Thousands of British dementia victims ‘die through late diagnosis’
Thousands with dementia are dying before their time because of late diagnosis by GPs, according to a study. Patients eventually diagnosed with dementia by their doctors die four years earlier than those actively screened for the illness in research studies.
In the first research of its kind, scientists from the Medical Research Council analysed health records of 135,000 patients aged 60 and over for life expectancy after dementia recorded by their GPs. Experts found those aged 60 to 69 had an average life expectancy of 6.7 years once diagnosed. But previously MRC scientists found people in a comparable age range who were actively screened for dementia as part of a research study have a life expectancy of 10.7 years.
The research also revealed death rates are more than three times higher in sufferers in the first year after GP diagnosis than in those without the condition. This suggests many are finally diagnosed at a time of crisis or when the disease has already taken a strong hold. And the study also found GPs were not recording the exact type of dementia, which could affect how it is treated.
Although NHS restrictions mean Alzheimer’s patients are not allowed drugs in the early stages of the disease, experts hope new treatments will become available in the future that can halt the disease.
Professor Chris Kennard, chair of the MRC neuroscience and mental health board, said: ‘It’s clear that too little too late is being done to diagnose dementia. ‘Without earlier diagnosis people may miss out on the opportunity to have early interventions, as new treatments come along.
‘It’s estimated that 80million people worldwide will be affected by dementia by 2040 so it’s crucial GPs are given the support and training they need to get to grips with identifying dementia accurately and as early as possible.’ At present, some 750,000 in the UK have a form of dementia, with more than half of these suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Dr Greta Rait, who led the study, published online in the British Medical Journal, said: ‘GPs are going to be dealing with more and more dementia cases in future and primary care must get better at detection.’
Ruth Sutherland, acting chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘This very large study throws further light on the abysmal standard of dementia diagnosis in this country. ‘Up to two thirds of people with dementia never receive a diagnosis and as this research implies, many of those who do, only do so in the later stages. ‘We must act now to improve awareness and dementia training for GPs and bring our appalling diagnosis rates up to the standards of the best performing countries.’
Insane Britain: Despite 688 crimes, this burglar got another chance, and re-offended
A teenager who burgled almost 700 properties during a £1million crime spree because he enjoyed the ‘buzz’ of stealing was finally jailed yesterday. Bradley Wernham, 19, was caught trying to break into a house just three months after a judge had spared him prison to give him a ‘second chance’.
The case is embarrassing for Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, who controversially wants to see more emphasis on rehabilitation so fewer criminals can be jailed.
Yesterday, jailing Wernham for five years, Judge Christopher Ball, QC, insisted he had originally been right to ‘gamble’ by enrolling the thief on a taxpayer-funded rehabilitation scheme that provided him with a rent-free flat and job training.
Astonishingly, police yesterday hailed the ‘innovative’ approach taken with Wernham as a ‘success’ and said they would continue to use it.
Critics, including the teenager’s victims and an MP, reacted with disbelief that Wernham had been allowed to strike again, describing the decision not to jail him first time round as ‘ridiculous’.
Engineer Tim Marsland, 39, who had his £2,500 Kawasaki ZX6R motorcycle and equipment stolen by Wernham, said: If you don’t get locked up for 700 burglaries what do you have to do? It was totally ridiculous – it was a joke that he got let off. ‘It’s a better result now. He is where he belongs. I know he won’t serve anything like five years but maybe a bit of time in prison will sort him out a bit.’
Wernham gave some indication of the level of his readiness to reform with a bragging message posted on his Facebook page last night. The badly spelt message – sent six hours after he was jailed – read: ‘Be out in 18 months or before.. Yeeh is guna ride this s**t’.’
Wernham was branded one of Britain’s most prolific thieves when he admitted 17 burglaries and thefts and asked for 645 others to be taken into account when he first appeared at Chelmsford Crown Court in Essex in October 2009. He already had convictions for 26 other offences, bringing the total to 688 crimes.
The teenager, who lived with his mother and two brothers in Harlow, Essex, started his life of crime aged ten, targeting hundreds of homes as well as pubs, garages, shops, schools, and even a church. Frequently he would break into properties to obtain car keys and then make off with the vehicle.
He stole property worth an estimated £1.1million during his oneman crimewave, including an £85,000 Mercedes, a £50,000 Porsche Cayman and a £30,000 Land Rover Discovery.
He was arrested in March 2009 after he broke into a Beefeater restaurant and stole money from a fruit machine, hours after snatching two Kawasaki motorbikes worth £4,000 from a nearby garage. But to avoid jail he struck a deal with police and probation officers that they would give him education, training and support so that he could end his criminal lifestyle.
As part of the process, he toured around Harlow pointing out the 645 properties that he had broken into early in his criminal career. As a result, Judge Ball let him walk free from court last October, and Wernham was relocated to Chelmsford, where he moved into a rent-free flat with a girlfriend.
He was also ordered to do 150 hours of community service and obey a six-month overnight curfew order from 11pm to 6am. But just two months later, in December, Wernham was caught driving without insurance. He was not charged, but on January 5 this year he was caught as he broke into a home which had a BMW parked on the drive.
Officers were nearby as they had Wernham under surveillance, having noticed a sharp rise in the number of burglaries since he had moved to Chelmsford. Wernham pleaded guilty to attempted burglary, but claimed he did it only because he was ‘so stressed’ by police following him.
This time Judge Ball dismissed his claims as ‘palpable nonsense’ and jailed him. He told Wernham, who smirked as he was sentenced: ‘You cast yourself as a victim and you’re not. ‘Until you are a man, or man enough to appreciate that fact, there will be little hope in you changing your conduct.’
He called Wernham a ‘prolific and successful burglar to which no shop, office, garden shed, garage, school or even house is safe’, adding: ‘Committing offences gives you a buzz, gives you an adrenaline rush, and you were pitting your wits against the police.’
But Judge Ball also launched an impassioned defence of the scheme which aims to give repeat offenders the chance to ‘break the cycle of offending’ without going to jail. He said overcrowded jails had made it much tougher for prison staff to run rehabilitation programmes, adding: ‘There are more ways of making life safer for the public than just locking people up.
Admitting that the scheme had ‘not been successful in the sense that Mr Wernham has chosen to reoffend’ he insisted: ‘The opportunity must never be taken away just because one case has failed.’
Outside court, Superintendent Glenn Maleary of Essex Police pledged to push on with the scheme, which the constabulary was trialling with Wernham after its use by Hertfordshire Police. He said: ‘I view the overall scheme, and the innovative approach that was taken in relation to Bradley Wernham, to still be a success.’
But Conservative MP for Chelmsford Simon Burns said he was ‘ disappointed but not surprised’ that Wernham had reoffended after a ‘ludicrously light sentence’.
The British police state
The criminals are safe. It is ordinary decent citizens who get harassed
Years ago, if someone had said Britain was becoming a police state, with all manner of officials intruding on our privacy, interfering with our lives and making unwarranted demands upon us, all with Parliament’s full approval, I’d have thought it a grotesque exaggeration.
Now I’m not so sure. Last week my partner and I were travelling to France through London’s City Airport.
Having cleared security, two uniformed men from the Border Agency blocked our way. ‘Where are you travelling?’ one of them asked. ‘Nice,’ I replied. ‘For how long?’ they asked.
‘Two or three days.’
‘What is the purpose of your visit?’ ‘Business and pleasure.’ My good mood was rapidly evaporating. ‘What’s this all about?’ I asked. ‘Are you carrying more than £1,000 in cash?’ he inquired.
‘As it happens, I’m not,’ I replied, ‘But what if I was? Is that now a crime?’ ‘Under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 we have the power to ask you to prove where that money came from,’ he solemnly intoned.
Now, of course, when some people read this, they will think: ‘So what?’ Well, I don’t. This is wrong on all counts. First of all this kind of approach is a needle-in-a-haystack operation, unlikely to uncover serious offences.
The Mr Bigs of money laundering will be laughing if this is the best resistance our authorities can offer against their illegal activity. The only thing this crude Border Agency initiative will achieve is inconvenience to a lot of innocent travellers.
Right now, many thousands of holidaymakers are embarking on their annual summer break in droves. Many of them are leaving the country with currency worth at least £1,000 on them. And why shouldn’t they? To confuse them with money launderers is insulting and no substitute for the careful police intelligence that might bring serious criminals to book.
Even if the principle of checking random tourists was valid – which it isn’t – £1,000 sets the bar way too low. This is just a work creation scheme for uniformed jobsworths.
But then pointing the finger of suspicion at ordinary, decent people and giving officials another opportunity to interfere in our lives, is becoming commonplace in today’s Britain.
My brush with the Border Agency may seem trivial. But in the context of the ever-increasing abuse of the laws which are meant to prevent crime and terrorism, it provides a disturbing insight into so much that is wrong in Britain’s criminal justice system today.
Too many laws are being subverted by the police and other bodies just so that they can throw their weight around. Indeed, there are hardly any areas of our lives which are now free from the prying of the state machine.
Legions of town hall bureaucrats have been spying on people to see what they put in their dustbins and whether they put them out at the right time. More than half our town halls admitted to spying on families suspected of ‘dustbin crimes’ in 2008. The authorities installed secret CCTV cameras sometimes concealed in tin cans, on lamp posts or in compliant neighbours’ homes.
Such abuses of power are now endemic: last week, the Borough of Poole Council was condemned by the courts for spying on a middle-class family 21 times to check if they actually lived in the right catchment area for their children’s school.
The police, needless to say, are the worst offenders, routinely abusing powers under the Terrorism Act to bring back the old ‘sus’ laws. This is the informal name for the laws which gave the police the right to stop and search whoever they liked, whenever they liked – without any valid reason – just because of suspicion.
The Archbishop of York revealed this week that he has been stopped and searched by police eight times under the Terrorism Act 2000. Is it because the uniformed officers really suspect John Sentamu is Al Qaeda’s Yorkshire boss? Or is it because he’s black? I know what I think.
The new home Secretary, Theresa May, has announced the suspension of stop and search powers because of the tidal wave of criticism about their abuse. And she is right, not least because of the damage that arbitrary stop and search powers do to good community relations.
Thirty years ago, there were race riots in Brixton and elsewhere and one of the root causes was the black community’s resentment of oppressive policing – particularly the huge numbers of black people stopped and searched without cause.
I’m proud that one of my first acts as an MP was to sit on the committee that abolished the ‘sus’ laws and then, as home Office Minister, to replace them, in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, by establishing the power to stop and search only if there was reasonable cause.
Labour’s Terrorism Act of ten years ago has proved yet again that police can’t be trusted with such powers, and Theresa May should take them away permanently.
Not that being white is any guarantee of freedom from harassment. Countless law-abiding citizens have been stopped by police for taking pictures and had their cameras confiscated, for nothing more than photographing prominent buildings and tourist attractions. Yet again, a law passed by our Parliament of poodles to stop terrorists scouting potential targets has been abused in the most absurd way.
I have had my boat boarded on the Thames by a police officer who chose to ask a number of questions about where it was registered and other mundane details. Initially I was perfectly willing to answer the officer’s questions, but as he droned on and on I told him I’d had more than enough. He then flourished a form saying that actually I was being stopped under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
I asked him if he had any idea how insulting it was to a former home Office Minister for the police to so blatantly abuse their powers. He looked puzzled. Such a thought had plainly never occurred to him.
My old mate Alan West – a former First Sea Lord – dines out on the story of having his car stopped and searched to prevent terrorism when at the time he was actually the serving Security Minister. It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry.
At least I know where I stand with the law: what about people not versed in the law who are genuinely cowed by the police when they are taking a picture of Nelson’s Column or minding their own business on a river?
I am old enough to have been the Foreign Office Minister responsible for Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall. I travelled there and I saw for myself the routine prying in people’s lives and liberties that propped up Communist states.
Now is the time for us to protest, if we do not want to find ourselves living under that same crushing yoke. A new government – and belatedly, the courts – is at last waking up to the threat to our liberties posed by a myriad of laws and regulations which are being wilfully misused by the authorities to destroy our rights and freedoms.
The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. History shows that those who won’t fight for freedom lose it. So if you are stopped at the airport by some Border Agency jobsworth and asked about your euros, tell him you think it is a disgrace he should be doing this. Because, actually, it is.
Parents’ outrage over halal-only school dinners planned for British primary schools
A council has triggered a backlash among parents and animal welfare groups after introducing halal-only menus at state schools. Only meat from animals killed in line with Islamic teaching will be offered at 52 primary schools in Harrow, following a switch by ten secondaries to halal menus.
But parents have voiced concern over the methods used to slaughter animals in this way and say they haven’t been properly consulted over the changes.
Harrow Council is among the first in Britain to encourage halal meat. It says dieticians recommended the policy due to difficulties storing and preparing two sorts of meat.
According to the 2001 census, the North-West London borough is among the most religiously diverse areas in Britain. Just under half of the population is Christian, a fifth is Hindu, 7 per cent is Muslim and 6 per cent Jewish. The council says the composition of the area’s primary schools is now significantly different and the Muslim population is larger.
Halal slaughtering involves cutting through the large arteries in the neck with one swipe of a blade, while a Muslim butcher recites a religious verse. All blood is then drained away since the consumption of blood is forbidden under Islamic law. Animal welfare campaigners say the method, which is exempted from welfare laws, is inhumane as animals are not stunned before being killed.
Harrow resident Sheila Murphy called the council’s move ‘appalling’. ‘The Farm Animal Welfare Council has lobbied the government in the past to get the kosher and halal method of slaughter banned,’ she said. ‘The halal method is deemed cruel by some animal-lovers, who object to the slow death it involves.
‘Harrow Council’s decision is also taking away the choice of children and their parents over what meat they eat and I urge residents to make their views known to Harrow Council and get this decision overturned.’
Contracts signed with the council’s preferred catering company, Harrison’s, stipulate that only halal meat is served. The firm has been providing nine of the borough’s secondary schools with meals for two years and will take on the final high school next month. The contract for providing meals to Harrow primaries is up for renewal and the council is planning to bring in Harrison’s.
The council says primaries do not have to use its preferred caterer and governors are free to negotiate their own deals if they wish. Only two primaries have so far signed up.
Masood Khawaja, president of the Halal Food Authority, said: ‘It is commendable for schools to provide halal meals but there must be an alternative for non-Muslims. ‘Some people are opposed to halal and kosher meat on animal welfare grounds and they should be given the choice not to eat it.’
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: ‘By only offering halal meat there is an assumption a Muslim’s conscience is more important than someone who is concerned about animal rights.’
Councillor Brian Gate, portfolio holder for schools and colleges, said: ‘The decision about whether to use an individual provider is for schools to make, as funding is delegated to them. ‘At present we are not proceeding to roll this programme out but this is because of the cost constraints and the level of interest from parents.’
British parents ‘threatened with court’ by union after criticising school
Parents have been threatened with legal action after raising concerns about their children’s primary school. Two people were warned by a teaching union that they could be taken to court for “harassment” following a series of complaints directed at the head teacher. It followed a public meeting called by mothers and fathers of children at St Alban’s Roman Catholic Primary School in Cardiff.
Families raised concerns over the suspension of three staff members as well as education standards, the turnover of teachers and allegations the school had abandoned Holy Communion.
But two people at the meeting – Sue Evans and Martine Paterson – then received letters warning them against making “slanderous statements” about Jane Vaterlaws, 51, the head teacher. In the letter, the National Association of Head Teachers said: “Your actions are viewed as malicious and as harassment and you are warned that should you continue to make false and slanderous statements about Mrs Vaterlaws, you are likely to find yourself in court.
“Please be in no doubt that action will be taken against you and any other individuals that persist with what is an illegitimate campaign. “The NAHT will not tolerate any malicious campaign against any one of our members and you should take heed of this warning.”
Parents at the 200-pupil school claimed they had been left in the dark about the head’s decision to suspend the three members of staff. Some parents also claimed some children as old as nine did not have basic literacy, teachers did not always know children’s names because of high staff turnover and the school was failing to offer Holy Communion.
Last month’s public meeting – held in a church hall – was led by Mrs Evans who later wrote to the Roman Catholic archdiocese listing a number of “areas of concern”.
The letter to the two mothers was signed by Annie Hovey, the NAHT regional officer. Mrs Hovey’s letter said: “You are strongly advised to consider your position carefully as what you are doing is wholly illegitimate and is open to direct challenge from us as well as from the school, Cardiff council and the diocese. “We have advised Mrs Vaterlaws to consult the police with a view to taking action against you for harassment.”
Mrs Evans said: “They are very threatening letters. The other parent involved has been absolutely distraught about the one she received. “We have been told the church had a letter as well, about us using the parish hall for meetings. “But we have got to keep on with this now; we can’t let these parents down.”
Don’t call us fat or obese. Just leave us alone
The spat over how British officialdom should refer to plump people overlooks the fact that it should be none of its business how much we weigh
Obese, or not obese? That is the question. UK public health minister Anne Milton thinks it is time that people took personal responsibility for their weight. And she believes that calling overweight people ‘fat’ rather than ‘obese’ is more likely to encourage them to get trim. Others, however, prefer the medical term ‘obese’, believing that it communicates to overweight people the (alleged) seriousness of their condition.
Yet while the argument over ‘fat or obese?’ has raged in the comment pages and on phone-ins all week long, no one seems to be asking the most basic questions: Is it really the place of doctors and health officials to tell people what to eat or how much they should weigh? Who are they to label us fat or obese?
Professor Steve Field of the Royal College of General Practitioners agrees with Milton. ‘I think the term obese medicalises the state. It makes it a third person issue. I think we need to sometimes be more brutal and honest’, he said, in defence of using the word ‘fat’.
This view was echoed by columnist Rod Liddle – whose young daughter apparently calls him a ‘lardbucket pig’ – in The Sunday Times: ‘In the good old days it was quite common for people to laugh out loud at fatties as they waddled, panting, from the pie shop to the chippy, their arteries growing more clogged at every step….
But all that has been stopped. As a consequence, we have many more fat people than we’ve ever had before – especially in our schools, where one in three of the children is apparently overweight or obese.’ What a relief to know that the mystery of why society has collectively got fatter in recent decades – something that provokes so much debate in scientific journals – has been solved by this esteemed journalist from the comfort of his own armchair. A Nobel Prize must surely follow.
Others were horrified at the suggestion that we should all start using the f-word. Professor Lindsey Davies, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, told the BBC: ‘People don’t want to be offensive. There is a lot of stigma to being a fat person… I would probably be more likely to say something like “can we talk about your weight?” rather than “obesity”, but that is a judgement you make on a patient-by-patient basis.’
If people don’t know they’re fat, it’s not necessarily because they are in denial – it might just be that they’re not fat. Obesity, as defined in terms of body mass index by the medical profession, doesn’t match what the rest of society understands as ‘fat’ or ‘obese’.
An article on the BBC News website in 2006, Who are you calling fat?, illustrates the point very well, showing four men – who don’t by any sensible criteria look particularly overweight – whose weight and height mean they are clinically obese. As one of the men said: ‘I’d have to lose around three stone for the government to think I’m the right weight. That’s just stupid. I’d look ill and I probably would be ill.’
Even for those who are a bit heavier than that, there is little increased risk from carrying a few extra pounds. Indeed, the current definitions of normal weight, overweight and mild obesity don’t seem to bear much relation to health risk. Carrying a few extra pounds is harmless and may even be beneficial: if you have any kind of long illness and you’re off your food, it is probably better if you have some fat in reserve.
Whether obesity is a medical problem or a moral one, there is no obvious, successful cure. It is true that by restricting the amount you eat and/or taking extra exercise, you may be able to lose weight. But unless this is a reversion to a more normal diet after a period of genuine bingeing, such self-denial is unlikely to be sustained. The result will be piling the pounds back on again. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that this kind of ‘yo-yo’ dieting is worse than never bothering to diet at all.
So, regardless of whether the officially approved label is ‘fat’ or ‘obese’, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you can ‘take responsbility’ and lose weight in any lasting way – and given the low health risks attached to mild obesity, there is no particular reason why you should want to.
What is really bizarre is that the debate about ‘fat’ vs ‘obese’ appears to be taking place on another planet. Since when has there been any positive reinforcement of being overweight? For at least the past 10 years, there has been veritable hysteria along the lines of: obesity = disease = death. TV programmes like Honey, We’re Killing the Kids and You Are What You Eat have taken great joy in reducing people to blubbering wrecks as the ‘expert’ informs them (or their loved ones) that their weight is going to kill them – a message reinforced by countless magazine articles, news items and government campaigns.
Apart from those from the fat-acceptance movement, who have rebelled against this tyranny of the skinny, no one thinks being overweight is a barrel of laughs. As Emily Hill has argued on spiked, even those few fat celebrities who seem to be in vogue – like James Corden, Dawn French or Beth Ditto – are regarded as cool in spite of their fatness or as weirdly exotic in a world where having the body morphology of a coat hanger is the only truly acceptable state. Fat poor people, on the other hand, are regarded as feckless chavs.
Here’s a statement you’re never likely to hear (unless the person concerned is recovering from a wasting illness): ‘You’ve put on how much weight? Really? That’s brilliant! That extra fat looks really good on you!’ You don’t hear it because it never happens. The outlook today is that skinny is good, fat is bad. Since when did people get abused for being slim?
Indeed, while the po-faced health minister was demanding that fat people be given the unalloyed truth about their adiposity, equalities minister Lynne Featherstone was singing the praises of curvaceous Mad Men star Christine Hendricks. Featherstone, who is campaigning against the ‘airbrushing’ of magazine photos, declared that ‘women and girls also have the right to be comfortable in their own bodies. At the moment they are being denied that.’ Perhaps Featherstone could direct her message about body autonomy to her fat-obsessed government colleagues before banging on about what magazines do with Photoshop.
What would be much better is if politicans just stopped talking about the shape of our bodies altogether. It’s just none of their business. We are more than capable of working out what is best for us on our own. We can even handle a bit of name-calling, especially if it didn’t carry an official seal of approval from Whitehall. We could really do without health authorities refusing treatment to overweight people and government ministers declaring that the obese will bankrupt the National Health Service. It really doesn’t matter what your doctor calls it when he or she makes you stand on the scales and prods your spare tyre – you know what the message is.
Here’s a suggestion: maybe we should take on board this message about being honest and direct. If your doctor, nurse, health visitor or anyone else wants to start giving you government-approved advice about the food you eat or any other aspect of your personal habits, try this riposte: ‘Kiss my big, fat ass.’
Don’t have a cow
The [British] Food Standards Agency created a considerable row when it announced this week that meat from a cow born in the United Kingdom from the imported embryos of a cloned American cow was sold and consumed last year. British and European regulations prohibit the sale of products intended for human consumption from cloned animals without prior authorisation, which has never been granted. The discovery incensed animal rights activists, and public outrage has erupted due to deep mistrust of cloned and genetically modified food, as well as the failure of the Food Standards Agency to detect the products in a timely manner. Two lessons can be learned from the issue.
First, the issue highlights the inability of the government to regulate effectively, even in matters as trivial and simple as the one at hand. That the farmer involved in the controversy, Steven Innes, appears not to have tried to circumvent the law, further highlights the elusiveness of effective regulation. If the government is unable to draw up intelligible and enforceable regulations on mundane issues, it is unlikely that it will be able to fare much better with more complex regulatory schemes.
Second, it is high time that Britain and the European Union become more accepting of scientific advancements that have improved, and will continue to improve, agricultural productivity. Cloning of animals is one such improvement. Farmers and scientists in the United States have experimented with the cloning of animals in order to increase milk and meat production. Meat and other products from cloned animals have proven to be just as safe as products from naturally conceived animals, and the cloning of animals does not affect any other individuals other than those who choose to produce and consume such products. If the ban were lifted, those who do not wish to buy products derived from cloned animals would remain free to do so, the costs of related regulation would be eliminated, and agricultural productivity could improve.
The shock over the cloned cow should be over the observation that there was shock at all. That Britain outlaws a non-offensive and potentially productive enterprise that is successfully practiced elsewhere in the world without incident is unfortunate, and harms the country and its farmers.