Sunday, August 09, 2009

Britain: Careless NHS diagnosis kills little girl

The medics just leapt to the false conclusion that she had swine flu without examining her. If she had been given antibiotics she would probably have survived. Constant pressure from the parents was of no avail. They COULD not get her proper attention, despite many tries. They even suggested the correct diagnosis but were ignored. Isn't government healthcare grand?

A girl of two died of suspected meningitis after being twice misdiagnosed with swine flu. Georgia Keeling's parents were repeatedly told she did not need to go to hospital and instead of urgent medical treatment the toddler was given Tamiflu and paracetamol. The case will add to concerns that health professionals are increasingly dismissing the signs of serious illness as swine flu symptoms.

Georgia's father Paul Sewell, 21, and mother Tasha Keeling, 22, are devastated at the loss of their daughter on Tuesday and claim medics diagnosed her before they even looked at her.

Her family contacted branches of health service five times. They called her local health centre, the swine flu helpline, NHS Direct, the emergency service and a paramedic. On two of these occasions, they were told she had swine flu. They also insist they told medical professionals they feared that Georgia had meningitis.

'I don't feel the paramedics did their job properly,' said salesman Mr Sewell, of West Earlham, Norwich. 'Georgia wasn't given a chance. They had diagnosed her before even looking at her and came out ready to give her Tamiflu. I just want to know how come they didn't take her into hospital straight away. You could see she was really ill.'

There are believed to be scores of people who have been diagnosed with swine flu while suffering from another serious illnesses, although Georgia is believed to be the first death after such a mistake.

She developed a slight temperature last Saturday. On Monday night she was sick and came out in a rash. At 9am on Tuesday morning her aunt Sami Keeling, 21, called West Earlham Health Centre to try to get an appointment. She was told the surgery was booked until Thursday, but the operator said it sounded like the girl had swine flu, so the family should call the swine flu helpline. An adviser on the helpline said Georgia had only one of the symptoms of swine flu and told her aunt to call NHS Direct. NHS Direct said she should go to hospital if her temperature hit 40C (104F).

It hadn't at this point. But within an hour Georgia's condition had got worse and bruising developed where the rash was. Her mother called 999 and a paramedic arrived at the family home. The family say the medic told them an ambulance that was on its way would be sent back because it was believed Georgia had swine flu. The medic dismissed her parents' fears she had meningitis.

Mrs Keeling was given Calpol - a children's medicine containing paracetamol - and the anti-viral drug Tamiflu and told to put Georgia to bed. But an hour later Mrs Keeling, who has two other children - Charleigh, three, and Jack, five - saw Georgia's eyes glazing over. She called an ambulance and Georgia was taken to Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. She was pronounced dead at 5pm.

The case comes only days after the Meningitis Trust urged parents not to confuse the signs of meningitis with that of swine flu. 'This is the sort of thing that we wanted to avoid,' spokesman Harriet Penning said. 'It is very hard for a parent to stand up to a medical practitioner and refuse to accept their diagnosis.'

Michael Summers of the Patients' Association said: 'We must not get carried away with the belief that all these symptoms are down to swine flu.'

Earlier this week the Mail told how a poll in GP magazine revealed that doctors were concerned that phone assessments could see cases of tonsillitis, bronchitis, pneumonia and even meningitis go undetected. Dr Linda Sheridan, of NHS East of England, which will be leading the investigation into Georgia's death, said: 'We are determined to find out exactly what happened.'


In education, elitism is not a dirty word

Britain has an education policy predicated upon the same prejudices as the Hunting Act

"Education, education, education" was the priority defined by Tony Blair at the outset of New Labour government. Today, 12 years into that experience, the state of British education testifies to the consequences of the politicisation of the learning process, and the imposition of an ideology that regards schools and universities primarily as instruments of social engineering and only secondarily as diffusers of knowledge. Yet this destructive campaign, so far from retreating in the face of its demonstrable failure, is accelerating.

Last week, several developments highlighted the state's continuing assault on academic standards, and the opposition it is provoking. First, Ofqual, the examinations regulator, confirmed that it will defer to the Government's breakneck timetable and press on with the introduction of the new "fourth phase" academic diplomas, despite the fact – as revealed by this newspaper last April – that every exam board in the country has urged that this half-baked project be delayed. This was a virility test for Ofqual: it failed. It now seems likely that OCR, the exam board owned by Cambridge University, will withdraw from the diploma system, which it has described as "nothing more than a poor man's A-level or GCSE".

Also last week, Lord Mandelson made a speech in which he returned to the tired old mantra of "widening access" to Britain's leading universities. This coincides with a report today from the House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee that went further than ever before in demanding the social engineering of university admissions. This agenda was first set by Gordon Brown in 2000, with his ill-informed intrusion into the Laura Spence affair. It is a recipe for disaster. Vice chancellors have strained every sinew to recruit disadvantaged students, providing remedial education to help them, to no avail.

This, of course, is because the problem lies not in the universities, but in the state-school system. Because of the failure of the "bog-standard comprehensives", to use a phrase coined by Alastair Campbell, the percentage of state-school students at Cambridge is lower than in 1980. Within the high-flying Russell Group of universities, the intake from independent schools is hugely disproportionate and, among state-school students, England's 164 surviving grammar [selective] schools are similarly over-represented.

What, then, to do? Yes, we could pack the universities with poorly performing students in the name of "fairness". Yet Britain's leading universities have evolved over centuries to world-class standards. To vandalise that national asset would be a mortal blow, leaving us hopelessly uncompetitive. Elitism is not a dirty word: it is the precondition for meritocracy. Lord Mandelson knows that; but he is playing pre-election politics.

The Government's overriding concern should not be those few institutions that are succeeding, but the many that are not. Instead, we have an education policy predicated upon the same prejudices as the Hunting Act. A future Tory government must not be inhibited by self-consciousness about its leaders' Bullingdon [Oxford club] background. It must implement reforms that rebuild the ladder of opportunity for gifted students from poor backgrounds, and so secure Britain's place in a globalised, highly skilled and meritocratic world.


British Government Pays Lobbyists to Lobby It on Climate Change

More proof that government does things better! In traditional “astroturfing,” a company would pay a PR firm to set up a fake grassroots organization aimed at promoting or fending off legislation that would affect the company. Her Majesty’s Government in the UK, however, has decided to take this a step further and fund groups that lobby it, thereby creating a groundswell of public opinion in favor of its legislation. According to a new report by the Taxpayers Alliance, it is doing this, on the issue of global warming alone, to the tune of $12 million a year*. As Matt Sinclair says:
With the government funding political campaigns as well, the voice of the public is diluted still further. Popular pressure is crowded out by well-funded professional campaigns, but those campaigns don’t even represent an actual economic interest. Instead, those campaigns represent the views of politicians and officials and allow them to push their ideological preoccupations to prominence in the public discourse. Green campaigns like the Sustainable Development Commission and the New Economics Foundation loom large in the public debate and make it easier for politicians to justify – to themselves, the media and the public – ever more draconian attempts to force cuts in emissions.

It is important that Americans understand how disconnected policy in Britain is from the preferences and priorities of the public. British politicians like to strut around on the world stage boasting about the radical action that the country is taking, for example, how we lead the world in setting carbon reduction targets. They hope that the U.S. won’t want to let the side down and can be pressured into embracing similar policies to ours. The European example might not quite have the same appeal if Americans understood that Britain is putting in place green policies not because of popular pressure but in order to satisfy a government-funded lobby. Ordinary people pay the price in the form of higher electricity bills, prices at the pump and fares for their airline tickets.

Political contempt for taxpayers and the electorate is running at record levels on both sides of the Atlantic, it seems.

*Note that this figure is above what the “well-funded” anti-alarmism groups probably spend in total on the issue even in the US, and probably globally.


Why 'meddling' women in the boardroom can wreck a company's performance

Too many cooks spoil the broth, apparently

Employing more women in the boardroom can wreak havoc on the financial performance of companies, fresh research suggests. Two academics found that female directors were more likely to 'meddle' with boards and get rid of male chief executives who are not up to the job. However, their more ruthless approach could produce unexpected results and be 'bad for a company's coffers', the study found.

The research, published in the Journal of Financial Economics, found that having more women in the boardroom could have a 'negative effect on financial performance'. On average, it found that firms with proportionally more women on their boards are less profitable and have a lower market value.

It comes at a time when businesses are under pressure to recruit more women and people from ethnic minorities in a bid to break the dominance of middle-class men in the boardroom. Despite this, women still hold less than 12 per cent of directorships in FTSE 100 companies.

The study of nearly 2,000 companies between 1996 and 2003 concluded that boards with more women were better at tasks such as 'executive supervision and monitoring'. Women also had a better record of attending board meetings, which appeared to have a beneficial 'knock-on effect' on their male counterparts. However, it found that while female traits often helped badly-run companies, they could have a negative effect on those that were well-governed.

Daniel Ferreira, of the London School of Economics, who compiled the research with Renee Adams of the University of Queensland, said: 'This is a complicated picture. 'Our research shows that women directors are doing their jobs very well. 'But a tough board, with more monitoring, may not always be a good thing.

'Women behave more like independent directors - they are less likely to move in the same social circles as the chief executive or play golf together and so they are going to be tougher. 'Having women on the board makes the board tougher on monitoring chief executives, but that doesn't necessarily translate into better profitability and stock market performance. 'Indeed, we see that increased monitoring can be counter-productive in well-governed companies.'

Dr Ferreira also said he doubted whether having more women directors could have prevented the banking crisis. While they were likely to have been tougher on chief executives after performance had fallen, he said it was 'difficult to say' whether they would have prevented the problems in the first place.

He said meddling with boards could result in a loss of trust and a lack of information-sharing, which could reduce profitability.

The research appears to contradict earlier studies which have shown that companies with a higher number of female directors significantly outperformed other businesses. Research published two years ago by Catalyst, an organisation that aims to bolster business opportunities for women, uncovered significant gaps in three key financial areas between companies with the highest percentages of female directors and those with the lowest. [So they found what they aimed to find. How unsurprising]

Dr Ferreira said the research was not intended to send the message that 'we need less women on boards'. 'A board is not, after all, exclusively directed towards profit,' he said. 'However, we can see that when you meddle with boards there may be unintended consequences. 'This is particularly important to bear in mind when companies are under increasing pressure to change the composition of their boards.'


The REAL gender gap scandal: Why boys are now the true victims of discrimination

As one of six daughters growing up in the Seventies, girls were so little prized compared with boys that a friend of my father even expressed his sympathy rather than congratulations when my youngest sister, a perfectly healthy child, was born. Can you imagine that happening now? I rather doubt it. In an almost complete reversal of attitudes, today's parents long for girls.

As the mother of an only child, a son, I do not think I am exaggerating in saying that I detected something akin to sympathy when we announced that we had a boy. People may be more tactful these days, but there were expressions of regret that we would not be able to buy 'all those pretty pink baby clothes', and at least one close relative who sighed: 'I always thought you'd have a girl.'

At the heart of this new preference lies the fact that all parents want their children to succeed in life - and quite simply, in today's Britain, girls are more likely so to do. Building on a trend that began more than a decade ago, girls are outperforming boys at every level in education. They get more and better GCSEs and A-levels, win more places at top universities and gain better degrees.

Although poor attainment is concentrated in the lower income groups, the gender gap persists to the detriment of boys across all social classes and ethnic groups. And as this week's dismal primary school test results reveal, boys are sinking farther and farther behind. A depressing 40 per cent of boys will begin secondary school unable to write fluently and correctly, compared with 25 per cent of girls. How can this be happening?

It is to our shame that the reasons for boys' underachievement are so well researched and documented that they are no longer regarded as controversial, even among the education establishment. And yet still the reasons persist.

Boys' educational achievement began to lag behind girls from the late Eighties - around the time GCSEs replaced O-levels. There were warnings that the new qualification, with its emphasis on course work rather than final exams, would favour girls - and so it has proved. Teenage girls tend to be more conscientious and dedicated to long-term projects, while boys are better at cramming and thrive in the adrenaline-fuelled arena of the exam.

If any doubt remained, it was cast aside in a study published in June by the prestigious Higher Education Policy Institute. It cited the GCSE as the 'most likely cause' of the gender equality gap in higher education. The report cites the style of teaching, content and questions at GCSE, which trigger an educational disadvantage among boys compared to girls, which lingers through to A-levels and beyond.

Those results have an inevitable impact on further education. Girls have all but reached the government target of 50 per cent going on from school to study for a degree, while boys are way behind at 38 per cent.

Answering counter-claims that the introduction of GCSE and the continued relatively poor performance of boys is just a coincidence, the study points out that in research by the Organisation For Economic Co-operation And Development, where more than 13,000 15-year-olds sat what might be termed 'traditional' tests, girls scored better in reading, while boys achieved more correct answers in maths and science. When the same pupils sat GCSEs, however, the girls did better in all subjects.

'I think GCSEs look as if they are to blame,' argued the institute's director, Bahram Bekhradnia. 'And if there is a suggestion that the nature of GCSEs is putting boys at a disadvantage and meaning that they do less well in school, then that needs to be dealt with, because these kids are missing out.' But it has not been dealt with, and neither has the other crucial factor which helps convince many boys - long before GCSEs loom - that study is not for them. It is the near total absence of male teachers in primary schools.

One in four primaries in England has not a single man on the staff, although there is little disagreement among educationists that male primary teachers can have a powerful and positive impact on children, particularly boys. Boys benefit from a male teacher reading and writing with them. In a poll carried out last year for the Training And Development Agency For Schools, more than a third of boys said they felt that having a male primary teacher challenged them to work harder at school. Around half said they were more likely to have asked a male teacher for help over bullying or problems with school work.

Another large-scale study, carried out for the Government by academics at Cambridge University, identified the need for male role models, not only as teachers, but as visiting speakers and volunteers in school. Without them, too many boys reject learning as 'for sissies' and 'uncool'. It is a situation that the national body responsible for training teachers - the Training And Development Agency For Schools - says it is working hard to remedy. Yet the number of male applicants for primary school training remains at a pitifully low 15 per cent.

Experienced teachers will privately admit that the predominance of women is influencing teaching styles to the detriment of boys. Take English, where teachers will quite naturally opt for texts they themselves have enjoyed. In some instances, these will be a complete turn-off for the boys in the class.

In one research experiment, children completed two comprehension tests, reading extracts and answering questions. The passages were very different: one a description of a spider, the other a piece about the feelings of a child forced to flee war-torn Europe. The boys scored better with the spider, the girls with the child refugee. The fact is that boys are not captivated by stories about relationships and emotions. Like many mothers, I learned this lesson from my son, Tony, who glazed over with boredom when I tried reading aloud The Velveteen Rabbit, a childhood favourite of mine that can still move me to tears. He prefers humour - the more lavatorial the better - and adventure.

Of course, good schools understand and are sensitive to boys' tastes in books. At our village primary, Tony has reached the required grade in English a year early, but I know from friends - some of whose children are being taught in private schools - that this is not always the case.

Yes, it is true that boys and girls have always developed at different rates: little girls start school with a natural advantage in speech and in what the experts call the 'fine motor movements', crucial in holding a pen.

But where in the past it was recognised that boys completely catch up by the final years of primary school, and put on an intellectual spurt in late adolescence that places them on a par with girls, too often these days the initial disadvantage becomes permanent.

All schools - state and private - now concentrate on results from the earliest stages of education. So boys who start slowly can be left behind in classes that are pushing ahead to get the most from the best pupils, mainly the girls. Where once small boys might have been encouraged to play in the early years, these days they can be forced to join in lessons completely beyond them.

A neighbour whose six-year-old was at a private school and unable to read was astonished to find him being sent home to study complex spellings which would be later tested in class. When she complained, she was told that there were girls who could manage them easily, and if her son could not keep up, she should move him to a different school.

Boys also suffer in today’s results-driven classrooms because of their sheer physical energy. Many have to burn off great natural reserves of energy before they can settle down to anything quiet - be it study or sleep.

As a new mother, it came as a huge shock to me when Tony wailed to be out of his pram as soon as he could walk. As a toddler, he demanded to go to the park in all weathers. Without exercise he would be hurling himself off the sofas at the end of the day. We used to joke that, like a labrador, he must be walked or he would chew the furniture.

In many homes, a little boy’s need for exercise is regarded as, at best, a nuisance and, at worst, an illness called ‘hyperactivity’ to be ‘cured’ with drugs which act as a chemical cosh. In schools, these needs often simply cannot be met because playing fields have been sold off and playgrounds are too small to accommodate games of football, rugby or cricket.

And as the mother of a son, I fervently believe that underlying every factor contributing to boys’ underachievement in education is a collective failure to understand, recognise and value the qualities that are distinctly male. As Michael Gurian - a therapist and author who has pioneered efforts to use brain research to understand the social and emotional needs of children - puts it, a generation of boys has been failed by us all.

‘We have been in the decade of the girl,’ says Gurian, whose new book, The Purpose Of Boys, was published in June. ‘Communities, families and schools have focused on studying, understanding and valuing what girls need in the new millennium. But in doing that, they failed to give boys any direction in life. ‘As an advocate for boys, I see a world in which boys are asking us every day, and mainly through their actions: “What is the purpose of boys?” And for the most part, our culture is answering: “We don’t know.” ’

In the days when all young men might have been called on to fight, it was easy to answer the question: ‘What are boys for?’ Boys were for courage and honour; for protecting the weak against the strong.

I will never forget the letter a close friend shared with me. It was sent to her husband while he was serving in World War II, preparing for the D-Day landings, and was from his father. ‘Son, I am proud of you,’ it reads. ‘Always be brave and true.’ Later in the same note there is advice on how to behave with women: ‘Never forget your own dear sister, and try to treat women as you would like her to be treated.’

Today, such values may seem ‘old-fashioned' and ‘out of touch’. But when I see my son play-fighting with his friends, I can detect the willingness to brush off hurts, the good humour and, when much smaller boys are playing, the protectiveness that demonstrates all the best of the difference in men. They have always been a part of the male character - and they always will be.

As mothers, it is surely to our shame that we do not sit and laugh together and appreciate our boys in the way we praise the quiet, cooperative play of our girls. Imagine for a moment the outcry that would follow - from parents, politicians, the teaching unions - if girls began to lag behind boys in school. Yet there is a widespread silence on the very real problem of boys’ underachievement, as though by raising it we are somehow anti-women. Some education specialists even ask if it matters - as though boys’ failure is the natural downside to women’s greater success; as if the current situation represents some kind of natural order where women must go beyond equality and always come out on top.

Of course it matters, just as it mattered 30 years ago when fewer girls than boys made it to university. It matters because it is unjust, and it matters because it is a shameful waste of talent and one that we can ill-afford.

As someone who has benefitted enormously from the women’s movement, I deplore the prospect of a generation of disadvantaged young men failing to reach their true potential and missing out on university and the chances it brings. We all gain from a better educated population - in greater prosperity, better health, better relationships, better child-rearing. We should all be worried by the prospect of an army of undereducated and alienated men. And if we continue to ignore the yawning gender achievement gap in our schools, then we will all suffer as a result.


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