Numbers waiting months for cancer tests have doubled since NHS targets scrapped
The number of patients waiting months for tests to detect cancer and other killer diseases has almost doubled since NHS waiting targets were scrapped, according to the Government’s own figures. Latest data show more than 5,700 people waiting in excess of six weeks for MRI scans, ultrasounds and other tests.
Cancer charities and patients’ groups said they were “shocked and alarmed” at the rapid increase in the numbers being forced to wait before they are even diagnosed. Until they were scrapped in July, the waiting targets had stipulated that treatment for any disease should start within 18 weeks of a patient seeing their GP.
This put pressure on hospitals to carry out tests quickly, so that patients could be diagnosed and booked in for surgery or other treatment.
Last night John Healey, the shadow health secretary, accused the Government of “putting both patients and the NHS at risk”. He said: “This dramatic rise in waiting times is what you get with a Government quick to abandon patient guarantees, while failing to think through the consequences.”
The new figures show that between June and August, the number of people forced to wait more than six weeks for the most common scans and tests rose from 3,109 to 5,795 – an increase of 86 per cent. The totals cover patients who require 15 major types of diagnostic test, such as colposcopies and barium enemas used to diagnose bowel cancer, MRI and CT scans, which can detect tumours, and echocardiograms, used to track heart disease.
Most tests are not requested until the patient has seen a specialist, meaning thousands of patients are waiting months to find out if they are suffering from diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Mike Hobday, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “This is very alarming – not only because early diagnosis of cancer saves lives, but also because it is enormously distressing for patients to sit and wait in a state of uncertainty. “Once you have been referred for these tests, the waiting is hell. These figures are really worrying evidence about what has been happening now that the target has gone.”
Since Labour’s 2005 manifesto introduced the 18-week pledge, the numbers waiting more than six weeks for tests has fallen steadily, from more than 400,000 in 2006.
While the monthly figures from hospitals tend to rise each winter, the August 2010 total was 63 per cent higher than the figure for August 2009, and was the second-highest total for any month since October 2008. The numbers waiting more than six weeks include 1,474 people referred for ultrasound scans, 871 waiting for MRI and CT scans, 710 waiting for colonoscopies and 463 waiting for echocardiograms, used to diagnose heart disease.
Katherine Murphy, from the Patients Association, said: “These revelations are shocking. “All of these figures represent patients living in a state of uncertainty after being told that they need to undergo major tests which can diagnose major diseases, such as cancer.” “Delays in diagnosis shorten people’s lives – we cannot go back to the days where people waited months and months for a diagnosis.”
In June the Coalition said it would no longer “performance manage” hospital trusts on the 18-week target. However, because Labour had passed laws enshrining the patient’s right to treatment within the timescale, NHS organisations which leave patients waiting longer lay themselves open to legal challenge in future.
The figures show that there were 18 hospital trusts with 100 patients waiting in excess of six weeks for tests. Aintree University Hospitals Foundation Trust, in Liverpool, had the most, with 446 – the vast majority waiting for ultrasound scans, which are used to detect the causes of tumours, cysts, and abnormalities of the major organs.
There were more than 300 delays of more than six weeks at Countess of Chester Hospital Trust in Cheshire, Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals Trust, and Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust.
At Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospital Foundation trust, 127 patients waited more than six weeks for a CT scan, while at Ealing Hospital, 75 patients suffered the hold-up for echocardiography tests.
Among patients at Luton and Dunstable Hospital trust, 98 per cent referred for a dexa scan to assess bone density were subject to such delays.
In the run-up to the general election the Conservatives set up a website called stopthescaremongering.com to attack Labour’s claims that the Government would scrap two targets affecting cancer patients – the 18-week guarantee, and a right for patients to see a specialist within two weeks.
While the 18-week target has been axed, the two-week target remains in place, along with a target to treat cancer patients within in a month once they have been diagnosed.
Those given an urgent referral by their GP specifically because cancer is suspected should start treatment within two months, but figures for the period since the election have yet to be published.
In June, the Government also axed a 48-hour target for people to see GPs and relaxed a four-hour target for patients to be seen in A&E.
In last week’s comprehensive spending review, the Coalition scrapped Labour’s plans to give patients with suspected cancer test results within seven days of referral. Mr Healey said: “Earlier in the year, the Tories accused us of scaremongering when we said they posed a threat to the NHS. “Now we’re seeing it for real, not only with the Government’s own evidence on rising waiting times, but also the axed improvements to cancer testing buried away in the small print of the spending review.”
“So much for the commitments of David Cameron and Andrew Lansley to protect the NHS. They are breaking their promises, and putting both patients and the NHS at risk.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health said that the figures had been taken “out of context” and that median waiting times for the tests had only increased marginally, from 1.7 weeks to 1.9 weeks over the two months. He said: “It is not unusual to see seasonal variations, which can be caused by patients deferring their tests during holiday periods or by scanners being maintained.
“The NHS provides well over 40 million diagnostic tests per year. As a percentage of the number of patients the NHS treats, the increase in diagnostic figures is low.”
Why 7/7 victims were left to bleed to death: Before a British policeman tries to save you he must consider 238 dangers to stop him suing bosses
By David Gilbertson (A former Scotland Yard deputy assistant commissioner)
Amid the disturbing evidence at last week’s inquest into the deaths of the 52 victims of the 7/7 London bombings, there was a moment of great clarity.
Survivor Michael Henning described how he stumbled to safety from the wreckage of a bombed Tube train at Aldgate station and pleaded with a group of emergency workers to go underground and help injured and dying passengers. The firemen on the station platform seemed embarrassed and explained that they had been ordered to stay out of the tunnel because of fears of a second explosion.
Victims died in agony during the delay – and there proved to be no second bomb.
In lamenting the loss of the ‘Blitz Spirit’ – when wartime rescue workers risked their lives to pull people from bombed and blazing buildings – Mr Henning laid bare the uncomfortable truth: that today’s fire and ambulance crews and particularly today’s police officers are trained to see hypothetical risks to themselves as far more important than the actual safety of the public they are meant to serve.
The bombings of July 7, 2005, are not the only crisis in which this ‘risk assessment’ culture has been revealed. Last June, ambulancemen in Cumbria were widely criticised for standing by for vital hours while the gunshot victims of taxi driver Derrick Bird bled to death.
The explanation given later was that they had been refused permission to advance by the police because of fears that Bird might open fire on them. He was already dead and nobody will ever know how many lives could have been saved had the emergency services acted sooner.
I spent 35 years as a police officer before retiring as Deputy Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard and I’m dismayed but not surprised by the rise of this self-serving risk assessment culture.
Who can now imagine an officer having the bravery and initiative of the Metropolitan, Police Commander who at the height of the 1981 Brixton riots commandeered a fire engine, drove it into the centre of an angry mob and dispersed the crowd by firing water from the hoses? Anyone doing the same today would immediately be sidelined as a maverick taking unnecessary risks.
The root of the problem lies in a little-known and ill-advised piece of legislation passed in the dying days of John Major’s Government, when the eyes of Parliament and the country at large were on the forthcoming General Election.
The Police (Health and Safety) Act 1997 was introduced as a result of vigorous lobbying on behalf of the Police Federation, the ‘trade union’ of officers up to the rank of chief inspector, which had been demanding action after a number of policemen in London had been shot on duty.
Under pressure, the Yard allowed the introduction of body armour and the the replacement of truncheons with a range of new weaponry. The aim of the new law was to make policemen safer by applying the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act to the force.
However, the original legislation was designed not for the complexities of police work, but for heavy industry, and the result was a nationwide organisational panic, hastily designed training courses and a frenzy of unnecessary paperwork which continues to this day.
The fire and ambulance services, which were already covered by the 1974 legislation, became infected by the same ‘safety-first’ malaise. Of course, both services are operationally linked with the police – who often, as in Cumbria, take overall control of major incidents.
The current Metropolitan Police generic risk-assessment checklist, form RA1, is mind-blowing. It requires officers to choose from a menu of 238 possible hazards before conducting any sort of operational activity.
The assessment must be submitted, with covering forms RA2 and RA3, to a senior officer, who then has to consider what ‘control measures’ need to be applied, before submitting his recommendation – with form RA4 – to his ‘portfolio holder’ (jargon for the responsible officer) in order for the risk assessment to be confirmed and signed off.
Chief constables are liable for any breach and the spectre of legal action is no idle threat. In 2003, then Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir John (now Lord) Stevens and his predecessor Lord Condon faced the ignominy of being prosecuted at the Old Bailey for alleged breaches of health and safety regulations after two incidents in which constables fell through roofs while pursuing suspected burglars. Both were acquitted and the trial judge roundly condemned the £3 million proceedings.
But the damage was done. A generation of senior police, fire and ambulance officers have grown up in an environment where avoidance of risk and the fear of being sued by an ‘ambulance-chasing’ solicitor is more important than public duty.
Add to this the rise of the ‘compensation culture’, fostered by no-win, no-fee lawyers, and the nit-picking caution of insurance companies who demand to see paper trails and written risk assessments for every eventuality and it is easy to see how the organisational manager, rather than the operational leader, gained the ascendancy.
This corrosive culture of caution and risk-avoidance is why the Aldgate firefighters were ordered to stay at the gates rather than help the grievously wounded.
I believe there is still a Blitz Spirit within individual officers. But it is a natural instinct that is being suppressed. The embarrassment and shame Mr Henning saw on the faces of the 7/7 firefighters revealed that they felt deeply uncomfortable at being held back from doing their duty by rules and regulations beyond their control.
Idealistic firefighters, police officers and ambulance crews have always joined their services believing they may be called upon to put their safety on the line. But force discipline is taken seriously in the emergency services. Young officers are taught to follow procedures and ordered not to take risks by senior officers who have never known the old virtues of leadership, initiative, judgment and duty.
These are the officers (they are managers, rather than leaders) who visibly blanch every year when the police bravery awards are announced. Where you and I see heroes being decorated for acting without regard to their own safety, these paper shufflers see potential lawsuits, insurance claims and breaches of force discipline.
This Coalition Government, at least, seems to recognise that there is a problem. Lord Young spent three months poring over health and safety regulations and the Prime Minister last month pledged to free the emergency services and teachers from senseless health and safety rules.
But sweeping away the red tape will make no difference without a complete culture change. The police, fire and ambulance services must be made to understand that they owe a duty of responsibility first and foremost to the public who pay their wages, and that leaders, not managers, are needed to drive the message home.
Rigid adherence to procedure is not the easy way out. A good leader at Aldgate would have assumed authority and ordered his crews in to help injured passengers on a bombed Tube train. He would have dealt with the crisis first and worried about health and safety later.
And if a single life had been saved, they would have been hailed as fitting heirs to the wartime Blitz Spirit.
Extra £3bn overseas aid would have kept Harrier jet fighters flying for 20 years
Golden bedsteads for African dictators are top priority for Britain’s centrist government. Too bad Britain will have no aircraft to put on its new aircraft carriers
British aid projects abroad are to be ‘branded’ with the Union Jack in an attempt to stem growing public anger over the amount spent on international development.
While most Government departments suffered savage cuts in last week’s Spending Review, foreign aid will rise by £3.1 billion by 2014. The amount is enough to keep the 80-strong Harrier jump jet fleet – which will be axed under the cuts – in the air for 20 years. Alternatively, it would pay for the building of 310 primary schools, or overturn the scrapping of child benefit for high earners.
A new Mail on Sunday/BPIX poll shows that four out of five voters think it was wrong to protect aid-spending while cutting defence.
Now International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has promised to show taxpayers what their money is buying by flying the flag over bridges, hospitals and other projects funded in poor countries.
The move follows criticism that – unlike schemes paid for by the EU – British enterprises remain unmarked, a product of the ‘old school’ diplomatic belief that it would look crass and ostentatious.
The idea will be pioneered in ‘more stable’ parts of Africa. But Mr Mitchell has been warned of the danger it could pose to aid workers in such states as Pakistan or Afghanistan, where anti-Western opinion is rife. ‘We need to make British aid more visible. The Union Jack is the most identifiable symbol of the UK,’ said Mr Mitchell. ‘But we have to be sensible so we don’t put humanitarian workers at risk.’
The move follows irritation at the aggressive way the EU claims credit.
Mr Mitchell said MPs on the International Development Select Committee visiting a foreign project which was 90 per cent funded by the UK and ten per cent by the EU were infuriated by the Brussels flag flapping at the site. Locals thanked them in the belief that they were MEPs. Our poll shows 81 per cent of voters think it was wrong to raise overseas aid by 37 per cent to £9.4 billion, while defence is cut by eight per cent.
Much of our aid goes to prosperous countries such as India. The world’s fourth-largest economy, with its own space and nuclear programmes, it received £295 million last year. Russia and China also benefit from UK largesse.
Last night Mr Mitchell said: ‘Aid is given to advance British interests, as with money given to Afghanistan to help protect national security. ‘But it is also morally right. The British instinct is to help people in developing countries, as demonstrated by our generous response to the recent floods in Pakistan.’
But Tory MP Douglas Carswell said: ‘I don’t think we can justify such a sharp hike at a time of such chilling austerity.’
This does more harm than good, Mr Osborne
Billions of pounds are spent by Britain every year on overseas aid – otherwise known as official development assistance (ODA). Much of this money ends up in the hands of the venal and corrupt political elite in poor countries.
Study after study shows that such spending does more harm than good. The spending review presented Chancellor George Osborne with a perfect opportunity to cut this counter-productive programme. He blew it. Spectacularly.
Instead of cutting ODA, Osborne announced plans to increase it by 50 per cent from £8.4 billion in 2010-11 to £12.6 billion in 2014-15 (this figure includes capital outlay in this country as well as the £9.4 billion spent overseas).
Over the next five years, the Government will borrow more than £50 billion to fund various dodgy activities in poor countries.
The spending review claims that ODA will now be ‘more focused on boosting economic growth and wealth-creation’. But for five decades, the governments of Britain and other rich countries have been sending money to the governments of poor countries in order to promote economic development, and it hasn’t worked.
Actually, it has backfired. Countries whose governments have received more ODA have grown more slowly than those that received less.
When governments receive handouts, they behave much like welfare scroungers. Instead of putting their countries to work by providing a friendly environment for business, they mooch around.
Of course, they nearly always agree to do their bit to promote development, just as welfare recipients swear blind that they are looking for a job. But there is a difference. Most welfare recipients live in council accommodation and many earnestly search for a job.
By contrast, many ODA recipients live in mansions, own fleets of Mercedes and fly first-class – and have no intention of reforming their economies. Why would they give up the backhanders for handing out aid-related contracts?
Economists now understand what conditions lead to growth – ‘economic freedoms’. The most important of them are secure property rights, free markets, low taxes and the rule of law. Countries with more economic freedoms grow faster than countries with fewer.
The spectacular growth rates since the Sixties of Hong Kong, Singapore, Mauritius and Botswana – and, more recently, China, India and Vietnam – can be explained by improvements in economic freedoms. While ODA might conceivably be used to encourage governments to improve their economic freedoms, this rarely happens. ODA was misconceived.
Poor history education in British schools
Children’s ignorance of British history has been laid bare in a survey today that shows one-in-20 pupils believe the Spanish Armada is a tapas dish.
Research carried out to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar shows many schoolchildren believe that Horatio Nelson was captain of the French national football team in the 1990s.
Almost one-in-four also said that ships evacuated British troops from Dover – not Dunkirk – during World War Two, Walter Raleigh invented the bicycle, Captain James Cook was the captain of the Starship Enterprise and Christopher Columbus discovered gravity.
The disclosure came in a study of 2,000 secondary school children in England to coincide with the anniversary of Admiral Lord Nelson’s defeat of the Spanish navy in 1805.
Children aged 12 to 16 were questioned about a series of key events in maritime history over the last 200 years.
Captain Mark Windsor, from the Sea Cadet Corps, said the poor answers highlighted the extent to which many children failed to connect with Britain’s maritime past. “As an island nation our relationship with the sea is a critical one since much of our food and trade passes over the oceans and our place in the world largely stems from our maritime heritage,” he said. “But it seems children are very confused when it comes to what key historical events occurred on the sea which helped shape the world in which we live.
“Horatio Nelson wouldn’t be impressed to learn kids think he was a football captain and Columbus’ discovery of America went completely unnoticed. “By picking up a book, exploring the UK and getting involved with activities on the sea, children can become much more clued up.”
National Trafalgar Day – on Thursday – celebrates 205 years since Admiral Lord Nelson’s fleet defeated the combined might of the French and Spanish. But according to the survey, carried out by the Sea Cadets, one-in-20 children believe the Spanish Armada is a tapas-style cuisine.
Three quarters did not know that Trafalgar Square was home to Nelson’s Column, with eight per cent believing it was from EastEnders, while 15 per cent thought it was a shopping centre or chocolate biscuit. One-in-six thought Sir Walter Raleigh was the brains behind the Chopper, not the adventurer responsible for bringing tobacco and potato back to our home shores.
Some 14 per cent said Captain Cook starred in Star Trek rather than commanding the Endeavour on the first voyage of discovery to Australia. The report found six-in-10 youngsters did not know the Battle of Waterloo was fought in Belgium, with one-in-six opting for London’s train station as their answer instead.
The disclosure comes two weeks after Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, announced a major review of the history curriculum in an attempt to revive interest in Britain’s “island story”. The historian Simon Schama has been named as the Government’s new “history tsar” to lead the drive.
Britain’s Green Car Fiasco Deepens (But Not To Worry – Taxpayers Will Subsidise Wealthy Greens)
From “The Guardian”
Sales of new electric cars in the UK plummeted by nearly 90% in 2009 compared with their peak in 2007, according to motoring trade association figures released this week. Just 55 of the green cars – whose fans include Boris Johnson, Jonathan Ross and Jade Jagger – were registered in 2009, in contrast to 397 in 2007, says the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
The huge fall is a blow to UK efforts to meet tough carbon emission cut targets in a decade, and comes just months before the government introduces a subsidy of up to £5,000 off new electric cars.
Nearly half of the electric vehicles sold last year were the tiny G-Wiz car. The latest model has a top speed of 50mph and a range of 48 miles between charges.
Rudi Schogger, managing director of Goingreen, which distributes the G-Wiz in the UK, said: “Some people might be waiting for the government grants to arrive before purchasing an EV.” He added that, even with a grant, most of the new vehicles on the market will be more expensive than a G-Wiz.
Although sales of all new cars fell sharply in 2009 due to the recession, the drop in new registrations for electric cars was around eight times higher. Overall, 2m new cars were registered in 2009, the lowest level since 1995.
Richard Dyer, transport campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “The number of electric car sales are certainly disappointing. It could well be down to the recession, and the fact that they are priced at a premium over normal cars. But the government grant in January should mean a change in the fortunes of electric cars.”
In January, the coalition will begin offering up to £5,000 towards the price of a series of newly launched electric cars, as part of a subsidy announced by the former Labour government. The Department for Transport (DfT) anticipates around 8,600 of the cars will be sold in the first year of the scheme. The government has so far committed £43m for the scheme to run until March 2012, with a review taking place in January 2012, but in yesterday’s spending review it talked of “supporting consumer incentives for electric and other low-emission cars throughout the life of this parliament,” suggesting the subsidy would continue after March 2012 though possibly at a lower rate.