British rationing watchdog accused of talking down wonder drug’s power to save lives
The NHS rationing body was last night accused of downplaying the benefits of a ‘miracle’ bowel cancer drug to justify banning its use on the health service. In a highly controversial move, NICE this week ruled that Avastin was not ‘cost effective’ because it is too expensive and prolongs the lives of patients only by an average of six weeks.
Cancer specialists and charities rejected this claim as ‘spurious’. They say some advanced stage bowel cancer patients with very short life expectancy have lived for four years after being prescribed Avastin and are expected to survive for much longer.
One leading consultant said yesterday that if Avastin were to become widely available he believed sufferers would live for ‘many more years’.
Campaigners said the watchdog had based its ruling on ‘flawed’ out-of-date research that did not account for very promising recent findings.
NICE’s decision means that dying patients are being denied a treatment available for free in almost every Western country including France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Australia.
The veto means patients can only hope Avastin is one of the first treatments to be funded by the Government’s new emergency cancer drugs fund, which will be launched in October. Ministers have pledged to make at least £50million available to meet the cost of any medicine recommended by a hospital doctor – even if it has been banned by NICE.
Avastin could be used on around 6,500 patients in Britain with advanced bowel cancer, where tumours have spread to other organs such as the liver and lungs. It costs around £20,800 per patient for a ten-month course – a similar price to all the other countries which have decided to fund it.
Dr Sherif Raouf, a consultant oncologist at the Spire Roding private hospital in London said he was disappointed that patients were not receiving the same treatment as those in Europe and the Western world.
He said: ‘Avastin is a very safe and well tolerated drug which in my experience prolongs life. It can shrink tumours allowing them to be removed surgically. I am treating patients with Avastin who have lived for four years so far, and will hopefully live for many more years. I hope that in the future the drug will enable patients to live for many more years. ‘It’s obviously highly disappointing that NICE’s decision means that Avastin can not be used on all patients who would clinically benefit.’
Meanwhile campaigners accused NICE of basing their decision on ‘flawed’ research, which was four years old. Ian Beaumont, of the charity Bowel Cancer UK said: ‘The claim that it only prolongs life by six weeks is spurious. NICE used a study which is now widely viewed flawed by those in the medical community.
‘It was carried out in Istanbul in 2006 and does not take into account recent advances in chemotherapy which are used alongside the Avastin. In the last four years there have been major advances with patients living for an average of 27 months. ‘We will obviously appeal this decision but we are hugely disappointed.’
The most recent research shows that Avastin could allow patients to live for more than two years. A study carried out earlier this year in Belgium found that the treatment prolonged life by an average 27 months when combined with chemotherapy. That backed up research carried out in America last year.
Meanwhile the head of NICE blamed drugs giants for not doing enough to make their products cheaper. Chairman Sir Michael Rawlins, said pharmaceutical firms should be offering ‘simple discounts’ to make their treatments more available for patients.
One patient who claims she ‘living proof ‘ that Avastin works is 54-year-old Barbara Moss, who was given months to live when she was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in 2006. The retired teacher from Worcester paid for the drug herself and it shrank the tumours in her liver enabling them to be removed. Four years later she is now in remission and is convinced she owes her life to Avastin.
She said: ‘It seems immoral to me that, as a result of negative NICE decisions like this one, people’s choice of living or dying depends on whether they can afford a drug, because it isn’t available to them on the NHS.’
Sir Andrew Dillon, chief executive of NICE, defended the decision stating several other treatments had already been recommended for various stages of the cancer.
A NICE spokesman said: ‘NICE is disappointed not to be able to recommend bevacizumab [the generic name for Avastin] for the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer. The high cost of bevacizumab relative to the benefits it brings means that it is not a cost effective use of NHS resources for the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer.’
Old lady — aged 90 — being thrown out of nursing home because NHS bureaucrats decide she is not ill enough
A frail 90-year-old woman has been threatened with eviction from a care home because the local NHS has stopped paying her fees, leaving her with unpaid bills of £5,400. Lorna Clow was given a week’s notice to leave after the health service decided she was no longer eligible for funding because she was too healthy.
But Mrs Clow’s daughter Diane claims her mother is crippled by arthritis, needs four staff members to help her bathe as she is too frail to use a hoist, and is very confused.
The family is now involved in a bitter showdown with the local health authority, Torbay Care Trust.
The stand-off highlights the problems of local health care trusts acting as judge and jury: they conduct the assessments and hold the purse strings for elderly residents.
Diane says: ‘My mum is severely disabled by her arthritis and is in constant pain. As such, she should be entitled to free NHS care. I can’t believe the system is letting her down in her time of need.’
Mrs Clow was in the fire service during World War II and worked all her life running a hotel with her husband Ronald, who died three years ago. She was living in sheltered accommodation in Torquay when her health suddenly deteriorated after she celebrated her 90th birthday last February.
A doctor advised she should be moved to a nearby nursing home under an intermediate care order. This meant the Torbay Care Trust would pay the £525 weekly fees for the home. It also required Mrs Clow’s health to be reassessed after six weeks. The law states if a person’s primary need is health care, then all the costs should be met by the NHS. Before the position can change, there should be a review of the person’s health, which can be challenged by the family.
Mrs Clow’s health was assessed in April, when a care trust board meeting decided she was better and her funding should be stopped immediately. Her daughter Diane, 55, says: ‘I disagreed with them about virtually everything.’ A further assessment was carried out in May, but the care trust stood by its original decision. At the beginning of June, the home gave Mrs Clow one week’s notice to leave.
Yet she has nowhere to go because her former sheltered accommodation had been rented out and her possessions put in storage. She wouldn’t be allowed to return anyway, as she is incapable of living independently. Now the family are in a stand-off. Mrs Clow is still in the home, but no one is paying the fees.
As a result, the nursing home is threatening Diane with a court order to recover the fees of £5,400 incurred since funding stopped. Healthcare rules state that while the review is being conducted, the trust should continue to provide funding until the outcome is known.
The family have enlisted the help of care fees campaigner Stephen Squires. He has won a number of cases against health authorities which have denied funding to elderly care home residents. Mr Squires says: ‘The trust has ignored its own rules. The appeals and review process has not even commenced, let alone been concluded.’
Diane is so unhappy with the trust that she is desperately renovating her home so her mother can live with her. However, this is a massive job and she needs her mother to stay in care until it is completed.
A spokesman for Torbay Care Trust says: ‘We have followed the correct process absolutely. We’ve conducted a full multi-disciplinary assessment of Mrs Clow by healthcare professionals and found she is well enough to go home. ‘We’ve had no formal request for an appeal of our decision by Mrs Clow, and we’ve yet to see proof that Miss Clow has her power of attorney.’
Diane claims she showed the board her power of attorney, which grants her the power to act for her mother, at the April meeting when she contested the outcome.
The weird fashion for bashing faith schools
Comment from Britain: Far from being factories of conformism, many faith schools turn out youngsters with high levels of BS immunity.
As someone who attended faith schools from the ages of four to 18 – and also a faith nursery, faith youth clubs, faith swimming lessons, faith teenybopper discos, faith football matches and faith outings to the seaside – I find the commentariat’s fear of these institutions fascinating. Nothing freaks out today’s privately educated ragers against religion quite as much as a school where the teachers talk to the children about God. They need to calm down, because the real secret about faith schools, the hidden truth, is that they more often produce intellectual sceptics than mental slaves.
Some people look upon faith schools as alien institutions, the churners-out of brain-raped youngsters who will hate homos and want to strangle single mums. ‘[W]e have no idea what children are being taught in those classrooms’, says Catherine Bennett, providing Observer readers with their weekly satisfying shudder at the thought of how the other half live.
These schools ‘brainwash impressionable children’, the New Statesman has warned, quoting that old Jesuit boast, ‘Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man’, as evidence. Now Richard Dawkins, like a bull in a Padre Pio bookshop, has caused the Bimonthly New Atheist Controversy – it’s like they have a contract with the papers – by saying faith schools should not be given ‘a free pass to do religious education in their own way’ and must be prevented from ‘indoctrinating’ children. He was promoting his scary-sounding Channel 4 show, Faith School Menace?.
There are at least three problems with this sport of Hate The Faith School. First there’s the insulting idea that the kids are being brainwashed. Are the social circles of the liberal, atheistic, PC classes really so narrow that they have never met anyone who attended a CofE, Jewish, Muslim or Catholic school? They mustn’t have, because if they had they would know that the idea that faith-school children have their minds turned to mush by all-powerful priests, rabbis and imams is hilarious.
Take my school. (Warning: anecdotal evidence ahead.) A convent-based school in a rundown part of north-west London, administered by Dominican sisters who saw it as their duty to beat – sometimes literally – us Catholic boys and girls into shape, it was fairly full-on, religious-wise. We prayed before lessons, read the bible, raised money for black babies, had a chapel. (I say chapel. It was more of a glorified shed, which, being made of wood, got damaged in the great storm of 1987.)
But were we Pope-fearin’ Stepford kids? Far from it. Me and a friend beheaded a statue of St Vincent de Paul. The school Bibles were awash with cartoon penises sticking out of Jesus of Nazareth’s smock and speech bubbles above the apostles’ heads saying ‘I am gay’. In flagrant defiance of priestly teachings, a legend scrawled on the walls of the boys’ toilet said: ‘Wanking is evil / Evil is a sin / Sins are forgiven / So get stuck in.’ In their own little way, those four lines pose a serious theological challenge to the many contradictions of the Catholic faith.
What the faith-school fearers forget is that, yes, 12-, 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds are wet behind the ears and sometimes dumb, but they also don’t believe everything they are told. They are developing a sceptical streak, which in 13-year-old boys might express itself crudely in the agonising cry ‘What do you mean I can’t masturbate?!’, but which nonetheless speaks to an inner questioning of supposed big truths.
When a teen is told that everything from bodily pleasure to playground arguments to wanting to be super-wealthy is sinful, he will instinctively recognise a contradiction between his desires and what is expected of him. This often leads, not to brainwashing, but to an instinct to ‘kick against the pricks’ (to quote Acts, chapter 9, verse 5). As Patrick West has argued, it’s a myth that faith schools are ‘factories for producing unquestioning, God-fearing drones’.
Indeed, in my experience, people who have been to faith schools often have a natural scepticism towards spiritual crackpots. Perhaps all those years ingesting, considering and often rejecting religious education strengthens our bullshit immune system.
Everyone I know who attended a Catholic school is now an atheist, an agnostic, a lapsed Catholic or a pretend Catholic (someone who attends Mass only so that his or her child will get into a Catholic school, hilariously giving rise to fake-faith schools).
Meanwhile, it is often the trendily and liberally educated who later in life most feverishly embrace New Ageism, Buddhism Lite or end-of-the-world environmentalism. Suckers. Some of us had done that whole finding God and losing Him again by the time we were halfway through puberty.
The second problem with the fashion for bashing faith schools is that it is seriously, properly illiberal. The idea, expressed by Dawkins and others, that educating a child in a religious faith is a form of ‘emotional abuse’ is really an attack on the right of parents to raise their children as they see fit.
In an Oxford Amnesty lecture popular amongst New Atheists, one militant secularist argues that children ‘have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas’. An alarmingly intolerant campaign run by the British Humanist Association seeks to bring faith schools to an end, in the name of children’s freedom of belief.
This is an Orwellian use of the language of ‘freedom’, for it is really an attack on adults’ freedom of association, on parents’ freedom to get together with whomever they please in order to share ideas and find the education system they feel is right for their children.
As Hannah Arendt, a far more profound thinker than today’s New Atheists, argued in the late 1950s: ‘To force parents to send their children to [a certain] school against their will means to deprive them of rights which clearly belong to them in all free societies – the private right over their children and the social right to free association.’ Campaigning for the government to shrink the faith element in faith schools would force some parents into precisely this scenario.
And thirdly, in answer to Catherine Bennett’s hair-tearing question about what on earth is taught in faith schools, the fact is they increasingly teach much of the same nonsense as ‘normal’ schools. Catholic schools, for example, teach far less of that anti-sex, pro-God stuff and much more of ‘mankind’s a rotter for wrecking the environment, multiculturalism rules, the key lesson of the Holocaust is “don’t bully Johnny”, you shouldn’t eat chips’, and so on and so on.
My old school recently won a Friends of the Earth award for being super-green by sticking a solar panel on the roof and getting the children to recycle their rubbish. Not surprisingly, none of the brave warriors against faith schools has a word to say about children being ‘indoctrinated’ in the meek, fearful, self-loathing pieties of the liberal zeitgeist. I just hope the kids one day do to their recycling bins what I did to St Vincent de Paul.
Absurd British middle-school exam: So easy a five-year-old has passed and a seven-year-old got an A star
A five-year-old girl today became the youngest child to pass a GCSE amid concern that tests have become too easy and that pupils are being pressured into taking exams too early. Pupils achieved record GCSE results this year, with more than a fifth obtaining top grades – nearly three times the number two decades ago.
However, despite the soaring number of A and A*s, teenagers now face being squeezed out of college courses by an increasing number of university rejects.
Today’s results show the proportion of pupils achieving the top two grades has exceeded 22 per cent following year-on-year increases since the exam was introduced in 1988. And 70 per cent of teenagers gained at least a C grade – up two percentage points from last year.
Dee Alli from Southwark set the record for a five-year-old by getting a C in maths. She said: ‘I treat maths as a game so I don’t think of it as an exam. I find maths very easy.’ Dee said she was inspired to take the exam by her friend Paula Imafidon, who with her twin Peter got the highest-ever grade in a Cambridge advanced maths exam at the age of nine. When asked whether she would like to do any more maths exams she said: ‘I want to be a princess that lives in a big house so I can count my money.’
Seven-year-old Oscar Selby was celebrating after he became the youngest to achieve an A*. Oscar, from Epsom, Surrey, is believed to be the youngest to score the top grade in a GCSE.
He spent four hours every Saturday for nine months studying for the course through Hertfordshire-based Ryde Teaching.
But experts raised new fears that children are under too much pressure. Professor Alan Smithers said schools wanted to push pupils to pass while some parents were competing with each other over results. ‘Our education system has become too dominated by exams,’ he said.
While teenagers have been warned that as hundreds of thousands of A-Level students set to miss out on a university place, many will return to sixth form or college – meaning fewer places for pupils.
And pupils face increasing pressure as more universities are now selecting candidates on their GCSE results as competition for higher education places becomes tougher.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said: ‘While celebrating individual success and welcoming the fact that there has been an enormous take-up of GCSEs in the individual sciences, we believe that more needs to be done to close the attainment gap between those from the poorest and wealthiest backgrounds.’
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union said: ‘These are the best ever results but the worst ever outcomes now exist for young people. ‘These fantastic results stand in stark contrast to some of the worst ever employment and training prospects for young people and the reality of rising youth unemployment as a result of the coalition Government’s austerity programme.’
This year’s GCSE exam pass-rate increased for the 23rd year in a row, however the number of entries has fallen again to 5.37million compared with 5.47million in 2009. After a drop in the number on English entries being awarded a C last year to 62.7 per cent, the pass-rate has risen this summer to almost two-thirds.
Despite the rise in passes, school leavers face being squeezed out of further education this year as college places go to older pupils who have failed to get into university.
However, more pupils are expected to fall into the ‘neet’ – not in education, employment or training category – as college places are snapped up by A-Level students who are set to miss out on a university place.
Many will return to sixth form to resit exams, take more A-Levels or to turn to qualifications like BTec and HNDs. And colleges will be keen to take on these higher-achieving older students to boost performance indicators, the lecturers’ union warned, reducing the number of places available to 16-year-olds.
More than a quarter of students who applied for university still have no place, figures released yesterday revealed.
Dan Taubman, further education policy officer at the UCU, told the Guardian: ‘Schools and colleges are to a large extent judged to be a success or failure on their exam results. That’s a big incentive not to take kids who have just failed. ‘It’s just like the universities – they can be more selective, and the kids without are not going to get in.’
One assessment expert has warned that the exam questions have become increasingly ‘predictable’ and compared the relentless rise in results to currency inflation.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, suggested highly tailored teaching and ‘built-in inflation’ were responsible for the consistent rises in results. ‘The questions themselves are becoming much more predictable; they are highly structured and teachers are increasingly familiar with them,’ he said. ‘Exams just seem to have the same built-in inflation that our currency has.’
The incorrectness of Enid Blyton again
Top-down tinkering with Enid Blyton’s books implies children can’t cope with difficult and offensive words. But they can.
This month, Hodder, the publishers of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series, is relaunching all 21 books with sensitive text revisions and new covers in order to appeal to a new generation of readers. The owner of the Blyton brand and intellectual property, Chorion, believes that getting rid of the outdated language will mean that annual sales figures, currently at around half a million copies, will soar.
According to Hodder’s publishing director Anne McNeill, changing words like ‘luncheon’ to ‘lunch’ or ‘trying’ to ‘annoying’ will allow children to engage with the books without the barrier of strange, old-fashioned words. Yet where does one draw a line? What about Dickens or Shakespeare? As the Guardian’s Lucy Mangan pointed out, it was precisely when she came across strange words as a child that she was forced to pause, reflect and – after further enquiry – move on with a renewed understanding and wider vocabulary. McNeill hasn’t been fazed by the criticisms, however. Texts are continually being updated and revised in order to win new audiences, she has argued, and the older unrevised versions of Blyton would still be available.
Messing about with Blyton’s books is nothing new. Her work has been censored and bowdlerised many times before – and previously liberals have often been the loudest supporters of such tinkering.
In fact, the censoring of Blyton began as early as the 1930s with the decision of BBC producers and executives to keep her off the airwaves. The reason was simple: her work was deemed second-rate. While in the process of relaxing the ban in 1954, Jean Sutcliffe, head of the BBC’s schools broadcasting department, expressed the widely held disdain: ‘No writer of real merit could possibly go on believing that this mediocre material is of the highest quality and turn it out in such incredible quantities. Her capacity to do so amounts to genius and it is here that she has beaten everyone to a standstill. Anyone else would have died of boredom long ago.’
During the 1950s, the BBC was not alone in its Blyton ban; several libraries refused to stock the author’s work because it lacked literary merit. The literary world and the chattering classes recoiled from Blyton’s prewar moral certainty and turned their noses up at a middle-class teacher who was raised above a shop in London’s East Dulwich and churned out popular children’s books like whipping cream from a spray can.
By the 1960s and 1970s, Blyton’s work remained the object of censorship, but the literary dismissal of Blyton’s books had been replaced by concerns that it was ‘sexist’ and ‘classist’. As the British Library put it, ‘publishers began demanding that Blyton change her characters to fit the multicultural society that Britain boasted. Libraries removed her work from their shelves for her “political incorrectness” and alleged racism, classism and sexism. Some critics believed that her work was harmful to young readers.’ By the 1980s, her work had returned to library shelves, but it had not done so unaltered. For example, the Golliwogs’ names in her Golliwogs series were changed to Wiggie, Waggie and Wollie.
All of which seems a world away from my own memories of reading Blyton. Each Christmas or birthday, I would look forward to immersing myself in one of her novels, from The Enchanted Wood to The Five Findouters. It was not just Blyton who enthalled me as a child; Swallows and Amazons, Biggles, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew also had a hold over me. But the authors of these books were never vilified to the extent that Blyton has been.
Yet Blyton’s books were easy to read and fun. They were full of adventure involving intrepid children doing things without adult help. I pretended to believe in fairies, learnt to be a good sport at school, never to be a sneak and modelled myself on the Famous Five’s celebrated tomboy, George. ‘I’m George. I hate being a girl, I won’t be. I hate doing the things that girls do.’ The language was enchanting, too. I relished picnics with tomatoes and tinned sardines, strawberry ices and lashings of ginger beer. I remember first coming across the word ‘burn’, as in little stream or brook, in The Children of Kidillen when two English evacuee children visit their Scottish cousins for the first time.
What Blyton’s critics are unable to grasp is that children are much more resilient, imaginative and inventive than they think. Living under Apartheid in South Africa in the 1960s, the racism in Blyton’s work that caused such a stir in England and Australia and the US made no impression on me. In The Children of Kidillen, for instance, there is a dog called ‘Nigger’ but what I remember thinking about was how words like ‘burn’, ‘heather’ and ‘tam o’ shanter’ were as unfamiliar and strangely exciting to me as they were to the fictional English cousins visiting Scotland.
In Hodder’s view, Blyton’s words put children off because they do not relate to their own lives. Yet when have such words ever been immediately recognisable to young minds? In fact, it was the very strangeness of the words which was always so stimulating. What underpins the decision to revise and update Blyton is not the fact that children find the unusual words too difficult; it’s that educationalists and other experts underestimate not just children’s capacity to learn but also adults’ capacity to educate them. As a result, the difficult words, the unusual vocabulary, must be made familiar. An opportunity to learn is wasted. Such is the tyranny of relevance.
In 2008, best-selling author and former children’s laureate Anne Fine suggested that Blyton’s books – their themes and, yes, their words – were of their time. Moreover, the fact that Blyton was voted ‘Britain’s best-loved author’ in 2008 attests not to our infantilism but to something children enjoy in her novels: ‘When she was voted the nation’s favourite it was not a reflection of arrested development: we don’t carry on reading her forever. It simply represents a shared national memory of happy, uncomplicated reading, a collective appreciation of adventurous children.’
A year later, at the event ‘Compelling Novels, Vulnerable Children’, Fine bemoaned the bleak realism of today’s children’s literature, replete with care homes and divorced parents: ‘I can’t see how we roll back from this without returning to the sort of fiction that is no longer credible – books with a Blyton-ish view of things.’*
A Blyton-ish view of the world would do no harm. In fact, the go-getting, crime-solving, adventure-seeking children portrayed in Blyton’s books – and so admired by millions of her readers, past and present – could cope with a lot more than a few strange words.
Asparagus, garlic and artichokes ‘could help fight obesity and diabetes’
Eating vegetables such as asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes could hold the key to fighting obesity and diabetes, researchers believe. Scientists are examining whether a diet rich in certain types of fibre can suppress hunger and improve the body’s ability to control blood sugar levels.
Foods such as garlic, chicory, asparagus and artichokes are known as fermentable carbohydrates, which are thought to activate the release of gut hormones that reduce appetite. They also enhance sensitivity to insulin – the hormone produced by the pancreas that allows glucose to enter the body’s cells – thereby leading to better glucose control, it is believed.
The charity Diabetes UK is now funding research into the health benefits of such foods. If proved to be effective, the findings could revolutionise treatments for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Nicola Guess, a dietitian at Imperial College, London, who is leading the three-year study, said: “By investigating how appetite and blood glucose levels are regulated in people at high risk of Type 2 diabetes, it is hoped that we can find a way to prevent its onset. “If successful, this study will be able to determine whether fermentable carbohydrates could provide the public with an effective and affordable health intervention to reduce an individual’s risk of developing diabetes.”
There are 2.35 million people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in Britain, and a further half a million sufferers who are unaware that they have the condition. If left untreated, it can lead to complications such as kidney failure, heart disease, stroke and amputation.
The pathetic Leftist faith in verbal magic rolls on
Don’t label heroin users as ‘junkies’
“People should stop calling heroin users “junkies” or “addicts”, an influential think tank on drugs has said. The UK Drug Policy Commission said such names stigmatised users and made it more difficult to get off drugs.
Its report suggested that the policing of drugs on the streets and methadone programmes forcing users to go to chemists were “publicly humiliating”.
Instead, the study said that British society needed to show more compassion towards drug users. Authors of the six-month report said the terms “junkie” and “addict” were distrustful and judgmental and led to feelings of low self-worth among drug users.
“The crux of this problem, I’m afraid, is the persistent view that drug addiction is the problem of the addict,” he said. [It isn’t??]
Drug addicts have for some time been referred to simply as “users” in professional circles — but even that vague term has already acquired a tone of contempt.