Need an ambulance? Sorry, you’ll have to make your own way to hospital, British health chiefs tell the sick
Ambulance bosses have told patients they will have to make to make their own way to hospital because their vehicles are too busy to attend all emergency call-outs. North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) said it has issued the instructions to its patients after a staggering rise in emergency calls and because cases of life-threatening illnesses are up almost a third on this time last year.
NWAS covers a vast swathe of the North West, taking in Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Merseyside and says its paramedics have struggled to cope. It has meant less seriously ill patients have had to wait up to three hours for 999 crews to arrive.
Now Darren Hurrell, chief executive of the NWAS has instructed people in the NHS Trust catchment area: ‘If your life is not in danger and we won’t get to you for several hours is there someone else you can call – your son-in-law, your brother – to get a lift to hospital?’ He added: ‘We’re saying to everyone before you ring an ambulance – ask yourself are you ill and do you need to go to hospital? ‘If you feel that you are, then think if you have a safe alternative way to get to hospital.’
Ambulance bosses are mystified about the cause of the unprecedented demand in recent days, which is on a scale comparable to New Year’s Eve. Among the calls there was a large increase in the number of children and older people with breathing problems.
Ambulance staff believe the cold weather may have contributed to the increase which has come after a week of chaos caused by snow and ice. There were more calls this weekend than during the peak of the heavy snowfall last January.
Bosses say they are working hard to focus on real emergencies where lives are at risk. All 999 ambulance calls are prioritised as category A – life threatening – which paramedics should reach within eight minutes; category B people who need urgent care – which have a 19 minute target and category C for those who need care but are less seriously ill which they try to reach in an hour.
There were 499 category A calls last Friday, 504 on Saturday and 522 on Sunday compared to 371, 428 and 363 during the same time in 2009. Some lower priority category C calls over the weekend included a 72-year-old woman from Rochdale had back injuries which left her unable to move and had to wait two hours and 10 minutes.
Other calls came from a 98-year-old man from Wigan who was unwell and deteriorating and a 31-year-old at risk of seizure who waited one hour 33 minutes.
Bosses say many people mistakenly think if they go to hospital by ambulance they will be treated as a priority but this is not true – everyone is assessed by A&E staff and prioritised again.
Massive NHS shake-up as thousands of managers axed… but the pen-pushers will survive with jobs running NEW system
Thousands of NHS managers due to be sacked as part of plans to streamline the NHS will now have to be kept on to help run the new system, the Government admitted yesterday.
Announcing plans for a massive shake-up, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley confirmed that primary care trusts would be abolished by 2013 and their responsibilities for overseeing medical services devolved to groups of GPs.
But because GPs have neither the expertise nor the time to micro-manage budgets they will need to employ experienced administrators. This is likely to lead to a ‘revolving door’ in the NHS with managers leaving the abolished PCTs only to pick up another position in GP practices.
And there was further controversy after it emerged that next year’s NHS funding rise is below the level of inflation – meaning the amount of money available is in reality a cut. This breaks an election pledge by the Tories for real-term increases.
Mr Lansley’s announcements on the NHS re-organisation included:
* Scrapping targets for ambulances to attend serious but not life-threatening calls within 19 minutes.
* Establishment of local HealthWatch bodies to allow patients to complain to an independent figure rather than the hospital against which they have a grievance.
* Removal of the cap on the number of private patients hospitals can treat.
* A doubling in the number of nurses to help teenage mothers.
Under Mr Lansley’s vision, GPs will form ‘consortia’ to take over responsibility for £70billion of the healthcare budget in 2013 from PCTs. A further £10billion will go to a National Commissioning Board.
But Mr Lansley also said that from next year, bureaucrats should be seconded from PCTs to help the consortia develop the new system. Each consortium is expected to appoint a ‘senior finance manager’, an ‘organisational development expert or facilitator’, a manager with expertise of ‘governance arrangements or corporate affairs’, and a ‘commissioning expert’.
Given that there are likely to be up to 500 GP consortia, this could involve the employment of more than 2,000 managers across the country.
Emma Boon of the Taxpayers’ Alliance said: ‘We don’t want to see a revolving door where managers get redundancy payments from PCTs – and then pop up at GP surgeries.’
The Department of Health said GPs will get around £1.5billion to spend on bureaucracy each year from 2013. Consortia will get £25 to £35 per patient to pay for management costs. Mr Lansley has said that if all the money is not spent on management then it will go back to patient care.
The Department of Health said the cost of GP managers would be half that of PCTs. But Labour and the British Medical Association, which represents doctors, accused the Government of cutting NHS spending, despite having pledged to protect it.
Mr Lansley said £89 billion will go direct to PCTs for frontline services next year, equivalent to a £2.6 billion (3 per cent) increase in funding. But the latest inflation statistics put price rises at 3.3 per cent – meaning the 3 per cent increase will really be a cut.
A spokesman for David Cameron said there was no question of NHS budget cuts, and that if inflation remained higher than the 3 per cent planned rise, extra money would be found.
Results down to strong discipline and school trips, says head of top British primary school
The head teacher of the top primary school in England today warned against “hot-housing” pupils to pass exams. Pauline Gordon, acting head of Manuden primary in Bishop’s Stortford, Essex, said repeatedly drilling children to inflate test results was counterproductive. She suggested pupils learned better with a varied curriculum, a large number of school trips and strong discipline.
The school, which has fewer than 100 children, was the only primary in the country to ensure all pupils exceeded the standard expected for their age group. All 11-year-olds reached the level pupils are supposed to meet in the first few years of secondary education in both English and maths, it was disclosed.
Mrs Gordon, who has led Manuden primary since September, insisted the school’s high results were down to a varied curriculum rather than “teaching to the test”. “I don’t believe in hot-housing children for the tests,” she said. “Teachers have very high expectations of the children, and we offer a very wide and varied curriculum, we spend lots of time on school visits.”
Only 13 pupils sat exams at the small primary this summer and figures showed no children had high levels of special educational needs. All pupils reached Level 5 – one above the standard expected for their age – in English and maths.
This year’s 10 and 11-year-olds were “particularly able”, Mrs Gordon said, “which does make a difference”. “The majority of children are fairly confident, and take it (the tests) in their stride,” she said. “We have very strong expectations of how they should behave, and if we feel a child can do more we will tell them.”
Starks Field primary in Enfield, north London, was officially the worst performing school as no pupils reached Level 4 in English and maths. A third of children at the school have special needs and more than seven per cent of lesson time was lost in the last academic year due to pupil absence.
Achilleas Georgiou, deputy leader of Enfield council, said the results did not reflect the quality of the school. “As the only children in the school taking Sats were 13 children that had joined the school just five months earlier, their league table position is a false one and does not reflect the quality of teaching in the school, which has been praised by Ofsted,” he said.
The British version of Head Start hasn’t worked either
More than £25 billion spent on early education under Labour has failed to improve children’s language and numeracy, according to a landmark study published today.
A raft of reforms introduced by the last Government – including a new curriculum for pre-school children and a generation of Sure Start centres – have had no impact on five-year-olds’ understanding of the basics.
An analysis of more than 117,000 children over an eight year period showed pupils’ early reading and picture recognition ability had actually declined slightly in the last decade.
The report by Durham University suggested that failure to develop key skills at a young age could hold children back throughout compulsory education and in later life. It suggests that the primary focus of Labour’s education policy since 1997 – boosting standards in the early years – has failed to deliver tangible improvements.
The findings will raise serious question marks over the last Government’s flagship reforms designed to give the youngest children a better start. It includes the opening of some 3,500 Sure Start centres set up to deliver early education, childcare, health advice and family support in deprived communities.
Researchers said it suggested that the poorest families were still not getting enough help. It follows claims from David Cameron that the “sharp-elbowed middle-classes” often made better use of Sure Start than people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Dr Christine Merrell, primary director of Durham’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, which led the research, said: “Given the resources put into early years’ initiatives, we expected to see a rise in literacy and numeracy scores in schools, so it’s disappointing that there’s been no improvement.
“Our findings reinforce the concern that the poorest families in our society are not accessing the full range of educational opportunities and resources designed to help them. “Sure Start and other early years’ initiatives have valuable aims but we must evaluate what works and doesn’t work in a rigorous and scientific way.”
A Government source said: “Another study highlights Labour’s record of failing the poor. We will ensure that Sure Start is targeted at those who need it most.”
The findings represent the latest in a series of bitter blows to the last Government’s education record. Primary school league tables being published later today are expected to show as many as one-in-10 English schools are failing to hit official benchmarks in the three-Rs. And a major international study last week found standards in secondary schools had plummeted below nations such as Poland and Estonia in recent years.
In the latest report, academics analysed the results of independent tests sat by children in 472 state primaries between 2001 and 2008. The simple 20-minute assessment – taken six weeks into the first full year of school – covered early reading, including identifying upper and lower case letters, multiple choice word recognition and reading simple sentences.
Numeracy exercises tested children’s understanding of the difference between “biggest” and “smallest”, counting four objects and simple addition and subtraction. The test, which was sat by around 15,000 children each year, also covered picture and shape identification.
An analysis of results showed a “statistically significant decrease” in children’s reading and shape recognition over eight years and a corresponding rise in maths results. However, in both cases academics insisted differences were small and not “educationally significant”.
The report, published in the Oxford Review of Education, said a range of “major initiatives… had been implemented on a wide scale during the years preceding and during the time investigated in this study”.
Academics admitted the analysis failed to cover children’s personal, social or emotional development but concluded that “one might expect that these initiatives would have resulted in measurable changes”.
According to Government data, Labour spent £25bn in early years and childcare services between 1997 and 2009. Annual spending on Sure Start alone topped £1bn last year, providing access to services for more than 2.4m children and their families.
In 2003, Labour also introduced the Early Years Foundation Stage – a “nappy curriculum” for children to follow up to the age of five – and all three and four-year-olds have been given access to 15 hours a week of free childcare.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We recognise that while Sure Start has had a positive impact on many families, there is much more work to be done to better reach those most in need.
“Sure Start is at the heart of our vision for early intervention – that’s why we are reforming it so that children’s centres focus more on reaching the most vulnerable, and use approaches that are backed by evidence.”
Why can’t I enjoy a glass (or three) of wine without the pregnancy police telling me I’m evil?
A well-informed mother battles the myths
Now, what can I get you?’ asked my friend politely. ‘Tea? Coffee — decaf, of course? Or a soft drink?’ ‘Actually, I’ll have a glass of the red, please,’ I replied and, instantly, the room took on a decidedly Arctic chill. After a long silence my friend looked at me quizzically, not sure if I was joking or not.
It wasn’t ten o’clock in the morning and neither was I a recovering alcoholic threatening to fall off the wagon. No, it was far worse than that… I was at a dinner party and I’m eight months pregnant.
And before I’m reviled, hated and condemned as being a selfish woman who doesn’t care about the health of her unborn child, let’s have a grown-up conversation about it, shall we? Because the reality is you’ll struggle to find anyone without a medical licence who knows more than me about drinking during pregnancy.
I’m a proud 31-year-old mother of two wonderfully healthy, happy, smart and mischievous boys — Eddie, six-and-three-quarters (he’d kill me if I didn’t include the three quarters), and Sammy, aged two.
I drank through each of their pregnancies, mostly one glass of wine in the evening after dinner but, sometimes — if it was a special occasion — I would have two or three over the course of a meal.
I’m not advocating that pregnant women get drunk, just that they be allowed to drink responsibly without any inciting hysteria.
I’ve read practically every piece of literature and study on the effects of drinking during pregnancy and have come to the educated conclusion that my alcohol intake during each of my three pregnancies has not adversely affected either of my two children and won’t affect my third, due next month. In fact (as I’ll explain later), it may even have contributed to them being so bright.
In 2006, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists concluded there was no convincing evidence of adverse affects of prenatal alcohol exposure at low to moderate levels of alcohol consumption — moderate being 10.5 units or seven small glasses of wine a week. Which means I can drink two glasses of wine with dinner at least three nights a week, or drink a glass or so a day, and do myself or my baby no harm.
Another study, carried out in October this year by University College London, monitored children over five years and concluded that light drinking in pregnancy does children ‘no long term harm’. So, if it’s OK with you, I’ll take the advice of medical experts rather than a bunch of hysterical housewives
Besides if we did everything to ‘be on the safe side’ we’d never leave the house in case we got hit by a bus. We’d never go on holiday in case the plane crashed and we’d never let our children play outside for fear of them being kidnapped.
The feeling of being collared by the self-appointed ‘pregnancy police’ will be familiar to Caroline Williams from Hove, Sussex. Last year, on a hot summer’s night, a six-months-pregnant Caroline thought she’d order a nice, cooling half pint of beer. The bar staff refused to serve her. When Caroline pointed out she was a paying customer and would like her beer, they threw her out. ‘I’m a respectable woman. I’ve never been thrown out of an establishment before in my life,’ said Caroline. ‘I felt so humiliated.’
Every mother who’s ever thought about drinking during pregnancy is aware of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome — a mental and physical disorder which permanently affects the central nervous system of the developing foetus.
There’s no cure and it’s caused by excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy — meaning a large intake of alcohol over a sustained period of time. We’re talking a bottle a day, not a bottle a week. No study has ever found a correlation between the diagnosis of the condition and light to moderate alcohol consumption in expectant mothers.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have all three doctors I’ve seen through each of my pregnancies tell me the truth; the current UK medical advice to abstain entirely comes from the medical profession’s distrust for the public.
In short, pregnant women aren’t trusted to know when light to moderate drinking stops and heavy drinking begins.
I could pretend that I drink during pregnancy to give my kids a higher IQ — one study found the children of mothers who drank moderately during pregnancy had a higher one than those that abstained.
I find it depressing that Myleene Klass’s agent felt compelled to deny she was drinking after she was spotted at Piers Morgan’s CNN party recently with a wine glass in her hand at six months pregnant. The pregnancy police were assured ‘it was 100 per cent Diet Coke’. Phew. Cancel that call to social services.
And when Gwyneth Paltrow dared to admit she was drinking Guinness and was spotted sipping red wine in 2006 while pregnant with her second child, Moses, she was lambasted.
All this hysteria does is encourage the evangelists who make pregnant women feel guilty about so much as sniffing a barmaid’s apron.
But I’m not a one-woman-campaign against the Temperance League, out to advise all expectant mums to crack open the Sancerre and put their feet up. Far from it. I’d just like every mum to do their own research and come to their own — informed — conclusion. So you may not feel like drinking during your pregnancy. That’s fine — I’m not standing in judgment. All I ask is that you afford me the same courtesy.
Will this winter be even colder in Britain than the winter of 1962-3?
Temperatures will plummet tomorrow and will stay bitterly cold for the next month, forecasters have warned. Severe weather warnings have been issued as the second Big Freeze of the season puts the country on course for a winter even colder than the notoriously treacherous 1962-63.
North-westerly parts of the country got a sneak preview today of the freezing weather to come. At 9am, West Scotland was still shivering at -7c while the mercury stood at -3c in north-west England.
Large swathes of the country were today issued with severe weather warnings, with ice and snow expected to make driving conditions treacherous from Thursday onwards.
A spokesman for the Met Office said: ‘A band of rain and snow will move southwards across Scotland and Northern Ireland during the early hours of Thursday with widespread icy surfaces then rapidly developing, potentially around the morning rush-hour period. ‘This risk will also extend into northern England. Heavy snow showers will then spread to areas exposed to the strong northerly wind.’
Temperatures on Thursday night will drop to between -3c and -6c, according to MeteoGroup. Forecaster Aisling Creevey said: ‘We’ve had a little bit of a reprieve over the last few days – pretty much everywhere is at risk from snow and icy conditions as the temperature drops on Thursday. ‘And temperatures could be down to -10c in Scotland and to -4c and -5c across the country overnight on Friday.’
Snow is set to feature throughout the weekend. David Price, a forecaster for the Met Office, said there would be 5cm-10cm of snow over much of the country, with some higher areas of Scotland facing as much as 20cm.
Looking further ahead Jonathan Powell, a forecaster with Positive Weather Solutions, said: ‘Our models are showing we will see a white Christmas. The most likely places to have one are Scotland, north-east England, the east coast, the South East and London. It’s going to happen.’