British intensive care units ‘will have to start turning patients away’
A flu epidemic has broken out among children under four, disturbing figures revealed last night. Cases of the illness in children aged one to four years old have soared to more than 200 per 100,000, the level of an epidemic.
Rates have doubled among the middle aged in the past week alone, while rocketing by 50 per cent across the population of England and Wales. But the true scale of the crisis is much worse, according to a leading expert, who said the figures from the Royal College of General Practitioners were an underestimate.
Hospitals will soon have to start denying critically ill people treatment in intensive care units as they have been swamped with flu patients.
Many are now ‘desperately’ short of beds and nurses, an NHS pressure group warned last night. Geoff Martin, of Health Emergency, said: ‘Cuts in recent years to bed and staff numbers have left the NHS dangerously exposed and there is no doubt that many intensive care units will soon have to close to new admissions, putting hundreds of lives at risk.’
Overall, flu cases soared by 45 per cent last week, reaching 124 per 100,000 of the population – up from 85 cases per 100,000 the week before. Breaching the 100 mark makes flu levels officially ‘above average’ for the time of year. Most cases are believed to be swine flu. In children under five, the rate reached 184 per 100,000. A relatively low number of cases among babies is what has kept the total below 200.
And experts fear the number of schoolchildren catching flu could rise when they return to lessons next week.
The weekly figures are collected during the flu season from GP practices by the Royal College of General Practitioners.
But even though they show a big rise, they are likely to underestimate the true picture, said Professor John Oxford, a virologist at the University of London.
Professor Oxford said: ‘Sometimes you even get a dip in figures around this time of year, not because flu has gone away but because GP surgeries were closed during the holidays – which reduces the number of patients who can be counted.’ He added the UK was on the ‘cusp’ of an epidemic which could take off when older children go back to school.
He also called for routine flu vaccination of under-fives on the NHS. Although many children were given the swine flu jab during the pandemic as a one-off measure, independent experts ruled out inclusion of the under-fives in the seasonal programme. They are due to review the decision again next year.
Health Emergency warned that the flu outbreak could expose a ‘desperate’ shortage in intensive care capacity.
It claimed that there is currently a lack of intensive care unit beds and specialist nurses which, it said, could put lives at risk if the flu outbreak gathered momentum in the new year.
Mr Martin added: ‘We are getting reports of intensive care units in London where up to a quarter of the beds are filled with swine flu cases and the crisis is getting worse by the day.
‘Cuts in recent years to bed and staff numbers have left the NHS dangerously exposed and there is no doubt that many intensive care units will soon have to close to new admissions, putting hundreds of lives at risk.’
A surge in the number of cases is expected as children go back to school next week, universities re-open and people return to work.
Professor Oxford said: ‘There is a lot more body contact at Christmas with people kissing and greeting each other and this all adds to spreading viruses like swine flu. This is the third wave of swine flu we have had and there is still at least two thirds of the population who have not yet been exposed to it.’
Soaring levels of both seasonal and swine flu are piling more pressure on hospitals already dealing with cases of the winter vomiting bug norovirus.
Professor Oxford said because two in three people did not get swine flu during the last two outbreaks in the summer of 2009 and last winter, they are at risk of getting it now. ‘Fortunately, elderly people who are normally most at risk during flu outbreaks do not seem to be affected by swine flu,’ he added.
Jamie is right, today’s spoilt children need to learn money needs to be EARNED
Yet again Jamie Oliver opens his big mockney mouth to talk about what’s good for children — only this time it’s not turkey twizzlers in his sights. He has announced plans for his own four children, saying that as soon as each reaches the age of ten, Papa will put them to work in the family business. Not in half measures, either.
‘I’m going to get them working three hours on a Saturday and a Sunday,’ he says sternly — yes, that’s three hours, each day — ‘to get them realising that you have to put in a few hours of sweat to get a couple of quid.’
Say what you will about Jamie Oliver — and there has never been a shortage of people with strong views about him — on this matter he is absolutely right. Moreover, if other parents were to follow suit, we would all be better off.
Children and young adults today are arguably less clued-up about money than any generation before them. ‘Cost’ and ‘value’ are meaningless to the average teenager, in £80 trainers that are as ugly as they’re obscenely priced, and paid for, of course, by Mum and Dad.
But there’s no point in blaming the teenager — not even for his nagging about ‘needing’ the damn shoes — when the fault clearly lies elsewhere. We are in the grip of a trend which has parents vying with each other to protect their offspring from financial realities. They’ll hock their souls, if need be, to ensure that darling kiddo never goes without.
The middle classes consider it a matter of pride that they ensure their children are recession-proof. Their homes aren’t, of course; nor are their jobs, their bills, their health and certainly not their own dreams of small luxuries. Heaven forbid, however, that the bubble-wrap should crack open long enough for the children to glimpse the truth of this — and heaven forgive the lengths to which some parents will go to make sure that it does not.
This week, more than any other in the year, millions will be calculating the cost of their deception. A family with two children, living on one average salary, will have spent a whole week’s net pay on those children’s Christmas presents.
Some 40 per cent of them will have thrown credit cards at the problem, which in real numbers translates as four million people getting into debt just to pay for Christmas. What’s more — and this is stomach-churning — we can expect three million still to be repaying the bill for this Christmas when the next one comes along.
But never mind. Even if one in five families will have trouble meeting this month’s rent or mortgage as a result, at least Jonny got his new bike. That’s what matters.
If it were only a seasonal madness, it would be bad enough. But with belts tightening everywhere else, the competitive display of indulgence to children is escalating. People on moderate incomes will have their children’s parties privately catered, the entertainment hired and the going-home bags stuffed with expensive goodies.
End-of-term gifts for favoured teachers — theoretically ‘from’ a schoolchild, but naturally paid for by the Bank of Mum and Dad — now include jewellery, cashmere and days in spas.
Holidays, toys and technology are a source of infinite parental pride — ‘only the best for my girl!’ — and it doesn’t even stop when the growing does; I recently heard a man boast about his 19-year-old son’s ‘gap year’. Not a gap year as you or I might know it, mind. He had paid for his little prince to flit from country to country, flying first class on planes and sleeping in five-star hotels, on the proud basis that ‘no son of mine’ would sleep in a hostel. He honestly believed that this proved him to be a better parent than his son’s friends’.
But what was even worse than spoiling the brat senseless was his reaction to my remark that his son would be better off working the trip; a spot of bar-tending here, putting up a few deckchairs there. He simply wouldn’t hear of it. Nothing to do with his son’s dignity, either; the message was clear — menial work done by his children would demean him, their father.
And that, I think, doubles the problem. While parents continue to dip their hands into empty pockets so as not to deprive their children, they actually deprive them of learning the one thing they need to know about money: where it comes from.
You don’t know what money is until you’ve earned some; until you have, as Jamie Oliver bluntly puts it, ‘put in a few hours of sweat’. This is the first generation of parents which seems not to understand that. My grandmother slaved away, my mother earned all she spent, I had pocket money — but if I wanted more, I worked Saturdays, just as my daughter did, in an especially squalid supermarket.
Nobody quibbled about doing it; nor did it signify rich or poor. I have a friend made rich as Croesus by life as a rock star, but whose son was still made to earn his allowance, usually by offering to clean the family cars. (Though, I grant you, that ‘cars’ plural did make it very lucrative.)
It was a rite of passage worth more than just its pay packet. Young people who swap time and energy for hard cash learn the difference between flush and skint which, in turn, means their parents can stop the pretence at home. My own daughter knew the score exactly: I threw every last penny at her school fees, which meant that when much of her class spent Easter at the Pyramids, and she wanted to join them, a simple ‘no’ was understood and accepted.
Her partner, schooled in the Eighties, had the same kind of upbringing. His school’s skiing trip was so evidently unaffordable, he says, that he didn’t bother to ask: ‘In fact, I didn’t even take the letter home.’
A 14-year-old who has schlepped on a paper-round knows precisely what it takes to put a tenner in your pocket … and, by extension, how many tenners must come out of that pocket for an iPhone.
And yet modern parents, far from encouraging their children to discover these real values for themselves — as Jamie Oliver plans to do — seem actively to strive against such enterprise.
You hear them making up excuses on their children’s behalf. Paper-round? Too dangerous. (It’s not.) Shop work? There isn’t any. (There is.) Sweeping up at the hair salon? Pays peanuts. (So?) Besides, Saturday is when they go to the football, shop for clothes or go clubbing….
And behind it all, that same, smug message: look at me, the perfect parent, paying for all their extra-curricular fun as well! My children, they want for nothing, I see to that.
Except, of course, they do. They want for learning, by example, that which will stand them in financial stead when their concerns are rather graver than a designer label in their kiddie Christmas stocking.
Jamie Oliver, as we know, could afford to buy his children all the labels under the sun. But by introducing them to the world of hard graft, he’s giving them a gift more valuable still. He’s making sure that they’ll be able to buy their own.
£3,000: the annual bill working Britons pay for Britain’s lavish benefits system
Up by $200 under the Labour party governmernt
Labour’s lavish benefits system has burdened working families with an average bill of £3,000 a year, figures revealed yesterday. Tory analysis of official statistics revealed that the average working family contributes an extra £200 a year towards the welfare system in real terms following changes made by Labour.
The Tories last night said the figures underlined the need to reform Britain’s bloated benefits system to reduce the pressure on taxpayers who have to fund it.
Conservative MP Gavin Barwell said: ‘The benefits bill rocketed under Labour. That’s why we will cut the ballooning welfare budget and make work pay through a radical new Universal Credit. ‘Ed Miliband and Labour’s opposition to our reforms, which will make work pay, show he is not on the side of fairness or hard-working families.’
Figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions show that the real terms cost of working age benefits, such as Incapacity Benefit and Jobseeker’s Allowance, rose by £3.2billion under Labour, hitting £48.2billion last year.
The increase left the 16.5million working households paying almost £200 a year extra to support those on benefits. The total cost of working age benefits is equivalent to £2,920 a year for every working household. The figures also reveal that the number of workless households increased under Labour from 3.7million to 3.9million.
Ministers are planning a range of new measures to help people on benefits to get back into work. They are also planning a £25,000 annual cap on the amount of benefits an individual household can receive. The figures do not include the cost of pensions or locally administered benefits such as housing benefit.
British Universities staging admissions tests to identify the brightest students
Dumbed down school exams not much use. So we have a backdoor revival of IQ testing
Students are facing a battery of admissions tests to get into university next year amid record demand for degree courses. The Daily Telegraph has learnt that as many as one-in-five universities and higher education colleges are staging their own entrance exams to pick out the best candidates. In many cases, students are being asked to sit aptitude tests to get into the most sought-after institutions.
The disclosure will fuel fears that universities are struggling to identify the most able applicants from a huge rise in school-leavers with straight As at A-level. But other institutions are also staging more basic literacy and numeracy exams just to make sure teenagers have a decent grasp of the three-Rs before starting a degree.
It comes as record numbers of students chase higher education places next year. According to the latest figures, an unprecedented 181,814 candidates completed applications by the end of November – a rise of almost 12 per cent compared with the same point last year. If the trend continues into 2011, almost 240,000 applicants could be left without places. The scramble comes as students attempt to get into university before a sharp rise in tuition fees in 2012.
Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said growing numbers of admissions tutors no longer trusted A-level results. “It’s a great pity that universities are having to introduce their own entrance exams,” he said. “On the one hand it is comment on the ability of A-levels to distinguish between students at the top end. “On the other, it shows that universities don’t believe that students are literate or numerate enough to take some courses, even if they’ve passed their GCSEs and A-levels.”
In a report, researchers surveyed some 306 universities and higher education colleges. The study, by the organisation Supporting Professionalism in Admissions (SPA), which advises universities on admissions policies, found that 21 per cent used tests to dictate entry to some subjects. It was up on around 16 per cent two years ago and the same as the number in 2009/10.
Researchers insisted it still only accounted for a small proportion – around one per cent – of the 43,360 courses on offer next year. But the disclosure will add to growing concerns that GCSE or A-level results alone are not enough to gauge a candidate’s suitability for courses.
Students taking medicine and law are normally required to sit entrance exams to get into the most selective universities. The National Admissions Test for Law must be passed to study the subject at Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Glasgow, Kings College London, Nottingham, Oxford and University College London. Other universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, set their own exams for some courses.
Cambridge’s thinking skills assessment – a 90 minute multiple choice aptitude test – is needed to study computer science, economics, engineering, land economy, natural sciences and politics, psychology and sociology (PPS). Students need to sit an admissions test or submit written work to get on to 29 courses at Oxford, the SPA survey said.
But candidates also have to pass entrance tests to get into less selective universities. According to the SPA, students attempting to take undergraduate teacher training degrees at Gloucestershire need to sit English and maths tests and some courses at Bournemouth University require a “maths and logic” exam.
Students must take a written English test to study journalism at Kent and those attempting to study occupational therapy at London South Bank have to complete a writing, grammar and problem-solving assessment.
Kingston University requires students applying to aircraft engineering to take a one-hour maths and physics paper, while those attempting to read social work must sit a literacy and “case study comprehension” test.
The rise of university entry tests coincides with an increase in A-level results. According to figures, a record 27 per cent of exams were awarded an A grade this year. Some one-in-12 papers scored an elite A* grade introduced for the first time this year to pick out the brightest candidates.
On its website, SPA said: “Some higher education institutions use admissions tests to aid differentiation between the most able applicants. “A test score in this context has become more significant because of concerns about the high numbers of candidates who achieve high grades in qualifications, eg. the increasing number of A grades at A level. “Tests may also focus upon skills and aptitudes that are not assessed through academic attainment.”
Sanity coming to the British university admissions system?
A dramatic shake-up of university admissions could see students waiting for their A-level results before applying for degrees. Teenagers currently apply for courses on the basis of the grades their teachers predict they will achieve – even though up to half of estimated grades turn out to be wrong. The new plan would mean prospective students could apply only after they have been awarded the marks necessary to secure a place at their university of choice.
The reform would require an overhaul of the current system, with speedier marking and A-level exams taken earlier in the academic year. It is designed to help state pupils who are often predicted lower grades than they go on to achieve.
It is one of a number of proposed changes – for inclusion in next spring’s education white paper – aimed at minimising the damage that the hike in tuition fees could have on social mobility. Universities minister David Willetts has given his provisional backing to the plan.
The changes have been prompted by Oxford University research commissioned by Mr Willetts’ department which shows that the most able candidates from comprehensive schools are disadvantaged by the current system. This is because their teachers underestimate the grades they go on to receive – often because they have less experience than those in independent and grammar schools of dealing with such high achievers.
As a result, many highly capable candidates do not apply for the country’s top universities.
Mary Curnock Cook, of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the most senior figure in the admissions system, has strongly backed the plans and believes they could be implemented within five years. She believes the chief hurdle is the time taken by exam boards to mark students’ papers.
For the reform to work, A-level results would need to be available by early summer to allow time for students to apply for courses starting in late September or early October. At present students receive their results in August, nine months after receiving their predicted grades.
Mrs Curnock Cook said: ‘I have come to the conclusion that probably the biggest single reform that we can do in the qualifications arena and higher education is to move to a post-qualifications admissions system. ‘This is something that’s been put in the “too difficult to handle box” for a very long time.’
Mrs Curnock Cook said she was ‘shocked’ by the time taken by exam boards to mark papers, asking: ‘What’s happened to technology?’ She added: ‘I cannot believe that in the next five years we cannot speed up the marking of exams.’
The proposal will be studied by exam watchdog Ofqual. Its chief executive, Isabel Nisbet, said: ‘We will actively consider the proposals with Ucas and with the awarding organisation we regulate.’
Mr Willetts stressed the need for the reform. He said: ‘The big argument in favour is that in terms of social mobility, there is some underestimation in the forecast of A-level grades of teenagers at mainstream, non-academic schools.
‘There are some people from tough backgrounds who do better at their A-level grades than predicted and might have got to a more competitive university if it had been possible to judge them on their actual performance, not their predicted performance.’
However, Simon Lebus, of exam board Cambridge Assessment, questioned the feasibility of the proposals. ‘If you wanted to have results at a certain time, I am sure awarding bodies could bring it forward a week or two weeks,’ he said. ‘The issue is about schools having the ability to receive the results earlier in the summer holidays and how set-up the universities would be to handle many thousands of applications over a shorter period.’
Don’t feel guilty about that brandy butter – it’s GOOD for you!
Not all the findings referred to below are sound — but neither are the claims for the evils of butter
After the calorie-laden onslaught of the past few days, it’s no surprise that the health Nazis come out in force. Watch the alcohol. Go easy on the pudding. Think of all that saturated fat. Think of your body mass index.
This time of year, if the nannies are to be believed, is a killer. And butter, they say — the lovely, creamy butter which almost defines what is best about northern European cuisine — is about the worst thing you can eat.
A few days ago, Gordon Ramsay’s new cookbook was slated by an American health watchdog, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. It said his recipes would ‘wreak havoc’ with your health, as they contained too much cream and far, far too much butter.
Earlier this year, Shyam Kolvekar, a cardiologist practising in Britain, actually called for butter to be banned — yes, banned, like crack cocaine — to save the nation’s health. Mr Kolvekar trotted out the old canard that butter leads to clogged arteries and heart disease as it is full of saturated fats.
But scientists are increasingly challenging this view, and their work suggests that this call to ban butter is as wrong-headed as it is ludicrous. While it is true that we Britons eat too much fat and that our diets are far from ideal, butter is not the culprit.
For decades we have been told that animal fats (found in meat, butter, cream and cheese) are the dietary equivalent of the axis of evil, and responsible for the epidemic of cancers and heart disease that has swept the Western world in the past century.
But scientists claim that, far from being killer foods, butter and other dairy produce are — when eaten in moderation — good for us. They note that as butter consumption has declined over the decades, as a result of health concerns, the intake of margarine and other manufactured spreads has increased. But there has been no corresponding fall in cardiovascular problems. In fact, quite the reverse.
In a research paper looking at the relationship between health problems and butter, Professor Mary Enig, a biochemist from Maryland in the U.S., said: ‘Heart disease was rare in America at the turn of the century. Between 1920 and 1960, the incidence of heart disease rose to become America’s number one killer. During the same period butter consumption plummeted from 18lb per person per year to 4lb.’
In another paper, published this year, Professor Peter Elwood, an expert in fat metabolism, said: ‘There appears to be an enormous mismatch between the evidence from long-term prospective studies and perceptions of harm from the consumption of dairy food items.’
This is not a message the food industry wants you to hear. For margarine and manufactured spreads have become a multi-billion-pound industry. Huge international companies now promote the message that animal-derived fats are the main causes of heart disease and cancer. But the Swiss, Swedes and northern Italians (who eat a great deal of butter) have very low rates of heart disease.
The anti-dairy propaganda machine has been highly successful. When I was a child, in the Sixties and Seventies, the middle classes all believed that margarine was good for us.
What only a few years before had been a detested wartime staple was suddenly rebranded by food industry conglomerates as a fashionable ‘health’ food. The labels on the tubs proclaimed how good margarine was — being ‘high in polyunsaturates’ and ‘low in saturates’. These phrases became repeated as a kind of holy writ of healthy living — but, like many religious mantras, were not totally understood.
Nevertheless, because people are obsessed with their weight and constantly looking for a new dietary panacea, somehow margarine acquired a bogus ‘slimming’ cachet as well.
The trouble is many margarines are packed with other unhealthy substances and chemicals. For example, they are rich (sometimes 15 per cent by weight) in trans-fats — synthesised unsaturated fats which increase the risk of coronary heart disease by raising levels of ‘bad’ low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and lowering levels of ‘good’ high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. A Harvard study found that trans-fat-rich margarines increase the risk of heart disease in women by nearly half.
Just as worryingly, a study published last year in New Zealand found that children who ate margarine every day scored, on average, three points lower in IQ tests than those who did not.
The researchers suggested that high trans-fat levels found in margarines could be to blame. Trans-fats have been linked to memory problems —perhaps due to the way they affect absorption of other nutrients.
After an outcry from consumers and scientists, the use of trans-fat in margarines has now been cut. But then, many of us didn’t need the excuse to re-embrace butter — one of the purest, most natural foods you can eat. Of course, natural is not always the same as healthy, but, in this case, it really is — at least, in moderation.
Butter is a simple emulsion of milk-fat, protein and water, and is packed with nutrients. It is a high-energy food, containing 700 calories per 100g, slightly less than olive oil but exactly the same as most standard margarines.
Butter is rich in Vitamin A, which is needed for the proper functioning of the cardiovascular system. Deficiencies of this vitamin in pregnant women can result in babies with deformed hearts. In infants it can lead to blindness and skeletal defects.
Butter is also rich in Vitamin D, which helps build strong bones, and contains Vitamin E and selenium — essential for healthy nervous and immune systems.
Recent studies have also shown that butter can help to fight cancer, as it is rich in an anti-carcinogenic fatty acid obtained through cattle eating grass.
Butter, it is true, is high in dietary cholesterol, but the relationship between the cholesterol we eat and levels of this chemical in our blood stream is complex.
Butter — like all dairy products — is good for bone growth and repair and helps keep our joints supple. Unlike margarine, it promotes a feeling of being full when consumed in small amounts; like rich chocolate, butter is ‘fattening’, but you really don’t need to eat a lot of it to feel satisfied.
Increasingly, in Britain we want foods that not only look like food, but taste of food as well. A good butter — and I am thinking of the creamy wonders that come from Jersey and Normandy — is a gourmet food, to be savoured in small quantities.
Mashed potato cannot be made properly without butter. Ditto scrambled eggs. Toasted crumpets with marge? Unthinkable.
For thousands of years, butter has been recognised as one of the greatest culinary inventions of humankind. Those who cannot see this are simply missing out. So, forget the health Nazis and enjoy all those last scrapings of your brandy butter — without the slightest feeling of guilt.
The secret of keeping the doctor away: An iPod a day
Patients could be given Apple iPods loaded with their favourite music to help them recover from operations faster.
A £10,000 trial plans to test the theory that patients allowed to listen to music feel less pain, need less medication and leave hospital sooner after surgery.
If approved, the first to benefit will be new mothers, who will be exposed to music before and after they give birth, and those admitted for orthopaedic operations such as hip and knee replacements.
They will be monitored to see how music affects their anxiety levels, blood pressure and heart rate compared to those who don’t listen to music.
Although it is thought that the best music to use depends on each patient’s personal taste, the research will be used to create an original piece of music designed to have the most therapeutic effect.
The trial would involve about 120 patients at Barts and The London NHS Trust, and be run by The Public Engagement Foundation charity. Founder Tim Joss said: ‘This is not about art as fluff – it’s about saving the NHS money and I will not consider this to be a success unless that’s what it does. We want to get rid of that clinical, hospital feel and make wards feel more welcoming for patients.’
The music may be given to patients on iPods, or they may be encouraged to bring in their own devices or use the hospital’s in-house entertainment system.
Mr Joss added: ‘It may be that what helps a new mother recover from a birth is not the same thing that helps someone on an orthopaedic ward. It could be fascinating.’
The charity is seeking £10,000 funding for the project from the hospital’s charitable fund, rather than using NHS money.
Music psychologist Susan Hallam, from the London Institute of Education, said: ‘There is plenty of evidence that music can reduce anxiety. It can cut the time patients take to recover so could allow them to leave hospital quicker.’