NHS bosses score freebies to top sports fixtures
NHS chiefs accepted tickets to top sporting events from companies which were awarded lucrative health service contracts, an investigation has found. Senior managers on six-figure salaries flew overseas to enjoy rugby and football internationals, while others enjoyed home fixtures including England v France at Twickenham, Ladies Day at Ascot, and the Ashes at Edgbaston.
The tickets were funded by private companies which tout for NHS business. In some cases the hospitality was offered after the firm secured a contract; in other cases the hospitality came first and a contract followed.
Senior managers were accused of allowing greed to blind them to the motivations of companies seeking to win public sector funds. The head of the Royal College of Nursing said the scale of what had been uncovered was “truly shocking”.
The investigation by The Sunday Telegraph disclosed dozens of tickets for Premier League football games and international fixtures accepted by senior managers in the health service.
One NHS trust admitted last night that one of its officials had broken the rules, but other trusts insisted that their policies on accepting gifts had been followed.
At one trust, a spokesman, asked to explain why officials had accepted free tickets to sporting events, replied simply: “They were invited.”
Sandy Bradbrook, then chief executive of Heart of England Primary Care Trust (PCT), flew to Switzerland during the Euro 2008 football tournament to see Italy play France. The match tickets and hotel were paid for by BT Health, a company which provides IT support to the NHS.
The same company bought Dr Bradbrook and a guest seats at Wembley to see England play the Czech Republic. At the time, BT Health was operating a £133,000 contract with the trust, but the project was aborted months later after it was decided it was “not viable”. Mr Bradbrook was on a salary of £140,000 until he retired last year.
A spokesman for Heart of England PCT said that in accepting the Euro 2008 tickets, Dr Bradbrook did not conform to its policies, which it said “was to be regretted”. In other cases uncovered by the investigation:
* The chief executive and chairman of one hospital trust were flown to Dublin to watch Ireland play England at Croke Park in February 2009, with tickets paid for by one of the trust’s PFI contractors. Paul Farenden, then chief executive of Dudley Group of Hospitals and then chairman Alfred Edwards took tickets and flights from NHS contractor Interserve, which six months later won a £7m contract to build a multi-storey car park for the hospital. Earlier the same month, Mr Farenden, who was on a salary of £180,000, and Paul Brennan, then director of operations, took rugby tickets to see England play Italy at Twickenham, as guests of Siemens Healthcare, which runs the trust’s IT network and switchboard. Mr Brennan was also given tickets to Edgbaston, in August 2009, courtesy of Interserve, while last March Paul Assinder, the trust’s director of finance saw England v France in Twickenham, with tickets paid for by Ardentia, one of the trust’s IT suppliers.
* As finance director of Birmingham Children’s Hospital trust, Kevin Stringer, was given tickets to see Aston Villa v Manchester United in November 2008 and tickets to the Ashes at Edgbaston in July 2009, paid for by Deloitte – which audited the trust’s accounts both years as well as running its counter-fraud service in 2008/2009.
* Three senior managers at South Birmingham PCT were given tickets for Chelsea games in 2009 and 2010, funded by private health care firm Aetna, which in 2008 was awarded a £3.5 million contract to provide services for the trust. Moira Dumma, then chief executive, saw Chelsea v Manchester City, while Stephanie Belgeonne, the head of communications, saw Chelsea v Manchester United and Carol Herity, locality director, saw Chelsea v Arsenal.
*Jon Crockett, chief executive of Wolverhampton City PCT, was given three tickets to see the third test of England v Australia at Edgbaston in August 2009, courtesy of Collinson Grant Healthcare Ltd. A year earlier the management consultancy firm was given a contract worth more than £130,000 to draw up a “strategic plan” for the organisation without it being openly tendered, despite normal contracting rules which insist on open tenders for deals worth £100,000 or more.
*One executive director of the NHS Healthcare Purchasing Consortium enjoyed a day Ascot Ladies Day in June 2008, with tickets paid for by a consultancy firm called Synergy Health. Attendance at the sporting highlight, along with actress Dame Helen Mirren and the Queen was classed by the NHS as “a working day, as it was a business networking event”. Managers working for the same consortium also received a ticket to see England play New Zealand at Edgbaston in June 2008 and Aston Villa v Newcastle in September 2008 paid for by Deloitte, which received more than £80,000 from the trust in that financial year.
* Mike Alexander, director of finance at NHS Nottinghamshire County, took his son to see Birmingham City v Manchester City in March 2008, courtesy of Deloitte. The following year the PCT spent more than £50,000 on contracts with the company. The trust was also given access to seats in an executive box at Nottingham Forest FC for the 2008/9 season, funded by IT firm North 51, which has won more than £110,000 business from the trust since September 2008.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing said he was “absolutely appalled” at the example being set by senior managers in the NHS.
He said: “This is truly shocking. It is wholly wrong for NHS managers to accept these kinds of hospitality – these kinds of inducements entirely compromise the decision-making process. These companies are not charities, they are hard-nosed businesses looking for NHS business.”
Managers who claimed they were not influenced by hospitality they accepted were hard to believe, he suggested.
“There is no such thing as a free lunch; we all know that.”
All of the NHS organisations contacted said there was no connection between the hospitality accepted and the sponsoring companies gaining business from the trusts.
Most of the NHS organisations said they had followed their own policies on hospitality. Asked to explain why its top managers had taken the perks, a spokesman for the Dudley trust said: “They were invited by the individual companies.”
A Wolverhampton trust spokesman described the use of hospitality as “routine”, while other trusts said the sporting events had provided executives with opportunities to “network” with other health professionals.
Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, said that unless strict rules were set, the practice was set to proliferate, as the private sector role in the NHS expands. She said: “These businesses spend a lot of money on hospitality because they know it works. The NHS needs to be squeaky clean in its behaviour – it should not be behaving in a way that looks corrupt.”
‘Ghost list’ purge: NHS removing people from surgery registers if they have not seen a doctor for six months
Thousands of patients face being removed from GP practices if they have not seen their doctor for six months. After this time, if they fail to respond to two warning letters, their names will be removed from the surgery register.
NHS managers say they want to ensure lists are accurate and up to date. But GPs claim many patients will be struck off without reason and then forced to re-register when they need to see a doctor.
The scheme is being tested in London but could be rolled out elsewhere if judged a success.
Doctors have been accused of boosting their incomes by keeping ‘ghost patients’ – people who have died or moved – on their books.
GPs receive an annual payment of up to £100 for each person registered, regardless of whether they have had any treatment. GPs are under no obligation to check their lists for ghost patients.
But a campaign by seven NHS trusts in London three years ago resulted in 58,000 names being removed, saving £3.2 million.
Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee, said: ‘It is in doctors’ interests to make sure their lists are accurate. ‘But this is a random removal of names. It will do nothing to improve patient care.’
The cheating epidemic at Britain’s universities
A cheating epidemic is sweeping universities with thousands of students caught plagiarising, trying to bribe lecturers and buying essays from the internet. A survey of more than 80 universities has revealed that academic misconduct is soaring at institutions across the country.
More than 17,000 incidents of cheating were recorded by universities in the 2009-10 academic year – up at least 50 per cent in four years.
But the true figure will be far higher because many were only able to provide details of the most serious cases and let lecturers deal with less serious offences.
Only a handful of students were expelled for their misdemeanours among those universities which disclosed how cheats were punished.
Most of the incidents were plagiarism in essays and other coursework, but others examples include:
* Three cases categorised as “impersonation” by Derby University and three at Coventry, along with 10 “uses of unauthorised technology”
* Kent University reported at least one case where a student attempted to “influence a teacher or examiner improperly”.
* At the University of East Anglia students submitted pieces of work which contained identical errors, while others completed reports which were “almost identical to that of another student”, a spokesman said, while one was caught copying sections from the Wikipedia website.
* A student sitting an exam at the University of the West of Scotland was caught with notes stored in an MP3 player.
* A Bradford University undergraduate completed work at home, smuggled it into an examination then claimed it had been written during the test.
* The University of Central Lancashire, at Preston, reported students had been caught using a “listening and/or communications device” during examinations.
* Keele undergraduates sitting exams were found to have concealed notes in the lavatory, stored on a mobile telephone and written on tissues while two students were found guilty of “falsifying a mentor’s signature on practice assessment documents to gain academic benefit”.
Many institutions reported students buying coursework from internet-based essay-writing companies. Dozens of websites offering the services are available on the web, providing bespoke essays for fees of £150 and upwards. Some offer “guaranteed first class honours” essays at extra cost and many “guarantee confidentiality and privacy” – hinting that the essays can be used to cheat.
In one website offering “creative, unique, original, credible” essays, a testimonial from a previous customer says: “I am very satisfied with my order because I got the expected result.” There are even sites which offer express services, while many claim the work is written by people with postgraduate qualifications.
Nottingham Trent discovered examples of bespoke essays, and Newcastle reported three cases of essays being purchased from a third party. Two students bought work at Salford and cases were also reported at East London University, Greenwich and London South Bank, which uncovered three incidents.
Professor Geoffrey Alderman, from the University of Buckingham, who is a long-standing critic of falling standards in higher education, said: “I think it is a pretty depressing picture. “It is worrying that students now resort to cheating on such a widespread scale and that the punishments on the whole are not robust enough. “In my book it should be ‘two strikes and you’re out’.
“Although universities are perhaps better than they were at detecting certain types of cheating, such as plagiarism, when I talk to colleagues across the sector there is a view that cheating has increased.”
Professor Alderman said the style of teaching and assessment now used at some institutions was partly to blame for the rise in academic dishonesty. “There has been a move away from unseen written examinations and most university degree courses are now assessed through term papers, which makes it more tempting to commit plagiarism,” he said.
“I advocate a return to the situation where it is impossible to pass a degree unit without achieving a minimum score in an unseen written test.”
British visa restrictions may close courses, universities warn
An alliance of vice chancellors from 16 universities is urging Home Secretary Theresa May to abandon proposals to reduce immigration by restricting visas issued to foreign students and raising language requirements. Foreign students are a source of much-needed income for universities, and are charged up to eight times more than British undergraduates.
Figures show students from outside Britain and the EU pay an average of £10,463 in tuition fees – a rise of 5.6 per cent on last year. It has led to a surge in the number of foreign students. A 2009 report from Universities UK, which represents vice chancellors, shows that in 1998/9 there were just 117,290 international students at UK universities. By 2007/8 the figure had risen to 229,640 – an increase of 96 per cent.
In a letter to the Observer this weekend, the vice-chancellors express their “profound concern” at the proposals, arguing they would have a devastating effect on universities’ incomes and ability to run the best courses for British, as well as overseas students.
They said: “International students coming to universities contribute over £5bn each year to the UK economy through tuition fees and off-campus expenditure. “Reductions in student numbers will lead to reductions in income and jobs. “Without international students, many university courses, particularly science and engineering courses, may no longer be viable. This will in turn reduce the courses available to UK students.
“International students bring extensive cultural and political benefits to the UK. When they return to their countries at the end of their studies, they become cultural and economic ambassadors for the UK. “At a time of financial austerity, this issue is of immeasurable importance to the UK.”
The proposals would affect students from outside the EU applying for visas under what is known as tier four of the points-based system. These accounted for two-thirds of the 273,000 visas issued to students in 2009.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Any criticism can only be based on speculation as no decisions have yet been made on the changes to the student visa route. “However, universities that are confident in the product they have to offer genuine students should have nothing to fear from policies that root out abuses in the student visa system.”
No one deserves a veneer of goodness because of their race
I wrote a piece last week about an argument I’d had with the man on the end of the phone at Virgin Media. I couldn’t understand a word he said, and asked him where he was based. ‘The Philippines.’
I objected to the fact that his English wasn’t good enough to hold down a job that involved talking on the phone to someone in England. I received many emails accusing me of being at best insensitive, at worst racist.
But I believe it’s wrong to give someone a veneer of goodness, just because of their colour.
This month sees yet another Red Nose Day, when we are all expected to dig deep to help children at home and overseas. Fair enough: you can decide whether or not you want to give. It has just been announced that the country that has received the most aid from Britain is Ethiopia. No taxpayer has a say over where his or her money goes in this respect, and I’m compelled to say that I object to my money being sent to Ethiopia – and I object as strongly as someone who marched against the Iraq war.
When I went to Ethiopia, I was shocked at the cruelty towards animals. It wasn’t sporadic or isolated, it was the norm. Every taxi in one of the towns I visited was drawn by a horse that was thin, thirsty and overworked. The taxi drivers used the deep, maggot-infested wounds on these animals’ sides as ‘accelerators’. I almost got into a stand-up fight in a grain market when I argued with men who refused to unload sacks from the backs of exhausted mules, or to offer shade and water.
The representative (white, posh) from the charity I had travelled with was appalled by my behaviour. She called the men ‘proud’, but also said these people hadn’t yet learned that animals need basic things like water and rest. This is patronising, isn’t it?
A similar incident occurred on a recent trip to Peru. I was in a very poor mining village, finding out about a fair trade initiative. People who work in fair trade, and anything organic or vaguely worthy, are always respectful of the people they are trying to help. The word ‘proud’ was wheeled out again. But when I pointed out all the stray, diseased dogs in the village, it was as though these well-meaning people were blind.
‘We need to help the people first,’ was the response. ‘And anyway, there are cases of animal cruelty in Britain, where there is no excuse.’
But the crucial difference is this: I am not being asked to give money to or buy at a premium from a white thug with a terrified Staffie in Barking.
The white thug needs to be locked up, and John Galliano may be. But if the riots demanding democracy in the Middle East have taught us anything, it’s this. Don’t believe the stereotype. Don’t believe all Muslim men in long shirts who shout in the street are nutters who want to enslave their wives. Don’t believe all Africans are good. Don’t allow fair trade and organic to just be about people. It has to be more holistic than that.
I’m sick of being polite. I won’t make allowances for anyone who is cruel, and I couldn’t give a damn about the colour of their skin.
‘May cause drowsiness’ too confusing for modern medicine labels
Warning labels on medicines should be simplified because words such as “drowsiness” and “avoid” are too confusing for modern patients, experts claim.
Research by the British National Formulary (BNF), which advises doctors, nurses and pharmacists, found labelling that has been around for decades is now too difficult for members of the public to understand.
It found phrases such as “may cause drowsiness” are no longer “readily understood” and should now be simplified to say “this medicine may make you sleepy”.
Likewise, the phrases “avoid alcoholic drink” and “take at regular intervals” caused indecision among modern takers.
The report recommends the labels should now read “do not drink alcohol while taking this medicine” and “space the doses evenly throughout the day”.
The research was carried out by Professor Theo Raynor, and colleagues at the University of Leeds. He said: “Most medicines do contain leaflets which provide detailed information for patients.
“However the leaflet may get lost, which means that the label on the medicine plays a very important part in guiding people’s behaviour. “It is vital therefore that wordings on labels are simple and straightforward.”
Prof Raynor’s team tested a selection of instructions on almost 200 people aged 20 to 80.
The experts reworded phrases that people found confusing, and then retested them in several sittings, including one-to-one interviews.
Prof Raynor said “avoid alcoholic drinks” was a good example. “Our user tests have shown that the word “avoid” can cause confusion and that some people think it only means they should limit their alcohol intake. “This phrase will now be replaced by the instruction: ‘do not drink alcohol while taking this medicine’, which is far clearer.”
Other recommendations include changing “do not take indigestion remedies at the same time of day as this medicine” to “do not take indigestion remedies two hours before or after you take this medicine”.
Another phrase, “do not stop taking this medicine except on your doctor’s advice”, becomes “warning: Do not stop taking this medicine unless your doctor tells you to stop.”
The revised phrases are included in a new, updated version of the BNF.
“The software used by large pharmacy chains and independent pharmacist to print instruction labels is updated regularly, so we would expect to see these new phrases appear within the next six months,” Prof Raynor said.
Professor Nick Barber, a pharmacologist at London University, said: “When serious errors occur which cause harm to patients, it is often as a result of a series of minor failures at various stages.
“Therefore in taking more care about the wording of detailed instructions we can help improve the safety of medicines.
“With two million prescriptions being issued every day, a small percentage improvement through labels being more understandable could make a significant impact”.
Duncan Enright, publishing director at BNF publications, said: “It has never been easier to change labels on medicines given current computerised systems and therefore we hope that the large pharmacy chains and independent pharmacies will adopt these recommendations.”
The words “drowsiness” and “drowsy” are thought to date back to 1520 probably from the word drusan or drusian “to sink,” also “become languid, slow, or inactive” which are related to dreosan “to fall”.