‘Health Service pays spin doctors more than cancer experts
The NHS is paying spin doctors more than the experts in charge of cancer screening and patient care, it emerged yesterday. Critics said it was an example of the waste and skewed priorities rife in the Health Service at a time when it is supposed to be making efficiency savings.
In the past four years, primary care trusts and strategic health authorities across England have spent £182million on their communications departments, employing 491 full-time ‘media professionals’.
Even in 2010-11, when health bosses were complaining about the threat of cuts to front-line services, they found £44.3million to lavish on spin and public relations. In the last full year in which Labour held power, the bill was £50million.
The most serious example of misplaced priorities was at Yorkshire and the Humber Strategic Health Authority. Karl Milner, the director of communications and public relations, was paid £128,600 in 2009-10. Yet the organisation’s national cancer screening director was paid £106,000, while the director of patient care earned £127,200. All SHAs employ a head of communications, with nine of the ten authorities including spin doctors on their executive board.
The figures, revealed under freedom of information laws, have also shown differences in attitudes between areas.
While Richmond and Twickenham Primary Care Trust claims to have a communications budget of only £15,000 per year, Solihull Care Trust said it had set aside £1.2million per year.
To help meet the £20billion of efficiency savings by 2015, which was demanded of the NHS in 2009, some trusts have cut spending on public relations and communications. Western Cheshire Primary Care Trust slashed spending in these areas by more than 70 per cent between 2009-10 and 2010-11.
But many others have simply carried on spending. MPs say that, if all PCTs and SHAs had made similar efficiencies to Western Cheshire, the NHS would have saved £32million in 2010-11. That would be enough to pay for 820 nurses, 270 senior doctors or 4,560 hip replacements.
The revelations are the latest example of waste in the NHS, which has been ring-fenced from Government cuts. They are likely to infuriate health ministers, who are frustrated by the spendthrift attitude of some health bosses. Under Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s NHS reforms, SHAs and PCTs will be abolished. He has also made a commitment to cut management costs, including those of PR and spin doctors, by 45 per cent over the next four years.
Dr Phillip Lee, Tory MP for Bracknell, said: ‘Taxpayers want their hard-earned money to go on doctors and nurses – not spin doctors and bureaucrats. ‘We already know that under the last Labour government, spending on NHS management soared. And now we find out that vast sums of money were being splashed on publicising the work of these bureaucratic bodies.’
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance pressure group, said: ‘It’s an unacceptable waste of taxpayers’ money to spend more on PR advisers than cancer specialists. The NHS has to make savings, and getting rid of over-paid communications bureaucrats should be the first cut made.’
The Department of Health said: ‘The NHS budget must be spent in ways that secure the best outcomes for patients. That is why we are cutting back on the administration costs of the NHS by £5billion over this Parliament.’
Abortion undercover: Journalist posed as a vulnerable pregnant woman at six counselling services
Her findings raise disturbing questions
Regardless of your moral stance, deciding whether to terminate an unwanted pregnancy must surely rank as one of the most difficult dilemmas a woman can face.
At a time when a woman feels at her most confused and vulnerable, it is vital she has access to clear, impartial advice, so that she can reach a decision which, either way, will stay with her for the rest of her life.
For years, campaigners have expressed fears that pregnant women have only been able to seek advice from abortion providers, who are running profit-making businesses, or from pro-life groups, who tend to encourage keeping a baby, no matter what the circumstances.
But can the current situation really be that bad? To find out, I posed as a terrified pregnant young woman unsure of what to do, and sought counselling. What happened next left me confused and traumatised — and I’m not even pregnant. I discovered that vulnerable women are being given advice that is both biased and manipulative — and could easily make them feel pressured into making a decision they will regret later.
At present, a woman seeking an abortion must simply undergo a medical consultation. She is not required to have counselling, but can seek it if she wants it.
The leading private abortion clinics Marie Stopes International and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) both provide such counselling, but are paid per abortion, which hardly promotes independence. On the other hand, charitable and religious services have been accused of manipulating women into keeping their babies.
I made appointments at six centres using the same story: I was 26 years old, 12 to 16 weeks pregnant, I hadn’t told my boyfriend and I couldn’t decide whether to have an abortion or keep the baby.
So, what kind of service should I have been offered? According to Phillip Hodson, of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), it is essential that pre-abortion counselling is ‘freely available, independent, unbiased and ethical’. But, he adds: ‘Counsellors should never give advice. Pressuring a client to a particular course of action is fundamentally unethical and a contradiction of our profession.’
My first call was to Marie Stopes, a nationwide network of sexual health clinics that provide private and NHS abortions. They claim to allow women ‘access to comprehensive, impartial and non-judgmental information’ and all counsellors are members of BACP.
On the phone, the operator repeatedly tried to book me in for a medical assessment, the first step to getting an abortion — despite me stressing that I hadn’t yet made up my mind. I felt bulldozed into starting the termination process and had to insist on having counselling. In real life, a worried woman might have gone along with whatever she was told.
When contacted later, a Marie Stopes spokeswoman admitted their adviser was ‘slower to understand the client’s needs than we would have liked, but we are pleased that after contacting our One Call service, face-to-face counselling was provided’.
That counselling session took place the next day in Bloomsbury, central London. It cost £80 for just 30 minutes, but would have been free had I been referred by my GP.
It quickly became apparent that my counsellor, Temi, was quite happy to influence my decisions. Her overwhelming advice was that I ‘must’ tell my boyfriend, even though there is no legal requirement to do so. She was openly disapproving when I said I hadn’t spoken to him, and seemed reluctant to talk about any option other than termination. ‘There’s a huge danger to your relationship,’ she said. ‘If you did have an abortion without telling him ….. you could end up resenting him for something he knows nothing about.’
Questioned about the size of the foetus, or the risks of infertility caused by abortion, she said ‘You’ll have to talk to a nurse about that’, or ‘I don’t have the exact statistics’.
Nevertheless, the message seemed very much to be that abortion was the best option. ‘It goes against our very nature to have an abortion,’ she said. ‘But we do things every day that go against our very nature.’ This was followed by: ‘You want what you want ……. is it worth having a child because you don’t want to deal with a bit of guilt?’
I asked about medical abortions (taking pills which encourage the foetus to be miscarried). She said they could leave a woman ‘in agony’ — but did not point out that, as a private clinic, Marie Stopes are not able to give a medical abortion after nine weeks.
The session came to an abrupt end after 29 minutes and I left not knowing the medical or emotional side-effects of abortion. Keeping the baby was not seen as an option at all. I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t scared and pregnant for real.
Much more HERE
British abortion rules to be tightened in biggest shake-up for a generation
The Department of Health is to announce plans for a new system of independent counselling for women before they finally commit to terminating a pregnancy. The move is designed to give women more “breathing space”.
Pro-life campaigners suggest the change could result in up to 60,000 fewer abortions each year in Britain. Last year, 202,400 were carried out.
The plan would introduce a mandatory obligation on abortion clinics to offer women access to independent counselling, to be run on separate premises by a group which does not itself carry out abortions.
Critics of abortion clinics claim that the counselling they offer is biased because they are run as businesses — a claim denied by the clinics.
But abortion charities said they feared the proposals would prolong the period before an abortion took place, and that the motive was simply to reduce the number of terminations and was not in the best interests of women.
The proposed change comes ahead of a Commons vote, due to take place next week, on amendments to a public health Bill put forward by Nadine Dorries, a backbench Conservative MP.
The amendments would prevent private organisations which carry out terminations — such as Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) — from offering pre-abortion counselling. Women would instead be offered free access to independent counsellors.
The vote would be the first on the laws around abortion since the Coalition took power. A previous attempt to change the law — to reduce the time limit for abortions from 24 to 20 weeks — was defeated in a free vote in 2008. Ministers appear keen to avoid another such vote. They believe that announcing the consultation on independent counselling will prevent it going ahead.
The plan does not mean pre-abortion counselling will be mandatory — something which is vehemently opposed by pro-choice groups and which has been a flashpoint in parts of the United States.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “We are currently developing proposals to introduce independent counselling for women seeking abortion. These proposals are focused on improving women’s health and wellbeing. Final decisions on who should provide this counselling have not yet been made.”
Proposals under discussion would involve withdrawing payments made by the taxpayer to abortion clinics for counselling women.
Mrs Dorries, a former nurse, claims abortion providers are not independent because they have a vested interest in conducting abortions. Last year, Marie Stopes and Bpas carried out about 100,000 terminations and were paid about £60 million to do so, mostly through the NHS.
Mrs Dorries said she had hoped that her proposed amendments to the health Bill would prompt the Government into taking the kind of action which it has now done.
Frank Field, a Labour MP, said: “I’m anxious that taxpayers’ money is used so that people can have a choice — we are paying for independent counselling and that’s what should be provided.”
Ann Furedi, the chief executive of Bpas, said if her organisation was prevented from advising women about terminations it could be impossible to gain informed consent, as the independent counselling was not compulsory.
Without history, we have only ignorance
The failure of British schools to teach history has helped create a wider crisis of identity
History is the most inescapable of subjects: we inherit it, we make it, and we are fated to become part of it. In our education system, however, its study is increasingly neglected: indeed, in a large number of British schools, the end of history is already a reality.
Last year, a total of 159 secondary schools did not put a single pupil forward for history GCSE. In state comprehensives, the number of pupils taking the subject has fallen to 29.9 per cent; in private schools, it has dipped to 47.7 per cent. The only sector where numbers are rising is state grammars, where it is taken by 54.8 per cent.
What the statistics suggest is that the least well-off pupils are also fated to be the most ignorant both of their personal cultural history, and that of the country in which they live. This is, in part, because history is perceived as a “hard” subject. Eager to shine in the league tables, schools with an academically problematic intake shepherd pupils towards “softer” subjects, in which higher marks can more easily be guaranteed. I cannot think of a more depressing illustration of the gulf between “performance” and education.
The pitiful irony is that it is children from poorer, and often more dysfunctional backgrounds that have the greatest need – and thirst – for history. For history, whether of family or nation, is the story of identity, the construction of which is the most primitive, deep-seated urge there is. If you cannot articulate where you came from or what you believe in, and are given few intellectual or emotional tools with which to do so, you are fated to become the most unstable, combustible human material of all.
For an example, one need only look to the recent riots, and that memorable moment in Hackney when a furious 45-year-old grandmother and jazz singer, Pauline Pearce, confronted young rioters against a background of blazing cars. “Get real, black people,” she admonished them, “We’re not all gathering together and fighting for a cause, we’re running down Foot Locker and stealing shoes.”
The difference between Miss Pearce and the rioters – beyond their immediate activities – was that she had a strong conception of history from which she drew evident pride. She spoke of “black people” fighting for a “cause”, words undoubtedly informed by her consciousness of the US civil rights movement and the teachings of Martin Luther King.
In her eyes, the rioters were not simply demeaning themselves as individuals, but shaming a political history that demanded greater dignity. The frenzied youths around her, in contrast, were purely creatures of the moment, and the moment demanded that they seize a pair of looted trainers.
That scene points to a bigger argument: in poorer black communities in both the US and Britain, the hope-filled language of civil rights, rooted in communal experience and holding out the promise of a better future, has too often been displaced in popular culture by the glorification of gangs, drugs, sex and easy money, with little philosophy beyond the buzz of the now. The destructive results of this abandonment of history apply equally to the white working class.
What surprised me, when I became a parent for the first time, is the open craving of small children for family stories. They frequently revisit them, asking for repetitions and expansions, gathering the information in a way that suggests it is almost as necessary to their growth as food.
Now imagine that your own history is something from which you can derive only pain: a story of neglect from the adults around you, of violence, crime or addiction. How then do you describe or construct your identity? For those who are given a strong understanding of national, local, or political history, it can – if taught with imagination – provide an alternative blueprint not only for behaviour, but also pride.
We cannot elude history, but we ignore it at our peril. Cicero argued that “to remain ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child”. If history in schools seems impenetrable, it’s because we’re not teaching it properly – but let’s not deny its lessons to those who need them most.
British government minister attacks ‘short-termist’ plan for pylons
Greenie versus Greenie
Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, has said that the Government’s energy policy is “short-termist” and will blight areas of natural beauty with huge and expensive pylons.
Dr Fox is opposing plans for pylons to be built across his North Somerset constituency as part of a new transmission line from the Hinkley power station to Avonmouth.
Campaigners say that the 150-ft pylons will unnecessarily damage some of the country’s most attractive areas.
Similar transmission lines also are planned in Suffolk, Kent, Cumbria, north Wales and the Scottish Highlands, to transmit power from the new generation of nuclear power stations and new wind farms.
Dr Fox has written to Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat energy secretary, arguing that it would be cheaper to bury the power lines under ground, or to re-route the line under the sea.
The National Grid has said that the initial costs of burying power lines would be prohibitively expensive, but Dr Fox is arguing that in the long term, it is pylons that are more costly.
Buried lines require less maintenance than overhead lines, Dr Fox told his colleague, in a letter sent in June.
He cited calculations from independent engineers suggesting that over 40 years, the Somerset pylons would cost £1.1 billion, while a buried power line could cost half that.
“If we are to have credible green credentials then the decision needs to be taken on more than short-term economics ignoring the environmental impact in the longer term,” Dr Fox wrote.
Mr Huhne’s Department for Energy and Climate Change declined to comment. A National Grid report on the costs of alternatives to pylons is due out later this year.
Dr Fox is not the first Cabinet minister to oppose a major infrastructure project for constituency reasons.
Cheryl Gillan, the Welsh secretary, has hinted she is prepared to quit over the Government’s planned high-speed rail link, which would pass through her Chesham and Amersham seat in Buckinghamshire.
“Holocaust” a dangerous word
Words like “meltdown” or “brain-dead” are sometimes used as a form of emphasis rather than as a literal description of anything. But you cannot use “holocaust” that way in Britain, apparently
Football pundit Tony Cascarino triggered an angry reaction on Twitter on Sunday after he described a player as having a “holocaust” of a game.
Discussing defender Armand Traore’s performance on the pitch, Cascarino said: “Poor Traore at right back is having a holocaust because he’s finding himself against (United winger) Nani, who’s literally running him from everywhere and (Arsenal midfielder Andrey) Arshavin’s just not tracking his runners.”
Angry fans immediately hit out at his comments on Twitter. One user wrote: “Tony Cascarino should be sacked on the spot. He said an Arsenal defender was having a “holocaust”. Appallingly ignorant.”
Another micro-blogger branded the comment “horrendous”, adding: “I hope Tony Cascarino is dealt with appropriately.”
Sky Sports News said presenter Natalie Sawyer had apologised straightaway for Cascarino’s remarks. It said in a statement: “Tony Cascarino made his comments in the heat of the moment. An immediate apology on behalf of Tony and Sky Sports was made on air as soon as possible for any offence caused.”
As everybody knows, I am a strong supporter of Israel but I am inclined to see this as just another kneejerk from the perpetually offended.
Technically, “meltdown” “brain-dead”, “holocaust” and “kneejerk” are all used as metaphors and metaphors have a distinguished literary history