. Both are about adventurous young creatures. The snail travels the world on the back of a whale, and is smart and resourceful at every point. Tiddler, a little fish, also has adventures. But this fish is a bit of a dreamer and eventually gets caught up in a trawler net. Tiddler is lucky to escape. Whereas the snail calls the shots and ends up saving the whale's life. And guess what? The snail is female. And Tiddler is, of course, a guy.

As the penny dropped, I looked at all the other books I've been reading to my son. There's The Selfish Crocodile, by Faustin Charles and Michael Terry. It's about a male crocodile who wants everything for himself, thereby ruining the lives of all the other animals in the jungle. And, then, there's Giraffes Can't Dance, in which a giraffe called Gerald tries to dance and looks like a total idiot.

And something else began to strike me as I looked at these stories - the stories I use to introduce my son to the ways of the world. Not only were they full of bad male stereotypes - deadbeat dads, absent fathers, idiots, wimps and fools - but I have been totally colluding with them. It didn't bother me at all. Until I started to think about it, it had seemed normal to me.

What are men like? Dumb. I just accepted it. For instance, in another of our favourites, Benedict Blathwayt's The Runaway Train, the driver is called Duffy. And what does he do? He gets out of the train, forgetting to put the brake on, and the train rolls off without him. A driverless train - what a powerful symbol of male inadequacy! Yet this seems quite normal. We sit on the sofa and laugh.

'Why does Duffy forget the brake?' my son asked me. Why? Stories require fall-guys. They need some people to be malign or foolish or weak. And it just so happens that these people, in these stories, are male. It just so happens that it wouldn't seem right, to me, if these malign, foolish or weak people were female. Somehow, they have to be male. And symbols of male inadequacy are so deeply embedded in other parts of our culture. So much so, in fact, that nobody notices it any more.

For years, I've laughed at hopeless Homer Simpson and his dangerous son Bart, and the attempts of the female characters in the family to clean up after them. For years I've accepted that Wally, in the Where's Wally? books, is, in fact, a bit of a wally. That's the point of him, surely? And it never mattered to me that the one thing that defines Tinky Winky, the only identifiable male in the Teletubbies, is his general ineffectuality. And it's also never bothered me that Iggle Piggle, in another children's TV programme In The Night Garden, seems like a drunk, and that most of the Mr Men are deeply inadequate.

Why had this never bothered me? Because it's all around us, everywhere we look. For years, men in our stories - not just for children, but adults, too - have been losing their authority. Not just years - decades. It's crept up on us and now it's everywhere. Remember when movie stars were strong and decisive? That was a long time ago now: John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn. Then came a new, softer type - Cary Grant and James Stewart were strong, yes, but against a background of self-doubt. And then came Jack Lemmon, Dustin Hoffman, Woody Allen, Bill Murray, Kevin Spacey - neurotic, bumbling, deeply flawed anti-heroes.

Think of Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. The deadbeat dad, smoking dope in the garage because he can't take the pressure of family life. For a long time now, something has been happening to the way we portray men. And wherever you look, things seem to be getting worse for guys. In a survey of 1,000 TV adverts, made by writer Frederic Hayward, he points out that: '100 per cent of the jerks singled out in male-female relationships were male.'

So does this mean that there is something wrong with the way we portray men? Or - much more seriously - is there some deep trouble with men themselves? I can't bear to have that thought. Can you? Yet that's certainly what our culture seems to be telling us. And it's what certain feminist writers seem to be telling us, too.

Take the American writer Susan Faludi. In her book Stiffed, she says that men have lost something essential to their self-esteem - their role as hunters and frontiersmen. For the past 100 years or so, male qualities, she says, have been getting less and less important. These days, in our safe, modern, information-based society, we don't need the classic male qualities of brute strength and aggression. We don't need people flexing their muscles and jutting their chins out. No, what we need are female qualities, such as empathy and multi-tasking. And this, Faludi suggests, is having a weird effect on lots of men. She writes about gangs of violent male teenagers, and sad, gung-ho sports fans, and the cult of bodybuilding. She says that men feel betrayed by modern society, that men, as a group, are facing a crisis. That men are essentially falling apart.

But is this something I should be telling my son? That men are useless and getting more useless? When I first read Faludi's argument, part of me did not want to accept it. I even wrote an article saying she was wrong. The reason that men were being portrayed as idiots and losers, I said, was because they were strong - and they could take it. You wouldn't mock a woman, as it would be offensive. Men could cope. Men, as a group, were not falling apart. They were fine. Fine, I tell you!

I'm not sure if I believed this argument of mine. But it made me feel good. Anyway, I thought, men can't be falling apart. If they were, surely they would try to do something about it. Surely they would say something. But then I read work by another American writer, Warren Farrell, who made rather a chilling point. When men feel powerless, he said, they don't talk about it. That's because they're men. For men, showing weakness is a no-no. Men have fragile egos, but they are programmed not to talk about it.

Sure, twice as many women are diagnosed with depression as men. But this is partly because lots of men won't admit to being depressed. Often, they try to deal with the situation on their own. By boozing. By brooding. By walking away. By disappearing behind the newspaper at the breakfast table. But is this something I should be explaining to my son? That men, who hunted for millennia while women gathered, are now, slowly but surely, becoming redundant?

Of course, I could read him stories featuring another of his favourites - Bob The Builder. I say his favourite, and not mine, as I don't like Bob much. Bob is so essentially male he might as well be a machine, like Trevor The Tractor. Bob and Trevor have almost no personality - they are automata.


Prominent English cricketer speaks out

Andrew Flintoff may have to apologise for his anti-immigrant outburst to GQ magazine.

The England all-rounder, 31, told GQ magazine: “I have no problems with a multicultural society, I think that is to the benefit of the country. But you have to be careful what levels you take it to. “It annoys me when I phone a hotel receptionist in my own country and they don’t understand what I am saying because they don’t speak English.

“I think that’s wrong, it’s nothing to do with being politically correct or incorrect, it’s just not right.”

Flintoff, who is married to Rachael, 30, and has a daughter Holly, four, and sons Corey, three, and Rocky, one, also put the blame on rising violence on rap music.

“I see Manchester on a Friday night and I would be horrified seeing my daughter going to the bars," Flintoff added. “There are places I wouldn’t go to now. You see these reports of stabbings, bottlings, shootings, and you think: ‘What is happening to this country?’ “I think rap music has a lot to do with it. It makes it sound cool not to conform, and to be violent.

“That’s why I think that sport plays such an important role.”

Flintoff is no stranger to controversy - the Lancashire cricketer was sacked as England vice-captain and also banned for a World Cup game in 2007 for breaching team discipline in the now notorious 'Fredalo' [late-night drunken hijinks] incident in the West Indies.

Flintoff apologised then and he may have to do the same now following this outburst.


There have been plenty of criticisms of the antisocial content of rap music and it irritates many Americans that they have to press "1" for English so it is difficult to see what Flintoff said that is so egregious. But he was of course speaking in authoritarian Britain, where speech about many topics is heavily restricted

Economic crisis shreds climate policies

The Politics of Climate Change conference, organised by Policy Network in association with the Centre for the Study of Global Governance, is to be held at the London School of Economics Friday 5 June. The event’s website states that it “will bring together leaders of the highest rank from the worlds of politics, academia and business” with the aim “to discuss how the present economic crisis can lead to a business revolution in low-carbon industries and how the state can best play an active, incentivising and facilitating role in this process.”

Ahead of the conference, the project leaders Anthony Giddens and Roger Liddle invited conference speakers and delegates to submit a “bold and imaginative answer to the following question:
‘What is the biggest obstacle governments in industrialised economies have to overcome in achieving low-carbon transition and what action should they prioritise.’”

The response of Dr Benny Peiser, a social anthropologist and senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, is interesting:

“The battle over global warming and low-carbon policies will not be decided over scientific issues. It will be determined by governments and law-makers on the basis of hard-nosed national and economic interests. This is where the green utopia for a low-carbon transition in the near future is likely to crash into the buffers.

“As we get closer to the Copenhagen conference, the chances of a global climate agreement are fading rapidly. In fact, the probability of a Kyoto-style treaty with legally binding emissions targets are now close to zero as the gap between the developed and the developing nations has been growing ever wider.

“The global economic crisis has rendered costly climate policies more or less untenable. It has become hugely unpopular among voters who are increasingly hostile to green taxes. The intriguing fact that the global warming trend of the late 20th century appears to have come to a halt has led to growing public scepticism about claims of impending climate catastrophe.

“Carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes have turned into considerable liabilities for political parties and governments alike. A climate revolt among Eastern and central European countries has forced the EU to renounce its unilateral Kyoto-strategy. President Obama’s administration is struggling to push its cap-and-trade bill through the US Senate because senators of his own party, the Blue Dog Democrats, are opposed to proposals they fear as being too costly and too risky.

“Developing nations are demanding financial support to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars (per year) in return for their support of a post-Kyoto climate treaty. In view of the astronomical demands made by China, India and Africa, Western governments and their voters are increasingly reluctant to agree to injurious obligations that risk weakening their economic competitiveness even further.

Perhaps the most critical factor for the growing scepticism in Europe is the vanishing strength of Europe’s centre-left and green parties, whose members were once among the most forceful climate alarmists. Labour and green parties throughout Europe have lost much of their popularity and support. Today, few have remained in positions of power.

“The principles of fairness, technological progress and economic growth used to stand at the heart of social democratic governments. Advancing the interests of poor and disadvantaged members of society was essential to the popular appeal of social democratic and Labour parties. The centre-left have substituted these social democratic ideals for an environmental programme in which the rhetoric of saving the planet has taken priority over the principle of liberating the underprivileged and disadvantaged from poverty and dereliction today.

“In effect, green policies are gradually pricing the working and lower-middle classes out of their comfort zone. Labour parties may sincerely believe that their utopian low-carbon plans will save the planet. But in the process they are destroying the very foundations of their political support and movement.”

SOURCE (See the original for links)

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