Was substandard NHS care to blame for the deaths of 21 babies?
‘Substandard’ NHS maternity care may have caused the deaths of 21 babies, a damning report has found. An independent inquiry has revealed that the unexplained deaths, which occurred during labour or childbirth, could have been caused by delivery delays and inadequate resuscitation attempts.
The investigation into 15 hospitals in the West Midlands also found staff were failing to properly monitor patients and report problems.
Campaigners said the poor standards of care were ‘unforgivable’ and were part of a ‘pattern’ which is being repeated across Britain.
Janet Scott, research manager at baby death charity Sands, said: ‘Healthy babies should not die in labour. ‘These are not babies who were ill or born too soon. These are babies who started labour healthy and died because of failures in the care they received. ‘Unfortunately, these failures are not one-off blunders, but patterns of poor care that are seen repeatedly across the UK.’
A panel made up of senior midwives, obstetricians and other maternity experts looked into the unexplained deaths of 25 babies between April 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009. It found that twelve of the babies may have died as a result of delivery delays, while the deaths of seven others could have been caused by inadequate resuscitation attempts.
The report looked at 16 stillbirths and nine ‘early neonatal’ deaths, which occur from 34 weeks gestation, in the time frame, and excluded all cases of babies with congenital anomalies.
It concluded that in 16 of the cases, the babies were likely to have died because they received inadequate care, while in 21 of the cases different care ‘might have made a difference to the outcome’. The report also listed 16 cases where staff failed to interpret heart readings correctly and so did not identify potential problems in labour.
The panel also found mothers who lost babies were offered ‘substandard’ support and bereavement care in seven of the cases.
Before the inquiry, which was carried out by the West Midlands Perinatal Institute, the hospitals involved had only identified a quarter of the significant failings in the cases.
NHS West Midlands, which deals with 70,000 deliveries per year, said it would learn lessons from the inquiry.
But Mrs Scott added: ‘From the perspective of parents this is unforgivable as every parent needs to know that their baby’s death has been investigated with the utmost rigour, and that when something has gone wrong changes are made in hospital systems to ensure it cannot happen again. ‘Depressingly, the same poor levels of care have been identified in previous national reports over the last 10 years. Why aren’t lessons being learned and babies’ lives being saved?’
Fay Baillie, from NHS West Midlands, said: ‘The report is really disappointing. It has identified that there have been babies that have died in the West Midlands for whom we as health professionals could have provided better treatment. ‘It is not something that we should underestimate in terms of an emotional response to it, and it is something we must improve upon.’
Gisela Stuart, MP for Edgbaston in Birmingham, West Midlands, a former parliamentary under-secretary of state for health, called the inquiry findings `tragic’ and said she had requested a Government debate on maternity services.
Three in four mothers-to-be miss out on flu jab
Almost three-quarters of pregnant women have not been vaccinated against swine flu, the Health Secretary has admitted. Andrew Lansley said although the number of expectant mothers who have received the seasonal flu injection had almost doubled compared to last winter, more than 70 per cent remain unprotected.
Critics say the axing of the annual flu jab advertising campaign left mothers-to-be confused about whether they qualified for protection on the NHS. Awareness is increasing, but many surgeries are running out of jabs and pharmacies are refusing to give it to pregnant women.
Official figures show just 27 per cent of pregnant women have been vaccinated, compared to more than 40 per cent of asthmatics and other under-65s at risk of severe illness. More than 70 per cent of pensioners have opted for the jab.
Changes to the immune system make pregnant women more likely to catch swine flu and to suffer pneumonia and other complications. Their unborn baby is also at risk.
The decision to add pregnant women to the ‘at-risk’ groups entitled to an NHS vaccination was made early last year, but was not made the focus of an advertising campaign.
Labour health spokesman John Healey said in a letter to Mr Lansley that there was public confusion over who the at-risk groups were and who was entitled to a free jab.
He asked why the Health Secretary didn’t ensure more effort was made early to reassure pregnant women the vaccine was safe and important, and why he axed the autumn advertising campaign.
Frances Day-Stirk, of the Royal College of Midwives, said it seemed women were not made aware of the jab’s benefits early enough.
Mr Lansley said the decision on who to vaccinate was made by scientific advisers independently of ministers and that a mass advertising campaign on swine flu vaccination would have been ‘wastefully focused’ on the entire population, when only certain groups were eligible for a free jab. He added: ‘GPs have been inviting those in at-risk groups to receive the flu vaccine since October and the lack of an advertising campaign this year has had no discernible impact on the uptake of flu vaccine.’
A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘At every stage, we have been guided by the advice of independent experts.’
Flu has claimed 112 lives this winter, with swine flu blamed for most. Senior doctors have warned that the NHS is in ‘gridlock’.
John Heyworth, of the College of Emergency Medicine, said: ‘We have seen A&Es overwhelmed, with people queuing on trolleys and long delays even for those admitted to intensive care.’
The Health Department spokesman said the NHS was better prepared than ever to deal with flu and that the number of intensive care beds taken up by flu patients was falling.
Beauty and brains DO go together! Study claims good-looking men and women have higher IQs
Another of the many positive correlates of IQ
Handsome men and women often appear to be blessed with lucky lives. Now research has shown they are cleverer than most people as well. Studies in Britain and America have found they have IQs 14 points above average. The findings dispel the myth of the dumb blondes or good-looking men not being very bright.
It appears that those already physically blessed attract partners who are not just good looking but brainy too, according to research by the London School of Economics. The children of these couples will tend to inherit both qualities, building a genetic link over successive generations between them.
LSE researcher Satoshi Kanazawa told the Sunday Times: ”Physical attractiveness is significantly positively associated with general intelligence, both with and without controls for social class, body size and health. ‘The association between attractiveness and general intelligence is also stronger among men than among women.’
In other research on social standing, he found that middle-class girls tended to have higher IQs than their working- class counterparts.
Among the millions of examples of beauty and brains, there’s supermodel Lily Cole who went to Cambridge University, actress Kate Beckinsale, an Oxford graduate, and physicist Brian Cox, one-time keyboard player with D:ream.
In Britain, the study found that men who are physically attractive had IQs an average 13.6 points above the norm while women were about 11.4 points higher.
Kanazawa’s findings were based on the National Child Development Study which followed 17,419 people since their birth in a single week in March, 1958. Throughout their childhood up to early adulthood, they were given a series of tests for academic progress, intelligence and marked on appearance.
The American research was taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health which involved a similar study of 35,000 young Americans.
Kanazawa, whose paper was published in the academic journal Intelligence, said: ‘Our contention that beautiful people are more intelligent is purely scientific. It is not a prescription for how to treat or judge others.’
The therapist who claims she can help homosexuals go straight
A psychotherapist who tried to convert a gay man to become heterosexual faces being struck off at a landmark disciplinary hearing this week. The case will expose the growing use of hugely controversial therapies, from the United States, which attempt to make homosexual men heterosexual.
The therapy has been described by the leading professional psychotherapy body as “absurd”, while the Royal College of Psychiatrists said “so-called treatments of homosexuality” allow prejudice to flourish.
A small group of counsellors believe all men are born heterosexual but that some choose a homosexual lifestyle which can then be changed through counselling.
Lesley Pilkington, 60, a psychotherapist for 20 years, faces being stripped of her accreditation to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) after treating a patient who had told her he wanted to be “cured” of his homosexuality.
The patient was in fact a prominent homosexual rights campaigner and journalist, who secretly recorded two sessions with Mrs Pilkington, a devout Christian, before reporting her to the BACP.
Mrs Pilkington says her method of therapy – Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) – is legitimate and effective. The therapy is practised by a handful of psychotherapists in Britain.
Mrs Pilkington, whose 29-year-old son is homosexual, said she was motivated by a desire to help others. “He [my son] is heterosexual. He just has a homosexual problem,” she said last week.
Mrs Pilkington has accused Patrick Strudwick, the award-winning journalist who secretly taped her, of entrapment. On the tape, Mr Strudwick asks Mrs Pilkington if she views homosexuality as “a mental illness, an addiction or an antireligious phenomenon”. She replies: “It is all of that.”
Mr Strudwick told The Sunday Telegraph: “Entering into therapy with somebody who thinks I am sick … is the singularly most chilling experience of my life.” He added: “If a black person goes to a GP and says I want skin bleaching treatment, that does not put the onus on the practitioner to deliver the demands of the patient. It puts the onus on the health care practitioner to behave responsibly.”
Mr Strudwick approached Mrs Pilkington at a largely Christian conference — run by the US organisation The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality — where he said he was unhappy with his homosexual lifestyle and that he “wanted to leave it”. He then requested “treatment for his same-sex attraction”.
In May 2009, Mr Strudwick attended a therapy session at Mrs Pilkington’s private practice, based at her home in Chorleywood, Herts, and recorded the session on a tape machine strapped to his stomach.
In the disciplinary letter sent to Mrs Pilkington, she is accused by BACP of “praying to God to heal him [Strudwick] of his homosexuality”. She is also accused of having an “agenda that homosexuality is wrong and that gay people can change and that you allegedly attempted to inflict these views on him”.
Mrs Pilkington told The Sunday Telegraph: “He told me he was looking for a treatment for being gay. He said he was depressed and unhappy and would I give him some therapy.
“I told him I only work using a Christian biblical framework and he said that was exactly what he wanted.”
She estimates that in the past decade she has offered the SOCE method to about one patient a year, lasting typically about a year. “We don’t use the word ‘cure’ because it makes it [homosexuality] sound like a disease. We are helping people move out of that lifestyle because they are depressed and unhappy.
“We say everybody is heterosexual but some people have a homosexual problem. Nobody is born gay. It is environmental; it is in the upbringing.”
The SOCE method involves behavioural, psychoanalytical and religious techniques. Homosexual men are sent on weekends away with heterosexual men to “encourage their masculinity” and “in time to develop healthy relationships with women”, said Mrs Pilkington.
She said she became involved “in this lifestyle treatment” because of her son. “I am not in this because I am judging people. I am in it because I understand what the issues are.
“I have been able to help my son. We have gone through a process in my family. I want to help others who are in a similar place.
“[My son] is still gay … we are developing a relationship that was quite difficult for many years but is now coming back in a very nice way. I am confident he will come through this and he will resolve his issues and that he will change.”
Her legal defence is being funded by the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), which has instructed Paul Diamond, a leading religious rights barrister, to fight the case.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, the director of the CLC, said: “It is shocking that Lesley was targeted, lied to and misrepresented by this homosexual activist and even worse that her professional body consider her actions worthy of investigation.
“Therapy should remain freely available for those who wish to change their homosexual behaviour.”
The Royal College of Psychiatrists issued a policy statement last year condemning conversion therapies. It stated: “There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be exchanged. Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish.”
Philip Hodson, a fellow of the BACP, said: “[BACP] is dedicated to social diversity, equality and inclusivity of treatment without sexual discrimination or judgmentalism of any kind, and it would be absurd to attempt to alter such fundamental aspects of personal identity as sexual orientation by counselling.
Long delay in marking British High school exams to end — maybe
Sixth formers will no longer have to wait for their results before learning if they have secured a place at university under a shake-up of the examination system. Ministers want to move the timing of final school examinations and push the autumn university term back.
A government White Paper, to be published in the spring, will propose that university places would be granted based on actual results. [Revolutionary!] The deadline to the University and College Admissions Service, which falls tonight, would be moved back about six months.
Meanwhile the start of the university year would be delayed to until January under the reforms being drawn up by ministers. The reforms would not be introduced for at least two years to allow smooth transition.
David Willetts, the Universities Minister, said the current system needed to be “re-engineered”. “Instead of speculative applications based on possible A-Level grades everyone is dealing on how (a pupil) performs,” he told The Times. “It would involve some change in the time at which people do their exams. “Exam boards would have to move more rapidly and the process of people getting the application into Ucas would have to change.”
Under current systems, students receive conditional offers in the spring, which are not confirmed until A-Level grades are published in late August.
Mr Willetts said the proposals would be “floated” in the White Paper that would be published sometime in the spring.
Universities will likely be against the plans due to the high level of uncertainty they already face.
More British Students turning to two-year university degrees
More students are turning to two-year university degrees in the economic downturn, figures show. The number of undergraduates gaining “foundation” degrees soared by almost a third last year, it was revealed. Figures showed 24,865 students completed a short degree course in 2010 compared with 18,850 in 2009 and just 9,275 five years ago.
The disclosure suggests that students are increasingly seeing foundation degrees – which take two years to complete and combine academic study with work-based tuition – as a cheaper alternative to traditional undergraduate courses. Many students also favour them because they can often lead directly to a job.
It follows claims from David Willets, the Universities Minister, that growing numbers of young people should seek alternatives to traditional three-year degrees. Setting out a vision of higher education under the Coalition Government, he called for more part-time courses, foundation degrees and courses with business placements. In a speech, he said: “There is more to university than Club 18-30 – going away from home for three years when you are 18.”
According to figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, foundation degrees increased far more quickly last year than any other mode of study.
The number of students graduating with a foundation degree soared by 32 per cent, while conventional undergraduate degrees increased by five per cent and taught postgraduates rose by 11 per cent.
Incorrect architecture must go
Britain’s know-alls got it wrong so something simple that got it right has to go
I can feel that sense of innocence and optimism as I walk around Britain’s last surviving prefab estate at Catford, South London. Plonked on top of pre-plumbed concrete slabs, these homes could be built in a day by teams of German and Italian prisoners-of-war who were in no hurry to return home, come the peace.
Yet, they are as much a part of British social history as Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. That is why English Heritage has fought to give them a Grade II listing, ensuring that future generations will at least retain some idea of what post-war life was like for a large chunk of the population.
But the Government has agreed to safeguard just six of them. The other 181 homes on this quiet, graffiti-free, non-Asbo estate are not being protected.
The owners are just weeks away from a council decision which could lead to almost all of the Excalibur estate being demolished. And for residents like Eddie O’Mahony, 90, who arrived in 1946 and never left, it is time for the biggest battle since, like Hector, he came home from the war.
For there is more at stake here than a warren of old bungalows and the memories of a few hundred Londoners. Here is a healthy riposte to every central planner who believes that society’s future lies in brutalist tower blocks.
Here is a reminder that the modernisers don’t always have the answers. It’s Forties 1, Sixties 0. We should not forget it.
For more than 150,000 homeless, bombed-out families across Britain, these two-bedroom prefabs were meant to be a merely temporary solution at the end of the war. But they were a godsend, too — detached houses with the then astonishing luxury of a garden, a bathroom and a separate indoor loo.
They were designed to last only ten years, just long enough to allow post-war Britain to build all those wonderful new council blocks for homecoming heroes like Hector Murdoch and his family.
As the Sixties unfolded, multi-storey concrete utopias were popping up all over Britain’s metropolitan skylines and most of the prefabs came down.
But as the years went on, the script went badly wrong. Many people found that they hated living in high-rise blocks, no matter how much the architects and the councils told them how lucky they were. In the end, the tower blocks started coming down again.
The Luftwaffe’s destruction of London during the Blitz forced housing authorities to follow the American fashion for prefabricated buildings. The 1944 Housing Act authorised the Government to spend up to £150 million on temporary houses in areas like Lewisham, where more than 1,500 homes had been destroyed during just the first year of conflict.
Cheap and quick to build, the prefab houses were popular with both councils and residents, not least because they were the first buildings many had lived in to have an indoor toilet.
It may seem strange by today’s standards but the prefabs quickly became synonymous with comfort and luxury. In fact, the war-time government was so proud of its new idea that it commissioned a prototype to appear at the Tate Gallery in London.
More than 150,000 of these ‘palaces for the people’ were mass produced in sections at a factory and assembled on sites around the country.
But the Excalibur Estate in Catford, consisting of 187 homes and even a prefab church, remains the largest to survive, despite the original tenants being told it would survive for little more than a decade. Yet, the remaining prefabs — and their grateful residents — stayed put.
And that is why so many are determined to stay here at Catford’s Excalibur estate — so-called because the roads have incongruous Arthurian names liked Baudwin and Pelinore.
It is not just about the buildings. It is about preserving a way of life which, they argue, is anything but prefabricated.
‘Round here, people still look after each other. Say “hello” to a stranger anywhere else and they think you’re a nutter. But not here. We’re old school,’ says retired building manager, Jim Blackender. ‘There’s a waiting list to live here. On the other estates, there’s a waiting list, too — to get out.’
But Excalibur is also a headache for the local council, a nose-thumbing contradiction of every rule in the modern Town Hall handbook.
Officially, these dwellings are damp and unfit for 21st-century human habitation. Some are — but only because they have been neglected by the council which owns all but 29 of them. Many others, cheerfully maintained by their owners and tenants, turn out to be dry, warm and much-loved.
They also sit on 12 valuable acres. And the council planners, along with their property developing partner, want to squeeze up to 400 new homes on the same patch.
This is why the suits at Lewisham Borough Council want to knock the whole thing down. In the Orwellian argot of the modern public sector, the prefabs must make way for something called the ‘Sustainable Community Strategy’.
Hence, a battalion of conservation groups including the Twentieth Century Society want to preserve as much of it as possible.
Students study the design and demography of the place. Film crews love it (they’ve done Only Fools And Horses here). When David Dimbleby was filming How We Built Britain, he came here. Eddie O’Mahony is proud to say that the presenter borrowed his loo.
The first thing I notice is the sky. I’d travelled for miles through the South-East London suburbs. Tower blocks and identical gabled terraces as far as the eye can see.
Then I turn on to the Excalibur estate and there is a sense of reaching open ground. That is simply because everything here is single-storey.
It would be patronising to call it pretty. Some bungalows have had love and attention devoted to them. Some have been given a mock-Tudor makeover with fake wooden beams and lattice windows. One has a couple of palm trees.
Others, however, are a tip, with free-range undergrowth and piles of junk. But there is a Hi-de-Hi holiday camp feel to it all. Almost everyone I meet loves it here.
‘This has gone way beyond being a prefab. It’s a bungalow,’ says road engineer Paul Newman, 47, who has lived here with his wife and two children for more than 16 years. ‘And where else are you going to find outdoor space like this in London for £60-a-week in rent?’
He opens the back door and there is a terrace leading out on to an immaculate lawn, surrounded by a sturdy fence. Paul has done it all himself. ‘I have spent thousands on this place. People ask why I bother, since I’m a council tenant, but I’m proud of this place. It’s like a country village in the summer. No one overlooks you and there’s no trouble. I call this a working-class Blackheath.’
It might not resemble that chi-chi Georgian suburb at the posh end of the borough. But both of them share a strong sense of civic pride. ‘If I won £15 million on the Lottery, I’d keep it just as it is,’ says Eddie O’Mahony.
He recalls the day his great friends Bob and Alice Allen in Pelinore Road had a visit from the Queen Mother in 1985 after a prize-winning performance in a local garden competition.
The Queen Mum, it seems, was a champion of the prefab, regularly dropping in on them during her regular tours of suburban London gardens. ‘She always said that as long as she was around, she would stand up for the prefab,’ says Jim Blackender, of the anti-demolition campaign.
It’s not picture postcard Britain. The names are Arthurian but it’s not exactly Tintagel. Yet, our history is here in these ingenious 20th century bungalows. They did not just provide homes fit for heroes. They have also put the high-rise arrogance of Britain’s modernists to shame.
For that alone, these stubborn monuments to the age of sacrifice should be allowed to stay.