Health trusts pay £1m to STOP patients getting expensive drugs

Health trusts have been accused of paying £1million of taxpayers’ money to a lobby group to stop patients getting vital drugs.

The Commissioning Support Appraisals Service gives training and advice on how trusts can avoid paying for expensive drugs approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, the NHS rationing body.

When drugs are approved, trusts must find money from existing budgets to pay for them.

So there is widespread concern that they have a vested interest in discouraging Nice from approving treatments, by arguing they are too expensive and not cost-effective.

The CSAS has been attacked by leading doctors, charities and even Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

Now it has emerged that each of the 152 Primary Care Trusts in England is paying £2,000 for its services each year – a combined sum of £304,000. PCTs have been paying the money since 2009, so by the end of this year nearly £1million will have been spent in total.

The CSAS trains staff and managers from PCTs so they can ‘advise’ Nice when it is making key decisions on whether to make new drugs available on the NHS.

The first PCT to fund the lobby group was Birmingham East and North, whose chief executive Sophia Christie has spoken out against paying for cancer drugs. She once described Herceptin – a breast cancer wonder drug credited for saving thousands of lives – as ‘the worst thing I could choose to spend that money on’.

Birmingham PCT now takes charge of collecting money from all other PCTs to pay the CSAS.

CSAS insists its purpose is ‘not to stop life-saving drugs and treatments’. It says its role is to ensure PCTs’ contribution to Nice guidance is ‘respected and credible’.

Campaigners warn that health trusts are ‘engaging in secret lobbying campaigns’ and squandering taxpayers’ money on denying new drugs for patients.

Professor Karol Sikora, a leading cancer specialist, said: ‘It seems very murky. The problem PCTs have is that if Nice approves a drug they have to fund it. ‘But cancer drugs here are so far behind Europe. This will just put us back even more.’

Andrew Wilson, chief executive of the Rarer Cancers Foundation, which uncovered the figures, said: ‘The NHS should be focusing on how to improve cancer treatment, not how to stop patients gaining access to it.

‘At a time when money is short, PCTs should be prioritising paying for much needed services and not engaging in secret lobbying campaigns. This just serves to reiterate how important the Cancer Drugs Fund is to patients. Decisions on access to cancer treatment should be made by doctors and not administrators, who sometimes seem more concerned about denying access to treatment than improving it.’

Ian Beaumont, campaigns director for Bowel Cancer UK, said: ‘We would be very disappointed if pressure was being put on Nice in what is already a very complicated system. ‘Nice is doing a good enough job of not approving drugs on its own. ‘The UK is falling way behind European countries in terms of cancer survival. This is partly because there are fewer treatments available.’

SOURCE

Call to scrap ‘useless’ equalities watchdog which costs taxpayers millions

Britain’s embattled human rights quango should be scrapped, a report says today. It claims that the Equality and Human Rights Commission contributes ‘very little to meaningful equality’ despite costing the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds a year.

The Civitas think-tank says that abolition would come at ‘no obvious cost to the public’.

The report is scathing of the pay and expenses of the Commission’s most senior staff, including chairman Trevor Phillips who receives £112,000 a year for working three and a half days a week. It also criticises the quango’s ‘illogical’ use of statistics and ‘narrow approach’ to social policy.

The report is a fresh blow to the quango which has suffered a series of financial scandals and high-profile resignations, culminating in a scathing Government review which found it had failed to do its job and had cost too much money. It is now facing large-scale cuts in its Whitehall funding.

The report found ‘serious flaws’ in the way that the EHRC demonstrates inequality in Britain. It says the Commission is quick to blame unfairness in society while ignoring other important influences which could explain the differences between social groups.

It says that, for example, the EHRC points to differences in life expectancy between British-born women (80.5 years) and women of Pakistani origin (77.3) as a sign of unfairness. However, it fails to draw attention to the much larger difference in life expectancy between Pakistani women living in Britain (77.3) and women living in Pakistan (67.5 years).

Jon Gower Davies, the report’s author, says the Commission’s goal of equality is unrealistic as it wishes that ‘life outcomes be entirely divorced from health limitations, cultural practices and lifestyles’.

A Civitas spokesman said: ‘Abolishing the EHRC would not just be a cost-saving exercise. It may well be an opportunity to channel resources into pertinent issues holding back equality and fairness.’ Mark Hammond, chief executive of the EHRC, said: ‘There are many reasons why people experience different levels of prosperity, health and happiness, but in some cases this can be because of discrimination and unfairness.

‘No one blames Britain for that, but it’s our job to start a debate on issues where we could see better outcomes for people suffering unfair disadvantages.’

SOURCE

Having a satellite dish ‘is a human right,’ says European court

It is regarded as a luxury that allows people to watch top sport and blockbuster movies from the comfort of their armchairs. But owning a satellite dish is actually a human right, according to unelected European judges.

In an extraordinary ruling, lawmakers in Strasbourg have warned that banning dishes on listed buildings, social housing and even private homes could breach the right to freedom of expression by preventing people from practice religion.

The judgement is a huge blow to campaigners who have fought to stop the large metal dishes blighting the brickwork of historic buildings and rental properties.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Britain’s discrimination watchdog, has now published new guidance warning that landlords could be at risk of being sued if they try to stop their tenants putting up a satellite dish.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps said that the ruling, under the Human Rights Act, threatened to drive ‘a horse and cart’ through planning laws.

The quango issued the guidance following a recent case at the European Court of Human Rights. Two tenants in Sweden took their government to court after they were evicted by their landlord in a dispute over a dish. The couple installed one of the dishes on their rented property but the landlord ordered them to take it down. They refused and were later thrown out of the property.

But European judges ruled that the Swedish government had failed in its obligation to protect the couple’s right to receive information. It found that satellite dishes come under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In its guidance, Britain’s equalities watchdog suggested that a disabled tenant who received transmissions of religious services held overseas would have their rights to freedom of religion breached if their landlord banned satellite dishes.

The European Commission’s Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said: ‘The right to use a satellite dish [is] one of the many concrete benefits for European consumers of the free movement of goods and services within the internal market.

‘Satellite dishes are an increasingly popular tool for receiving multiple services via satellite: they facilitate mutual exchanges between our various cultures by overcoming national borders, and familiarise the general public with the new remote communications technologies. Their use must therefore be free from any unjustified obstacle.’

SOURCE

Twice as many British universities now looking for A* grades

The number of universities requiring the elite A* grade for entry has more than doubled. Six more leading institutions want students to achieve the ‘super grade’ in one A-level this year, while a further two will require one from next year. And ten are considering adding it to their entry criteria, according to a Daily Mail survey.

In 2010 just four made it a necessity for a place – but all these have dramatically increased the number of courses for which it is required.

The elite grade was initially used to choose pupils studying pure maths or science courses, but it has been broadened to include psychology, philosophy, economics and law.

It comes as analysis indicates that independent schools are set to further tighten their grip on the elite universities following the introduction of the new top grade in 2010.

In the first year that the A* was awarded, pupils in independent schools won 4,112 A* grades in maths, compared with 3,420 in the comprehensive sector.

In languages, they achieved 1,068 A* grades, more than twice the total for comprehensives, according to figures obtained by Elizabeth Truss, a Tory MP on the education select committee. This is despite the private sector educating just 15 per cent of A-level candidates.

The statistics will increase fears that government pressure for leading universities to boost the numbers of comprehensive pupils they admit is being undermined by the poorer grades achieved in key subjects.

This year, for the first time, Exeter, LSE, Bristol, Sussex, Birmingham and Manchester are asking for an A* and two As. Oxford and King’s College London say they will require an A* for entry in 2012.

Last year, the only universities to make an A* a requirement were Imperial, Cambridge, UCL and Warwick. Except for Cambridge, these universities asked for the top grade in just a few courses. Cambridge’s standard offer was an A* and two As.

The trend comes as competition for places at university is fiercer than ever, with 220,000 predicted to miss out on a place this year.

Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said: ‘The A* was controversial but it is winning widespread acceptance. ‘There had been a marked rise in the number of top grades awarded, making it difficult for universities to distinguish between applicants.’

Eight per cent of A-levels taken last year were granted an A* – 62,665. But 17.9 per cent of independent school pupils achieved an A*, compared with just 5.8 per cent from comprehensives.

Miss Truss’s figures were based on the ten subjects deemed by the Russell Group of leading universities to be the most useful for winning a place.

She said: ‘Students at comprehensives are seven times more likely to take media studies than those at independent schools… in too many schools it is taken at face value that an A in media studies is worth the same as an A in any other subject. Students are effectively being misled.’

SOURCE

Catastrophe of British school leavers who can’t add up

Children should be taught maths up to the age of 18 to avert the ‘educational catastrophe’ of 300,000 teenagers a year failing to grasp the basics, a hard-hitting report claims.

By 16 there is a ‘colossal’ ten-year range in mathematical learning between students, the report by former Countdown presenter Carol Vorderman reveals.

She calls for a ‘mathematics for citizenship’ course to be introduced for those studying A-levels that don’t involve the subject. And she recommends splitting the maths GCSE into two qualifications, one designed for those going on to A-level.

Miss Vorderman, who studied engineering at Cambridge and has said maths is her ‘passion’, believes 16-year-olds should continue with lessons in the subject to develop the skills that are vital in today’s world. Many still struggle with numbers in the workplace and in their personal lives despite 11 years of being taught maths.

Universities and employers are being forced to hold catch-up classes while the lack of numeracy threatens the country’s economic prosperity. This is because almost half of teenagers ‘fail’ GCSE maths, meaning they do not get a grade C or above.

Even those students who ‘scrape’ a C ‘are still incapable of truly understanding how to calculate percentages and fractions or to interpret data’, according to Miss Vorderman.

She was asked by David Cameron and Michael Gove to head a taskforce reviewing maths education when the Conservatives were in opposition in 2009.

The findings of the report, A World Class Mathematics Education for All Our Young People, are likely to be considered as part of the Coalition’s review of the national curriculum in England. Last year, 41.6 per cent of students – more than 317,000 – failed to get a grade C or above in maths GCSE.

Carol’s formula for success

About 85 per cent of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland give up maths after GCSE. However, in ‘almost every developed country, all, or nearly all’ students continue for a further two years.

The report says maths education must continue in ‘some form’ between 16 and 18. This would tie in with the reform to raise the age of participation in compulsory education to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015.

For the most able, continuing with maths study would involve AS and A-levels. However, new qualifications should be introduced such as the ‘mathematics for citizenship’ course aimed at those with a grade C or above at GCSE who are studying A-levels where no maths is involved.

Those with a C or below should sit a ‘mature GCSE’, which would involve studying vocational units in basic numeracy, financial calculations and spreadsheets.

The single maths GCSE should be withdrawn when twin qualifications being piloted become widely available in 2015. One, applications of mathematics, concentrates on more functional maths without going into great depth. The other, methods in mathematics, contains the formal elements such as algebra that students need if they go on to AS and A-level.

Improving the maths knowledge of primary school teachers, encouraging more daily maths activities in primaries and helping parents who ‘have a fear of mathematics themselves’ are also among the recommendations.

The report, released by the Conservative Party, adds that Key Stage Two national curriculum maths tests should end in their current form as ‘most secondary schools pay no attention to the results’.

Education Secretary Mr Gove welcomed the report and admitted the country is ‘falling behind our competitors when it comes to mathematics education’.

SOURCE

The attention seeking Greenfield now claims that internet use leads to autism

Greenfield speculates again. Criticizing TV and computer usage is her shtick but we have not yet heard what she thinks of the finding that regular Facebook users have MORE friends in real life than others

A neuroscientist has sparked a war of words after suggesting a link between increased internet use and autism. Baroness Greenfield, former [fired] director of the Royal Institution, believes digital technology could be leading to changes in people’s brains.

The professor of pharmacology at Oxford University has previously argued that constant computer and internet use could be shortening attention spans, encouraging instant gratification and causing a loss of empathy.

But a fellow Oxford professor condemned her remarks on autism as ‘illogical garbage’. Dr Dorothy Bishop, a professor of neuropsychology, wrote an open letter to Baroness Greenfield saying: ‘You may not realise just how much ill-formed speculation parents of [children with autistic spectrum disorders] are exposed to.

‘Over the years they’ve been told their children’s problems are caused by a cold style of interaction, inoculations, faulty diets, allergies, drinking in pregnancy – the list is endless.’

She believes Baroness Greenfield, who was speaking in an interview with New Scientist magazine, has ignored a body of evidence which suggests most, if not all, of the rise in autism is down to a widening of the diagnostic criteria and better understanding of the condition.

She said: ‘Most cases are diagnosed around the age of two, when not many children are using the internet. And this rise has been documented over the past 20 years, long before Twitter and Facebook.’

Baroness Greenfield said: ‘I have never claimed new technologies are causing autism. Rather, I’ve said that the increase in lack of empathy, that is documented scientifically, may be leading to behaviours like that and this should be explored.’

She said one recent Chinese study found excessive internet use can cause parts of teenagers’ brains to waste away. She added: ‘We may be in danger if we are creating an environment for the next generation where a premium isn’t put on eye contact, body language and hugging someone.’

SOURCE

British government ministers go to war with green charities over planning shake-up “smears”

Ministers have launched an unprecedented attack on two of Britain’s leading environmental charities for opposing the government’s planned shake-up of the planning system.

The National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) came under fire as they mobilised against new planning rules that they say put the Green Belt in peril.

The planning reforms are supposed to streamline complicated rules on new buildings, reducing 1,300 pages of national planning policy to just 52 pages. In a highly controversial change councils will be told there should be a “presumption for development”.

Conservation groups say the reforms could allow un-checked development in the countryside and lead to parts of the Green Belt being concreted over.

For the first time in its history, the National Trust is to mobilise its 3.6 million members against the Coalition’s proposals and urge every visitor to its sites to sign a petition opposing the framework.

The 60,000-member CPRE is preparing to take the attack directly to David Cameron, citing a speech he made to the group in 2008 in which he promised to “cherish” the “beauty of our landscape [and] the particular cultures and traditions that rural life sustains”.

But both organisations were heavily criticised by Bob Neill, the Local Government Minister. He accused them of being “vested interests” that were peddling “deeply misleading and simply untrue” claims.

He insisted that Green Belt land, as well as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and National Parks would continue to be fully protected. “This is a carefully choreographed smear campaign by Left-wingers based within the national headquarters of pressure groups,” he said. “This is more about a small number of interest groups trying to justify their own existence, going out of their way by picking a fight with Government.”

His attack came amid mounting opposition to changes to the National Planning Policy Framework that were announced last month. Tories were among MPs raising serious concerns as a three-month public consultation period got under way.

Despite ministerial assurances, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that the Green Belt could come under threat. A government “impact assessment” of the planned changes states that it “could lead to greater development on the Green Belt”.

It is under threat from new powers to develop “community build schemes” and “a wider range of local transport infrastructure”.

The Planning Inspectorate, which rules on appeals and is an arm of the Department for Communities and Local Government, says it will be using new guidance on presumption in favour of developers with immediate effect despite the consultation period having three months to run.

Major changes are also likely in town centres and industrial areas, where ministers will create “business zones” allowing local businesses to approve their own schemes and bypass council planning altogether. The West End of London, home to thousands of listed buildings and 36,000 residents, has been made one of the first zones.

Barbara Keeley, the shadow local government minister, voiced her concern at the proposals. “The Government is allowing financial considerations to become key determinants in how councils decide on planning applications,” she said. “Labour shares the concern that this might lead to inappropriate development and loss of greenfield land.”

Potentially more worrying for ministers were growing concerns expressed by backbenchers from both Coalition parties. Andrea Leadsom, the Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, said she had “real concerns” over the policy. “I am a big fan of localism and letting areas decide for themselves what is appropriate for the community and yet a presumption in favour of development takes that power away,” she said.

Patrick Mercer, the Tory MP for Newark, where greenfield land has been earmarked for 7,100 new houses, said it was important that “local voices are properly heard”.

Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives and vice-chairman of the all-party Commons parliamentary housing and planning group, said the Government had “got it very wrong”.

“It will not go down well in constituencies,” he said. “This ‘let rip’ approach to development will not help the housing situation in Cornwall, it will simply drive up the value of undeveloped land and therefore make it even harder to find affordable homes.”

The all-party communities and local government committee will be carrying out an inquiry into the planned changes in the autumn. “One of the key concerns is how the presumption in favour of sustainable development fits in with the localism agenda,” said Clive Betts, its Labour chairman. “Could there be a conflict of interest here? Might, in some cases, it be carte blanche for developers to come in?”

Residents fear that housing schemes previously rejected by planners, including new towns proposed under the previous Labour government, could be revived. Peter Nixon, the director of conservation at the National Trust, said local people would not get enough say in developments. “The Government is making warm noises about local communities, but in practice the dice are heavily loaded to favour development,” he said.

“Ministers have put short-term financial gain ahead of everything else. It fails to protect the everyday places that communities love. Power in planning goes to the powerful.”

Shaun Spiers, a former Labour MEP who is chief executive of the CPRE, described his group as “an organisation of Middle England”. “CPRE’s branches are up in arms about the Government’s proposals and our opposition to them is coming from people in the shire countries who deal with planning issues every day, are committed to the countryside and are deeply worried about what the Government is proposing,” he said.

Greg Clark, the Planning Minister, said it was a priority of the Coalition to sort out planning policy. “The Localism Bill got rid of regional bodies and took back planning decisions for local people, who are the best judges,” he said. “It is absolutely clear that the Green Belt continues to be protected. It is clear and explicit in the document.

“There is no change in the status of the countryside. Everything that was previously protected — Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Parks — continue to be protected. “It is simply scaremongering to trump up any particular site and say the status changes as a result of this.”

SOURCE

How “light” food options ‘have as many calories as ordinary foods’

They are promoted as the lighter option. But many supermarket ‘diet’ ranges are in fact heavier in fat and calories than standard versions.

Keen to catch the eye of the weight-conscious shopper, supermarkets and big brands have spent millions of pounds on formulating lower fat, sugar or salt versions of their most popular products.

But some of those ‘light’ versions actually contain more fat or calories, suggesting that the only pounds that slimmers will be parting with are those in their wallets.

A snapshot survey of supermarket shelves has revealed ‘light’ versions of crisps, salad dressings, biscuits, cereals and yoghurt drinks may not be as low-calorie as they first seem.

Walkers Lights are promoted as having 33 per cent less fat than ordinary crisps and around 115 calories per 24g bag – making them as calorific, weight for weight, as the brand’s Extra Crunchy cheddar and sour cream crisps. This compares to a standard bag of Tyrell’s sea salt and vinegar crinkle cut crisps – which are not even promoted as a ‘diet’ food – containing just 107 calories per 24g.

Salad dressing labels also bear close inspection. For instance, Pizza Express’s Caesar Light dressing, which is widely sold in supermarkets, contains 348 calories and 34.1g of fat per 100ml. In contrast, 100g of standard caesar dressing in the Tesco Finest range contains just 300 calories per 100g and 28.1g of fat.

Marks & Spencer sells its reduced fat rich tea biscuits using the slogan ‘more nice, less naughty’. They contain 34 per cent less fat than the chain’s standard rich teas. But, at 40 calories per biscuit, the calorie count is the same, and two more than in McVitie’s standard rich tea biscuit. McVitie’s Lights on the other hand contain more sugar than its standard Digestive.

How they add up

Kellogg’s Special K is heavily promoted as an aid to weight loss. All but one of its ten flavours contain more calories per 100g than the cereal giant’s sugar-coated Frosties. Special K Honey Clusters, for instance, contain 389 calories per 100g, compared with 375 for Frosties. The cereal also has 3g of fat per 100g – five times as much as Frosties.

Under European rules, the word ‘light’ can only be used to promote food when there has been a reduction of at least 30 per cent in calories, fat, sugar or salt. The anomalies arise because manufacturers use their own products as a benchmark, rather than similar products by competitors.

The 30 per cent rule means foods that are still high in fat, sugar or calories can still be labelled as ‘light’ – simply because levels are lower than in the standard version.

Food companies say they clearly set out the nutritional content of their products on the labels. PepsiCo, which makes Walkers crisps, said Walkers Lights contain fewer calories and less saturated fat per bag than its standard crisps.

Kellogg’s said Special K Original has an average of 114 calories per bowl. Spokesman Paul Wheeler added: ‘Importantly, it has been developed with the right balance of vitamins and minerals especially for the diet of women looking to manage their weight.’

Marks & Spencer said its reduced fat rich tea biscuits are labelled as being low in fat, rather than ‘light’.

SOURCE

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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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