NHS complaints rise at record rate
Complaints about NHS hospitals and community health services rose by a record 13.4 per cent last year, new figures show. It is the biggest annual rise since records began 12 years ago, according to data from the NHS Information Centre.
The number of complaints rose from 89,139 to 101,077 between 2008/09 and 2009/10. Previously, the biggest yearly rise was 10.6 per cent between 1999/2000 and 2000/01. Since 1997/98, there has been an average annual increase of 1.1 per cent.
All NHS trusts and community services are required to supply data for the report but it is not compulsory for the 130 foundation trusts to do so. Of them, 18 declined to supply any data.
Paul Burstow, the Health Minister, described the rise as “the public’s verdict of the last Government’s NHS record”. He said: “Despite the hard work of NHS staff, they demonstrate that, after 13 years of targets and tick-boxes, more people than ever complained about their experience of the NHS.”
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, described the rise as “very worrying” and said many more people felt like complaining than actually did so. But she also noted: “The rise might actually reflect greater awareness of the complaints process.”
Dr Paul Flynn, deputy chairman of the BMA’s consultants committee, said complaints should be seen as “a valuable resource, as they help them improve quality of care”.
Frances Blunden of the NHS Confederation, which represents managers, said: “While this year’s figures show a rise in complaints, this still represents a very small percentage of patients using NHS services.”
Why does a British Conservative minister want to be a Stalinist social engineer?
Can we really believe what we are hearing? After only 100 days in power, the Tories’ David Willetts is sounding like a tired Labour minister bankrupt of ideas.
Once again it is education and social mobility that is the issue. Mr Willetts, the Coalition’s higher education minister, is right to be concerned. But he is very wrong on who to blame and what to do about it. He wants universities to promote social mobility by accepting candidates from poor backgrounds – even if their A-levels are lower than those of middle-class applicants.
But this is nonsense. It is not the universities who are at fault where this country’s lamentable failure over education and social mobility is concerned. Nor can they be expected to magically set everything right by giving a handful of young people the chance of a decent degree.
The problems are more fundamental and widespread. Our education system is a mess and every summer young people from every stratum of society are having their hopes blighted and their futures thrown away as a result. Universities are merely where the casualties of our education system hit the buffers.
Their heartbreak was summed up this week for me by two young men. One is the son of my neighbour. A bright, hard-working boy at a private school, he has just got four As at AS level.
Great, I said, but he was not happy. Two of his modules were a few marks short of 80 per cent. And in the surreal world of our educational system, he feared this would cost him a place at a good university next year.
At the other end of the spectrum is a young man I met at an inner-city state school. He has been declared academically gifted – in the top 10 per cent – under a government scheme. Surely he would be the perfect candidate for a top university. However, this summer, he is one of the 14.3 per cent of gifted pupils who failed to get five good GCSEs. He admits he is ‘bored out of my mind’ at school and is in trouble with the police.
Responsibility for the plight of these two young men lies squarely with the last government. Too many of our state schools are just not good enough and no amount of social engineering – squeezing out bright, middle-class teenagers to fit impoverished youngsters into our universities – is going to put it right.
Labour refused to address the real causes of education failure: too much government interference, poor heads and teachers who are just not up to the job.
Of course, no Labour minister was going to tackle bad teaching, even in the cause of social mobility. Why? Because they preferred to see the children of the poorest families fail year after year rather than take on the powerful teaching unions.
This was coupled to Labour’s determination to turn schools into a PR department of government. The first priority of schools was to make the government look good – education took second place as students were pushed into taking easier and easier exams and got better and better grades.
Now, just when we hoped for a change, here is more of the same. Instead of pointing out the problems and offering solutions to the state of education in this country, David Willetts is taking Labour’s easy way out and ordering around our universities, demanding that they indulge in social engineering.
He should take note of the remarks made this week by Dr John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.
Dr Dunford said the best GCSE candidates in state schools aren’t being given the chance to excel, not through any lack of social mobility, but because of government exam league tables. The league tables focus on the percentage of pupils getting five A* to C grades. This means schools concentrate on getting C grades rather than stretching the brightest pupils. Dr Dunford described the situation as ‘one of the perverse incentives’ of the tables.
This is just one example of schools valuing their place in the league tables over the interests of their pupils. In order to meet government targets, schools are preventing able students from studying ‘difficult’ subjects, such as science and languages. But it is these traditional subjects that top universities want and why private school pupils appear to be favoured.
Private school pupils make up just 7 per cent of the school population, but get 37 per cent of A grades in chemistry. This is not for lack of gifted chemist students in the state sector — I met a number when I was researching my report on education. It is because too many state schools encourage students to take the vocational equivalent of a GCSE, which has double the league table value of a GCSE despite having no written examination.
As Geoff Parks, director of admissions at Cambridge, said: ‘We know the school’s brightest students are on track to get As, but in subject combinations that essentially rule them out.’
This has had devastating consequences for poor students. They have to trust their schools to have their best interests at heart. But too often this is just not the case. It is a pity David Willetts is not taking their side.
Dilemma: Sir Richard Sykes, former rector of Imperial College, London, sums up the dilemma this presents the best universities: ‘The belief is that there are thousands of kids out there who come from poorer backgrounds that are geniuses – there may be, but we can’t take them at 18 if they’ve not been educated.’
Instead of addressing this situation, in a wonderful piece of perverse logic worthy of his Labour predecessors, David Willetts is attacking the one part of our education system that is working – universities.
Our top universities enjoy an international reputation. They are swamped by applications at home and abroad. In the real world, any company in those fortunate circumstances would expand. Instead, what is happening?
The Government has stopped good universities expanding in the way they want — by taking on the best students — and has created the present chaotic system.
Universities are turning away pupils with straight As, like my neighbour’s son, because the Government fines them £3,700 for every student that they recruit above ‘centrally planned quotas’.
And it is here that you have to pinch yourself. Centrally planned quotas? Are we living in Stalinist Russia with David Willetts as the Chief Commissar? Well, for the purposes of higher education, we are.
To understand the absurdity of the situation, apply the same concept to Tesco. You can just imagine Commissar Willetts addressing the supermarket’s management. ‘Your sales of cornflakes has doubled this month? Cut the supply by half or we will fine you for every extra packet you sell.’
But it gets even more perverse. Universities may be turning away British school leavers in their droves, but non-EU students get a different reception. They are warmly welcomed and, indeed, wooed. The reason is simple. Universities can charge foreign students £10,000 a year. They get less than a third of that for each British student.
Foreign students contribute £3 billion a year to universities — and this is vital when the Government is imposing funding cuts of at least a quarter. So desperate are universities for funding that they offer places to foreign, fee-paying students with results that are up to two grades lower than the hard-working son of my neighbour.
As a lecturer at Sheffield University remarked: ‘Yes, it’s a funny situation, but that’s how it is. It’s Government policy.’
In other words, it’s fine to sell those scarce packets of cornflakes to India or China, but don’t let anyone from Britain get their hands on one.
We have seen the effect of 13 disastrous years of Labour on our education system. We had hoped for something better from the Conservatives. Education Secretary Michael Gove is promising an imaginative and radical overhaul of our schools. Why not the same for our universities?
Intolerant, hysterical and smug! How I hate the organic fanatics
By Susan Hill
One net of four lemons – £1.23; one net of four ORGANIC lemons – £2.49. One pint of semi-skimmed milk – 89p; one pint of ORGANIC semi-skimmed milk – £1.20. These price differences incensed me so much the other day that I spent an hour going round the small supermarket in a town near my home in the Cotswolds filling two trolleys with identical items, one organic and ‘eco-friendly’, the other non-organic and what you might call ‘normal’.
When I had filled my trolleys, I went into a corner of the shop and worked out the cost of each. The organic trolley was £93.72. The other £66.30.
Now, a difference of almost a third is a big difference. How can many ordinary working families afford to pay such a lot extra for their shopping trolley week in, week out?
My little experiment confirmed what I always suspected – that organics are for the rich. This doesn’t apply only to food. What about organic cotton bed linen, eco-friendly floor cleaner, organic dog biscuits? All of it costs a lot more.
The rich can, of course, afford to indulge their organic fads. They are the ones who fall for the hysterical hype about organic being better, more nutritious, more likely to make you live longer and not poison you with all those awful chemical pesticides that non-organic food is supposedly soaked in. But ordinary people have got far less money and a lot more sense.
Just as rich celebrities usually fall for daft religions and alternative everything, so naturally they fall for the religion of An Organic Existence. If you embrace the organic faith, the first thing that happens is that you lose your sense of perspective and your ability to read any facts, especially scientific facts, that run contrary to your beliefs.
So with the fervent belief that organic food is more nutritious comes the blindness which prevents you from accepting properly conducted scientific investigations, like the one reported in the Daily Mail last year.
After lengthy trials, the Berlin-based consumer watchdog Stiftung Warentest concluded that organic food has no health, taste or nutritional advantages over conventionally manufactured or harvested food. But you could scream that in their ears all day – the organic religionists will not listen.
If you can’t justify organic foods on nutritional grounds, surely they are less harmful because they’re not stuffed full of toxic pesticides which damage health? Er, no.
The old powerful weedkillers are now banned on all farms. Meanwhile, modern versions are strictly regulated, don’t harm the soil and residues in food are undetectable. It seems the EU’s safety regulations aren’t all bad. But again, try to explain this to the organic fanatics and it’s like talking to a brick wall.
Now, that’s fine. People believe what they want to believe. I am a Christian and as a result a lot of people think that I’m a nutter. But with the organic brigade, as with many converts to other religions, it doesn’t always stop there. They want to convert the rest of us to their faith – forcibly if necessary. You listen to a fervent organic believer and it’s like listening to someone off to the Crusades.
Now, don’t jump to the conclusion that because I know that ‘organic’ is a con and a rip-off, I want everyone to die of pesticide poisoning, the earth to become barren and animals to suffer. I don’t.
I always buy free-range eggs and meat, not because they taste better or are more nutritious – sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. It’s because of the way the animals are treated. Their welfare ought to concern everyone.
And I was pleasantly surprised when I did a price comparison on free-range eggs and chickens, and on normal versus free-range bacon. On the eggs, there was 2p difference per half-dozen; on the bacon, 6p per pack.
That’s not so much and it’s worth forgoing a few pence to cover the cost, once you know how battery animals are treated. The benefits of free-range may be non-existent to us, but to the hens and pigs they are everything. The benefits of organic seem to be non-existent to anyone.
I asked a neighbouring vegetable grower if he had thought of converting to organic. Yes, he’d looked into it. It takes three years to change over to organic methods and get the seal of approval from Organics HQ. It is very labour intensive, pests flourish and yields are much smaller.
Since the recession, the bottom has dropped out of the organics market. Shops once allocated long stretches of shelving to organic produce. Now, they have shrunk or even vanished – except, of course, in stores where the rich live.
The rich who buy only organic products are telling us they are morally superior, that they have tender consciences and hug the planet on a daily basis.
So why can’t they widen their concern and get real? After all, we will only eliminate hunger and gradually increase the life-expectancy of the world’s poorest if we produce food on a massive scale, with all the benefits of modern fertilisers and pesticides.
While many mothers struggle to feed their young families at all, the rich indulge theirs in expensive organic-only babyfoods – some of which, when tested, were found to have fewer nutrients and minerals than the non-organic sort. Devoted poorer mothers know they should provide fresh fruit and vegetables for their children – yet find it hard enough to pay for the regular sort, never mind organic. The price of five bananas in my supermarket today – (special offer) £1. Price of five organic bananas – £2.39.
Yet the propaganda about organic everything is constantly pumped out, so that parents are made to feel guilty and inadequate. They are told that because they are not giving their families organic food, their children will be allergy-prone and stunted from ingesting pesticides. And that’s before they’re told that they are harming/polluting/ shortening the life of Planet Earth and helping to wipe out biodiversity.
Those who can ill afford to pay an extra £2.39 for five bananas make huge efforts to do so to in order to assuage their consciences, which have been pricked by the rich organic-fanatics who cannot face scientific facts because it’s against their new religion.
Yes, organic might be a matter of faith – and some doctors would say that if you believe the medicine is doing you good, it really works. By all means, eat organic because you think it tastes better; sometimes it does. Believe it is more nutritious if you must and that non-organic is junk. It’s a free world.
Just don’t make others who can’t afford your organic faith feel bad about it.
Six white police officers to sue Britain’s Metropolitan Police for racial discrimination
Six white policemen are suing their force for racial discrimination after being cleared of an alleged racially aggravated assault. The officers, all members of Scotland Yard’s Territorial Support Group, have launched employment tribunal proceedings against the Metropolitan Police.
They claim they were subjected to racial discrimination following the incident in June 2007 that led to their arrest and trial.
PC Mark Jones, was among the six officers who spotted a group of youths allegedly mouthing obscenities at them as they were on patrol in central London. When they came to a stop, three teenagers were allegedly taken into the van one by one and subjected to taunts.
PC Amechi Onwugbonu, the van driver, who is black, gave evidence against PC Jones during the trial. He said the officer swore at and kicked one teenager and walked over another youth as he lay handcuffed on the floor of the vehicle. He claimed a third teenager was sworn at, punched, kneed and slapped in the face.
But PC Jones denied acting in an unprofessional manner. PC Onwugbonu later admitted that he and PC Jones were ‘not best buddies’.
The case came down to one officer’s word against another’s and the jury took five hours to clear PC Jones of two charges of racially aggravated common assault. His colleagues who were accused of covering it up were found not guilty of misfeasance in public office.
PC Jones and the other officers, Sergeant William Wilson, PC Steven White, PC Giles Kitchener, PC Simon Prout and PC Neil Brown, have all launched tribunal proceedings against the Met. The employment tribunal proceedings were filed in mid-July and no date has yet been set for a hearing.
A Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said: ‘I can confirm that PC Mark Jones and others have submitted an employment tribunal claim citing racial discrimination.’
In a separate case, PC Jones is one of four officers accused of attacking terrorist suspect Babar Ahmad during a raid at his home in Tooting, South London, in 2003. The officer, who is on restricted duties, is accused of assault causing actual bodily harm and will appear before magistrates in Westminster on September 22. He will be joined in the dock by PCs Nigel Cowley, 32, and Roderick James-Bowen, 39, and Detective Constable John Donohue, 36.
The TSG came under scrutiny last month when the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute PC Simon Harwood who was filmed striking newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson during last year’s G20 protests moments before he collapsed and later died.
Another TSG sergeant, Delroy Smellie, was previously cleared of assaulting a protester during a vigil for Tomlinson that took place the day after his death.
The Met has previously paid out to a white officer who claimed he had suffered racial discrimination. Detective Chief Superintendent Barry Norman led the investigation into a senior officer, Ali Dizaei, for alleged corruption when Dizaei was acquitted of criminal charges. Dizaei was convicted and jailed this year for a separate offence.
Mr Norman’s supporters claimed he was ‘hung out to dry’. He said his career suffered as a result of the £2.2milllion inquiry and he was subsequently awarded £40,000.
Tony Blair condemns the delegitimization of Israel
Excerpt from a recent speech:
There are two forms of de-legitimisation. One is traditional, obvious and from the quarters it emanates, expected. It is easier to deal with. This is attack from those who openly question Israel’s right to exist. It is easier to deal with, because it is so clear. When the President of Iran says he wants Israel wiped off the face of the map, we all know where we are. This is not to minimise the threat of course. It remains and is profound. It is just to say that were this the only form of de-legitimisation, it wouldn’t warrant a conference of analysis; simply a course of action.
The other form is more insidious, harder to spot, harder to anticipate and harder to deal with, because many of those engaging in it, will fiercely deny they are doing so. It is this form that is in danger of growing, and whose impact is potentially highly threatening, in part because it isn’t obvious.
I would define in it this way: it is a conscious or often unconscious resistance, sometimes bordering on refusal, to accept Israel has a legitimate point of view. Note that I say refusal to accept Israel has a legitimate point of view. I’m not saying refusal to agree with it. People are perfectly entitled to agree or not; but rather an unwillingness to listen to the other side, to acknowledge that Israel has a point, to embrace the notion that this is a complex matter that requires understanding of the other way of looking at it.
The challenge is that this often does not come from ill-intentioned people; but well-intentioned. They would dispute vigorously such a characterisation of their mindset. They would point to the injustice of Palestinian suffering, acts of the Israeli Government or army which are unjustifiable and they would say, rightly, that you cannot say that to criticise Israel is to de-legitimise it. Such minds are often to be found in the west. They will say they advocate a two state solution and they will point to that as proof positive that they accept Israel’s existence fully.
The problem is that though this is true in theory, in practice they wear Nelson’s eye patch when they lift the telescope of scrutiny to the Israeli case. In a very real sense, they don’t see it.
So, for example, on Gaza they won’t accept that Israel might have a right to search vessels bringing cargo into Gaza, given that even this year over 100 rockets have been fired from that territory into Israel Leave aside the multiple investigations relating to the flotilla, upon which there will naturally be heated debate. I mean a refusal to accept that, however handled, no Israeli government could be indifferent to the possibility of weapons and missiles being brought into Gaza.
I often have a conversation about the West Bank which goes like this. Someone says: Israel must lift the occupation. I reply: I agree but it has to be sure that when it does so, there will be security and a Palestinian force capable of preventing terrorism. They say: so you’re supporting occupation. I say: I’m not: I’m simply pointing out that if Hamas, with an unchanged position on Israel, were running the West Bank, Israel would have a perfectly legitimate right to be concerned about it’s security.
A constant conversation I have with some, by no means all, of my European colleagues is to argue to them: don’t apply rules to the Government of Israel that you would never dream of applying to your own country. In any of our nations, if there were people firing rockets, committing acts of terrorism and living next door to us, our public opinion would go crazy. And any political leader who took the line that we shouldn’t get too excited about it, wouldn’t last long as a political leader. This is a democracy. Israel lost 1000 citizens to terrorism in the intifada. That equates in UK population terms to 10,000. I remember the bomb attacks from Republican terrorism in the 1970’s. There weren’t many arguing for a policy of phlegmatic calm.
So the issue of de-legitimisation is not simply about an overt denial of the State of Israel. It is the application of prejudice in not allowing that Israel has a point of view that should be listened to.
One thing I state repeatedly in interviews about Gaza – despite disagreeing with the previous policy on it – is to say to western media outlets: just at least comprehend why Israel feels as it does. In 2005 it got out of Gaza i.e. ceased occupying it, took over 7000 settlers with it and in return got rockets and terror attacks. Now I know all the counter-arguments about the unilateral nature of the withdrawal, the 2005 Access and Movement agreement and the closure of the crossings. But the fact remains: there is another point of view and you can’t describe it as illegitimate.
This is then hugely heightened by the way things are reported. Here the televisual images – whether in Lebanon, Gaza or indeed any field of conflict – in Afghanistan for example, are so shocking that they tend to overwhelm debate about how or why conflict began. Because Israel – like the US or the UK – has superior force and because in such situations the horrible tragedy is that the innocent die – these images arouse anger, sympathy and a disgust that at one level is completely understandable but at another obscures the difficult choices nations like ours face, when they come under attack.
The combination of all of this is curious disjunction of perception. I spend large amounts of time in Israel, and outside of it in different parts of the world. To those outside, Israel is regularly perceived as arrogant, overbearing and aggressive. To Israelis, there is a sense that the world is isolating it unfairly and perversely refusing to see they too have a right to have their voice heard. Hence this conference.