Mothers forced to give birth in NHS hospital waiting room where there was ‘insufficient space to care for them’
Women are being forced to give birth in a hospital waiting room because there are not enough beds in overstretched maternity units. Expectant mothers are going through one of the most agonising ordeals of their lives in a crowded seating area, while other patients look on.
Campaigners last night warned that such an appalling standard of care is putting the health of women and their babies at risk.
King’s College Hospital, in South London, has admitted that mothers ‘regularly’ go into labour in the maternity unit’s waiting room as there are not enough beds. Managers said the department is often so full that some women have their babies in the seating area – with nothing more than a temporary screen to protect their privacy. The hospital admits the unit is severely overstretched and there are not enough beds to cope with the increasing birth rate of the catchment area.
But critics warn that the dire situation will soon be commonplace up and down the country as increasing numbers of hospitals close their maternity units to save money.
In an internal report, managers at King’s College Hospital state: ‘Increasing demand for use of the maternity services at King’s has resulted in there being insufficient space to care for all women appropriately when giving birth and accessing care. ‘Women are labouring in the waiting room on a regular basis while waiting for a labour room, sometimes giving birth inappropriately before this area is free.’
The document also reveals that in the past three months there had been 40 serious incidents at the hospital’s maternity ward because there were not enough beds or staff. The hospital would not provide details of the individual cases but at worst they can involve the baby being seriously hurt during the birth, or even dying.
Earlier this week it emerged that at least seven NHS trusts were planning to close or restrict their maternity units, which will mean nearby departments will become increasingly overstretched. Geoff Martin, the chairman of London Health Emergency, which campaigns against hospital cuts said: ‘It is clear from this problem at King’s that we don’t have enough capacity for women in labour as it is. ‘The problem will only get worse when more units close.’
One mother, who did not wish to be named, said she had narrowly avoided giving birth in the maternity unit’s waiting room because her labour was longer than expected. She said: ‘It was ridiculous. I was kept waiting for hours, but luckily it was a long labour, so eventually I managed to get a place on the labour ward in time for the birth.’
A spokesman for the hospital said: ‘Like many other hospitals, our maternity unit is very busy – we deliver 6,000 babies every year. ‘On very rare occasions, when women attended the unit in the very final stages of labour, they had to give birth in the waiting area because all the delivery rooms were full.’
Dying patient sent on three-hour taxi journey with no oxygen after blunder by NHS staff
A dying cancer patient was sent 80 miles by taxi after a blunder by NHS staff, it was revealed today. The 62-year-old man was sent between hospitals by cab – without oxygen or medical care on the three-hour journey. An inquiry revealed the patient was unable to have the treatment when he eventually arrived at the second hospital – and he died a few days later.
Health watchdog Peter Tyndall said: ‘Unfortunately, his cancer was terminal – he hadn’t long to live. ‘What should properly have happened is that he should have been made as comfortable as possible for his last few days. The whole episode was badly managed.’
An investigation revealed NHS staff later tried to cover up the blunder by faking official records – falsely claiming the man’s wife had agreed to go with him. Health officials were today ordered to apologise over the scandal.
Mr Tyndall, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, said the patient suffered from lung cancer and brain tumours which left him confused. He was being moved to a larger hospital to undergo radiotherapy but was too ill to have the treatment. The patient died within days of his transfer from Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth to Singleton Hospital in Swansea.
The investigation found he was not properly assessed to discover if he had the mental capacity to agree to the transfer.
The ombudsman said there was no evidence to show the man was judged safe to travel alone – and that record keeping was “substandard”, with documents “poorly completed” by staff.
The investigation found that a ward sister had falsified an entry into the patient’s medical records more than a year after he had died. Mr Tyndall said: ‘This was a deliberate attempt to mislead and obstruct his investigation.’ The nurse, who has not been named, is facing disciplinary proceedings from the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
A Hywel Dda Health Board spokesman said: ‘We very much regret the failings identified by the ombudsman, both in relation to the complaint and the conduct of a member of staff during the investigation. ‘The health board has now put in place procedures and plans to avoid a similar recurrence of the issues identified.
‘A letter of apology will be forwarded to the family, with an assurance the ombudsman’s recommendations have been taken seriously and that an action plan has been developed to address them.’
Britain has crazy immigration priorities too
Why would ANY country try to keep out highly skilled workers while consciously letting untold numbers of illegals live there?
The government’s interim immigration cap has left one of the UK’s major research universities able to recruit or keep only 78 “skilled” overseas academics this year – and the permanent cap could bring further reductions.
The UK Border Agency has given each university a quota on recruitment from non-European Union countries under Tier 2 of the points-based immigration system, which covers “skilled workers”. The quotas cover new visas – and renewals for existing staff – between 19 July 2010 and 31 March 2011, when the permanent cap will be imposed.
University College London, which has more than 4,000 staff, said it had been allowed just 78 places under the interim cap.
Universities are trying to bridge the gap by recruiting under Tier 1, which covers “highly skilled workers”. In this category, however, the skills threshold is higher and the number of visas allocated is subject to a monthly national cap.
The UKBA’s consultation on the permanent cap, which closed last month, has caused concern among universities by suggesting that Tier 2 visas could be closed to them.
The consultation document notes that there is a “strong case” for granting Tier 2 visas only to migrants with skills that are in “national shortage”. This could have disastrous implications for universities because academics are not currently on the National Shortage Occupation List.
Universities UK voiced the sector’s concerns in the consultation.
Many institutions believe that the UKBA has failed to appreciate that academic careers are inherently international and that the lengthy training period for new entrants means universities cannot rapidly switch to a “British-only” policy.
The universities of Oxford and Cambridge would not comment on their exact allocations.
But a Cambridge spokeswoman said: “The government’s current visa-quota proposals threaten our ability to recruit both the academic leaders of today and the exceptional young talent from which will grow the Nobel prizewinners of tomorrow.”
How to make immigration work in Britain’s interests
Irwin Stelzer talks economic sense below. His recipe would apply to other Western countries too
From France (deport Romas), to Germany (preserve national identity), to Sweden (xenophobes win seats), to the Netherlands (no more burqas), an anti-immigration tide is sweeping across Europe. Britain is no exception; permanent restrictions on immigration are inevitable. But it would be a pity if they deny companies the skilled workers they need to remain competitive in a globalised world.
Britain can do little to reduce the flow of immigrants from the other 26 EU member states. In future it will be able to do even less if Bulgaria goes through with its plan to issue 500,000 passports to citizens of non-member countries; and if the new EU rule that guarantees immigrants the right to all welfare benefits accorded to native populations proves a magnet for immigrants.
Work visas for non-EU immigrants are now subject to a temporary cap that has left affected firms threatening to move where the skilled workers are. Employers are right. Restrictions on the numbers of would-be workers cut into their bottom lines, put pressure on them to train British citizens to do these jobs – often costly – and probably reduces national wealth.
Native workers are also right. In many cases immigrants take “their jobs” or, at minimum, place downward pressure on wages.
And residents of towns in which immigrants cluster are also right. Their culture is threatened as strange sounds and smells dominate once-familiar streets, and the burdens on the social services are increased.
The Government is desperate to satisfy all parties. So it has called in the bureaucrats to decide which immigrants should be admitted. It should instead concentrate on how to get the winners to share some of their increased profits with the losers who bear the costs.
Immigrants possess skills that are in short supply here, and add billions of pounds to national output. But a system that calls on bureaucrats to award points to workers with skills the bureaucrats decide are most needed is bound to get things wrong. There is a more efficient and fairer way.
Employers and immigrants strike wage deals that leave out of the equation the costs to society. Schools are more crowded, demands on the NHS increase, in some cases policing costs rise, incentives to train native workers fall. Economists call these “externalities” – costs created but not borne by the parties to a transaction.
The government can put these costs where they belong – on the firms and workers who benefit – and make sure that each visa adds to national wealth. How so? By requiring employers to bid for the limited number of entry permits, the proceeds to be remitted to the communities on which the immigrant imposes costs, or to HM Treasury. The employer will pay the full cost of the immigration, perhaps making up some of that cost by offering the immigrant a lower wage – which will reduce the demand for entry.
Like other market-based solutions, this is adjustable: if bidding for permits gets outrageously high, the government can increase their number.
Of course, other things need doing. Britain could refuse entry to anyone with a passport from Bulgaria, and fight it out before Europe’s courts. After all, the EU has merely wrinkled its nose at France flaunting its treaty obligations. Britain can also really, really defend its borders. The government can put any applicant for entry at Heathrow with no papers back on a plane to wherever he had embarked on his journey. It can immediately deport any illegals it rounds up, and if the country of origin refuses to take them back, send them to a willing country, perhaps for a fee. Such a policy would reduce the number of illegals trying to sneak into Britain.
So, a limit on immigrants, border control, auctioning of permits. All are ingredients of a sensible policy that would add to national wealth. Innocent bystanders in communities now bearing the social and economic costs would be compensated, rather than forced to subsidise the large companies that are the major importers of labour.
Imperfect solution? Sure. But before dismissing it, consider this. Economists Pia Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny, in their new book Beside the Golden Door, suggest an initial minimum price, which would fluctuate according to demand, of $10,000 for a high-skill permit to work in the US. If British companies really need those foreign workers, a price anything like that would net the Treasury £350 million for 50,000 permits. And the nation the workers it most needs.
BBC told to ensure balance on climate change
Climate change sceptics are likely to be given greater prominence in BBC documentaries and news bulletins following new editorial guidelines that call for impartiality in the corporation’s science coverage.
The BBC has been repeatedly accused of bias in its reporting of climate change issues. Last year one of its reporters, Paul Hudson, was criticised for not reporting on some of the highly controversial “Climategate” leaked emails from the University of East Anglia, even though he had been in possession of them for some time.
Climate change sceptics have also accused the BBC of not properly reporting “Glaciergate”, when a study from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) saying that glaciers would melt by 2035 was discredited.
But the BBC’s new editorial guidelines, published yesterday after an extensive consultation that considered over 1,600 submissions by members of the public, say expressly for the first time that scientific issues fall within the corporation’s obligation to be impartial.
“The BBC must be inclusive, consider the broad perspective, and ensure that the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected,” said BBC trustee Alison Hastings.
“In addition the new guideline extends the definition of `controversial’ subjects beyond those of public policy and political or industrial controversy to include controversy within religion, science, finance, culture, ethics and other matters.”
However James Delingpole, a prominent climate change sceptic, yesterday said that he predicted little movement in the BBC’s environmental stories.
“It’s highly unlikely that they’ll be more balanced in their coverage,” he said.
“It’s a whole cultural thing at the BBC – that people who don’t believe are just `flat earthers’. Whenever they invite dissenters like me on to debates, they surround us with `warmists’. On Any Questions, for example, Jonathan Dimbleby does his best to be impartial, but this is a man with a wind turbine in his garden.”
In 2007, a BBC Trust report called Safeguarding Impartiality in the 21st Century said: “Climate change is another subject where dissenters can be unpopular . The BBC has held a high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts, and has come to the view that the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus. But these dissenters (or even sceptics) will still be heard, as they should, because it is not the BBC’s role to close down this debate.”
The BBC Trust is also currently conducting a separate review into impartiality in the corporation’s science coverage, led by Professor Steve Jones from University College London, which will report in the spring of next year.
Professor Jones has been asked to consider whether the BBC’s output “gives appropriate weight to scientific conclusions including different theories and due weight to the views expressed by those sceptical about the science and how it was conducted or evaluated.”
What on earth is Bob Ward?
A few days ago I had the rare pleasure of listening to quite possibly the most revoltingly parti pris, cloying, wrongheaded, disgraceful and thrillingly, collectably awful radio programme since the days of Lord Haw Haw. It was on ABC – Australia’s answer to the BBC: you can read the transcript here – and purported to present a reasonable and balanced view on Climate Change, courtesy of an “expert” named Bob Ward.
Bob Who? Well indeed. If you were to judge only by the sycophantic treatment he received at the hands of interviewer Robyn Williams (someone so instantly irritating he makes the other, more famous irritating Robin Williams seem an unparalleled delight of charm and understatement, by comparison), you would imagine he were some sort of cross between Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, plus maybe a bit of Svante Arrhenius and Joseph Fourier for the specialist Climate Change bits.
Actually, though, Bob Ward is a PR man. He used to work for the Royal Society, from which Warmist redoubt he once famously had the chutzpah to write to Exxon ordering them to stop funding “climate change deniers”. Now he works for something called the Grantham Research Institute, a “research department” at the London School of Economics (LSE) funded by an American hedge-funder called Jeremy Grantham and headed by the economist and former treasury official Lord Stern.
Grantham is, of course, a passionate believer in the green orthodoxy. He has made his money and if he wants to put some of it into an organisation promoting belief in the AGW religion then that’s his prerogative. But let’s not delude ourselves that the Grantham Institute is exactly a neutral source of information on this issue. Taking its lead from Lord Stern’s (tragically flawed) report, it is committed to the ideological position that man-made “Climate Change” represents a major, immediate threat which must be dealt with urgently through costly intervention. There is not much tolerance for “climate scepticism”, let alone “denial” at the Grantham Institute.
Which is why it came as rather a surprise to many ABC listeners to hear the Grantham Institute’s angry baldie attack dog Bob Ward being feted like the ultimate arbiter of neutral authority. Among them was Tom Harris, who eviscerates both Ward and Robyn Williams here in this magnificent Fisking of the fawning interview.
And when Ward asserts that dangerous global warming is “the kinda [sic] thing that I think most people would not want to risk if there is a cost effective solution to reducing emissions”, why didn’t Williams ask Ward what such “a cost effective solution” would be? Is it perhaps because no one can complete a meaningful cost/benefit analysis when future climate states are even less understood than the economic and social impacts of both climate change or energy rationing due to the sort of greenhouse gas controls Ward promotes? Ward’s statement is also self-evident – no one would oppose eliminating risk, no matter how small, in any field if a “cost effective solution” could be found. But then to formulate such a solution we first need to know accurately the balance of cost and benefit – which, for climate change, we do not.
Next, Ward attributes nonsense to climate skeptics:
Anybody who seriously argues that carbon dioxide and methane are not greenhouse gases; that increasing the concentrations in the atmosphere doesn’t warm the world; I mean they’re basically fighting against 200 years worth of science..
Now, you’ve got to be very, very blinkered in your view if you are saying “I know for sure there will be no increase in temperature and there’s no risk.”
Why didn’t Williams ask Ward to tell the listening audience who has made these sorts of absolute statements? Is it because no one actually has? Certainly, Ward’s primary targets for vilification in the interview, Professors Carter, Lindzen and Plimer, never have. Even with his relatively weak science background, Ward must know that.
Ward’s conclusion is classic:
… what’s worrying about this is they [climate skeptics] are creating confusion at a time when we have to make very serious decisions because the climate responds slowly to changes in greenhouse gas emissions and actually the decisions we gonna [sic] make today about emissions are about what kind of climate we’ll see 20, 30 years from now and has very large implications if we make the wrong decisions.
Given Ward’s overconfidence about a science that he admits is grossly uncertain, Williams should have jumped at the chance to ask him an obvious question, which is:
Since the impacts of major greenhouse gas decisions are delayed for decades, shouldn’t we take the time to carefully consider what leading experts such as Carter, Plimer and Lindzen are saying? Why rush decisions when the consequences of being wrong are so high? Either we are headed towards climate catastrophe or we are on the verge of wasting trillions of dollars worldwide on a non-issue. Either way, we owe it to our children and grandchildren to perform due diligence on the issue before making any decisions at all.
Harris’s demolition is well worth reading in full. What I personally found most amusing about the interview was its arrant hypocrisy. Here is Ward’s dismissive verdict on “sceptics”:
…They write newspaper articles and go and appear on the media because what they are really interested in is influencing public debate rather than debating the intellectual basis of their objections.
But isn’t this exactly what Bob Ward does all the ruddy time, popping up like a bad smell on TV and radio whenever a rentaquote spokesman is needed to talk about ‘Climate Change’? He’s a PR man, let us remind ourselves, not a scientist (although he can claim an unfinished PhD thesis in Palaeopiezometry).
His job – for which he no doubt receives a salary a heck of a sight bigger than any of his “denier” oppos, like me – is by its very nature about swaying public opinion using traditional PR techniques like exaggeration, blustering and economy with the actualite. It’s not like Ward-y spends his days poring over radiosonde data or measuring ice caps or poking around in polar bear poo. He’s a hatchet man. He’s quite good at it.
That’s probably why they chose him. Because he looks a bit like an angry pit bull and he’s quite a scary thing to confront when you’re up against him in a debate, trying to get awkward scientific truths across like the fact that Global Warming hasn’t actually happened since 1998.
Bob Ward is not afraid to play dirty. One of his favourite tricks is to deploy the Press Complaints Commission weapon. He has inflicted this torture device more than once on Christopher Booker, reporting him for some doubtful inaccuracy or other which the PCC almost certainly won’t have either the intellect or the ideological neutrality to judge fairly, but which will result in his unfortunate victim being tied up for days answering pointless questions about tiny details for the PCC’s kangaroo court. If you see him try it on me, you’ll know why.
For further stories about Bob Ward in action, read Bishop Hill – another victim of Ward’s vicious campaigning – here, here, here. The Bishop also rightly condemns Ward’s disgraceful – and quite possibly actionable – assault on the distinguished and thoroughly decent Professor Bob Carter on the abovementioned ABC radio suck-up.
Roger Pielke Jr, meanwhile, has an amusing story about the Grantham Institute’s pathetic inability to provide anyone – other than the inevitable Bob – to debate with him on his visit to London next month.
Here is my view — If the Grantham Institute insists on having Bob Ward going around in blogs and in the media seeking to criticize my work — as he did on the disaster issue and has done so more recently — then they have an obligation to come out from behind him to actually engage in intellectual debate. The alternative would be to inform Mr. Ward that they do not wish to back up his various attacks.
I understand that people are busy. So I have offered up two weeks worth of dates for the Grantham folks to find a single faculty member to defend Ward’s frequent attacks on their behalf. Apparently they can not or will not put someone up. (And it does indeed have to be a faculty member. I have debated Mr. Ward before and, not surprisingly, he was unprepared to actually debate. So I won’t repeat that experience again.)
Since the Grantham Institute folks have been given the opportunity to debate issues openly and in public, I will be very surprised to see Bob Ward rejoining his attacks on me in blogs and in the media. That would be pretty uncool. The offer of a public exchange, which I am sure would be of wide interest, will remain open to those hiding behind Mr. Ward.
This is far, far more than I ever wanted to write about Bob Ward and I promise never to sully my typing fingers in this way ever again. Why did I do so? Simple. Because as we approach endgame in the great Climate Change Pseudoscience Fraud, people will understandably want to know how this massive con trick was able to penetrate so deep into the public psyche.
For the full disgraceful story you must wait for my forthcoming book Watermelons. In the meantime, let me offer the case of Bob Ward as an example of how the poison spread.
Let me make one thing clear: I’m not criticising Ward on the grounds that he is a PR man. He is as entitled to speak out on “Climate Change” as I – a mere Oxford Eng Lit grad blogger and hack – am. But note, pray, one key difference. If ever I am called to debate about climate change on the BBC or wherever I will always be introduced as a climate change “sceptic.” Ward, on the other hand, though as virulent an activist as anyone on my side of the debate, will be introduced as a spokesman for the Grantham Research Institute – thus lending him an aura of dignity, neutrality and lofty expertise he simply doesn’t merit.
The effect of this imbalance is distorting and dangerous. I have lost count of the number of environmental news reports in serious newspapers which quote Bob Ward as though he were THE ex-cathedra authority on all matters to do with “Climate Science.” Presumably, on the same grounds, every time there’s a meat recipe they should ring up for the views of Paul McCartney; and every time there’s a story about heroism in Afghanistan, they should court the vital opinion of Parliament Square “peace activist” Brian Hawes; and every time there’s a piece about the Pope they should ring up Ian Paisley. After all they’re just as reliable and just as unbiased.
Send fewer thugs to jail and save £20m a year, British judges and JPs told
Judges and magistrates were yesterday ordered to send fewer violent thugs to jail. New guidelines mean those guilty of grievous bodily harm or beating up a police officer will remain on the streets rather than going to prison.
And courts will be told to count the youth or remorse of an attacker as a mark in their favour, even though many assaults happen when pubs and clubs close and are committed by young people.
The Sentencing Council believes its move could save almost £20million a year to the prison and probation services and mean 4,000 fewer violent yobs being sent to jail.
But it provoked a storm of protest last night and comes against a political backdrop of Justice Secretary Ken Clarke declaring he wants to reduce sharply the number of short term jail sentences.
Lord Justice Leveson, who is chairman of the council, said judges and magistrates have been ‘ignoring’ guidelines and setting longer sentences for lesser assaults. Despite insisting that ‘none of us is soft on crime’, he was forced to deny the judges have acted in league with Mr Clarke, who is committed to sending fewer offenders to prison.
He added: ‘If this works, there will be less use of custody.’ But critics said the thinking behind the policy was ‘dubious’ and could create ‘more crime and more victims’.
Criminologist Dr David Green, of the Civitas think tank, said: ‘I do not believe that any experienced judge would think that current sentencing practice is disproportionate. ‘When you make the consequences of crime less severe, you will get more of it.’
The new rules would mean fewer jail sentences for common assault, assault on a police officer, causing actual bodily harm and assault trying to resist arrest.
For grievous bodily harm, an assault causing permanent disability, disfigurement, broken bones or injuries requiring lengthy treatment, attackers will not go to jail if they are considered to have factors in their favour. These include youth or immaturity, showing remorse, and causing the injury with a single blow.
The council’s guidelines were put out as a consultation and are likely to be given legal force next spring. Unlike previous sentencing rules handed down by predecessor bodies, they must be obeyed to the letter by judges and magistrates.
Lord Justice Leveson said: ‘What’s moving me is to get the system right, fair, proportionate and understandable.’ He added that there had been a ‘general trend towards longer sentences for all assault offences’ over the past ten years.
The guidelines could mean:
– Between 1,000 and 2,800 fewer offenders jailed each year for common assault.
– Between 300 and 900 fewer jailed each year for assault causing actual bodily harm.
– Between 200 and 700 fewer jailed each year for assault on a police officer.
– Between 15 and 50 fewer jailed each year for assault with intent to resist arrest.
– Between ten and 30 fewer jailed each year for causing grievous bodily harm.
‘There has been an increase in the severity of sentences at the lower end of the assault range and I think we’re trying to adjust that for reasons of proportionality, rather than anything else,’ he said. ‘I think there may be a slight increase at the very, very top, for the most serious offences of this type.’
Mr Clarke announced his policy of cutting down on numbers of criminals sent to prison in the summer. The aim, which disappointed many Tory MPs and voters, was to cut the 85,000 prison population and save the taxpayer money. Doubting that prison worked to cut crime, Mr Clarke said it cost £38,000 to keep someone in jail for a year, more than the fees to send a pupil to Eton.
His critics say that one major reason why crime has fallen in recent years is that judges and magistrates have chosen to send more offenders to jail, despite pressure from Labour politicians and from senior judges not to do so.
They also say that the cost of sending criminals to jail is small compared to the cost of the crimes they commit if they are left on the street to re-offend. The prison population has risen from around 55,000 in 1996 to about 85,000.
The Sentencing Council also hopes to reduce community sentences – including work details for offenders who may also be given curfews and electronic tags – and replace them in similar numbers by fines for lesser offenders.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the Government was committed to ensuring that penalties deter crime, protect the public, punish offenders and cut re-offending. [How?}
Beware falling acorns! Health and safety lunacy reaches new peak with warning sign
It is an autumnal hazard that mankind has successfully negotiated for millions of years. Not that you would know from the latest advice from hospital health and safety chiefs who reckon that, after all this time, we need a little help in dealing with the danger of acorns. As a result signs have been put up around an oak tree warning ‘Caution Please Be Aware Of The Falling Acorns’.
Staff at the Brentwood Community Hospital in Essex erected the sign after a patient stepped on an acorn last year and suffered a slight sprain to her ankle. Although the patient did not sue, gardeners have also now been ordered to collect fallen acorns in the hospital grounds.
Andrew McGowan, 28, who was visiting a patient yesterday, said: ‘It’s health and safety madness really. You don’t need a sign to warn you about things falling from the tree. It happens at this time of year and you can see acorns on the ground.’
Details emerged days after visitors to a park in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, were warned of falling conkers with a sign that proclaimed: ‘Beware Falling Conkers – Please Proceed with Care.’
The Brentwood hospital yesterday defended the move, citing the slip last year. A spokesman added: ‘Our groundsmen now sweep acorns up and they have put the signs up just to be on the safe side.’
Turning the ivory towers into a skills factory
Britain’s debate about how higher education should be funded assumes that its only value is economic. It is poor value for the taxpayers’ money if that is so — JR
How to fund British universities? It is a dismal question for a dismal debate. And it’s a question that has been recurring with depressing regularity ever since the New Labour government introduced the first top-up fees 12 years ago. Nothing seems to break the repetitive cycle of argument and counter-argument. Critics of spending cuts and/or raising tuition fees will declare that universities are vital: vital to the UK economy, vital to overcoming social inequality, vital to our collective future.
Supporters of spending cuts and/or raising tuition fees will argue that universities are not vital enough. The courses take too long; graduates are not sufficiently economically productive; and besides, the government has already spent too much on this collective future.
Unfortunately, the publication of Lord Browne’s university spending review today, commissioned under New Labour’s tenure, will not alter the narrow, almost entirely economic parameters of this debate around higher education. In fact, if the responses so far are any indication, it is more likely to intensify the economic focus of the discussion. Hence the substance of the reaction so far seems to be around whether to remove the upper limit on tuition fees currently set at £3,290 or to come up with some sort of interest rate on student loans tiered according to whatever a particular graduate subsequently earns. Edifying it is not.
The problem is that the value of higher education is conceived almost entirely from the perspective of economics. So from a social perspective, its ostensible purpose is to increase GDP; from an individual perspective it’s the guarantee – and justification for – a higher salary. Because of this, the argument for increasing the funding burden on students almost makes itself, as Boris Johnson clearly found on Monday: ‘It is hardly progressive that people on low incomes should pay in their taxes for the university education of students who will go on to earn about 40 per cent more than those with no qualifications’, he wrote in his Telegraph column.
To such an argument, Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, had little to offer other than a yelp of baby-doomer self-pity: ‘A generation who will already struggle over housing and pensions, as well as increased bills for health and social care, will be asked to pick up the tab for excesses they did not themselves enjoy and mistakes they did not make, by being forced to pay for spending cuts.’ Luckily, in keeping with the bean-counting tenor of the discussion, Porter did have one killer alternative to higher tuition fees and spending cuts in his armoury: ‘A sophisticated graduate tax system.’ A place at the Treasury beckons him.
But wait. A Guardian columnist dissents: ‘The graduate tax does have serious problems. It would have been in effect a new layer of income tax, in some ways progressive, in other ways not. It would mean different generations being taxed at different rates, and those who had “made it” without going to college being taxed at a lower rate. What message would that have sent? It would put quite a lot of ambitious people off going to university, or at least ensure they didn’t go to a British one.’
Underwriting this disagreement, however, is the same monetising view of education shared by parties as ostensibly in conflict as Boris Johnson and the quasi-radical NUS. They all assume that the point of higher education, the reason for studying, is better earnings, just as New Labour always assumed that the societal point of higher education was national wealth. Hence, in the proud words of the 2003 New Labour white paper, The Future of Higher Education, students are at university for the ‘acquisition of skills’. The point being that skills sell. In his first speech as secretary of state for education in 2007, Labour’s John Denham continued in this vein of justification: ‘To compete and prosper in this world, to respond to the needs of leading global and national businesses, we must enable many thousands more people to study and graduate each year. To become a world leader in skills, as Lord Leitch recommended, we must aim for at least 40 per cent of adults to have higher level qualifications by 2020.’
Little wonder that as the cuts bite, the solely economic justification for higher education has taken on a meaner hue. Hence, at the end of last year, we had then business secretary Lord Mandelson calling for cheaper, fast-track, two-year degrees instead of the conventional three. And earlier this month, current business secretary Vince Cable gave a speech arguing that only ‘commercially useful’ science degrees should be government-funded.
There is of course a big, gaping education-shaped hole at the heart of this debate, over which critics and supporters alike build ever-more torturous funding structures. That is, what is higher education for? If the only answer to that question is economic, then the current debate takes on a purely technical aspect: where to cut and upon whom to place the funding burden.
But there is an alternate, humanistic view of higher education that stretches from the recently beatified John Henry Newman, via Matthew Arnold, right up to the 1963 government-backed Robbins Report on giving more social classes the opportunity to study.
And it’s a view that conceives of education, of subject-centred learning and research, as a good in itself. As the Robbins committee wrote: ‘[The] search for truth is an essential function of the institutions of higher education, and the process of education is itself most vital when it partakes in the nature of discovery.’ Such arguments for higher education conceive its value in non-monetary terms. Its ends were not seen as extrinsic to education; they were intrinsic.
Of course one cannot simply resuscitate such ideals. The historical conditions – a sense of Britain as a world power, with a world mission – that enabled Matthew Arnold, for instance, to talk confidently of the universal importance of ‘the best which has been thought and said in the world’ are long gone. But right now, with the supporters of higher education parroting the same vacuous, bean-counting nonsense as its critics, there needs to at least be an attempt to address the purpose of education in terms other than those of the dismal science.
Scandal of Tony Blair’s £31m flagship school: A leaking roof, broken designer toilets and a useless computer system
“Innovative” should always ring alarm bells
Funded by a Labour donor, opened by Tony Blair, built by modernist Norman Foster, Bexley Business Academy was one of the most high-profile symbols of New Labour’s education policy. And how they were happy to boast about it.
At the opening ceremony in 2003, Blair spoke of Bexley as ‘the future’ of state education, and Norman Foster’s website extolled a ‘visionary, light-filled school that would be democratic and flexible’.
Seven years on, the reality could not be more different. Bexley has been a vastly expensive nightmare as a building project, and as a school with a sprawling roster of 1,500 pupils has spent most of its short life in the academic emergency ward.
The litany of vastly costly problems is extensive: the roof leaks, the wireless IT systems didn’t work, the electric gates got stuck, the changing rooms were far too small, the designer toilets broke time and again, as did the heating system.
To cap it all, there is a nagging smell of sewage pervading the school, though that might just as easily be the stench of New Labour’s hubris given the way it trumpeted this project.
The school cost an astonishing £31 million to build — far more than any normal school of a similar size — as part of the £55 billion Building Schools for the Future programme that Michael Gove, the new Tory schools secretary, has closed down.
So money that could have been spent on a decent education for its pupils was wasted on a vanity building project, but even worse, a combination of what appear to be design defects and building failures have created a maintenance disaster zone that continue to drain away the school’s funds.
When it was designed, Foster boasted that the building had been carefully planned to keep heating costs low, and a self-congratulatory ‘assessment’ from the government’s architectural adviser concluded that ‘maintenance of the building’s different materials has been carefully considered in the design, and as such is mainly low level’.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. ‘It’s a hugely expensive building and costs us an absolute fortune,’ says Sam Elms, the school’s chief executive. ‘It’s a nightmare to run. If we could move to another building, we would.’
The finance director, meanwhile, has said: ‘We spend 9 per cent of our annual Government grant on premises. Given that our average spend on staff costs is more than 80 per cent, this clearly represents a high proportion of the remaining grant income and leaves little for other equally vital expenditure.’
In fact, as of last year, the academy employs a total of 234 staff, including 105 teachers, 74 classroom assistants and 36 management and administrative staff.
Leaked internal documents predict that the school faces a deficit of £859,000 by next year unless drastic cost-cutting takes place. So far, with seven people on its payroll earning more than £60,000 a year, this doesn’t seem to have taken place.
On the contrary, in addition to having a chief executive — paid more than £120,000 a year — it also has a so-called ‘executive principal’, Christina Moon. Mrs Moon’s main home is in Bristol, so in addition to her £120,000-a-year pay, she has also had a £20,000-a-year flat rented for her in Greenwich by the school. That’s on top of yet more ‘principals’, ‘vice-principals’ and ‘assistant principals’.
No wonder an education consultancy report, seen by the Times Education Supplement, said that the school suffered from ‘a lack of clarity about decision-making’, as well as ‘duplication and inefficiencies’.
So the building was an expensive disaster, and despite the high-profile involvement of Labour donor Sir David Garrard, in the end his charitable trust contributed less than 8 per cent of the cost of the school. The rest was met by the taxpayer.
And Sir David’s name proved to be a mixed blessing when he became involved in the Cash for Honours affair, with his peerage blocked after it emerged that he had lent several million pounds to the Labour Party in a way that allowed his name to be concealed.
Nor has (Lord) Norman Foster’s involvement done Bexley much good either. Despite being ennobled by Labour and appointed to the even more prestigious Order of Merit, Foster has quit his post in the House of Lords to maintain his non-domicile status as a resident of Switzerland.
It seems that while he may be prepared to spend other people’s money on so-called democratic schools, but he’d rather not contribute his own money towards funding them.
In Switzerland, Lord Foster lives with his third wife, Elena Ochoa, now Lady Foster of Thames Bank. In her native Spain, Lady Foster was best known as the presenter of Hablemos de Sexo — Let’s Talk About Sex — in which the doctora del sexo enlightened her compatriots on behaviour in the bedroom.
The academic results at Bexley, the school Lord Foster designed, have been mixed. Last year, only 40 per cent of the pupils passed five or more GCSEs of grade C or above (including Maths and English), which was better than the dismal 19 per cent two years ago, but still a poor performance for a so-called flagship academy.
Norman Foster and Tony Blair appear to have believed that smart school buildings would translate into good exam results. But in fact, as Professor Dylan Wiliam, former deputy director of the Institute of Education, says: ‘I know of no studies that show changing the environment has a direct impact on student achievement.’
In fact, an Ofsted inspection in 2005 found the Academy to be ‘inadequate’, and it was issued with a Notice to Improve, essentially a final demand from the Government that a school must get better quickly, or face being taken over by the Department of Education.
Since then, academic matters have improved, but not by much. The most recent Ofsted report, published this year, found that ‘the Academy is emerging from troubled times. ‘Since the last inspection, two principals have resigned from their post and the academy has had a period where there was no substantive head teacher of the primary phase’.
The current staff are clearly trying hard, but the shortcomings of the building they’ve been left with are obviously making life difficult for them.
Not much of a monument then, to a former prime minister who promised to make Education, Education, Education his top three priorities.
If you want to understand how it was possible for New Labour to double the schools budget in real terms without achieving an improvement in standards, look no further than Bexley.
It’s a monument to vanity policy making, and those councils currently wasting council taxpayers’ money suing Michael Gove for refusing to allow them to build their own educational white elephants should study Bexley — and think again.
Memory booster pill: Hope for elderly who suffer ‘senior moments’
Good news if it works but the side effects could be a concern. Cortisol is a stress hormone so reducing it could lead to apathy, lethargy etc.
A pill that prevents so-called ‘senior moments’ is being developed by British doctors. Taken later in life, it could put an end to forgetting where the car keys are, or not being able to remember names.
The drug, which is aimed principally at absent-mindedness rather than brain diseases, has already been tested on animals. It could go to human trials next year and, if these are successful, be on the market within five years.
Jonathan Seckl, who led the research at Edinburgh University, said: ‘A third of older people have what is euphemistically called mild cognitive impairment. ‘But it is a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and it is also pretty frustrating if you can’t remember what you left the house to do or where you put your keys. ‘It is soul-destroying and memory clinics are full of patients who are deeply frustrated by being unable to remember things.’
Such problems are at least partially due to high levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, damaging the brain’s ‘memory hub’. Professor Seckl has shown that an enzyme called 11beta-HSD1 boosts levels of cortisol and he created the drug to stop that happening.
Known as UOE1961, it sharpened the minds of elderly mice to such an extent that they were as good as much younger creatures at performing tests of memory and learning. What is more, the animals were treated for only two weeks, the Journal of Neuroscience reports.
Professor Seckl, who was funded by the Wellcome Trust, said: ‘They were coming toward the end of their lifespan and had profound deficits in their ability to learn things. ‘We turned them back to being as good as young animals, which was very exciting. What that teaches us is that that sort of memory loss is not irreversible.’
It is too early to know what side-effects UOE1961 will have. But, on the plus side, reducing levels of stress hormones is likely to be good for the heart. It is thought the drug will work only on the ageing brain – meaning it will not help young people cram for exams.
The BBC’s new editorial guidelines
“Must not criticize Muslims” is what it is really all about:
“Another new guideline, about religious coverage, says that “Any content dealing with matters of religion and likely to cause offence to those with religious views and beliefs must be editorially justified as judged against generally accepted standards and must be referred to a senior editorial figure.”
However Terry Sanderson, the president of the National Secular Society, said: “This is an entirely retrograde step that will put severe restrictions on comedians, documentary makers, satirists and commentators who want to be critical of religion. Almost anything that isn’t wholly reverential towards religious beliefs can be perceived as offensive by some believers.”