Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Four-hour wait for a lifesaving British ambulance trip

They actually keep ambulances out of action for bureaucratic reasons!

Patients with life --threatening conditions are waiting up to four hours for an ambulance. One man with suspected poisoning had to wait three hours 47 minutes for an ambulance to drive less than a mile to treat him. Others suffering from severe breathing difficulties have had to wait two hours for medical help to arrive. Government targets say ambulance trusts should reach such 'category-A' patients within eight minutes in 75 per cent of cases. But the lack of a maximum time means some are waiting hours.

The cases were uncovered in Freedom of Information requests. The figures, from 2007/08, also showed that some 'category-B' patients - those with illnesses that need urgent hospital treatment but are not life-threatening - are waiting as long as nine hours before help arrives, even though trusts are supposed to attend 95 per cent of such calls within 19 minutes.

A patient with severe back pain waited nine hours 11 minutes for paramedics to show up in London. The ambulance trust blamed a lack of vehicles. Many of the slowest responses occurred over the 2007/08 New Year period, when paramedics had to deal with thousands of drunken revellers and an upsurge in flu and breathing problems.

There was massive variation across the country in the slowest response time for a category-A case. In the North West it was just 38 minutes, but in the East Midlands, the longest response took two hours and 34 minutes, and in Wales, three hours 47 minutes - the suspected poisoning case.

Critics blamed the failures on Labour's strict four-hour maximum waiting time for hospital accident and emergency units. As this is only counted from when the patient steps through the casualty department doors, ambulances often queue outside hospitals, dropping off patients only when they are certain to be seen within the allotted time.

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'We often see an increase in demand for ambulances during the winter season and this year is no different. 'The NHS is coping well with this increased demand. We have done a lot of work in recent years across the country to share best practice. Our staff are working hard and doing great work to respond to the extra demand.'


Richer people have smarter kids

But the British government seems to think it can change that! How come? They cling to the nonsensical but classical Leftist myths that all children are born with equal genetic potential and that heredity does not matter. And I suppose they also deny that being smart helps you to get rich. A lot of denial there but Leftists never have been much interested in reality

A child's chances of success still depend largely on the background and earnings of his or her parents despite the billions poured into education in recent years, according to an independent report today. The Social Mobility Commission, reporting the day before a long-awaited white paper on the subject, finds that social class accounts for much of the gap in attainment between higher and lower achievers. It is evident from the early years that the gap widens as children get older.

Increased spending on education has disproportionately favoured the middle classes, the report says. Last year only 35 per cent of the poorest pupils obtained five or more good-grade GCSEs, compared with 63 per cent of better off children. While the proportion of poorer children getting degrees has risen by just 3 per cent, the increase among those from wealthier backgrounds is 26 per cent.

Martin Narey, chief executive of the children's charity Barnardo's and a former head of the Prison Service, chaired the commission, which was set up by Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrat Party. Mr Narey said that children from disadvantaged backgrounds all too often ended up in the worst schools and achieved the worst results.

The report comes as Alan Milburn was appointed by Gordon Brown to chair a panel of industry leaders charged with producing policies to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds into the professions. Ministers have identified limited access to the professions, such as law, medicine, the senior civil service, media, finance and the upper ranks of the Armed Forces, as a serious obstacle to those from poorer families. Mr Milburn, MP for Darlington, will chair a panel of representatives from the professions who will generate proposals to widen access in their particular spheres.

The panel will report its recommendations to the Government when it produces a policy statement in June. Issues to be considered include financial obstacles to access and progression, the role of work experience and internships, recruitment practices and encouraging new applicants for certain jobs. Mr Milburn said he would be trying to ensure that "the best people, regardless of their backgrounds, have a fair crack of the whip". He said: "This is the right time for the Government to make its core purpose creating an upwardly mobile society again."

Mr Narey commented: "Although any move to open up professions seen as elitist should be applauded, it is far more important for the Government to focus on reducing the inequalities in the education system. "Children from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds all too often end up in the worst schools and achieve the worst results. "Only if these inequalities are tackled will children from disadvantaged backgrounds be able to fulfil their potential and become the doctors, army officers and barristers of the future."

The commission said that more resources ought to be provided for schools with the most disadvantaged children and better incentives offered to teachers to work in the most difficult schools. Mr Clegg said: "This expert analysis shatters the idea that Britain in 2009 is a free and fair society. Martin Narey and his colleagues deserve enormous credit for a report that cannot be ignored by anyone who wants a fairer Britain. "It is an outrage and a tragedy that two children born at the same time in the same hospital should have wildly different life chances, based simply on the income of their parents."


Britain: The politics of envy and a new Labour czar gunning for the middle class

There is much excitement over the fact that former Cabinet minister Alan Milburn is being brought in from the cold by Gordon Brown to head a review of social mobility. The return of this arch-moderniser and erstwhile political foe is being seen as yet another tactic to shore up the Prime Minister's position in readiness for an early General Election. Milburn's ultra-Blairite reputation supposedly punctures the charge that Gordon Brown is bent on re-imposing the Old Labour agenda of redistribution and state control.

But here's the strange thing. It appears that Milburn is being brought back to mastermind the latest offensive in the class war - to the opposition against which, as one of the principal outriders in Tony Blair's campaign to drag Labour into the centre ground, he devoted his political career. The Prime Minister apparently wants to stop the middle classes from dominating professions such as law, medicine and the media. Accordingly, Milburn will head a review of the supposed obstacles in the way of the poor - including the work experience or internships used by middle-class parents to give their children a head start.

In addition, the Cabinet Office minister Liam Byrne will this week launch a white paper on social mobility. It is certainly dismaying that so many young people are trapped in social disadvantage. Children from the highest socio-economic group are nearly three times more likely than those from the lowest to get good GCSEs, and six times more likely to go to university. What's more, even fewer young people from the poorest backgrounds now go to good universities than when Labour came to power. But that's because, as Tory spokesman Chris Grayling rightly observed, education standards have plummeted, family life has disintegrated and the welfare state traps ever more people in dependency. The way to boost social mobility is therefore to stop the rot in education, shore up intact families and reform welfare.

But the Government will not do that. How could it? To do so would be to stifle its deepest instincts to bring about an egalitarian utopia through social engineering and state control of individual lives. In education, it has systematically rigged the system to boost artificially the achievements of under-qualified young people, thus penalising those showing real merit. Now Messrs Milburn and Byrne appear set to continue this unjust discrimination. Although Downing Street has denied that quotas could be used to reduce internships for middle-class children, it has also made it clear that children who go to private or grammar schools - or who have professional parents - are its main targets. So it appears that once again the agenda is bashing the middle class, and rewarding young people not for what they have achieved but on account of their family background.

In a grotesque mirror-image of everything Labour is supposed to be against, it will once more favour people on the basis of where they come from - but only if they come from the wrong side of the tracks. This makes a total mockery of its supposed aim to improve access to the middle class for those from poor backgrounds. For once such folk have hauled themselves into that middle class, they will promptly get clobbered by Labour for being 'privileged'.

Moreover, given the number of Labour MPs who secure either job placements or internships for their own children, the hypocrisy is pretty staggering.

Milburn has long expressed concern about sluggish social mobility. And he has acknowledged that the correct approach lies not in taking things away from people, but in ensuring that opportunities are opened up for all. But the evidence suggests that, just as Tony Blair himself did, Milburn deludes himself about New Labour's purported success in doing so. In a debate on the subject last year, he used some fancy footwork with official statistics to claim that social mobility had increased because incomes for the less well-off had risen. But, in fact, incomes among the very poorest have actually risen more slowly than among those at the top.

He also claimed that a 'very good' education was available to a small minority of people only because they could afford to pay for it. But the truth is that a 'very good' education is not available to all, simply because government education policy has destroyed education standards - and by axing so many grammar [selective] schools, reduced the opportunities for academic excellence that once lifted so many children out of disadvantage.

Ministers boast that record numbers of young people now go to university. But this has caused a catastrophic drop in standards as universities - under threat of losing grant aid - are forced to admit students who don't cut the mustard. Not surprisingly, record numbers of students are now dropping out - particularly among precisely the kind of people the Government is determined to shoe-horn into universities and professional jobs at the expense of the better-qualified. Figures dragged out of the Government show that students from poor families who get preferential places at universities by being offered lower A-level requirements are three times more likely to drop out of their courses than those who win places by simple merit.

Byrne insists it is a 'classic liberal error' to assume that the middle classes have to suffer in order to give others a fair chance. But that's precisely what this Government has been doing for the past decade. Yet far from opening up real opportunity for those from poor backgrounds, this approach has tricked them by giving them only the illusion of achievement. It has thus achieved the truly brilliant outcome of treating the middle class with undiluted spite and the poor with profound contempt.

There is, of course, a direct link between declining education standards and people playing the system through internships and other manoeuvres. Undoubtedly, internships are potentially unfair because the lucky few who get them have a head start over those who don't. But the reason they have mushroomed over the past few years is that, with crashing academic standards producing - absurdly - vast numbers of top grades, employers often rely on internships to show the true worth of a candidate.

Now it is reported that 400,000 students due to graduate from universities this summer will be offered government-sponsored internships to help them cope with a recession-hit job market. But it is far from clear that the Government will help fund companies to do this; nor that such interns will be paid anything at all; nor that after their three-month internship is up they will actually get a job. After all, many companies are either axing their graduate schemes or not giving jobs to those already on them. In other words, this just looks like a prime piece of political window dressing.

Social mobility is rightly considered to be the lynch-pin of progressive politics. But it is inextricably connected to the creation of a meritocracy. What this government is committed to, in direct contrast, is the destruction of meritocracy and its replacement by social gerrymandering. The fact that an ultra-Blairite politician should be drafted in to pursue such an Old Labour agenda should not surprise us, since the pursuit of egalitarianism was always Labour's real 'Clause Four'. Everything else was smoke and mirrors - the real reason the New Labour project went belly-up. Alan Milburn's return is thus not a radical departure at all; it's just more of the same old same old.


If any government is serious about unemployment, it must sweep away the laws that make it difficult to hire and fire

Comment from Britain

Hi ho, hi ho, it's back to work we go. With luck. Even those who took a long Christmas will be heading back today, and if there is one safe prediction it is that the usual unseemly scramble over holiday rotas will be a bit muted this year. In 2009, if you've got a job you don't rock the boat. In retail, building, banking, manufacturing, marketing, media - even bits of the bloated public sector - jobs are twisting to the ground like dead leaves in the financial gale. As the Prime Minister convenes his "jobs summit" today, there will be a change of tone from the accustomed fret about the long-term workless and the unwilling. The new and tormenting problem is what to do for the willing: the newly redundant and the newly adult.

For new graduates, the buzz word is "intern". There is to be a national scheme - finances, scale and rules still murky - to give them short paid internships in white-collar business. The Higher Education Minister, David Lammy, speaks of "preparing for the upturn" with useful experience. Alan Milburn, meanwhile, has been ordered to improve social mobility. He writes that recession is an opportunity to do this, although, frankly, it is hard to see why 11 years of boom were not.

Internships arise again: his mission is to end the "middle-class monopoly". It seems that government has finally grasped what some of us out here have been saying for years - that unpaid internships are a racket. All the experience and networking (especially in arts, media and the City) go to kids whose parents can house and support them while they act as unpaid drudges. Meanwhile equally bright young people have to flip burgers for the rent money. And companies exploit it: in France, where the racket is even more common, in some companies 20 per cent of the workforce are permanently interns. One New York magazine boasts 50 per cent. If the new scheme makes it all fairer, good.

But in the end people need real work. To leave university and spend three impoverished months being half-trusted at a corporate keyboard is clearly better than hanging around on benefits. But what all workers deserve, as much as money and experience, is honour. Whether you are a cleaner or a QC, you want to know that you earned your money and would be missed. Even the most solipsistic "creative" needs validation - bums on seats, commissions, viewers, buyers.

And, by happy coincidence, this is also what the economy needs: not millions on benefits and millions more in perpetual training that leads nowhere, nor artificial jobs (such as the new "food leftovers advisers" now allegedly turning up on doorsteps after a one-day course). And - here's the tough bit - in the end it is better to have a job that does not fulfil you creatively than no job at all. This may be a difficult pill to swallow: a recent television series took teenagers to work in Indian sweatshops. One English girl, promoted to the coveted job of machinist, threw a tantrum because "it's just sewing bits of cloth, it's not crea'ive".

Schools must bear some responsibility for letting children think that they have a right to earn their living being creative. The truth is that they have both a right to earn a living and a right to be creative, but not necessarily at the same time.

I met a lot of Cowley assembly-workers in the 1970s: men who made museum-quality models, played in bands, won dancing cups or bred winning pigeons after each tedious day bolting the same bit of trim on endless Minis. And even in medialand, trust me, there are unspeakably mundane tasks to be done before the tiger of creativity runs free.

So - real jobs for the "upturn". What might help? At the moment the Government's obsession is training - internships, grants to mothers, penning teenagers in classrooms until they're 18. Some of that training is pointless, leaving us with such a shortage of practical skills that we need Polish craftsmen and poach Third World nurses.

The thing which ministers seem never to consider is removing some of the impediments to hiring that they gaily put in place during the palmy years. Note that in the US in normal times the average gap between redundancy and a new job was four weeks. Here it was six months. This is because in America you can fire people you can't afford. Thus when an upturn begins, US employers hire early. Here, employment protection law makes an exhausting and time-consuming process of "managing people out": written warnings, meetings, monitoring, watching your language lest lawyers pounce. It takes three months, during which time you are still paying wages as business crumbles. Even genuine redundancy involves lengthy rituals and compulsory verbal hypocrisies about "alternative roles in the organisation" even as bailiffs prepare to board up the windows.

Workers need reasonable protection from caprice and exploitation: you can't bin all the rules. But in seeking to encourage employers, ministers should reflect that helping lame dogs over stiles is more difficult if you have previously laced the stile with barbed wire. The same applies to health and safety law: if, say, a rural bicycle business wants to take on a school leaver but can't guarantee that the shed will be maintained at the prescribed minimum temperature and a dedicated employee toilet provided (rather than the one in the farmhouse), it is not legally enough to give the lad a fleece and a back-door key.

On top of that you might worry about being hammered for sexual or racial discrimination, or indeed kneecapped by the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. This was designed to protect gay workers from persecution, but, as usual, is so loosely drafted that from day one an employee has a case even if he or she just subjectively "perceives" that the boss is feeling homophobic. This applies even if the employee is not gay, and if the boss has never given it a thought but just happened to be a bit testy that week. Although few cases actually arise, the law makes such fears real: so the bike business remains a one-man band, unwilling to expand as trade looks up. Only the big battalions will score a delightfully disposable national intern.

Government can't make everyone prosperous and good. But it can help a bit. And it could certainly smooth away some of the obstacles to hiring which, in happier times, it invented to demonstrate its idealism. At today's jobs summit, I fear this will be the unacknowledged elephant in the room.


Britain as a land of fear: "It seems to have taken just over 50 years for the reach of the state to become near ubiquitous. There's little any of us do now that does not involve the parasitic actions and attitudes of it; ultimately we have a malignant monkey on our backs. We have become servile in our acceptance of state actions, but recently (partly as a response to the heavy handed reaction to terrorism and its presumption of all citizens being equally guilty) the heavy fisted approach has spread further."

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.

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