NHS waiting times to rise
Waiting times for operations will rise in the next year, NHS bosses have admitted, amid fears health service reforms could put patients at risk.
More than half of health service leaders fear that the forthcoming shake-up of the NHS and pressure to make savings will damage patients’ access to treatment in the short-term, according to a new survey.
Some ten per cent of health service chairs and chief executives said patients’ safety would be reduced in the next 12 months, while almost one in five admitted the quality of service provided to patients would “significantly” worsen.
Meanwhile bed blocking, where patients are kept in wards for longer than necessary, is highly likely to rise as local authority spending cuts hit community services and increase the burden on hospitals.
The survey by an independent company questioned 287 bosses, representing more than half of all NHS organisations, on the expected impact of one of the biggest reforms in the health service’s history.
It comes at a time when health care organisations are under intense pressure to make savings without compromising their quality of service, despite rising demand due to an ageing population.
A number of respondents predicted rationing of treatments and longer waiting times would be necessary to meet financial targets, while one predicted: “Decreased patient satisfaction, longer time to recover, patients being undiagnosed and therefore not treated, reduced confidence in the NHS, increase in complaints.”
Another wrote: “If we are forced to reduce headcount without a reduction in patient demand there will be inevitable compromises in patient care.”
Health leaders say the survey provided a “loud wake-up call” to ministers overseeing one of the biggest reforms in the health service’s history.
Mike Farrar, the new Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents all NHS organisations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said: “We should ignore these figures at our peril. “People are very worried that unless they are given support to make the right changes then the NHS could be in great difficulty.”
Mr Farrar insisted politicians were wrong to publicly attack NHS managers, who he said would play a crucial role in keeping costs down during a huge internal shake-up.
In his first major speech since taking control of the NHS Confederation, Mr Farrar will say at the organisation’s annual conference today that the NHS is “desperate for certainty and clarity”.
He will call for the government to stop its “unprecedented and unwarranted attacks on managers”, provide immediate clarity on reforms and recognise that the next 18 months will play a defining role in the future shape and health of the NHS.
British Women’s Institute banned from tending flowers on roundabout memorial in case they’re run over
When a council scrapped a floral display at a war memorial to save cash, the Women’s Institute volunteered to tend the flowers for free. It seemed the perfect solution to the problem – until the dreaded health and safety issue reared its head.
A councillor deemed it ‘too dangerous’ to let the women look after the flowerbeds because they might be run over on the way to the memorial, which is on a roundabout where four minor roads intersect.
The extraordinary ban has infuriated the institute’s local leader, who pointed out that its members were perfectly capable of looking both ways before stepping off the pavement and that they ‘don’t all have Zimmer frames’.
The row started after Spelthorne Borough Council in Surrey last month decided to remove the display at Shepperton war memorial to help save £14,000 a year in gardening fees.
The nearby Upper Halliford WI sent a letter to the council saying its members would happily set up a rota to tend the flowers.
But Tory councillor Robin Sider, who sits on the planning committee and is also chairman of Shepperton Horticultural Society, said he reluctantly could not allow it. ‘It was a wonderful gesture,’ he said. ‘However the war memorial is on a very dangerous roundabout, so while I am appreciative of their help I can’t let them undertake the task in case any one of them was run over. ‘It’s a very busy stretch there, where four roads meet. It would be too much of a risk for them.’
Julie Bloomfield, president of Upper Halliford WI, said she expected to fight the decision. ‘I told Mr Sider we could help out by tending the flowers, but he was very adamant that we should not jeopardise our lives to tend the war memorial. ‘I wouldn’t have thought it was much of a problem. We all know how to cross roads and not all of us have Zimmer frames.
‘I agree with helping out when you can, but we are not being allowed to in this case because of health and safety concerns we might get run down.’
Catherine Broad, 54, who lives near the war memorial, said she was appalled the offer had been turned down. ‘When we are encouraged to dig in and help as part of Big Society, you would think this is exactly what is meant.’
Last year Bucknell Women’s Institute in Shropshire was told to complete a risk assessment despite having tended to the garden at the village railway station without an accident in 25 years.
And in 2004 the WI was banned from bringing home-made cakes into Saffron Walden Community Hospital, Essex, for patients because members’ kitchens had not been inspected.
Britain’s useless justice system — too soft to be any deterrent
More than 150 rapists freed early from prison went on to rape again
Ministry of Justice statistics revealed last night the shocking extent to which sexual predators are re-offending, many after being freed from prison early.
The figures were described as ‘astonishing and alarming’, and prompted calls for tougher sentences for violent sex attackers.
Casebook of the serial offenders
Critics demanded better monitoring of dangerous offenders to ensure they cannot repeatedly commit horrendous crimes.
The disclosure comes after a storm of protest over Government plans to halve jail terms for rapists and other violent offenders who admit their guilt.
Ministers performed a U-turn over the proposal last month, but suspicion remains that judges are under pressure to reduce sentences and release offenders early as the Ministry of Justice seeks to cut millions of pounds from its budget.
Casebook of the serial offenders
Since 2006, a total of 154 convicted rapists have been jailed a second time for the same crime. It means these repeat sex attackers are responsible for around one in every 30 rapes.
The official data also shows a sharp increase in the numbers of rapists released from prison every year, and that more are serving less than half their sentence.
The figures were revealed in response to parliamentary questions by Conservative MP Priti Patel. Last night she said: ‘The public will be astonished and alarmed by these facts.
‘This is more evidence that these people should get longer sentences to be kept off the streets. ‘It is concerning that some of these rapists are being released too early and then going on to commit more crimes and causing untold extra trauma for their victims.’
Anti-rape campaigners said the protections put in place to stop dangerous criminals reoffending were obviously not working.
Angie Conroy, of Rape Crisis, said: ‘It may cost more for longer sentences and better offender programmes but the alternative is the cost to society of more rape attacks.’
A teenager known only as Emily, who was raped by convicted offender Alan Weston, said: ‘Rapists need longer sentences, not shorter ones. These people ruin the lives of others and they should not be allowed the same privileges the rest of us have.’
Emily, who suffered a nightmare ordeal lasting for 15 hours after she was snatched off the street, said her parents still become anxious whenever she goes out, calling and texting her constantly for details of her whereabouts. ‘It really upsets me to see the way it still affects my family,’ she said. ‘We are all still paying a price. Victims of rape and their families get a life sentence, so why don’t the rapists?’
The Ministry of Justice statistics show that a total of 4,960 criminals were convicted for rape attacks in the last five years. Of those, 154 – or around three per cent – had already been convicted of rape. More than one in ten already had a record for some form of sex attack. The figures also show a total of 769 rapists were released from prison last year, compared with 515 five years earlier.
Sentencing rules mean anyone sentenced to a fixed prison term short of life is automatically released at the halfway point.
There has also been a sharp rise in the number of offenders let out without having served even half their jail term. Last year 86 rapists served less than 50 per cent of their sentence, compared with just 15 in 2001.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘Anyone who commits a serious, violent or sexual offence should, and will continue to, receive a long prison sentence. ‘We work to minimise the risk posed by offenders in the community through continuous risk assessment and management.’
Britain MUST bring back grammar schools, or risk a generation that fails in life, says biggest study yet on education
Children from working class families are failing in life because they cannot get into good secondary schools, a Government-backed inquiry has found.
The research blames the widening gap between the achievements of rich and poor pupils on ‘selection by mortgage’ – the way middle-class parents are able to buy their way into the best schools by moving into expensive homes in the right catchment areas.
The study is set to re-open the debate about grammar schools, which were largely abolished in the 1970s. Many say this has barred the way to a good education for bright working class children.
The grammar school argument has been fired over the past four years by overwhelming evidence that social mobility – the chance of someone from a poor background doing well in life – has been declining sharply since the 1970s.
Under Gordon Brown’s Labour government, the fall in social mobility was blamed on universities, said to be biased against taking students from poor backgrounds, and on failures in pre-school education.
The new research on social mobility, produced from a survey covering six years of the lives of 33,000 secondary school children, points the finger at the comprehensive system which effectively keeps children from low-income families out of good schools.
The Tories’ war over grammar schools has rumbled on since David Cameron ruled out the opening of more selective schools in 2007 on the ground that parents do not want them.
He accused their supporters of ‘splashing around in the shallow end of educational debate’. Instead the Prime Minister has backed Michael Gove’s programme of opening more mostly non-selective academies and free schools.
The study was produced by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex University, with the Sutton Trust educational charity and the New York-based Russell Sage Foundation.
Professor John Ermisch of the ISER said: ‘The widening of the parental education gap in pupil performance after primary school appears to be related to the sorting of children into secondary schools.
‘Better-educated parents have their children in better quality schools, and the association between school quality and parental background is stronger at secondary school than at primary school. ‘The sorting is primarily achieved by living in areas with good access to better schools.’
Professor Ermisch said lotteries for school places would improve poor children’s chances, ‘but as long as there is large variation in school quality, such a policy would be resisted by better-off parents, because some would be forced to send their children to inferior schools’.
Another wide-ranging project from the Sutton Trust is expected to uncover large differences in aspiration and attainment between state comprehensives on the one hand, and independent schools and the 164 remaining selective English grammars on the other.
This week Tory peer and former Downing Street adviser Lord Blackwell is to launch an amendment to Mr Gove’s Education Bill calling for the introduction of academically streamed classes within comprehensive schools.
The centre-Right think-tank Centre for Policy Studies, with which Lord Blackwell has links, is to publish a call for the creation of a grammar school for every town.
Lord Blackwell said yesterday: ‘Since grammar schools were abolished in many parts of the country – and direct grant schools driven into the private sector – many children have had no access to high quality schools catering for the needs of the brightest children.
‘If they happen to live in an area where there is a good comprehensive they can still get a good education that will get them to the top universities, but often those schools are in more affluent areas where house prices are high. In effect we have selection by postcode.’
Cutting back on salt ‘does not make you healthier’ (despite nanny state warnings)
Cochrane reviews are reviews of the best available evidence on the subject so attempts to discredit this study are unconvincing. That the review looked at “only” seven studies would indicate that other available studies were not of review quality
Eating less salt will not prevent heart attacks, strokes or early death, according to a major study. Its findings contradict all recommendations by the Government and medical profession urging the public to reduce the amount of salt they consume.
Research involving nearly 6,500 people concluded that there was ‘no strong evidence’ that lowering levels in the diet reduced the risk of heart disease or premature death. In fact it found that cutting back on salt actually raises the likelihood of death in some patients with heart problems.
The researchers from Exeter University say that the benefits of cutting back on salt may have been ‘overestimated’. They also point out that there are other important lifestyle factors such as eating fruit, taking exercise, following a low-fat diet and not smoking which will also affect the health of an individual.
The findings have been criticised by campaigners and other scientists, who say there is strong evidence that reducing levels of salt will protect the heart.
They say the reason the study did not show that cutting back on salt prevented heart attacks may be because the people involved reduced their intake only for short periods of time.
Large amounts of salt in the diet increase the risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Currently adults are advised to eat no more than 6g of salt a day – or one teaspoon – but it is estimated they average 9g a day.
The Government has begun working with manufacturers, fast food firms and restaurants to try to get them to reduce the amount of salt in their products. And in recent years there have been campaigns urging the public to try to cut down on foods high in it, such as ready meals, takeaways and cereals.
But research published today in the Cochrane Review journal concludes there is limited evidence that cutting down on salt reduces the risk of illness or early death.
The authors from Exeter University looked at seven published studies involving 6,489 people. Some had high blood pressure, others had normal blood pressure and they had all been put on salt-reduction diets.
But the authors found that there was no evidence that cutting down reduced deaths or heart disease in either group. And they found that patients with heart failure who cut back on salt were actually at higher risk of death – possibly because the change in diet is such a shock to the body.
But the researchers insist that their study does not mean government salt reduction campaigns have been a waste of time. Lead researcher Rod Taylor, from the University of Exeter, said: ‘Perhaps surprisingly we didn’t find any statistically significant reduction in death or cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes.’
He pointed out that most of the previous research showing that diets low in salt prevent heart disease do not account for the fact people who eat less salt are healthy in general – they take exercise, eat plenty of fruit and tend not to smoke.
He suggested the public would need to cut back on salt for long periods to benefit. The only way this could be done would be to get restaurants, fast food chains and office canteens to reduce the content in their meals.
Katharine Jenner, of Consensus Action on Salt and Health, said: ‘It is very disappointing that the message from this small review indicates that salt reduction may not be beneficial. ‘This is a completely inappropriate conclusion, given the strong evidence and the overwhelming public health consensus that salt raises blood pressure which leads to cardiovascular disease.
‘This review is based on just seven studies that were not designed to test the effects of sodium reduction interventions on cardiovascular events and mortality.’
Simon Capewell, professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Liverpool, said the study was disappointing and inconclusive.
Wind farm’s ‘whoom, whoom, whoom’ noise drove us mad, British farmers claiming £3m tell High Court
A couple driven out of their home by noise from a wind farm launched a landmark battle in the High Court yesterday over their inability to get a peaceful night’s sleep.
Jane and Julian Davis say the low- frequency hum of the 320ft tall turbines, which they liken to the sound of a helicopter, kept them awake even with earplugs and their double glazed windows closed.
They claim it became so intolerable they were forced to move from their home in Deeping St Nicholas, Lincolnshire, six months after the eight-turbine wind farm began operating just over half a mile from their home in 2006.
Mr and Mrs Davis are challenging the turbines’ owners in a case which, if they win, could lead to operators of up to 50 wind farms across the country having to stop their turbines or compensate hundreds of residents living near them.
Speaking yesterday outside the London court before the start of the case, Mrs Davis, 55, a former nurse, described the noise as a ‘whoom whoom whoom’. ‘I want to stop the noise so we can go back home and relax and sleep and live like we did five years ago,’ she said. It is a horrible noise. ‘It is unpredictable but occurs mainly in the course of the night, and there is no assurance that you can stay asleep.
‘I’m not against wind farms or what they look like. I just want the industry and Government to recognise that some wind farms have unexpected adverse effects.’
The couple could face ruin if they lose the case and are forced to pay the defendants’ legal costs.
The case will focus on ‘amplitude modulation’, the swishing noise made by the blades in certain conditions. Research suggests many complaints about wind farms relate to this, and the industry admits it is not properly understood.
The couple, who have two grown-up children, would ideally like to be able to move back to the farmhouse, which Mr Davis, 46, bought in 1993.
They say the problem could be resolved if the owners and operators, Fenland Windfarms Ltd and Fenland Green Power Co-operative Limited, limited the hours of operation of one of the turbines and removed two others. Their lawyers are seeking an injunction to bring about these changes.
But in the event that the modifications are not made, they are seeking £400,000 damages for their extra housing costs to date and to buy an equivalent home elsewhere. There is currently no legal limit to how near a wind farm can be to someone’s home.
Opening the case yesterday Peter Harrison QC, representing the couple, said: ‘For Jane and Julian Davis, wind farms have emphatically not been the source of trouble-free, green renewable energy which the firms promoting and profiting from wind energy would have the general public believe.’
Mr Harrison added that the operator’s approach has been ‘to attack the credibility and reasonableness’ of Mr and Mrs Davis.
William Norris QC, for the defendants, said an injunction should not be granted given the operators’ willingness to find a solution to the noise.
Britain on brink of ‘nuclear renaissance’
Britain is on the brink of the “biggest nuclear renaissance since the 1950s”, the Government has claimed, despite fears over the recent disaster in Japan and questions over radioactive waste.
Days after Germany announced it was going nuclear-free, Charles Hendry, the Energy Minister, said the UK will build a new generation of power stations.
He said that the eight sites earmarked for new reactors will could offer 5,000 jobs, as well as supplying a cheap form of low carbon electricity as coal-fired power stations close down.
Addressing a nuclear industry association conference in London, he will also hit back at criticism that Government officials conferred with the nuclear industry over how to deal with the public relations fall-out from the crisis at Japan’s tsunami-hit Fukushima reactor.
According to emails released under Freedom of Information, one official warned the disaster threatened to “set the nuclear industry back globally” and said it was vital not to let anti-nuclear campaigners use it to gain a publicity coup.
There is also renewed concern about nuclear following an explosion at a French nuclear power station. The blaze at the Tricastin plant in Drôme in the Rhône valley came just two days after the authorities found 32 safety concerns at the plant.
In his speech, which comes after the Government confirmed eight sites where new nuclear plants could be developed adjacent to existing reactors, he will say the reaction to Fukushima was “sensible, proportionate and based on the facts”.
He will tell the industry: “I want people inside and outside of this room to be in no doubt – the Government’s response during and after Fukushima has been based on solid evidence and the advice of the chief nuclear inspector.”
He will also say: “The UK has everything to gain from becoming the number-one destination to invest in new nuclear. “Nuclear is the cheapest low-carbon source of electricity around, so it can keep bills down and the lights on.
“The wider economic benefit cannot be over-emphasised – around 5,000 jobs could be on offer at each of the eight sites we listed as suitable for development, and as we develop a domestic supply chain, all parts of the country could gain from a nuclear resurgence.”
He will add: “We are on the brink of the biggest nuclear renaissance since the 1950s. “The 16 gigawatts of new nuclear generation planned by industry equates to investment of around £50 billion with the construction of each reactor delivering investment equivalent to that for the 2012 Olympics.”
The coalition Government is backing a new generation of nuclear power, despite previous Liberal Democrat opposition to the technology, with ministers insisting it will not be subsidised by tax-payers.
But the Government has been accused of bringing in hidden subsidies, for example in proposals to reform the electricity market which could favour nuclear but not other forms of low-carbon energy such as renewables.
Chris Huhne, the Lib Dem Energy and Climate Change minister, faces a rebellion from his own party over the issue. A large group of backbenchers are gearing up to rebel against a key section of the government’s finance bill which focuses on the so called ‘hidden subsidies’ like the carbon floor price.
A review and summary of The ClimateGate Whitewash
Scientific scandals revealed by leaked e-mail exchanges among prominent climate researchers within the U.K.’s University of East Anglia-Climate Research Unit network prompted three inquiries with transparent damage-control overtones. Two were “independent” internal self-investigations that were launched by UEA. The third was a cursory, narrowly-focused inquiry conducted by the British House of Commons’ Science and Technology Select Committee.
The scientific misconduct charges against key Climate Research Unit (CRU) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change participants are serious. They include: failures to provide a full and fair view to policymakers and all available evidence to the U.N.’s IPCC; deliberately obstructing access to data and methods to those with opposing viewpoints; failures to comply with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements; and coordinated efforts to influence review panels of prestigious journals to block papers presenting rival scientific findings from being published.
The “Parliamentary Inquiry” undertaken by the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Select Committee was conducted by eight Labour, three Conservative and two Liberal Democrat MPs, plus one independent under the chairmanship of Liberal Democrat Phil Willis (now Lord Willis). An in-depth investigation was out of the question because of severely constrained time due to an upcoming election. The committee recognized that it would not “be able to cover all of the issues raised by the events at UEA.” Questioning of witnesses was limited to a single day.
Soon after the inquiry was announced, Phil Willis made an announcement that raised questions about his objectivity regarding the merits of CRU criticism: “There are a significant number of climate deniers who are using the UEA e-mails to support the case that this is poor science. We do not believe this is healthy, and therefore we want to call in UEA so that the public can see what they are saying.” The term “denier” is broadly seen as an analogous and pejorative reference to those who deny the historical fact of the Holocaust, implying that UEA/CRU scientific methods and integrity should be beyond question.
The inquiry scope was limited to three key areas: freedom of information issues; accuracy and availability of CRU data and programs; and the independent reviews. Written evidence collected from 57 different groups was limited to 3,000 words per submission, allowing little opportunity to make full cases or to provide details.
While the committee took no direct testimony from those who challenged CRU activities, methods or errors, they nevertheless determined that there was essentially nothing wrong with the organization’s basic science. They mistakenly assumed that important investigations they had no time or expertise to conduct would be fully covered by the other “independent” reviews which never occurred. And they concluded that global warming is human-caused, endorsing IPCC representations as facts.
The first UEA-sponsored investigation called the “Scientific Assessment Panel Inquiry” was headed by Lord Ronald Oxburgh, an ardent global warming believer with strong green energy business ties. He served as chairman of U.K. Shell (a major biofuel player), chairman of the wind company Falk Renewables, and a board member of Climate Change Capital, a major investor in carbon credits. In a 2005 interview with the Guardian, Oxburgh advocated that all possible government incentives be used to promote alternatives to carbon-based energy, stating that “what we don’t want to see is in two years’ time the government becoming bored with climate change after we’ve invested a lot of our shareholders’ money.”
The Oxburgh panel did not assess the reliability of CRU’s science. Its scope of inquiry was limited to reviewing papers provided to it only for evidence of deliberate misconduct. Many of those papers selected for examination by UEA were obscure, never having been challenged by critics—while others that had been criticized were not presented for review at all. Lord Oxburgh’s final report stated that the papers were chosen “on the advice of the Royal Society”, however this was apparently untrue. In fact many or all of those papers were reportedly selected and cleared by CRU’s director, Phil Jones, a central figure in the ClimateGate controversy.
Although at least one committee member voiced serious concerns about how the CRU science had been conducted and incorporated into IPCC documents, no word of this was reported in the proceedings. And contrary to strong recommendations from committee members, no public interviews were conducted, no formal notes were taken, and no recordings or transcripts of interviews were made available to the public.
The remarkably short five-page Oxburgh report generously concluded that it found CRU scientists to be merely an innocent “small group of dedicated, if slightly confused, researchers.” It also mildly criticized IPCC for failing to cite reservations those dedicated and confused researchers attached to their work describing scientific uncertainties.
Another CRU-sponsored inquiry called the “Climate Change Emails Review” headed by Sir Robert Muir-Russell hurriedly looked at more than 1,000 selected communications within a period of two and one-half weeks. Two evidence-collecting interviews were conducted with CRU staff, which the majority, including the chairman, didn’t attend. No CRU critics were interviewed.
Muir-Russell emphasized the independent selection of his five panelists, stating: “None have any links to the Climate Research Unit, or the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” and “They were selected on the basis that they had no prejudicial interest in climate change and climate science and for the contribution they can make to the issues the Review is looking at.”
Yet one of the panelists, Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Boulton from the University of Edinburgh, had previously signed a petition in the wake of the ClimateGate scandal expressing confidence that global warming was caused by humans. He was also a former University of East Anglia employee, having worked in its School of Environmental Sciences for 18 years … therefore also a previous colleague of Phil Jones and other important ClimateGate figures.
The panel failed to question Jones about an email entitled “IPCC & FOIA” he sent to Michael Mann requesting “Can you delete any emails you have had with Keith [Briffa] re AR4? [the IPCC’s 2007 Summary for Policymaker’s Report]. Keith will do likewise. He’s not in at the moment-minor family crisis. Can you also email Gene [Wahl] and get him to do the same? I don’t have his new email address. Will be getting Casper [Ammann] to do likewise.”
Muir-Russell’s report concluded that the “rigour and honesty” of the CRU scientists were not in doubt, that they did not subvert the peer review process to censor criticism, and that key data was freely available and could be used by any “competent” researcher. Yet the panelists admitted that the scientists’ responses to “reasonable requests for information” had been “unhelpful and defensive”, that “emails might have been deleted in order to make them unavailable should a subsequent request be made for them”, and that there had been “a consistent pattern of failing to display a proper degree of openness, both on the part of CRU scientists and on the part of the UEA.”
Did the Climate Change Emails Review accomplish the goal Muir-Russell called for : “a concerted and sustained campaign to win hearts and minds” to restore confidence in the [CRU] team’s work” ? The Lancent scientific journal’s editor, Richard Horton, doesn’t think so. Testifying before the inquiry, he said: “The Muir-Russell review has rejected all claims of serious scientific misconduct. But he does identify failures, evasions, misleading actions, unjustifiable delays [in releasing information], and pervasive unhelpfulness- all of which amounts to severely sub-optimal academic practice. Climate science will never be the same again.”
Hans von Storch, a professor at the Meteorological Institute at the University of Hamburg and director of the Institute of Coastal Research at the GHSS Research Centre in Geestacht, Germany believes Dr. Horton’s appraisal applies this assessment to all three inquiries: “Nothing ought to be swept under the carpet. Some of the inquiries — like in the U.K. did exactly the latter. They blew an opportunity to restore trust.”