Britain has fewer high-tech medical machines than Estonia and Turkey
And staff are often inadequately trained to use the machines they do have
Hospitals in Britain have fewer high-tech medical machines than those in poorer countries such as Estonia and Turkey, according to the public spending watchdog.
Even those units that do have MRI and CT scanners often leave them to “lie idle” for much of the time despite rising demand, the National Audit Office said.
It claims the NHS is not getting value for money out of the technology, particularly as trusts do not collaborate to buy them or try to get the best prices.
Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said: “At a time when the NHS is undergoing radical reform and has the additional challenge of making billions in savings, it is even more important that it focuses on getting the best value for money from all of its assets.”
She said the NAO report, published on Wednesday, “suggests that the NHS is not making the most of what it has got”. “It is not getting best value from this vital, but expensive, equipment.”
The watchdog – which recently claimed that hospital consultants’ productivity had fallen even as their pay had risen – looked at hospitals’ use CT and MRI scanners that check patients for cancer and heart problems as well as Linear Accelerator (Linac) machines that deliver radiotherapy.
It found that 426 CT scanners (costing £579,000 each), 304 MRI scanners (£895,000) and 246 Linac machines (£1.4million) are now in use across the NHS in England, most of them installed in the past decade. Yet the report added: “The UK still has fewer machines than other countries.”
The NHS in England had 6 MRI machines per million population in 2010, with figures across Britain putting the country below the Slovak Republic, Turkey, Estonia and Ireland in a league table of provision.
For CT scanners, there were 8.4 per million population, with Britain again trailing far poorer countries such as Greece (about 30) and the Czech Republic (about 15). There were 4.8 Linac machines per million population last year in the NHS, compared with about 13 in the Slovak Republic.
About half of the machines in the NHS will need replacing over the next three years, which could cost up to £460m.
The NAO said the number of diagnostic scans carried out using these machines has risen almost threefold over the past decade, but although the workforce has also increased “shortfalls remain in capability to deliver services”.
Some units operating the machines are open for 40 hours a week and others as much as 100, but services that just open from 9 to 5 “are not always sufficient to cope with demand, and expensive equipment can lie idle for much of the week”. As a result, in some areas patients are having to wait longer than the recommended two weeks from referral for the scans to be carried out.
Hospitals reported wide variations in the cost per scan, from £84 to £472 in MRI and from £54 to £268 in CT scans.
As a result of a lack of comparable data and collaboration between hospitals, the study said: “NHS trusts do not have the means to know if they are making best use or getting best value out of their high value equipment. “Equally, they do not have the means to determine if they are getting value for money from purchasing or maintenance.
Why are Britain’s judges covering up the sleazy behaviour of public figures?
Let us imagine the chief executive of a vast and profitable company that spirals hopelessly into debt and has to be rescued by the Government at enormous expense to the taxpayer.
The man, who happens to be married, leaves his job in disgrace. Later it is learnt that while his enterprise was slowly imploding he was carrying on an affair with a female member of his staff. A newspaper wants to publish this information, but is forbidden to do so by a judge.
The judge interprets Article Eight of the Human Rights Convention (which upholds the right to privacy) in favour of the former chief executive. Some might think it is significant that the businessman was involved in an extra-marital relationship when his company was going pear-shaped, but the judge sees no public interest in publication.
Not only that. He imposes a so-called ‘superinjunction’ which means that no media organisation is allowed to say an order has been granted by the judge or applied for by the ex-mogul.
Is this imaginary? I am not allowed to say. The public doesn’t know because there is a new phenomenon in this country called secret justice. For years it has operated in the family courts, where superinjunctions originated. The argument was that cases had to be secret because children were involved. Now secrecy is being extended to public figures who want to protect their reputations.
Usually, though not always, sex is involved. One notorious exception was a London-based oil company called Trafigura, which had been at the centre of a toxic waste-dumping scandal in Africa. In October 2009, its law firm, Carter Ruck, obtained a superinjunction prohibiting publication that was only lifted after a Labour MP asked a question in the Commons.
Most of the 20 or so other superinjunctions believed to have been granted in the past 18 months have to do with sex. Many involve sportsmen, and at least four of them England footballers. In one case, that of the captain John Terry, a judge lifted a superinjunction because he believed that the footballer was using it not to protect his privacy but his image and sponsorship deals. The other cases remain secret.
I have little or no interest in the sexual shenanigans of England footballers, but that is hardly the point. They are role models for many young supporters. It might also be argued that some of their energies have been expended ‘playing away’, which may have conceivably contributed to England’s consistently poor performance.
Moreover, the granting of injunctions works against the interests of the innocent majority of players. Because judges do not allow the general public to know the identity of individual miscreants, footballers who are utterly blameless and loyal to their wives — there are some — may easily be mistaken for adulterers.
Other non-footballing sportsmen have also been granted superinjunctions. So have a number of more prominent public men. It is difficult to understand why this should be so. My suspicion is that judges increasingly reflect the prevailing view of our ruling class that a public figure’s sex life should always be private, however aberrant it may be.
That was the implication of the ruling by Mr Justice Eady in the landmark case three years ago involving the now former motor racing supremo Max Mosley, who unbeknown to his wife indulged in sadomasochistic orgies for 40 years, and successfully sued the News of the World for invading his privacy by writing about two of the most lurid of them.
Judges are mortal beings with their own moral values, which in this area may very well be at variance with those of most people. Some of them are emphasising the privacy aspects of Article Eight of the Human Rights Convention while underplaying Article Ten, which promotes freedom of expression. Where sex is involved, disloyalty, depravity and unkindness must remain secret, if necessary through the force of a superinjunction.
This development is disturbing on various levels. One has to do with creating false reputations. I would have much less difficulty with Mr Mosley’s activities if he had been wholly open about them. As it was, he presented himself to his colleagues and the world in general as a pretty straightforward sort of chap, when he was what many people would describe as a deviant with sadomasochistic tendencies.
When I look at an Archbishop, I want to believe that he is what he presents himself to be. The same with a Prime Minister. But because judges are preventing the Press from revealing what some public figures have done in private, our suspicions are raised about everybody, so that our trust and respect for all public figures is shaken.
More pertinently still, the judicial taste for secrecy is apt to spread. Last Sunday’s Mail on Sunday revealed that the anonymity of a public servant in court on charges believed to be connected to child-sex offences has been protected by a superinjunction. This is very sinister.
If, God forbid, we had a Prime Minister who enjoyed ‘bunga-bunga’ parties during which he had sex with under-age girls — as Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy, is alleged to have done — might judges prevent the media from writing about them? Such a prospect no longer seems far-fetched.
And illicit sex, of course, often goes with drug abuse and financial corruption, as countless former cases confirm. If toxic waste-dumping allegations against Trafigura can be protected by a superinjunction, it is not hard to imagine that the financial misdoings of a captain of industry might also be out of bounds for the media, particularly if he could plead that his sexual privacy was in danger of being infringed.
The evidence that secrecy is spreading is strengthened by a story in yesterday’s newspapers about a wealthy financier being the first person ever to be granted anonymity in a libel case. ‘Mr Z’ claims to have be defamed by his relatives in a row over a multi-million-pound trust. Tellingly, he is accused not just of misappropriating funds but also of a sex offence. Mention sex, and a judge is likely to reach for a superinjunction.
The Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, is currently chairing a committee looking into the use of superinjunctions, about which he is believed to have some misgivings. He is due to report before Easter. I wish I were more optimistic that he would produce some robust recommendations to reverse this creeping tide of secrecy.
I also strongly doubt there will be greater openness so long as Article Eight of the Human Rights Convention stays on the statute book. I can understand why the Lord Chief Justice, Igor Judge, should have called on newspapers to stop criticising judges in a speech on Monday, but he can hardly expect them to remain silent when the judiciary is responsible for effectively developing a privacy law and imposing secrecy in court cases — enormous changes on which Parliament has not yet spoken.
We need our own Bill of Rights — promised by David Cameron, but far from being delivered — to safeguard privacy but also the right of the Press to publish what is true, and could be argued by a reasonable man (not necessarily a judge) as being in the public interest.
The argument is not really about some England footballer who has a bit on the side with a lingerie model. It is about holding the rich and powerful — like that former chief executive I mentioned earlier — to account. One role of the Press is to ensure that public figures do not hide significant discreditable secrets. That role is becoming increasingly difficult to fulfil. With things going the way they are, it is hard not to be profoundly depressed.
Britain’s anti-cuts movement has jumped the shark
The term “jumping the shark” describes the moment that a TV series becomes a parody of itself, condemning itself to irrelevance. The origin of the phrase comes from an episode of Happy Days where the Fonz jumped over a leaping shark in a surfing competition. In all likelihood, Saturday will come to be remembered as the day that the anti-cuts movement jumped the shark, parodying itself so ridiculously that it can no longer be seen as a serious political force.
Consider the speeches given to the TUC march. PJ Byrne has written a fine article on the errors within these speeches, but even on a superficial level the speeches were ridiculous. Ed Miliband’s invocation of the suffragette, US Civil Rights and anti-apartheid movements only served to underline the speciousness his own cause. Where those groups had fought for freedom against government oppression, Miliband defended community centres and jobs for life in the public sector. The comparison is self-evidently ludicrous. Archbishop Cranmer’s headline neatly summed it up: “Ed Miliband: I am Emmeline Pankhurst! I am Martin Luther King! I am Nelson Mandela!”
How unbecoming it was to see the British left, with its roots in honourable struggles for peace, universal suffrage and better conditions for the working poor, now little more than a mouthpiece for public sector unions. So, when did the British left stop caring about the poor and start caring about civil servants? When unions stopped representing the working poor and became a preserve of state workers. Today, only 15% of private sector workers are in a trade union, while 56% of public sector workers are (PDF source). The left can’t claim to be concerned about the poor while it’s trying to protect relatively well-paid state workers from redundancy, which is a fact of life for workers in the private sector.
And, of course, there was UK Uncut’s “occupation” of Fortnum & Mason and vandalizing of businesses around Piccadilly Circus. As Tim Worstall pointed out, Fortnum & Mason is owned by a charitable trust that donates about £40m every year to charity. Even the “tax avoidance” allegations against Vodafone and Boots are silly – tax avoidance is, by definition, legal. There’s a good argument to be made in favour of simplifying the tax code to reduce avoidance, but to blame private companies themselves for acting lawfully is absurd. But the real point was class warfare, which is why the Ritz was also targeted. UK Uncut showed itself once again to be made of spoilt Marxist wannabes.
The campaign against the cuts was always unrealistic, but Saturday showed how much of the anti-cuts movement has lost its grip on reality altogether. The government should worry less about it, and cut faster and deeper without fear.
Landmark win for assault case teacher: British police to pay £1,000 for arrest over pupil’s claim
A teacher falsely accused of assaulting a pupil has won a landmark High Court ruling against the police for unlawful arrest. Mark Richardson was held in a police cell after an 11-year-old boy claimed the 39-year-old had punched him in the throat.
The heavy-handed police action came weeks after the alleged offence and after the boy’s parents said they did not wish to pursue the matter.
Furthermore the school said it would handle the matter internally and Mr Richardson, who voluntarily went to a police station to speak to officers, was adamant the claim was false.
The media studies teacher of Blue Coat Comprehensive, Walsall, West Midlands, said the boy ‘walked into his outstretched hand’. He was later released and no charges were brought against him.
On Tuesday High Court judge Mrs Justice Slade found his arrest was unlawful and awarded him £1,000 damages.
Mr Richardson, a father-of-one and step-father of three, claimed the police action was a stain on his character and had damaged his promotion chances.
It is the first ruling of its kind involving a falsely accused teacher and has been hailed as a significant turning point for the profession.
And it comes as figures show that just 5 per cent of all allegations made to police about teachers result in action. Since 1991 some 2953 allegations have been made to the police. Of these just 170 have resulted in a caution or conviction.
Chris Keates, of teacher’s union the NASUWT, said she would now be writing to the Education Secretary and the Home Secretary to seek changes to national procedures. She said: ‘This is a landmark decision for teachers and others who are vulnerable to allegations made by children and young people. ‘New guidance for police is needed urgently to prevent these needless arrests that wreck innocent people’s careers.’
Mr Richardson, of Walsall, was suspended at the time of the allegation in December 2009 but has since been reinstated at the Church of England school.
A police spokesman said: ‘Following the court ruling West Midlands Police will launch an internal investigation into this matter to review the circumstances of the arrest and handling of the case. ‘Until this is completed it would be inappropriate to comment on today’s ruling or the case in question.’
Mr Richardson also wanted the police to be forced to destroy DNA samples, fingerprints and photographs taken from him during the arrest and to remove or amend his arrest entry on the Police National Computer.
The judge declined these requests, leaving any alteration of police records to West Midlands Police.
The British town that’s banned salt: Shakers taken off chip-shop counters and put out of sight
It began with the food police reducing the number of holes in salt shakers. Now they have gone a step further and removed the shakers altogether to hide them from view.
Fish-and-chip shops, cafes, restaurants, takeaways and curry houses will take salt containers off their counters and table tops under the latest push by a council to cut its residents’ salt consumption. Customers will have to ask staff specifically to hand over the shakers if they want to add salt to their meals.
Stockport council is one of the first councils in Greater Manchester to adopt the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ health initiative. It follows a series of initiatives to reduce the salt added to food by diners.
In 2008 town halls reduced the number of holes in salt shakers from the traditional 17 to five after research suggested this could cut the amount people sprinkle on their food by more than half. Councils ordered thousands of five-hole shakers – at taxpayers’ expense – and gave them away to chip shops and takeaways in their areas.
The scheme has been welcomed by health professionals and celebrity chefs including Paul Heathcote.
But Les Jones, Conservative group leader at Liberal-Democrat-controlled Stockport council, said the move was creating a ‘nanny town’. He said: ‘British people don’t like being ordered around. If you actually want people to use more salt, then tell them not to. It’s a foolish thing to do.’ It could proved to be counterproductive because people did not want to be treated like children, he added.
Diner Paul Edwards, 36, said: ‘It is preposterous. We should all be responsible for our own health – anything less means they’re treating us like idiots. They will be confiscating chocolate bars next.’