Mother slams plan to shut heart unit that cared for her baby
Actress Sarah Parish has branded Government cuts to the NHS ‘truly shocking’ after the heart unit where her baby had specialist treatment before she died was earmarked for closure.
The 42-year-old star of Cutting It and Mistresses spoke out after it emerged that the children’s cardiac unit at Southampton General Hospital is set to close under the Coalition’s NHS efficiency plans. The move comes despite a recent report that ranked the unit the second-best of its kind in the UK.
Miss Parish, whose daughter was treated by surgeons there before she died from a rare heart condition aged eight months in January 2009, said: ‘For the Government to say it is prepared to consider closing a centre like this is truly shocking.
‘The Southampton team gave my daughter Ella-Jayne the opportunity to come home and enjoy life with her mum and dad before her passing. We will both be fighting to make sure Southampton General continues as a children’s heart hospital.’
Miss Parish and her husband, actor James Murray, met on the set of BBC drama Cutting It, set in the world of hairdressing.
Ella-Jayne was born five weeks prematurely and spent four months in intensive care before being allowed home to spend her final days with her parents in Winchester, Hampshire. The couple went on to have a healthy baby daughter, Nell, now one.
NHS doctors miss one in three cancer cases, report warns
One third of cancer cases in Britain are initially missed by GPs, a major study has found. More than 100,000 people diagnosed with cancer each year previously had symptoms of the disease dismissed by family doctors, according to the NHS audit.
The Government’s cancer czar said some family doctors were gambling that symptoms did not need to be checked in an attempt to save costs.
According to the large-scale survey of cancer patients, the first of its kind to be carried out in Britain:
* 36 per cent of cancer sufferers were not referred to hospital when they first consulted their GP;
* 20 per cent saw their GP at least three times about symptoms of the disease, before being referred to hospital for tests,
* seven per cent paid at least five visits to their local surgery before action was taken;
* more than 300 patients a day are diagnosed with cancer having previously had their symptoms dismissed or misdiagnosed as minor ailments.
Medical charities said that GPs were failing to recognise signs of cancer, meaning that treatment was delayed until it became advanced – and, too often, terminal. They said they were “extremely worried” that thousands of patients were dying prematurely despite repeated attempts to seek medical help.
British survival rates for cancer are among the worst in Europe, with only Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia lower on European league tables.
Prof Mike Richards, the Government’s cancer tsar, told The Sunday Telegraph that the audit – the first national survey to ask cancer patients about their GP visits – was undertaken because delays in diagnosing the disease were the main reason for the UK’s poor record.
Family doctors deciding whether a symptom required investigation too often felt under pressure, when costs were tight, to restrict numbers referred to hospital, he said. “Late diagnosis of cancer is a major problem in this country, and it accounts for the gap in survival between this country and countries like Australia, Canada and Sweden,” said Prof Richards.
“In the past, when the NHS had less resources, there has been some implicit encouragement of GPs to play a gatekeeping role – to limit the number of cases referred to hospital. Our message to GPs is clear: if in doubt, play it safe.”
The study of 67,000 cancer sufferers treated by the NHS last year found that patients with signs of breast and skin cancer were most likely to be referred to hospital quickly, while symptoms of sarcoma (disease of the connective tissue and bone) and blood cancers and rarer diseases were most likely to be missed.
Last year an investigation by safety experts looked at hundreds of cases of patients whose treatment was delayed because GPs had failed to order tests, or had misdiagnosed conditions. In one in three such cases, the delay had harmed the patient’s health, the National Patient Safety Agency found.
Examples included a 29-year-old woman, who saw her GP three times about a breast lump, but was not diagnosed until the cancer was advanced and had spread.
A pensioner saw her doctor three times about difficulty swallowing, but it was not until she went private that she was diagnosed with end-stage oral cancer.
The new research also shows that thousands of patients did not recognise symptoms of cancer until the disease has progressed, and they were admitted to hospital as an emergency. One in five of the cancer patients had not seen their GP about signs of disease before they went to hospital.
Government estimates suggest 10,000 lives would be saved each year if Britain’s survival rates matched the best in Europe.
Mike Hobday, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said the charity was “extremely concerned” at the number of patients whose treatment was delayed because GPs missed their symptoms. He said: “Delayed diagnosis kills. Very large numbers of people are dying prematurely every year because they are diagnosed late.
“Cancer can be difficult to diagnose, and we don’t say that everyone should be referred the first time they see their GP, but this shows there are thousands of people who are not getting referred until they have seen the doctor five times or more.”
Mr Hobday said some GPs needed more training in identifying symptoms.
Nikki Sams from Luton was 26 when she died of cancer, after her GP failed to spot the symptoms eight times in five years. Although she repeatedly told Dr Navin Shanker that she was suffering abdominal pain and irregular bleeding, he ignored her request for hospital checks and never performed an internal examination. By the time she died, the cancer of her cervix had spread into her lungs, spine and neck
The disease was only discovered when Miss Sams, an advertising saleswoman, was transfererred to a new GP practice, after Dr Navin Shanker was suspended over a separate matter. Her new GP immediately recommended a smear test, which found abnormalities, and examinations found a tumour on her cervix. Despite treatment, Miss Sams died in 2007.
Her father Michael, who gave up work to care for his dying daughter, said his the errors which cost her life were “unforgiveable”. He said: “It is unbelievable that in this day and age a girl can go to her doctors so many times complaining about all these symptoms and be sent away and told not to worry.” [It’s believable when you’ve got a lazy Indian doctor. The NHS is full of third world doctors]
Last year Dr Shanker was found guilty of misconduct but allowed to continue to work under supervision.
Martin Hewett, from Herne Bay in Kent, went to see his GP last August after experiencing stomach pains and nausea. His doctor assumed it was the return of an old stomach ulcer from 20 years ago, and prescribed medication without examining Mr Hewett.
It was only when the retired fireman was admitted to hospital as an emergency in October, suffering from severe bleeding, that tests found a massive tumour, which killed him at the age of 56.
His bereaved partner, Vanessa Robinson, said: “Martin was suffering from textbook symptoms of stomach cancer. It makes me feel so angry, and sad that he was sent away without even being examined. “He deteriorated so quickly; if the cancer had been found sooner, he might still be here.”
Give my job back, says drug expert ‘forced out by anti-Christians’
A Christian GP dismissed as a Government drugs adviser over his views on homosexuality has launched a legal bid to win his job back.
Dr Hans-Christian Raabe was removed from the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in February following attacks on him in the Press. Ministers said he was sacked because he failed to disclose an `embarrassing’ academic report he co-authored in 2005 that linked homosexuality to paedophilia.
But Dr Raabe, 46, believes the `spineless’ Home Office caved in to pressure from liberal campaigners who opposed his firm line on drugs. The German-born doctor has now begun a judicial review against Home Secretary Theresa May and is being represented by leading human rights lawyer James Dingemans QC.
Dr Raabe, whose sacking provoked widespread protests from anti-drug groups, said he was taking the action because there were `increasing attempts’ to force Christians out of public life.
Dr Raabe’s 2005 report was drawn up with other doctors to brief Canadian politicians who opposed gay marriage.
But he says it is irrelevant to his role providing scientific advice to the Government on drug misuse and it had not occurred to him to mention it when he was interviewed for the unpaid post.
Dr Raabe and his co-authors wrote in the report: `While the majority of homosexuals are not involved in paedophilia, it is of grave concern that there is a disproportionately greater number of homosexuals among paedophiles.’
The Manchester-based GP said the real reason his appointment was revoked was that the Home Office got `cold feet’ because of the `witch-hunt’ against him. `I am not anti-gay,’ he said. `I have been a GP for 19 years and have treated all my patients professionally and equally. ‘It is bizarre for the Home Office to suggest I am unable to issue balanced advice on drug issues to gay people.’
Dr Raabe says his dismissal had been illegal and he is asking the High Court to quash it. He said the Home Office had breached natural justice by failing to allow him a chance to challenge the decision by the then Drugs Minister, James Brokenshire, to remove him from the ACMD.
A spokesman for The Christian Institute, which supports the GP, said: `Dr Raabe’s comments about homosexuality have nothing to do with his role as a drugs adviser. ‘His removal is worryingly like some sort of anti-Christian McCarthyism.’
A Home Office spokesman said: `Dr Raabe’s failure to disclose a controversial report that he had co-authored which, among other things, links homosexuality to paedophilia, raised concerns over his credibility to provide balanced advice on drug misuse issues.’
British Public sector staff ‘are 43% better off’ than private workers – and the pay gap is widening
Public sector workers are 43 per cent better off per year than people with private sector jobs, a report shows. On pay alone, they are more than 20 per cent better off per year than their private sector equivalents in Scotland, the North East, the North West and Wales – and the gap is widening.
But in the South East, public wages are only four per cent higher than those of private sector workers, according to centre-right think-tank Policy Exchange.
The report found the gap between the sectors’ pay rose throughout last year, despite unions’ complaints that state workers were hard done by.
The findings are even more stark when hourly pay rates are compared. The public sector `premium’ – the additional pay a public sector worker receives – is up to 35 per cent when calculated on hourly pay, the report shows. Nationwide, the average hourly premium is 24 per cent.
When gold-plated public sector pensions are taken into account, those on the state payroll are 43 per cent better off.
Even when factors such as the differences in age, experience and qualifications are considered, the hourly pay premium for a public sector worker was 8.8 per cent in December. This almost doubled from 4.3 per cent two years earlier. And the gap was growing despite widespread pay restraint in the public sector.
Ministers have put in place a two-year pay freeze on public sector incomes – sparking claims by unions that state workers are being unfairly punished. But the report shows that it is the private sector staff and firms that have borne the brunt of the recession. Pay shrank for the bottom 30 per cent of private sector workers last year.
Crucially, the researchers found: `Even if the public sector pay freeze were extended beyond April 2013, the public sector pay premium would not be eliminated until 2016. `Including the superior value of public sector pensions, it would not disappear until 2018.’
Only the highest paid workers in the private sector – those earning at least œ47,000 – continue to be paid more than their public sector counterparts, but even there the gap is shrinking.
The report said: `Public sector workers are paid more than private sector workers whether measured annually, by typical wage or raw average. ‘For all these measures, the gap between public and private increased between 2009 and 2010.’
Policy Exchange director Neil O’Brien said: `It is unreasonable and unfair to expect private sector workers to make all the sacrifices. `We need a much better-balanced system of public pay, with organisations like the NHS and schools given greater freedom to vary pay so they can attract staff but also get value for the taxpayer.’
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber accused the think tank of `stirring up divisions’, saying: `The truth is that both [sectors] are having a terrible time. `Public sector workers are facing a pay freeze, job losses and have seen the value of their pensions cut by 25 per cent. `In the private sector, pay freezes are still common, and public spending cuts are doing just as much damage as they are in the public sector.’
Leading British Catholic school in admissions overhaul
A top Roman Catholic school favoured for the children of Tony Blair and Nick Clegg is set for a clash with the admissions watchdog over plans to root out unbelievers.
The London Oratory School in west London is proposing to introduce an admissions policy that favours children and parents who are more involved in parish life.
The move will be sure to mark out committed Catholics over so-called “pew jumpers” who conveniently discover religion to get children into popular faith schools.
It beefs up the school’s previous admissions rules that focused on the extent to which pupils meet the Church’s requirements regarding Baptism, Holy Communion and attending Mass.
But the change – being introduced next year – could bring the school into trouble with the official admissions watchdog which has already criticised other faith schools for breaching strict entry guidelines.
Last year, Ian Craig, the outgoing Chief Schools Adjudicator, warned schools against using complex points-based systems that benefit middle-class families heavily involved in church activities. He suggested the move disadvantaged children with poorer parents who have less time to volunteer in the local parish.
In recent years, a number of faith schools have been ordered to re-draw their admissions policies for perceived breaches of the code.
Eight Roman Catholic schools in Newham, east London, were ordered to change admissions rules after asking parents and children to meet a local priest for a reference – a move which could favour more articulate middle-class families. A Sikh school was criticised for allocating points to parents who took part in community activities, which could penalise those who are unable to do so for work or family reasons.
The London Oratory is already among the most sought-after faith schools in England and regularly sends talented pupils to Oxford and Cambridge. Tony Blair was famously criticised after bypassing dozens of nearby schools to send his sons across London to the Oratory.
And last year it emerged that Nick Clegg – an atheist whose wife is Catholic – was considering sending his son to the school next year, even though other state schools are closer to his home.
The school’s proposed admissions rules for 2012 prioritise children who regularly attend Mass on Sundays, those fulfilling the Church’s requirements regarding Baptism and whether candidates have received their Holy Communion.
Points are then awarded to recognise “service in any Catholic parish or in the wider Catholic Church by both the candidate and a Catholic parent”.
The Diocese of Westminster – which covers the Oratory – has already clashed with another faith school over its use of a points-based admissions system. It shopped Cardinal Vaughan School to the admissions regulator in a bitter battle with the school, claiming that its entry policy was too elitist.
But the Oratory could escape censure because the Government is currently planning an overhaul of the school admissions code in a move designed to slim down the document and give more power to individual head teachers.
Dr Craig, who refused to comment on the issue yesterday, is due to stand down later this year. The Oratory was also unavailable for comment.
New arthritis drug given green light in Britain
Hundreds of thousands of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sufferers could benefit from a new treatment after the drugs spending watchdog changed its mind about prescribing it on the NHS.
Those with moderate to severe RA will now be able to get Simponi, the brand name of the drug golimumab, in some situations where similar treatments have not worked.
Ailsa Bosworth, chief executive of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS), described it as “excellent news”. “It is vital that we have options when it comes to biologic therapies as people react differently to drugs even within the same class,” she said.
Simponi is what is known as a tumour necrosis factor inhibitor, or anti-TNF, drug. These work by blocking the action of TNF, a naturally occurring chemical, which plays an important role in triggering inflammation and tissue damage. Others in this class have already been given the green light by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), including Humira, Endrel, Remicade and Cimzia. However, sometimes they stop working in patients.
Last October, Nice turned down Simponi but, in final draft guidance published today (FRI), the body has changed its mind. A Nice spokesman said the decision was due to new clinical and cost evidence put forward by the manufacturer, Merck. He emphasised that final guidance was still to come.
Almost 700,000 people in Britain suffer from RA, making it the second most common form of rheumatic disease after osteoarthritis. Of those, some 400,000 suffer from moderate or severe symptoms.
Three quarters are diagnosed while still of working age. More than one in four of them have to give up employment within a year of diagnosis. The NRAS has calculated it costs the economy £8 billion a year due to lost productivity.
Exactly how RA is treated depends on its severity: those with mild arthritis are often advised to start by taking paracetamol, and move on to ibuprofen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Exercise is also essential to keeping joints mobile.
However, the disease tends to be progressive. As it gets worse more powerful medicines including disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and anti-TNFs come into play.
Neil Betteridge, chief executive of the charity Arthritis Care, welcomed Nice’s change of tune. He said: “Rheumatoid arthritis is an awful disease affecting people of all ages which clinicians often compare with having cancer of the joints.
“Unless treated and managed effectively it invariably leads to great pain and can render people immobile and unable to work. Having another treatment option available, therefore, is terrific.”
One benefit of Simponi is that patients can self-inject the drug, and need only do so once a month. However, it “can lower your ability to fight infections”, warns Merck, and there have been reports of “serious infections” including tuberculosis, some of which have been fatal.
Peter Taylor, professor of experimental rheumatology at Imperial College, London, said: “I am excited by the launch of ‘Simponi’ as it represents a valuable additional choice for the treatment of these debilitating rheumatoid conditions, and any new therapy that improves quality of life for patients is most welcome.
“Early and effective management is important in reducing disease progression and the extensive joint damage associated with it, but it’s also important for patients to have a say in the choice of treatment they receive.”