How the Labour party government blew £250million on private surgery that never took place
Labour squandered £252million by paying private companies for operations on Health Service patients that were never carried out, it emerged yesterday. Private healthcare firms were paid £1.689billion in advance over a seven-year period to carry out procedures such as hip replacements and cataract operations.
But in a shocking example of the last Government’s wasteful spending only £1.437billion worth of procedures were actually performed – meaning £252million went into the pockets of private firms for doing nothing.
The vast sum handed out for ‘phantom operations’ between 2003 and 2010 could have paid the salaries of more than 1,700 nurses over that time.
The payments came at a time when the NHS was routinely refusing people life-extending cancer drugs – claiming they were too expensive to afford. In the worst example, one NHS region – West Midlands – paid private firms 17 times the amount of money they should have received.
The figures, obtained by Lib Dem MP Stephen Gilbert through a parliamentary question, show that in 2007, the region agreed to pay firms £11.1million – but the value of the operations they carried out was only £649,000. Across the country, some 15 per cent of the money paid out over the seven years was for ‘phantom operations’. In one year, 2005, it was 26 per cent.
Charlotte Linacre, campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘This deal was negotiated really badly, leaving taxpayers to cough up for phantom operations. Handing out billions before work is done is a classic public sector blunder. It’s foolish and shows a lack of regard for taxpayers’ money.
‘Although the private firms have made improvements to waiting times, the NHS has failed to buy their services with the business sense that is needed to survive in the real world.’
Tony Blair introduced privately-funded ‘treatment centres’ in an attempt to cut huge NHS waiting lists, which Labour had inherited from the Conservatives. But, in its eagerness to persuade healthcare firms to bid for contracts, the NHS agreed to pay them up front for an agreed number of operations every year. The number of procedures that actually took place was never as high as anticipated, meaning the private firms made a killing. Many of the companies are foreign, such as UnitedHealth from the U.S. and the South African firm Netcare.
The waste contributed to the sharp drop in NHS productivity seen over Labour’s time in office. But the treatment centres did help cut waiting times from the 18 months common under the Tories to the 18-week maximum now.
Revelations over ‘phantom operations’ come weeks after it emerged that Labour had also wasted vast sums on hospitals built under the private finance initiative.
Mr Gilbert said: ‘Patients will rightly be asking why the last Labour government allowed hundreds of millions of pounds, which could have been spent on front-line care, to instead be spent on lining the pockets of private providers.’
The Coalition has moved to stamp out the practice, by banning the Health Service from paying private firms more than it pays NHS hospitals to carry out procedures.
Revolutionary new X-ray treatment that could save the sight of thousands
An X-ray treatment that could save the sight of thousands is being trialled on the NHS. The 15-minute procedure has been shown to halt wet age-related macular degeneration, one of the most common forms of blindness in the elderly.
Around 250,000 suffer from this debilitating condition which, if not treated, can cause loss of sight in just three months. Currently sufferers have to undergo monthly injections in their eye for the rest of their lives to prevent them from going blind, and they are often unable to read, drive or live independently.
But early trials of the new procedure have shown that it could halt the progression of the condition immediately, saving the NHS £300million a year. The trials on 60 people in Mexico showed that half did not need any more treatment while the remainder needed infrequent injections – only a few each year.
Wet AMD is caused when blood vessels grow over an area in the middle of the retina called the macular, which is at the back of the eye. It is currently treated with several drugs, including Lucentis and Avastin, which temporarily stop the vessels from growing.
But the powerful new procedure, called iRay, can destroy the blood vessels completely. Patients sit at the front of a machine and place their chin on a rest while X-rays are beamed into the back of their eye. The procedure lasts between 15 and 20 minutes and is estimated to cost around £4,000 a time. A year’s worth of the monthly injections costs £12,000.
The procedure, developed by U.S. firm Oraya Therapeutics, is being tested at London’s Kings College Hospital and doctors are hoping to recruit 50 more patients to take part in the trials. If successful, it could be rolled out in hospitals nationwide and researchers believe it could save the NHS up to £300million a year.
Consultant ophthalmic surgeon Tim Jackson, who is leading the trial, said: ‘This is an exciting new technology that targets one of the most common causes of blindness in the UK. ‘If the initial results are borne out in these important larger studies then a majority of patients will have something to look forward to – an easily administered, one-off treatment that maintains or improves vision, and fewer injections into their eye.’
There are around 20,000 new cases of wet AMD in Britain every year, mostly Occurring in the over-60s. The condition is more common among women, and is thought to be linked to smoking and heavy drinking.
U.K. climate change backlash finds a new voice
Britons, who have become increasingly skeptical about climate change, have found a new political voice: a housewife from southern England who is preparing a campaign to get the country’s groundbreaking 2008 Climate Change Act repealed.
Fay Kelly-Tuncay admits she has an uphill struggle on her hands. The act, which commits the country to slash carbon emissions by at least 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 in pretty much even steps, drew support from all political parties when it was passed by the then-Labour government. But she is undeterred.
“We feel there was a rush to legislate under the influence of the green movement. But the science is certainly not settled, and the general public is not getting an accurate picture,” she asserted to ClimateWire by telephone from her home in Guildford some 20 miles southwest of London.
“We feel that the act should be scrapped. This is a matter of mobilizing public opinion. There is a mood out there that we can tap into,” she added.
She might have a point. A recent public opinion poll showed that only 26 percent of Britons currently see climate change as primarily due to human activity. At the other end of the spectrum, 25 percent think it’s not happening at all.
Kelly-Tuncay, who has been gathering support on the Internet, begins her official campaign on March 19. “We will be launching the campaign and with it a petition. We hope to collect 100,000 signatures over the next year,” she said.
Her message is as simple as it is unequivocal. The climate change issue in general and the Climate Change Act in particular have been hijacked by the financial institutions, which see serious money to be made.
“The whole climate change agenda has been captured by those with a vested interest in making money out of it. Just look at carbon trading. It is riddled with fraud,” she said, referring to the recent theft of about $40 million worth of carbon emission credits under the European Union’s Emissions Trading System—the latest in a spate of such thefts in an insecure international trading system.
“Look at the Climate Change Act. It is pure mitigation with no mention of adaptation. That is just engineering work, so of no interest to the money men,” Kelly-Tuncay said. “The whole financial sector has benefited from climate alarmism.”
‘A case for people power’
But although she watches with interest the activities of former U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson’s climate skeptic vehicle, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Kelly-Tuncay is not a member.
“I am not a skeptic; I am a climate realist. I have a degree in archaeology and environment and have been taking an interest in it for years. But as I looked deeper, I became more doubtful of the science. It is certainly not settled, regardless of what they were trying to tell us,” she said. “The public have been misled. The Climate Change Act will push up domestic energy bills and force many more people into fuel poverty. That is making a lot of Labour members start to feel very uncomfortable.”
“The trouble is that politicians have got into bed with the people behind the wind farms, so it is very difficult to get any traction. That is why it is a case for people power,” she asserted. “There has been no evidence of climate ‘tipping points,’ so why have we rushed to legislate on this issue?”
Fuel poverty is defined as a household having to spend 10 percent or more of income on energy bills.
Kelly-Tuncay said there was certainly a place for investing in adaptation to natural hazards such as flood prevention but that pouring money into mitigating for an event that might never happen was simply pointless.
She rejected the notions that Russia’s control over Europe’s gas supplies and the current oil price spike from turmoil in the Middle East were strong arguments in favour of investments in renewable energy. “There is a lot of oil out there. They are using alarmism to ratchet up the prices. And as for gas, shale gas and shale oil are real game-changers, and they are much lower in carbon than coal,” Kelly-Tuncay said.
Kelly-Tuncay also rejected the stereotype that most climate change doubters were on the political right. “We are very much a mixed, grass-roots group with membership across all parties. People on the left are starting to feel very let down by what has been going on. Our campaign is a move away from the characterization of skeptics being on the political right.”
Immigration: Britain closing the door after the horse has escaped
The ‘mistake’ of giving millions of new EU citizens immediate rights to work in Britain will not be repeated, Damian Green vowed last night. The immigration minister said the toughest possible restrictions – normally a seven-year ban on taking a job – would apply to nations trying to join the union. They include Turkey, Croatia, Iceland, Macedonia and Montenegro.
In 2004, when eight eastern European nations became members, Labour ruled there would be restrictions only on the rights of their citizens to claim benefits. Virtually every other EU state – with the exception of Ireland and Sweden – kept their jobs market closed. That meant around one million Poles came to the UK because they were barred from countries such as neighbouring Germany. Labour had estimated the figure would be 13,000 each year.
Mr Green told the Mail: ‘This Government will push for stringent controls to stop workers from new member states from being able to access our labour market – we will not repeat the mistakes of the past. ‘It is in no one’s interest to see another unplanned influx from abroad. We need to protect the interests of British workers.’ EU rules allow members to close labour markets to citizens of accession states for up to seven years.
It came as ministers confirmed that migrants from the eight countries that joined the EU in 2004 will be entitled to full benefits in the UK for the first time from May. Officials estimate that as many as 100,000 migrants could claim tens of millions of pounds between them. Currently migrant workers from the A8 countries cannot claim out-of-work benefits unless they have completed 12 months of work in the UK.
The changes to EU rules by other member states are likely to have a significant impact on migration to Britain. Last year, net migration into the UK rose by 36 per cent to 226,000. An estimated 572,000 entered on a long-term basis in the year to June 2010 while 346,000 left. It leaves ministers with a mountain to climb if they are to meet the pledge to reduce net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’. They have no control over the number of arrivals from within the EU.
But, if significant numbers of Poles stopped arriving each year – or left the UK for Germany or Austria – that would make the task much easier.
Poland’s labour minister, Jolanta Fedek, said last month she did not expect the lifting of labour market restrictions to trigger another wave of emigration. She said it was more likely that the estimated 300,000 to 400,000 Poles working in Germany illegally would come clean.
German economists have predicted about 100,000 people from the A8 countries will come to their country after May but experts have said they did not expect migrants who had settled in other countries to relocate there in large numbers.
Joachim Moller, director of the Labour Market Institute, at the Federal Labour Office, told the International Herald Tribune: ‘Even though the German economy is now strong again and in need of workers I just cannot see people just moving around like that.’
Mr Green said: ‘We are in the process of delivering major reform to bring immigration down to the tens of thousands with the introduction of a new limit on economic migrants from outside the EU, alongside new proposals to reform other routes of entry, including students, families and marriage.’
Since 2004, more than 1.15million immigrants from Eastern Europe have signed up to a Home Office worker registration scheme.
The far from impartial past of the new boss of the BBC’s flagship political show
The BBC is facing fresh concerns about political bias after appointing an outspoken left-winger as the editor of Question Time. The corporation yesterday announced that Glasgow-based Nicolai Gentchev has been handed the role after the previous editor quit over the decision to move the show to the Scottish city.
But last night it emerged that the BBC employee had written a series of book reviews and articles for left-wing publications such as Socialist Review and the International Socialism Journalism.
MPs already concerned about left-wing bias at the BBC immediately raised concerns about the appointment, saying it would do nothing to convince them the BBC was addressing the problem.
Book reviews by Mr Gentchev for Socialist Review up until 2003 are still available on the internet and include him writing about class and power in communist Russia and looking at a book about ‘Labour Party Plc’.
He also wrote for the International Socialism Journal in 1995 about welfare dependency. In it, he claimed that even capitalist supporters ‘do not see an end to mass unemployment and low wages’. Mr Gentchev wrote: ‘Short of a new expansion in the system which provides jobs and rising living standards, all they offer is to make living on welfare so unbearable that even more people are forced off benefits and into conditions which were common in the last century before the creation of the welfare state.
‘While we fight to make sure such plans never become a reality, we have to get rid of the system which has brought us to this.’
Last night a BBC spokesman said that Mr Gentchev joined the corporation in 2006, ‘long after the pieces were published’ and it was ‘nonsense to suggest they have any bearing on his impartiality’.
But Conservative MP Philip Davies who sits on the culture, media and sport select committee said: ‘It sounds like an ideal choice for the BBC. ‘To be perfectly honest, we’ve come to probably expect Question Time to have a less than representative audience and to be hostile to the Government and to have a left-leaning panel. It seems to be that we can expect more of the same.’
Mr Gentchev replaces Ed Havard, who quit the show because he did not want to relocate from London. Presenter David Dimbleby, who was upset by Mr Havard’s departure, is yet to sign another contract.
These judges want to destroy Britain’s core moral values. We simply can’t let them succeed
By Melanie Phillips
One of the great bulwarks of a democracy is an independent judiciary, which acts as the ultimate defender of liberty because the judges are free from political control. In Britain and Europe, however, something very alarming has taken place. The judges are increasingly becoming a positive threat to liberty because they have usurped the political process.
As a result, they are straying — no, actually marching with banners flying and drums beating — into territory which should lie well beyond their remit.
In recent days, there have been two such outrageous court rulings. The European Court of Justice, the judicial arm of the European Union, ruled that insurance companies may no longer differentiate between men and women when calculating the rates offered on annuities which are used to convert pension pots into an annual income.
Until now, men have received higher rates because their average life span is shorter than that of women. But because the ruling will force firms to treat both sexes equally, men stand to lose hundreds of pounds of retirement income per year.
The reasoning, however, is utterly specious. The judges have interpreted anti-discrimination law in the most bone-headed way by saying that any gender difference in these rates is discriminatory.
But there is a very good reason for this difference, in that women live longer than men. Discrimination surely occurs only when people in the same circumstances are treated differently. Which is patently not the case with pensions, where the different rates aim to ensure men don’t lose out.
The ruling will therefore impose unfairness upon the pension system. And to put the tin lid on it, this is being forced upon us by a foreign court.
The second case was in many ways very much worse. This was a ruling handed down in the High Court, which effectively upheld the ban on a black Christian couple, Eunice and Owen Johns, from fostering children because they refused to undertake to tell a child that homosexuality was acceptable.
In just about every respect the Johns are ideal foster parents — decent, solid, loving and with years of experience. Given the chronic shortage of foster parents and the large number of black children in care, one might have thought the Johns would be as valuable as gold dust.
Yet Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice Beatson justified the ban by ruling that the couple’s attitude to homosexuality was a legitimate reason to withhold official approval from them. Such people are therefore effectively being punished for having the wrong attitudes. This is the kind of behaviour associated with totalitarian societies, not liberal Britain.
More jaw-dropping still, the children whose ‘right’ to be told that homosexuality is acceptable is supposedly infringed by the Johns’ Christian beliefs would all be under ten years of age.
So the Johns are being punished for wanting to protect children from inappropriate talk which would surely be an abuse of their childhood.
And despite the judges’ insistence that they are not taking an anti-Christian position, that is precisely what their ruling does. For it effectively holds that traditional Christian beliefs harm children.
Indeed, the judges went much further and said there was no place in law for Christian beliefs, since ‘the laws and usages of the realm do not include Christianity’.
But Britain has an established Church, the monarch undertakes to be ‘Defender of the faith’, the country’s literature, history, institutions and attitudes are steeped in Christianity, and most people still identify themselves as Christian.
In short, the judges’ assertion is simply idiotic. But these judges are not idiots; they are clever men. Their assertion must be seen instead as an attempt — at some level at least in their minds — to exclude Christianity from the public sphere.
For although they claim that they seek to uphold the equal rights of all creeds in a diverse society, they are actually denying the rights of Christians — and, by implication, pious Muslims and Jews, too — to live in accordance with one of the most fundamental doctrines of their faith.
In this, they were explicitly echoing last year’s controversial ruling by Lord Justice Laws against a Christian registrar who refused to officiate at civil partnership ceremonies.
In that ruling, the judge said it was wrong for the law to give preference to the Judeo-Christian tradition — which merely amounted to ‘subjective opinion’.
Well, so much for the Bible, then. And as if the opinion of these judges was anything other than wholly subjective! Their key error is to assume that secular — or atheistic — attitudes form a neutral middle ground, whereas traditional Christian beliefs amount to a kind of fringe sect.
But secularism is not neutral. It is directly and aggressively hostile to the Christian and Biblical morality which underpins western civilisation.
The judges think it is wise and humane to assert that there is no hierarchy of values, and that all creeds are equal. But this is both absurd and nihilistic. Some values will always trump others. The only question is which ones will do so. And what these judges are doing is de-coupling the laws of this country from the western civilisation which underpins it.
Because ‘human rights’ and anti- discrimination laws claim to be universal, they inevitably serve as a secular weapon against Christian or other particular religious beliefs.
Since different rights compete with each other, judges are inescapably required to arbitrate between them. But this means that — on issues which are among the most divisive in our society — the judges are given the power effectively to dictate the rules of moral behaviour on the basis of nothing more than their own prejudices.
Thus in the Johns’ case, they ruled that the equality provisions concerning sexual orientation should take precedence over religious rights. But on what authority do they issue such a momentous cultural pronouncement? Only their own secular prejudices.
In similar vein, the judges of the European Court of Justice are imposing the deeply oppressive and unjust ideology of equality of outcomes.
This court has long been infamous for having a highly politicised view of its role, promoting a federal state by extending the reach of the EU deep into the internal affairs of member nations.
But it must be acknowledged that the only reason judges in Britain and Europe have got too big for their wigs in this way is because politicians have enabled them to do so.
It was the government which took Britain into the EU, thus placing us under the increasingly oppressive and anti- democratic meddling of the European Court of Justice. And it was successive governments which signed us up to the European Convention on Human Rights and then saddled us with the ruinous Human Rights Act.
The fact that the judges are playing politics like this can only be undone by the political class. So come on, Mr Cameron — stop equivocating.
Take all this head on — the destruction of this country’s core moral values, the ‘human rights’ inquisition and the loss of democratic control to both the EU and the British judiciary — and you will walk on water ever after.