NHS patients waiting more than six weeks for diagnostic tests rises 35% in a month

A lot of harm can accrue during such a long wait for important tests

The number of patients waiting more than six weeks to have a medical diagnosis has increased by 35 per cent in just a month, according to new NHS data.

Figures from the Department of Health revealed that 10,800 people in England waited more than six weeks for key diagnostic tests in March 2011 – up from 8,000 patients in February. It was also an 184 per cent rise on March 2010 when 3,800 patients were affected.

The figures included data collected from 15 key tests including MRI scans, audiology assessments, heart sonograms and endoscopies for the colon and stomach.

Waiting times were the subject of a heated row between Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and Prime Minister David Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions today. Referring to the proposed NHS reforms the Labour leader said: ‘If it’s all going so well, why do we see the number of people waiting for diagnosis rising again this morning? ‘Over 10,000 people waiting to get their tests, that’s three times the number it was a year ago.’

However, Mr Cameron insisted the general allegation that waiting times were rising was ‘not true’. He said: ‘The figures, which he (Mr Miliband) had at the time, the figures showed that for inpatient waiting times they fell from 9.1 to nine weeks, and for outpatients they went down from 4.8 weeks to 3.5 weeks. ‘That is the lowest for a year.’


From now you must jail EVERY burglar, British judges will be told

Judges and magistrates are to be told to send burglars to jail in instructions that end a decade of official leniency. Rules for the courts made public today said a criminal who burgled somebody’s home should ‘expect a custodial sentence’.

In a shift away from efforts to reform burglars, the rules put the harmful effect of crime on victims before the hope of rehabilitating offenders.

The least serious crimes will continue to attract community punishments, but the guidelines say only in exceptional cases should a domestic burglar escape jail.

Drawn up by the Sentencing Council, a body dominated by judges, the guidelines reflect an Appeal Court ruling by the Lord Chief Justice more than two years ago in which Lord Judge declared that ‘our homes should be our castles’.

They end a slide towards soft sentences for burglars which began in 2002 when former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf said more burglars should be kept out of prison because few criminals were deterred by the threat of jail and community sentences were cheaper for taxpayers.

Sentencing Council rules demanding jail sentences and longer prison terms are also a rebuke to Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke, who is pursuing a policy based on Lord Woolf’s thinking which encourages greater use of supposedly reforming community sentences.

Since 2000, the proportion of burglars convicted in the courts who are sent to prison has fallen from more than 50 per cent to less than 40 per cent.

The new guidelines, sent out for consultation, say that in cases of domestic burglary, where someone’s home is invaded, the offender should escape prison only in exceptional cases where there has been no break-in, where only low-value items have been stolen, and there are no aggravating factors.

Courts are told to concentrate on the impact of burglary on victims rather than theories on how criminals might best be rehabilitated.

Last year the Sentencing Advisory Panel said that in the most serious cases of domestic burglary, in which homes are wrecked or people are threatened with violence, the minimum sentence should be two years. The Sentencing Council said that should be three years.

For such crimes, it said the panel’s recommendation of a four-year maximum jail terms should be changed to six years.

In the case of the least serious burglaries, the council guidelines still allow a community sentence. But even the least serious offenders can be given six months in jail under the new rules, as against three months suggested by the panel last year.

Courts are also told that if a victim is at home during a burglary or suffers trauma, sentences should be more severe. The guidelines said: ‘The majority of domestic burglaries should receive a custodial sentence.’

Lord Justice Leveson, the council chairman, said: ‘Burglary can have a very serious impact on victims – it is very far from being only a crime against property. ‘As a result, we have ensured that the impact on victims is at the centre of considerations about what sentence should be passed on a burglar.’

He added: ‘The guideline does not reduce the severity of sentences being given to those convicted of burglary. Rather, it reinforces current sentencing practice that burglars targeting people’s homes can expect a custodial sentence.’

Javed Khan of Victim Support said: ‘We are pleased that victims are being considered in these guidelines.’


The right to protest is not exclusive to the Left

A new left-wing group defending the right to protest needs to defend the right of those they disagree with, too

Last Thursday, a newly formed left-wing campaign group, Defend the Right to Protest, held an emergency meeting in London in response to police tactics at anti-cuts and student fees demonstrations. The following day, a member of the right-wing protest group the English Defence League (EDL) was served with an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) restricting his right to protest. Has Defend the Right to Protest complained loudly about this shocking restriction on someone’s democratic rights? Not at all. Yet if this collection of left-wing activists is serious about defending the right to protest, it should unequivocally condemn the state’s curtailment of everyone’s rights of association and organisation – including those with whom we might disagree.

There ought to be no doubt that the EDL case represents a severe infringement of an individual’s rights. Over the next three years, 19-year-old Joel Titus is forbidden from attending any demonstration that is connected with the English Defence League or being ‘part of a group of 10 or more people whose actions could cause alarm or distress’. His ASBO from Uxbridge Magistrates Court also claims he must not ‘display a sign or placard or use defamatory or insulting language which could cause alarm or distress’. (What might constitute causing alarm or distress remains unclear.) He is also forbidden from entering mosques, Islamic prayer rooms or a defined area of Whitechapel in London.

What did Titus do to deserve such a punishment? Absolutely nothing EDL-related. Titus was instead convicted of a ‘section 4 public order offence’ and for obstructing a police officer as a result of an incident at a pub in Hillingdon, north London last year – an incident which the Metropolitan Police has confirmed to spiked wasn’t associated with EDL activities.

This use of an unrelated offence to remove an individual’s right to protest is the most insidious attack on the EDL’s political rights to date, yet protesting bans on EDL members are not new. In fact, this is the latest in a series of ASBOs that have been slapped on EDL members. In March, due to abuse he’d shouted at an Asian family at a train station, Shane Overton was banned from attending or organising any EDL demonstration or meeting or even visiting its website for 10 years. In addition, he was banned from travelling by train anywhere in the UK and from entering a mosque, meeting room, school or cultural centre.

And last December, two individuals pleading guilty to ‘disorderly conduct’ at an EDL march were given bans preventing them from engaging in EDL activities (including on the internet). They were also restricted from attending any protests anywhere in the UK that weren’t within a 10-mile radius of Birmingham.

Yet strikingly these affronts to civil liberties seem to have passed many of those on the left by. The newly convened Defend the Right to Protest group has yet to make any mention of these cases. Instead supporters complain about the fact that their pet project UK Uncut seems to have been ‘singled out’ for harassment by the police, blind to the fact that far greater restrictions to the right to protest are being routinely placed on the EDL.

This isn’t to downplay the importance of Defend the Right to Protest’s opposition to police actions, such as kettling and pre-emptive arrests. These do impinge upon our freedom to protest and should be stopped. And the official Defend the Right to Protest website is right to argue that ‘it is vital for all those who value our democratic right to protest to stand in solidarity with students and others who have been arrested or injured by police on these demonstrations’.

But it is equally as vital for those wanting to defend the right to protest to speak out against attempts to restrict the freedom of groups they may not agree with. After all, if, a few months down the line, left-wing activists start getting ASBOs preventing them from attending UK Uncut protests, then they will be in a poor position to protest – they turned a blind eye when such orders were imposed on others in the name of ‘public security’. Unfortunately there are precedents for such double standards. As spiked editor Brendan O’Neill has pointed out elsewhere, left-leaning liberals didn’t pipe up when police used authoritarian techniques against football supporters; they only started to complain when they start being used on them.

The idea of defending the right’s right to protest is not something certain groups on the left are likely to stomach. Indeed many have a terrible track record in terms of lobbying for No Platform policies to be applied to groups they don’t agree with. And left-leaning groups can often be found lobbying the state to try to get a demonstration they don’t agree with banned. Take Hope Not Hate, the group behind the anti-fascist publication Searchlight. It has promised to watch EDL demonstrations closely in the hope of spotting any members with ASBOs so it can then rat on them to the authorities. It seems that groups like Hope Not Hate have no problem with the idea of compromising the right to protest as long as the state only restricts the freedom of people with the Wrong views.

Defending the right to protest means nothing unless everyone has it, regardless of the content of their protests. Otherwise what exists is not a freedom to protest as one sees fit; it is a state-sanctioned privilege to protest as the authorities see fit. This is something that those on the left, who are now discovering the importance of defending the right to freedom of expression, would do well to remember.


British private schools fire a warning shot at new charity rules

Attempts to force private schools to provide more free places for poor children could have “potentially catastrophic consequences”, according to school leaders. Schools may be required to impose huge fee rises for existing parents to fund more bursaries – pricing out middle-class families and even forcing some to shut altogether, it was claimed.

The Independent Schools Council said it was an “ironic consequence” of the rules that “smaller, poorer” private schools struggle the most while rich institutions are relatively unaffected.

The comments are made in documents submitted to the High Court before an unprecedented legal challenge against guidance drawn up by the charities regulator. Next week, the ISC will present its case to a judicial review of guidelines governing schools’ charitable status that could ultimately lead to them being scrapped altogether.

Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, has also backed a review of the rules after admitting they created “uncertainty as to the operation of charity law in the context of fee-charging schools”.

In a document submitted to the High Court, Matthew Burgess, ISC deputy chief executive, said the guidance had “potentially major unintended consequences” for schools and parents, including pricing out middle-income families.

“Trustees must consider whether fee increases for all are required to fund bursary places for the few with the inevitable result that many families who have, not without sacrifice, managed the fees up till now will be pushed out in favour of the very rich who can afford the fees no matter how expensive and the very poor who will win the few very places subsidised by others,” he said. He added: “For many schools, this will require the trustees to embark on fee strategies which might prove not to be economically viable, with potentially catastrophic circumstances.”

Under Labour’s 2006 Charities Act, fee-paying schools are no longer automatically entitled to charitable status. They must prove they provide “public benefit” to effectively remain open and hang to tax breaks worth around £120m a year to the sector.

The charities regulator issued guidance in late 2008 telling schools how they could meet the new requirement. It said they could theoretically pass the test by offering range of services, including access to swimming pools and concert halls, A-level master classes and running one of the Government’s academies.

But the document made it clear that providing more bursaries was the most straightforward way of satisfying the rules. The ISC claim this constitutes a “gross misinterpretation” of the law. The judicial review starts next Tuesday and is planned to last 10 days.

In statement submitted to the court last year, Mr Burgess said the focus on bursaries would lead to schools’ “limited resources” being concentrated on fee-subsidies, at the expense of other schemes to widen access, such as striking up partnerships with local state schools. At the most extreme end, the rules could also place the future of some schools under threat, he added.

A series of trial “tests” of the public benefit requirements saw two out of five schools fail. The two were both small preparatory schools that failed to provide enough bursaries, it emerged, although they later passed after finding more subsidised places.

“It is an ironic consequence of the commission’s approach as revealed by the public benefit reports that the richest schools have little difficulty in showing generous bursary provision: it is the smaller, poorer schools which struggle,” said Mr Burgess.

The Charity Commission has defended its guidance, insisting that schools can pass the public benefit test without providing bursaries. In a submission to the judicial review, Kenneth Dibble, one of the commission’s executive directors, insisted that it did not “wish to prescribe minimum or maximum thresholds for the amount of means-tested fee assistance that should be provided by charitable schools in general, or by any particular school.”

He added: “The commission made it clear that it was for the charities to produce plans in response to the commission’s initial public benefit assessments, and that the commission did not insist that the plans, whether in relation to the provision of bursaries or otherwise, should take any particular form.”


Some excerpts from the recent Cambridge meetup between Warmist and skeptical scientists

The Downing event was assembled by Alan Howard, an academic rich enough to have a foundation in his name – and it was the first time many climate scientists have ever attended an event with their critics. “Science is not a religion,” said Howard, “it must be criticised”. Henrik Svensmark, who offered the most compelling alternative to the IPCC orthodoxy, was among those who gave a presentation. The audience was evenly split, and the IPCC orthodox view took up perhaps two thirds of the day.

On the science, there was little disagreement over the basics, such as the physical properties of CO2, but the degree to which it drives the larger climate was greatly disputed, because the larger system remains a mystery. Even the basics of how different clouds affect temperature is guesswork: water vapour feedback may have a slight negative cooling feedback, or it may have a large positive warming feedback. These must be guessed at, or imagined, through models.

In short, the day lined up Phil Jones, oceanographer Andrew Watson, and physicist Mike Lockwood, the latter to argue that the sun couldn’t possibly have caused recent warming. He was followed by the most impressive presentation from Henrik Svensmark, whose presentation stood out head and shoulders above anyone else. Why? For two reasons. The correlations he shows are remarkable, and don’t need curve fitting, or funky statistical tricks. And he has advanced a mechanism, using empirical science, to explain them. At the other end of the scale, by way of contrast, the Met’s principle research scientist John Mitchell told us:

“People underestimate the power of models. Observational evidence is not very useful,” adding, “Our approach is not entirely empirical.”

Yes, you could say that….

Watson acknowledged many uncertainties before positing that climate sensitivity – a doubling of CO2 over pre-industrial levels – added 2 to 4.5C to global temperature. “This can be wrong – but it’s hard to see how it can be a long way wrong,” said Watson.

Other scientists disagree, with Lindzen putting sensitivity at 0.7C, which suggests we’ve had already had the manmade warming we’re going to get. Clouds are poorly understood, and more low clouds means cooling.

The audience also challenged evidence of the causal relationship between CO2 and temperatures. Warmer temperatures mean more CO2 is released through outgassing, and the Antarctic ice core record shows temperature rising, then CO2 following closely behind. Watson said that with feedbacks, it was impossible to separate the two as cleanly as critics would like: more CO2 must surely have an amplification effect, he said.

“There is a good reason to believe … that climate sensitivity is substantially changing the global climate. Such rapid global change is very rare in the earth’s history,” he concluded.

The telltale signature of greenhouse gas warming should be warming at the surface and in the troposphere, but not the upper stratosphere. It’s even been suggested that carbon taxes should reflect the tropospheric temperature anomaly, rather than surface production. But while the models predict such telltale warming, the observational evidence shows it isn’t there. More recently it has been cooling. This really shouldn’t be happening.

“We can’t explain it … we have wide uncertainty estimates,” acknowledged Watson. “Clouds is a very uncertain area.” He again stated that CS was in the range of 1.1C-4C – with more no’s from the skeptical side of the room.

Solar physicist Mike Lockwood began with an odd observation: “The stewardship of the planet – and lifestyles – would be much easier if [climate change] was all about the sun.” It was a rare example of the IPCC academics letting their intellectual prejudices slip out. Our lifestyles are surely up to us, and policies in response to climate change should be decided coolly and rationally, not handed down as instructions from academic priests. People can get carried away with their own importance at times – particularly scientists.

Lockwood’s presentation was quite lucid, though – and surprisingly generous to the next speaker Henrik Svensmark.

“I think it’s a lovely idea and I do think it happens, actually. It’s very clever. But it happens slowly, and we think it happens in clean maritime air. Over land, there are already enough aerosols present for cloud formation”.

Lockwood outlined the sun’s influence: its irradiance (TSI), obviously the primary factor in climate change, and also changes in its magnetic field, which modulate to varying degrees its UV output, and its effectiveness in shielding us from cosmic rays. In a nutshell, Lockwood believes modulations in total solar irradiance contribute around 0.75W/m 2to temperature changes, but around 5Wm/2 is needed to explain them. He acknowledged that solar activity – like the value of your portfolio – can go up as well as down. Tracking the last 24 sunspot cycles he thinks there’s an 8 per cent chance of arriving in a Maunder Minimum – a period of low sunspot activity and colder weather – in the next 40 years. The strongest argument, according to Lockwood, for the sun not being a driver in recent climatic activity is that “it has been going in the wrong direction for 30 years”.

Lockwood was asked about the recent Shapiro paper (PDF/380KB), published in peer-reviewed journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, which suggested that solar irradiance was much more important than previously thought. Alexander Shapiro, at the World Radiation Centre in Switzerland, looked at magnetic fields as a proxy for TSI and concludes that historical reconstructions have underestimated both TSI and UV – by a factor of six.

Lockwood didn’t think much of it. “It’s based on the premise that there are small magnetic fields between the sunspots. There’s no doubt that over 30 years the trend was downward.”

Plimer was convincing on the long-term geological record.

“I would like to see why 3 per cent anthropogenic CO2 drives climate, and the other 97 per cent doesn’t”. The official answer is that the 97 per cent of natural CO2 is perfect equilibrium, but the wicked (fossil fuel) 3 per cent tips everything out of balance.

“For people to call me a Climate Change denier is a demonstration of public ignorance – geology is all about change – it’s the science of climate change,” he said.

Mitchell’s contribution was a mixture of the sophisticated and the simple. He rebutted the idea that you could not model a chaotic system and come out with anything useful. Obviously there’s plenty of maths that begs to differ, and Mitchell mentioned some of it, such as Lorenz. Other arguments were odd: Mitchell used the examples of Mars and Venus – two planets which don’t have biospheres. This example may prove that there’s a greenhouse gas effect – but not much else. And it wasn’t seriously in doubt.

So the disagreements really break down into two. There’s the science: human influence is either significant or not so significant; and there’s economics: we must have policies which make drastic changes to society, lifestyles and industrial policy – what George Monbiot called “a war against ourselves” – or we must sensibly adapt, and are foolish to create more unnecessary human poverty and misery when we don’t need to.

This isn’t so surprising, really. The most passionate believers in the view that man is irreparably changing the climate are the people with the long lists of radical remedies already prepared; their politics needs the catastrophe, for nobody would entertain their politics for a moment – it wouldn’t be mainstream – if it didn’t come with a catastrophe attached. Take away the catastrophe, and their politics collapses like a house of cards. Politically we’re in a sort of limbo: a few countries have pledged themselves to the course of radically changing lifestyles and industrial policy – but the price of implementing them is political suicide. Things meander along without resolution.


Saving Energy? Colder Homes Hurt The Environment In The Long Run

A rare admission that cold is more of a health problem than is warmth

Beginning in the 1970s, we were taught to keep homes cooler if we want to save energy and therefore both money and the planet. But systems don’t really work that way, as most knew, and a report commissioned by Friends of the Earth and written by Professor Sir Michael Marmot points out that cold homes cost lives and harm the environment in the long run.

While elderly people living in cold homes are more prone to heart and lung disease, the editorial by Dr. Keith Dear and Professor Anthony McMichael from the Australian National University in Canberra also notes that cold homes can affect health at any age. Children are more likely to suffer from breathing problems and adolescents living in a cold house have an increased risk of mental health problems.

The report highlights that every year in the UK there are around 5,500 more deaths than would occur if those houses were warm. By having warmer houses, lives could be saved, the environment wins in the long run and health inequalities are reduced.

So why are there more deaths from cold in milder climates? In severely cold climates homes have always had better insulation – obviously poor people who can’t afford heat can’t afford new insulation either. But warmer homes would also mean governments would also be tackling climate change.

The authors conclude that Britain “is saddled with obsolete housing stock many decades, if not centuries, old …these inadequate homes are a waste of energy, a health hazard, and (given today’s levels of national wealth) a shameful relic for their part in fostering persistent, avoidable, social inequity.”

While it is unfortunate that researchers should once again call for higher taxes, forcing even fewer people to be able to heat their homes in the interests of impossible-to-achieve equality, the idea that less warmth in the winter is a long-term environmental negative is a welcome realization.



About jonjayray

I am former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party. The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody
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