British death panel blasted for denying patients a lifeline by snubbing cut-price deal on cancer drug
Drugs rationing body Nice was condemned as ‘completely discredited’ last night after it denied a life-extending drug to bowel cancer sufferers despite an offer by its maker to cut the price. The decision to deny Avastin means patients will now be at the mercy of the new £250million cancer drugs fund, which was set up to provide ‘banned’ medicines.
The NHS is likely to miss out on the cut-price deal if it grants the drug under the new fund. Had Nice – the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence – accepted the risk-sharing offer from manufacturer Roche, the health service could potentially have saved millions of pounds.
Avastin is rated by oncologists as an important treatment, with ten times as many private patients receiving it as those on the NHS.
Although Nice looked at data showing the drug offered just six weeks’ extra life, specialists in other countries where it is readily available report a survival benefit close to eight months. The U.S., Australia, Canada, Scandinavia, France, Germany, Italy and almost all EU countries meet the cost of Avastin. Surveys show the UK has a much lower uptake of new cancer drugs than other countries, and our survival rates lag behind.
The actual cost of supplying Avastin, also known as bevacizumab, is around £21,000 per patient. But a complex formula used by Nice, which looks at quality of life and overall cost-effectiveness, hiked up the figure to £70,000.
Roche proposed a patient access scheme where the drug would cost the NHS £20,800 per patient for one year and would be free after 12 months.
Professor Karol Sikora, one of the UK’s leading cancer specialists, said the Nice rejection of the offer was ‘madness’. The professor, who is director of Cancer Partners UK, a private provider of cancer services that works with the NHS, said: ‘Patients lose out all ways. Nice is completely discredited by this decision and has shown itself to be a bunch of bureaucrats that do not consider the best interests of the NHS or patients.’
In response to frequent criticism of Nice decisions, the Government has tabled proposals to strip the organisation of its role in rationing new drugs, transferring the function to GPs.
The new cancer fund has £50million to spend by March – and a further £200million next year – on drugs that are deemed necessary for patients by their doctors. It is thought up to 6,500 Britons a year with advanced bowel cancer could benefit from Avastin.
Nice chief executive Sir Andrew Dillon said: ‘Bevacizumab is a very expensive drug and so patients and the NHS should expect substantial benefits from using it. ‘The evidence we have suggests that patients receiving bevacizumab and chemotherapy may survive on average for six weeks longer than patients receiving chemotherapy and placebo.’
100,000 frontline staff ‘may go as NHS cuts £20bn’
The bureaucracy is safe of course
TENS of thousands of doctors and nurses are facing the axe despite Government promises to protect the NHS from cuts, a report suggests. Almost 100,000 hospital posts could be at risk across the country, the vast majority of them frontline staff who are caring for patients.
At the same time trusts are wasting tens of thousands of pounds on unused hi-tech equipment and drugs and leaving televisions switched on in empty wards.
The Royal College of Nursing has identified almost 27,000 jobs under threat in 100 hospitals. If the figure is extrapolated across all 400 primary care trusts, mental hospitals and health boards in the UK, nearly 100,000 posts could be at risk.
Although the NHS has been ringfenced from public sector cuts, it has been ordered to make up to £20billion of ‘efficiency savings’ by 2014, which campaigners say will come from cutting jobs. They warn that hospitals are already stretched to breaking point and further cuts will lead to longer waiting times, poorer care and deaths.
The report found that many hospitals, including Plymouth NHS trust, are leaving televisions switched on all day in empty bays. It would cost around £300 a year to leave a television turned on for 12 hours a day. If most hospitals in the country left at least one unwatched TV on all day, the NHS would be wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in electricity bills.
Buckinghamshire PCT recently spent more than £62,000 on bathing equipment at a centre for patients with spinal problems, but it has never been used, the report found. As patients only visit the clinic for a few hours at a time rather than staying overnight, they don’t need a bath or shower.
One hospital in North West England wasted £1,400 sending out repeat prescriptions of paracetamol and indigestion tablets that the patient never needed.
Campaigners fear there could be hundreds of similar cases. Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the RCN, warned that money was being wasted on ‘copious examples of ill-thought out schemes’. He said that the protection of the health service from cuts was an ‘urban myth’. “The way the NHS is forced to save money is to cut staff and we believe staff are being asked to do more with less,’ he said. ‘We predict that is being eroded and we predict waiting times will start to rise unless the Secretary of State gets a grip on this as a matter of urgency.’
The Government says efficiency savings are needed despite the ring-fenced budget because, in order to provide the same level of care, overall spending has to increase every year on the latest drugs and equipment. This, as well as having to care for an increasingly elderly population, creates an unavoidable squeeze on NHS budgets year on year, so savings have to be made.
Shadow health secretary John Healey said: ‘These NHS jobs and service cuts are not what people expected to see when David Cameron promised to protect the NHS. ‘This RCN report is an early warning of the strains that the NHS is under and looming problems for staff and patients.’
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients’ Association, said: ‘Patient safety is paramount and by cutting frontline nursing jobs, the NHS will be putting thousands of patients lives at risk. ‘Many hospitals are already being stretched to breaking point and a reduction in staff will only result in poorer care, more needless deaths and longer waiting times for patients.’
British tuition fee protests: lecturers back ‘magnificent’ student rioters
Pretty much as expected from the many far-Leftists — often Trotskyites — teaching at British universities
Lecturers at one of the country’s leading universities were roundly condemned last night for praising students who rioted at Conservative Party headquarters. Academics at Goldsmiths, University of London, justified the violence by saying it had brought the tuition fees row “media attention across the world”.
In a statement branded “irresponsible” by Downing Street, they said they wished to “congratulate staff and students on the magnificent anti-cuts demonstration”. It was signed by John Wadsworth, the president of Goldsmiths lecturers’ union, and its secretary Des Freedman, a lecturer in communications and cultural studies.
It also emerged that a lecturer from the University of Sussex who was among the protestors is a prominent member of the left-wing socialist group Revolution, which began planning “direct action” weeks ago. Luke Cooper, 26, an assistant tutor in international relations, described Government buildings as “legitimate targets for protest and occupation”.
Fifty people who were arrested during Wednesday’s riot on Millbank, near the Houses of Parliament, were released on police bail yesterday as officers began the lengthy process of identifying offenders from CCTV and television news footage.
David Cameron called for the “full force of the law” to be brought to bear on hooligans who left 41 police officers injured and smashed up three floors of the building that houses the Tory Party office. Peter Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, called for an attempted murder charge to be brought against a protestor who threw a fire extinguisher from the roof of the building, injuring two officers who he said could have been killed.
But the lecturers from Goldsmiths made no reference to the injuries suffered by police and some students as they gave the protest a glowing report. “Yesterday was a really good natured but equally angry demonstration against the damage that the coalition is doing to higher education,” their statement said. “Yes, that got out of hand, but yes, it also got media attention across the world.”
The National Union of Students and the academics’ body the University and College Union, who organised the 52,000-strong march through London, described the violence at Millbank as “deplorable” and “despicable”.
But the Goldsmiths lecturers dismissed the criticism, saying: “We wish to condemn and distance ourselves from the divisive and, in our view, counterproductive statements issued by the UCU and NUS leadership concerning the occupation of the Conservative Party HQ. “The real violence in this situation relates not to a smashed window but to the destructive impact of the cuts and privatisation that will follow if tuition fees are increased.”
David Davies, a Conservative MP who is also a special constable, described the statement as “absolutely disgraceful”. He said: “Anyone with views like that should not be in a position to educate young people. There needs to be a full investigation.”
James Haywood, communication and campaigns officer for Goldsmiths students’ union, was one of five of the college’s students arrested at the scene after occupying the roof. He said: “I have no regrets. The occupation of Tory HQ was completely justified.”
David Graeber, an anthropology lecturer at Goldsmiths who was among the protestors, said he was “very proud” of the students, adding: “They are going to represent us as thugs but really they are the thugs and we are representing civilisation.”
Mr Cooper denied being one of the ringleaders of the attack on Millbank, but said: “We want to send a really strong message to this Government that we are not going to let higher education be brutalised. “There are a number of different Government buildings in that part of London and all of them would have been legitimate targets for protest and occupation. There was a lot of anger. There has always been the plan for.direct action after the NUS demo.”
Nick Herbert, the minister for policing, told Parliament the Met would “learn lessons” from its failure to station enough officers along the route of the march, which enabled rioters to storm Tory HQ virtually unopposed.
A reply to a civil Warmist
One Warmist tries rationality — but Matt Ridley shows that if this is their best shot at arguing their case, the case is lost
Some weeks ago I wrote an article for The Times about why I no longer find persuasive the IPCC’s arguments that today’s climate change is unprecedented, fast and dangerous.
I was delighted to receive a long and courteous letter from David MacKay, the chief scientific advisor to Britain’s Department of Energy and Climate Change. With his permission I am publishing my reply to that letter.
The remarkable thing about this exchange is that far from weakening my doubts about the IPCC case, it has strengthened them. The letter explains why. Essentially, I have realised that almost the only weapons left in the alarm locker are the retreat of the Arctic sea ice and an event that happened 55m years ago and was probably not caused by CO2 at all. Everything else — the CO2-temperature correlation in the Antarctic ice core, the hockey stick, storm frequency, phenology, etc etc — no longer supports the argument that something unprecedented in magnitude or rate is happening. Remarkable. Here is my letter:
I am honoured that you liked my book and I liked yours very much indeed: a brilliant and necessary contribution to the debate. Though it arrived late in my writing process, I managed to squeeze in several references to it in the penultimate chapter of mine.
Thank you for taking the trouble to give such a detailed reply to my Times article – much longer than the constraints of the Times op-ed page allowed for me! I shall now indulge in a longer reply. It is certainly nice that the political `climate’ (sic) now allows articles like mine to receive serious replies, rather than accusations of heresy or sin or threats of prosecution as a criminal against humanity. I appreciate that very much. I surmise from your covering note that perhaps your letter is circulated more widely among DECC colleagues and I would be glad for you to circulate this reply, not least to the secretary of state who showed you my article. I shall post this letter on my blog.
I am surprised to find that I agree with much of your letter, but it changes almost none of my conclusions. How can this be? The gap between the science and how it has been presented is huge. This is as much the fault of bodies like the Royal Society, which should have been a brake on politically inspired extreme statements but was not, as it is of the media. You say scientists know how big the uncertainties are and that the failure to ensure that uncertainties are reported has contributed to the problem. I agree and I wish that the science establishment had paid this issue more attention. They allowed and encouraged their spokesmen to peddle the very opposite impression.
Consider this statement for example: `Earth’s climate can only be stabilized by bringing carbon dioxide emissions under control in the twenty-first century.’ That is the opening sentence of a paper in Nature Geoscience last month. It is shocking that it got past the editors and reviewers. After 4 billion years of climatic volatility, much of it not caused by CO2 but by orbital variations, solar cycles and so on, how on earth are we to `stabilise’ earth’s climate by adjusting just one forcing factor? I refuse to accept that the climate could ever be stabilised, let alone by adjusting one factor. That sentence has no place in a scientific journal.
Taking your points in turn, then:
You say most climate scientists are nicer than their caricature on the web. I agree, but so are most sceptics. The image of the politicised, right-wing, anti-science zealot fits some, of course, just as the reverse fits Jim Hansen, Bob Ward and Joe Romm, but the ones whose work I have got to know, such as Andrew Montford and Steve McIntyre are quite different. The polarisation of this issue is a real problem. I learned from writing about the nature-nurture debate that arguments get polarised because people only read their friends’ caricatures of their opponents’ works; it is vital that we all read all sides of the argument.
Next you criticise my argument that current warming is not `unprecedented’ by reference to the Arctic sea ice graph. But this only goes back to 1979! Blackpool’s Football League table position is unprecedented since 1979. In a brief period of warming, of course the warming is unprecedented. You will know the ample anecdotal evidence that Arctic sea ice retreated just as much in the 1920s and 1930s: remember `Warming island’ for example. There is also good evidence from wave-made beaches and driftwood in Northern Greenland of probably ice-free summer months in the Arctic 7,000 years ago. A study published in the journal Quaternary Research of sea sediment cores in the Chukchi Sea shelf in the Arctic Ocean concluded that `during the middle Holocene the August sea surface temperature fluctuated by 5°C and was 3-7°C warmer than it is today’.
(Incidentally, I am keen to see a proper test of the hypothesis that black carbon is the main cause of the Arctic sea ice summer retreat of recent years and that cleaning up Chinese coal power stations will reverse the trend. The argument seems quite plausible – and it might explain why Antarctic sea ice has been expanding during the same period — but it needs a test.)
To be honest, whenever that sea-ice graph is used as an argument, I become a little bit more sceptical. If that is the best evidence of something unprecedented, then the case must be weaker than I thought. It is a change that is not even likely to threaten human or animal livelihoods: even with a total late-summer melt (I presume you do not belong to the school of thought that the ice could fail to reform in winter), there is no great albedo feedback at such latitudes because of the angle of the sun in August, and polar bears will expand their range further north or will survive ice-free summer months onshore as they do already in Hudson’s Bay, on Wrangel island and parts of Svalbard (where one once walked round my tent while I slept).
Then you say that if I mean `not unprecedented on 100m year timescales’… But those are not the only two options! I mean not unprecedented in centuries and millennia, ie in human history. It is hugely relevant whether the warming of 1910-40 was as fast as 1980-2010 (it was). It is hugely relevant if the climate was as warm in 1100 AD as now (it probably was) both in attributing cause and in making conclusions about sensitivity.
You will have seen this graph, one of many now making it amply clear that the warmth of the Holocene optimum, peaking about 7,000 years ago, was both global in extent and considerably warmer than today:
Next you disagree with my characterization that recent warming is not `fast’. Phil Jones himself confirms that the rate of warming in 1975-2009 is statistically indistinguishable in rate from the two other periods of warming in the past 150 years: this is from his interview with the BBC…..
I contend that none of these rates are `fast’. Contrast them with the rate of change now known from 12,000 years ago, characterized by `local, regional, and more-widespread climate conditions [which] demonstrate that much of the Earth experienced abrupt climate changes synchronous with Greenland within thirty years or less’ (Alley 2000. Quaternary Science Reviews 213-226), including `a warming of 7 °C in South Greenland [that] was completed in about 50 years’ (Dansgaard, White and Johnsen 1989, Nature 339: 532).
That is a change roughly nine times as fast as has happened since 1980 – in Greenland or anywhere else. Another study gives even bigger numbers, saying that the `abrupt warming (10 ± 4 °C)’ at the end of the Younger Dryas and the warming at the end of a short lived cooler interval known as the Preboreal Oscillation `may have occurred within a few years’ (Kobashi et al 2008 Earth and Planetary Sciences 268:397). Nor was this rate of change confined to Greenland. As one article summarises, `temperatures from the end of the Younger Dryas Period to the beginning of the Holocene some 12,500 years ago rose about 20 degrees Fahrenheit in a 50-year period in Antarctica, much of it in several major leaps lasting less than a decade.’ (Science Daily, Oct 2 1998).
You concede that the rise is running at just 1C per century over the past 50 years, though you do not recognise the degree to which even this is only true of the instrumental record, as adjusted and homogenised by the USHCN and similar bodies. These adjustments have come under question recently since it has become clear that far from correcting for urban warming they seem to be exaggerating it. So the true figure, without adjustments, is probably much closer to that recorded by the SST record and the satellite record, considerably lower than 1C. Here is the US raw data:
The climate is going to have to get a move on if it is hit 3C this century. One-tenth of the century now over and no significant warming yet. This should have been the fastest bit: since the curve is logarithmic, the first 100 ppm of CO2 should produce as much warming as the next 200 ppm.
You then say we should not be blasé about 2C in 200 years. I am sorry but I do not find this convincing for four reasons:
If anybody had adopted a policy in 1810 to affect the climate in 2010, they would have made absurd decisions because of uninvented technologies, etc.
There is lots of evidence that climate change is positive in its impacts up to 2C, especially if it takes 200 years to get there.
Remember most of this warming is predicted to be in cold regions, in winter and at night. The daytime temperature changes in temperate regions in summer would be less than 2C.
The thing I think we should not be blasé about is the cost of measures we are taking today. Biofuel policies have caused real hunger. Wind power policies have caused real fuel poverty. Yet these measures would do a statistically insignificant asterisk towards solving the problem even if the warming was happening fast. I refuse to be blasé about the jobs not created, the landscapes spoiled, the deaths caused by indoor air pollution in Africa because people cook over charcoal and above all the distraction and diversion of funds from real problems, including environmental ones.
You then ask me what I think the sensitivity to CO2 doubling is and you guess that I must think it is outside the range 1.5-4.5C. Actually, I think there are lots of sensitivities within that range that are `fairly minor problems’ and so do many of the studies cited by the IPCC. For Malaria, for example, 2C will produce less than 30,000 extra annual deaths on the million we see today. I think the million is a major problem, the 30,000 in a century’s time is a minor problem. Water shortages? The evidence of Arnell 2004 suggests that 2C of warming will reduce the net number of people at risk of water shortage. Etc etc.
So what do I think the sensitivity is? I have no idea. It could be 1C or lower, it could be 3C, but I think it very unlikely from the latest data that it is going to be as high as 4.5C. (Actually, IPCC says that is unlikely, too, if you read the probability right.)
I do know this though: the IPCC’s estimates of the sensitivity are utterly worthless because they all – all – assume net positive feedback. You are quite right that we do not know that clouds have negative feedback for sure, but there is good evidence that they probably do, and just 2% change in the albedo of cloudiness could reverse all CO2’s marginal effect. And you imply that Spencer is a lonely voice in arguing this case. May I refer you to the Nature Geoscience paper quoted above. Despite its catechistic opening sentence, it goes on to say:
“It is at present impossible to accurately determine climate sensitivity (defined as the equilibrium warming in response to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations) from past records, partly because carbon dioxide and short-lived species have increased together over the industrial era. Warming over the past 100 years is consistent with high climate sensitivity to atmospheric carbon dioxide combined with a large cooling effect from short-lived aerosol pollutants, but it could equally be attributed to a low climate sensitivity coupled with a small effect from aerosols. These two possibilities lead to very different projections for future climate change.”
Anyway, you agree that climate sensitivity could conceivably be as low as 1C, which is more than the IPCC does, so I should accept this concession with gratitude and I do. It’s a huge change from what was being said by the science establishment two years ago and is still being said by many, namely that 2C is unavoidable.
Then you describe the PETM (it is the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum – the Pliocene came much later), suggesting that I might not know of it. I not only know it but know the more recent data suggesting that carbon emissions can no longer be reliably interpreted as the main cause of warming then. Gerald Dickens of Rice University last year concluded that CO2 did not even double during the PETM and that something other than carbon dioxide caused much of the heating.
I do think it is revealing how much scientists who are alarmed about climate refer to the PETM. Imagine if the sceptics relied heavily on one episode of uncertain causation and effect, little known and not repeated for 55m years! You would say: is that really the best they can do?
You mention the Toarcian event of 183m years ago, which is new to me, but sounds interesting (by the way I do long to get back to a world where one can discuss paleoclimatic episodes as thrilling stories in their own right without having to draw political lessons from them). Yet the very first abstract I read on the subject after googling it talked about species shifting range in response to `a rapid cooling and their gradual return to former habitat areas in the period of warming’. I will need more evidence that carbon was cause rather than effect here: sounds more like a classic volcanic winter story.
Next you say that sea level is a case where the IPCC has been too conservative. But the graph you show has a trend of 3.1mm per year. This equates to 31cm in a century, comfortably within the IPCC’s estimate of 18-59cm in the present century.
Let me make two final points. I have argued that the two main examples you cite – the Arctic sea ice retreat and the PETM – are weak examples on which to build your case. Five or ten years ago I suspect that you would have cited the Vostok ice core record, showing CO2 and temperature in lockstep, and the Hockey Stick graph, showing recent temperature rises to be unprecedented in a thousand years. These two graphs were very, very important in persuading me to rejoin the consensus view in the mid 2000s, after I had moved towards cautious scepticism in the late 1990s.
The fact that both are now discredited as evidence of CO2 attribution has been very, very important in sending me back towards scepticism. When the facts changed, I changed my mind. The Vostok graph now unambiguously shows that CO2 rises follow rather than precede warming. The impact of that discovery is huge. The Hockey Stick graph is largely a statistical artefact caused by the inappropriate use of short-centred principal component analysis and heavily reliant on geographically narrow and methodologically suspect samples of tree rings. If you have not read Andrew Montford’s The Hockey Stick Illusion to understand this, I do beg you to do so.
My last point is this. We always discuss climate change in isolation, as a unique issue. Yet we cannot ignore the history of past environmental alarms, which I catalogue in my book: on population, famine, pesticides and cancer, desertification, sperm counts, acid rain, GM crops, and many other issues, we have been promised catastrophe, often with the backing of peer-reviewed science, and repeatedly these hopes have been dashed. (You may need to remember to switch your sarcasm detector on when reading the last sentence.)
My position is heavily influenced by having been science editor of The Economist during the acid rain scare and having been a full-scale alarmist at the time myself. In 1984 I wrote: `Forests are beginning to die at a catastrophic rate. One year ago, West Germany estimated that 8% of its trees were in trouble. Now 34% are…that forests are in trouble is now indisputable.’ Experts told me all Germany’s conifers would be gone by 1990 and the Federal Ministry of the Interior predicted all forests would be gone by 2002. I was wrong. German forest biomass increased during all these years. Of course, the boy who cries wolf may be right one day. But we are right to grow more sceptical when he keeps being wrong.
Now, if for the past 20 years we had been told that there is a probability of some change in the climate due to CO2, and a very small possibility that it is likely to lead to a drastic lurch, then I could join with you and the consensus. Instead of which I have been repeatedly told that trillions must be spent urgently because there are only a few months to save the world and it is the most urgent problem, more urgent than hunger, malaria and indoor air pollution, likely to lead to the collapse of the entire economy and moreover that the science is settled and to question it is to be equivalent to a criminal.
So, apologies if I sound a little exercised on this, but as a huge champion of science I feel very, very let down by the science establishment, especially the laughably poor enquiries on the emails published this year. Ask yourself if these emails had been within a drug company about a drug trial, whether the establishment would have been so determined to excuse them.
Again, I thank you for the courtesy of a proper reply. This is more than I get from most scientists and journalists on this topic. I do not envy the difficult decisions you and your political colleagues face, but I do beg you to review the latest evidence and increase your doubts about the likelihood of catastrophe; also to increase your concern for the costs and damages caused by renewable energy policies.
More HERE (See the original for graphics etc.)
Gingerbread ‘person’, the PC pudding: Now even biscuits can’t escape Britain’s politically correct brigade
In the nursery rhyme, the Gingerbread Man fled from the clutches of an old woman and her husband. But now he has been cornered by an even more unforgiving foe – political correctness. Council bureaucrats have stripped gingerbread men of their gender and renamed them gingerbread ‘persons’ on menus for 400 primary schools.
Parents in Lancashire were astonished when they discovered the change. ‘It is absolutely ridiculous,’ one mother said. ‘Someone has obviously taken the effort to change this and it is almost offensive. ‘I am all for anti-discrimination but this is a pudding. The gingerbread man is a character from a rhyme in a book, for goodness sake.’
Laura Midgley, of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, added: ‘It is totally ridiculous political correctness, nobody wants to talk about gingerbread people. They are what they are. ‘It is not just an innocent mistake. Whoever did it, I hope they will think long and hard about it. ‘If these sorts of things go unchallenged, they become the norm.’
The wording went out on the new autumn-winter weekly menu provided by the Lancashire School Meals Service. Preston MP Mark Hendrick described the change as ‘daft’.
The outcry has since forced officials into an embarrassing U-turn. They now claim renaming the biscuits was a mistake and that their gender will be reinstated as soon as possible. Last night a spokesman for Lancashire County Council confirmed the gingerbread man would be back on school menus after Christmas.
It is not the first time the gingerbread man’s gender has come under threat from the PC brigade. In 2006 branches of Bakers Oven in the West Midlands changed the name of gingerbread men to gingerbread persons, but reversed the decision after opposition from the public.
It follows a series of similar decisions by councils nationwide, including the renaming of school dinner favourite Spotted Dick to Spotted Richard last year by officials in North Wales. They said they were fed up with customers’ childish sniggering.
Big Brother society is bigger than ever: New technology is ‘undermining privacy by stealth’
The march of Britain’s ‘Surveillance Society’ was exposed last night in a devastating report. Experts warned that a raft of new technologies were intruding ever further into private lives. And legal protections were struggling to keep up with the ‘Big Brother’ onslaught, the Surveillance Studies Network said.
The academics praised the Coalition for ditching ID cards and some state databases but they identified a string of threats including:
* Social networking sites that have ‘exponentially’ increased their holdings of personal data
* Body scanners at airports that invite ‘voyeuristic opportunism’
* Automatic numberplate recognition cameras
* CCTV cameras in schools that measure teacher performance
* Aerial police drones that are ‘more pervasive than CCTV’
* GPS devices that can track the movements of staff such as cleaners to within a few yards
* Software that allows users to track their friends but which could be hacked by outsiders
* Databases that sort individuals by their ethnicity or social class.
The network’s last report – in 2006 – warned that Britain was sleepwalking into a surveillance society. Yesterday it raised the alarm over surreptitious and unaccountable surveillance practices and weak legal protections.
‘Much surveillance also goes beyond the limits of what is tolerable in a society based on the rule of law and human rights, one of which is the right to privacy, the report said. ‘Some technologies have gone from being a subject of speculation to being in mainstream use in many different areas.
‘Given the relatively low level of public and political understanding of technologies such as databases, it is too easy for functions to creep surreptitiously without exposure to widespread comment, debate, or procedures for deciding on the acceptability and accountability or uses.’
The network said that numberplate cameras were first sold as a crime fighting tool that would allow police to track serious criminals. Now however they are being used to follow political protesters and hand out fines for minor parking and traffic infringements.
The network called for compensation for individuals placed under unlawful police surveillance and a requirement that those being watched are told afterwards.
Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said: ‘Many of the new laws that come into force every year in the UK have implications for privacy at their heart. ‘My concern is that after they are enacted there is no one looking back to see whether they are being used as intended, or whether the new powers were indeed justified in practice. ‘One example of this is the use of covert CCTV surveillance by local councils to monitor parents in school catchment area disputes under powers designed to assist in crime prevention and detection.’
A Government spokesman said: ‘The new government believes there has been too much intrusion into the private lives of people in this country. ‘We have put civil liberties at the heart of our policies and our first piece of legislation was to scrap ID cards. ‘We are committed to rolling back big government and state intrusion.’
An instant test at 40 to predict Alzheimer’s?
There is a considerable element of speculation here
A 30-second test to spot the signs of Alzheimer’s in those in their 40s is being developed by scientists. The simple procedure, which warns of the debilitating disease decades before symptoms show, brings the hope of routine screening for dementia in as little as two years.
Carried out on a computer in a GP’s surgery, the test could become as widely used as blood pressure checks. Those found to have a tiny piece of tell-tale damage to their brains could take preventative measures such as changing their diet and taking more exercise. Quicker detection would allow earlier treatment and, with the help of new drugs, some who test positive might never develop the disease.
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect more than 800,000 Britons, with the number expected to double in a generation.
Professor David Bunce, who led the research, said: ‘The study lays open the possibilities for screening, early detection and intervention. The earlier we can intervene with people vulnerable to eventual dementia, the greater the chances of preventing or delaying the disease onset.’
However, not everyone will want to be told their fate so far in advance. And there are fears that insurance companies could increase premiums for those who test positive.
Experts say that delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years could halve the number of people who die with the condition, currently a third of over-65s.
At the moment, diagnosis is based on memory tests or expensive brain scans. Proof of the disease often comes only from examination of the patient’s brain after death. By contrast, the computer procedure, based on a simple test of reaction times, would be quick and easy.
Professor Bunce, of Brunel University, London, used brain scans to find tiny lesions, each smaller than a grain of rice, in the white matter of apparently healthy men and women aged 44 to 48. Around 15 per cent of the 428 tested had the abnormalities, which occurred in the brain’s memory hub.
Although the research did not show that these people went on to develop dementia, the lesions were similar to those discovered in post-mortem examinations of Alzheimer’s patients – and were found in the same part of the brain.
The professor saw that those with the brain lesions performed more erratically in a test of reaction times, which involved watching for one of two lights on a screen and hitting a corresponding button.
Those with lesions had a mixture of slow and fast reaction times, whereas those with healthy brains had either consistently fast or slow responses, the journal PLoS ONE reports.
The study was funded by research foundation the Leverhulme Trust. Although more research – and funding – is needed, it is hoped the test could be in doctors’ surgeries in two to five years.
It is thought that drugs already on the market would be of little use to combat the disease at such an early stage. However, laboratories around the world are trying to develop pills and jabs that halt Alzheimer’s earlier in their tracks.
In the meantime, Alzheimer’s charities recommend eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly to stave off the disease. Ruth Sutherland, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘We know that changes in the brain begin many years before the first symptoms of dementia become evident. It is therefore vital to invest in research into the early signs of dementia in the brain.’
Typical British government data security: “The British Ministry of Defence is investigating how an army officers laptop containing sensitive military data was bought on eBay for less than £20 ($32). The Toshiba Satellite A30 laptop computer, which is now held by the MoD, contained details of every police command post in a town in Helmand in Afghanistan, along with photos of each post and a list of the men, their ammunition, patrols and weapons. The files were not encrypted or password sensitive. It also contained details on those who had joined the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army.”