‘Timebomb’ fear as ‘rationing by stealth’ of operations hits NHS
“Rationing by stealth” is hitting the NHS, the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has claimed, after official figures were released showing a steep fall in the number of people referred to hospital by GPs. Department of Health statistics show the number of referrals made by GPs in the year up to July was 4.7 per cent lower than for the same period in 2010. These referrals had shown a 3.5 per cent increase at the same stage last year, according to the department.
The number of patients attending for outpatient appointments has also fallen, by 2.7 per cent.
Professor Norman Williams, president of the RCS, described the figures as “extremely disturbing”. He said: “These data provide further evidence that rationing by stealth is occurring across the NHS. “Such a steep reduction in the number of referrals by GPs suggests that patients are being given limited access to specialist clinical advice and could be missing out on treatments.”
He went on: “If correct this is extremely concerning for surgeons across the NHS. “Stopping referrals is only storing up problems for the future – a timebomb which will end up costing the NHS and taxpayer more in the long-term.
“The rise in waiting times for orthopaedic surgery is an indicator that demand for surgery is not reducing and that the issue of rationing needs to be addressed. It will not go away.”
The British Medical Association (BMA) was also worried. A spokesman said: “The NHS is under a lot of pressure to do less, for example through referral management initiatives, which seem to be on the increase. “These may save money but for every lost referral there is a patient who is not getting diagnosed or treated, and a hospital that is more likely to encounter financial problems.”
The figures come after numerous reports of health authorities tightening up on referral criteria, such as insisting those who are obese go on weight control programmes before receiving surgery, and adding procedures – in some cases including hip and knee replacements – to ‘low priority’ lists.
Last week Prof Peter Kay, president of the British Orthopaedic Association, also aired concerns in The Daily Telegraph that some authorities were actively trying to put patients off surgery to save money.
However, a Department of Health spokesman said the figures demonstrated that people were being treated in “the most appropriate setting”. He said: “The Government has protected NHS spending and will continue to deliver improvements in care.
“These figures suggest that the NHS is starting to treat more people in the most appropriate setting, with a movement of care away from hospital settings and towards care closer to home – preventing unnecessary admissions.
“Our modernisation plans will safeguard the future of the NHS, improve care for patients, drive up quality and support doctors and nurses in providing the best possible care for their patients.”
Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said the decrease in the number of referrals could be down to “a combination of any number of things”. She added: “There has, however, been an immense amount of work carried out in recent years to reduce the number of referrals and offer a more preventative style of healthcare, and these figures could be reflecting the fruits of this work.”
‘Surfing the web is turning our brains to mush’
And where is the longditudinal double-blind evidence for this assertion? It’s just opinion
HAVE you found yourself watching TV while talking on the phone and checking your emails? Already distracted reading that sentence? Well, you’re not alone, the Herald Sun reported.
The internet has not only changed our lives, it’s changed the way our brains work, according to research by visiting UK social psychologist Sheila Keegan.
Dr Keegan says the internet is reducing our ability to think and concentrate and, with long-term use, could cause brain dysfunction. “We spend huge and a growing number of hours on the internet and, as a result, our brains are returning to shallow thinking,” she said. “We are being more easily distracted, and our thinking has developed a staccato quality that lacks concentration.
“The problem is so widespread that studies have also concluded that long-term internet addiction would result in chronic dysfunction of our brains, which is a pretty scary thought!”
Dr Keegan said more research was needed to be done on the long-term effects of persistent use of the internet, particularly in young children.
She said US research had revealed some children as young as five spent up to six hours a day in front of a screen. Lengthy periods spent alone in front of the TV or on the computer meant many young children were not developing the social skills they needed for later life.
“Kids need to have a good balance. They can learn a lot from the internet,” she said. “But the human brain is quite malleable. It’s hard to say what the long-term effects will be. There needs to be research. But it’s a bit like climate change. We can’t wait for it to happen.”
Dr Keegan presented her paper, Are we losing our minds and should we be bothered?, at the Australian Marketing and Social Research conference in Sydney this week.
Postal workers in British dependency refuse to deliver Bible recordings because the CDs are ‘offensive’
Postal workers refused to deliver CDs of Bible readings after deciding they were ‘offensive material’. Several churches had paid for discs with recordings of St Mark’s Gospel to be produced to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.
They were due to be delivered to all households on the Channel Island of Jersey, but church leaders were stunned when they were told postal workers would not handle the 45,000 CDs.
Rev Liz Hunter of St Helier Methodist Centre said: ‘Initially Jersey Post seemed quite positive about helping us deliver the CDs. ‘But then a couple of weeks ago somebody from their marketing department phoned to say they would be unable to deliver them on the grounds that they could be deemed offensive.
‘They said there were guidelines about mass material that is sent out across the island and that religious recordings could offend people.
‘This is not openly aggressive evangelism it was just a nice idea to give everyone a CD which they can chose to listen to if they wish.’
Church groups around the island united on the project, with the goal of delivering 45,000 recordings of St Mark’s Gospel to every house in Jersey.
Reverend Hunter added: ‘The impact has been somewhat lost now. ‘We launched the Switch On scheme last Monday and we wanted every house to have their CD at the same time this week. ‘Now we are relying on volunteers to drop them off to individual houses so it will probably take most of September.’
Jersey Post apologised for the incident, saying staff had misinterpreted guidelines. Chief Executive Kevin Keen, said: ‘I understand that one of my colleagues did say the material was offensive.
‘This decision was made on the basis of our terms and conditions which states that we have the right to refuse to distribute something that falls under the category of ‘promotional material which could cause offence’.
‘Clearly this was interpreted in the wrong way. I have spoken to the person involved and have written to all of my colleagues asking that they come to me if there is any doubt in their mind in the future.’ The CDs are now being delivered by volunteers.
Where my wife comes from, they SHOOT squatters: Doctor whose £1m home was taken over by spongers hits out at the law
As more families fall victim to organised gangs of squatters, a blood-boiling interview with the couple forced out of their £1m home who are leading the fightback…
Dr Oliver Cockerell is, by his own admission, an unlikely champion for a popular cause. But for nearly two weeks, the Harley Street doctor has fought a very public battle to evict 14 squatters who broke into, and took occupation of, his £1million dream home.
It has been a struggle that has put him on a collision course with the Government, as the 49‑year-old neurologist argued for a ‘common-sense’ change to the law which governs squatting.
Above all, he believes the gangs of anarchists and Eastern Europeans who are increasingly taking over people’s homes so shamelessly must be treated as criminals, rather than dealt with in civil courts.
Although he has taken the crusade on reluctantly, he is well aware that his case will inspire other victims to fight back.
His story started when squatters took over the five-bedroom Edwardian home he and his heavily pregnant wife planned to move into in time for the birth of their first child.
The raggle-taggle group of foreigners and drop-outs ignored his repeated pleas to leave the West London property despite telling them that his 35-year-old wife Kaltun was being put under emotional strain and the ordeal was placing their unborn baby at risk.
He said: ‘These people think that because I’m a Harley Street doctor I’ve got lots of money, and so this doesn’t matter. ‘But I’m not very rich. Like so many people, I have a 90 per cent mortgage and I have to work more than 60 hours a week to pay that off.’
His anger is, in part, borne out of his own struggles to succeed. The son of a Hammersmith businessman, he was sent to private school courtesy of a bursary for gifted children. Next, he funded his studies at King’s College Medical School in Camberwell by taking two jobs — one as a security guard and another at McDonald’s — while living in a council flat.
Speaking at his desk at The London Clinic, he asks: ‘Do these squatters’ families know what they are doing and the effect they are having on people?’
Across London and other cities around the country, gangs of squatters have been occupying people’s homes, sometimes forcing their way in after the owner has gone out for only a few hours.
Quickly, the squatters barricade themselves in by changing the locks, nailing windows shut and then putting up posters which state that the property is ‘vacant’ and is being squatted in.
Alternatively, they create bogus tenancy agreements which they give to police when questioned in order to try to prove they are legally renting the place.
An estimated 20,000 squatters in the UK are exploiting lax laws. Although it is illegal for squatters to stay if the property owner demands they leave, police will usually intervene only after the despairing householder has spent thousands of pounds obtaining a court eviction order.
The squatters’ ultimate goal — which, thankfully, is rarely realised — is to squat in a property for ten years, at which point they become the new legal owner.
In one area of East London, squatting is so rife that residents have set up a local ‘home guard’ to monitor the activities of gangs of Eastern Europeans who have seized — and gone on to ransack — a number of homes in the area.
The problem was highlighted last month when Julia High, a 55-year-old immigration officer, returned from a concert at The Proms to discover that a group of Romanian gipsies had broken into her home in Leytonstone, east London, and barricaded themselves inside. To add insult to injury, the Romanian women put on Miss High’s clothes. When challenged by neighbours, they said she was dead, before uncorking some of her wine.
Miss High spent two weeks cleaning up the mess after finally managing to get them evicted.
Similarly, this week, sisters Amelita and Lilia Olasa (both retired nurses) fell victim to another family of Romanian squatters.
They wept as they surveyed the damage done to the £500,000 North London home where they have lived for 27 years. Furniture, kitchen appliances and personal possessions were taken, and makeshift ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts were littered throughout the three-bedroom house.
The gang had struck when the sisters went away on holiday. After breaking in, the squatters produced a bogus six-month ‘contract’ claiming they were paying a ‘landlord’ £1,200 rent.
Wiping tears from her eyes, Lilia asked: ‘How are people allowed to do this?’
It is that very same question to which Dr Cockerell and the ever-increasing number of other victims of squatting are determined to get an answer. He says: ‘These are organised groups who use the internet for a support network. It is remarkable.’
He went on to criticise judge Fiona Henderson, who this week caused outrage when she said that ‘squatting is not a crime’. Incredibly, this is the truth — squatting is merely a civil offence.
Judge Henderson also went on to order that a list of empty homes in north London should be made public to the Advisory Service for Squatters, an east London-based organisation known as the ‘estate agency for squatters’.
While Judge Henderson acknowledged that publication of the list could have ‘a negative impact’ on crime prevention and might be of use to organised criminals looking to burgle and gut empty homes, she insisted: ‘The tribunal does not consider that any perceived social disadvantage of living next door to squatters, or the costs of eviction of squatters, are matters that the tribunal is entitled to take into consideration since squatting is not illegal.’
There is a whole industry which supports the activities of squatters. An 83-page Squatters Handbook (now in its 13 edition since its initial publication in 1976) lists the tricks that home-wreckers can use.
The Advisory Service will even post information abroad to help anyone thinking of coming to England to become squatters and exploit the fact that they are not criminals and are dealt with only in the civil courts.
‘Politicians have got to change these laws,’ Dr Cockerell argues. ‘It’s simply wrong that stealing a car is a criminal offence but moving into someone else’s home falls under civil law.’ His wife, a NatWest financial adviser, who fled Somalia 20 years ago when civil war broke out, is astonished that British law is so feeble.
She says that property-ownership is sacrosanct in her home country and that ‘if someone takes it over, you shoot them’. She is furious that English law allows feckless people to use others’ electricity, gas and water without paying for it.
Her husband says he was so upset that he considered exacting a more immediate revenge on the squatters: ‘I was angry at the injustice of it all. If I was not a consultant, I could well have lashed out — got ten heavy friends together and done what most people would do in such circumstances.’
Of course, such action would have risked him getting a criminal record which would bar him from practising medicine. So, instead, he hired a barrister and began the legal eviction process.
The procedure took nearly two weeks and was almost derailed due to a ‘technicality’. For the squatters — who included an American, Australians and Italians — set up a ‘textbook’ squat. While the advice manual warns squatters not to commit ‘criminal damage’, it tacitly encourages such action by saying that police can prosecute only ‘if there were witnesses’. Not surprisingly, no neighbours witnessed them break into Dr Cockerell’s home.
The manual also advises squatters to ‘control entry’ by changing locks (three new ones were fitted at Dr Cockerell’s place).
If, and when, the police arrive, it suggests a ‘polite but firm’ manner when insisting that no law has been broken. To make sure there is proof that the squatters live there legally, it even suggests posting a letter to members of the squat!
Dr Cockerell recalls standing on his doorstep, pleading with them to leave. When he failed, he hoped hard cash would succeed and offered them £500 to leave. But this was rejected as ‘paltry’. ‘It was blatant extortion,’ he says.
Meanwhile, after the case hit the headlines and reporters visited the address, they were met with a barrage of abuse from the squatters, as well as complaints that an impromptu band practice in one room was being interrupted.
One complained that the ‘peace and quiet’ was being shattered and a meditation session in another of the three reception rooms would have to be postponed.
On Wednesday, nearly two weeks after they arrived, the eviction order was finally executed and the gang made a hasty retreat, with a few glib apologies to Mrs Cockerell.
But, like so many other squatters, they simply moved on to another empty address in the area which they had scouted out.
One squatter explained his actions, saying that as a struggling musician, he needs the solitary lifestyle of squatting as it lets his creative juices flow.
There’s little sympathy from victims like Dr Cockerell. Describing his two-week ordeal as ‘a nightmare’, he said he remained philosophical because his work has given him perspective on the situation: ‘I have just come from the intensive care unit where I saw a young man who has had a life-threatening stroke. My problems are nothing in comparison to his.’
Nevertheless, Dr Cockerell is keen to continue his campaign against squatters, explaining that his own experience has made him realise the huge emotional importance of our homes. ‘A home is more than merely a possession. It’s something we hold very dear,’ he says. ‘When burgled, people feel it’s the invasion and violation of their home that upsets them far more than the loss of items stolen.’
Tragically, he and his wife no longer see their new house as a dream home. ‘The trouble is that we’ve come to loathe the house now. This cannot be allowed to happen to other people.’
British police tell victim of bike thief ‘you can’t take it back, the crook could sue you’ … and then let him escape
A cyclist whose bike was stolen was flabbergasted when bungling police stopped him from taking it back – and then let the thief ride off on it. Simon Turner, 48, spotted his bicycle chained up on a busy high street as he shopped with his six-year-old son, Giles.
But after he approached a Police Community Support Officer in his home town of Maidenhead he was told not to break the lock and retrieve his stolen bike. The PCSO told him it was not his property and the crook would be able to sue him if he took it. Mr Turner was told police would monitor the area using CCTV and catch the criminal.
But the next day he heard the thief had slipped through their fingers and had walked off with his bike for a second time.
Two men, who could not be identified, had unlocked the bicycle and taken it away from the high street in Maidenhead, Berkshire.
Mr Turner said: ‘I’m absolutely appalled. The worst thing was, when we found the bike, we had to explain to Giles why we had to leave it and let the thief get it. ‘He was scared that maybe his bike would be stolen as well.’
Thames Valley Police apologised to Mr Turner for the botched operation after he went to the station on Wednesday to give a statement about the ‘re-theft’.
The father-of-one’s black and burgundy Universal bicycle – which was stolen from his shed in early August – had cost him £55 second hand, and he had made various improvements.
When he saw it chained up outside a McDonald’s in the town centre later that month, he even offered the PCSO £5 to pay to replace the lock so that he could get his bike back. But he was advised that the thief could sue for damage.
‘The PCSO was taking advice from another officer over the phone and was just as incredulous as I was.’
Mr Turner, who runs a home tuition company, then had to sit back and wait while the police allowed the thief to get away. ‘I was tempted to hang around and see who came to take it back but I was with my son and it wouldn’t have been practical,’ added Mr Turner, who lives with wife Anu in Maidenhead.
A Thames Valley Police spokesman said: ‘The PCSO was acting on the advice of a colleague and we’ve yet to establish exactly what happened. ‘However, it does appear the incorrect advice was given to her and there were other steps that could have been taken at the time. ‘We’d like to apologise for this mistake and reassure the gentleman concerned that we are doing all we can to track down the person or people who stole his bicycle.’
The Citizens Advice Bureau advises that police can seize goods if they have reasonable grounds for believing they have been obtained illegally, or are evidence in relation to an offence.
Lessons are too easy, say most pupils at British primary and secondary school
Most children think their school work is easy, research has found.
Academic rigour at both primary and secondary school has been called into question as more than 50 per cent of youngsters admit they are not stretched in their studies.
The proportion of pupils who say they are not pushed has sharply increased during the last three years.
Today’s figures follow evidence that England is slipping down the international education league tables and is now lagging behind countries such as Slovenia.
The findings have prompted accusations that Labour’s education policies and obsession with targets led to a dumbing-down of standards despite a doubling of spending from an annual œ35.8billion in 2000 to œ71billion in 2009.
Professor Alan Smithers, of Buckingham University, said: `Under Labour, exam results were used to judge schools so it was imperative that children didn’t fail. `So the examining boards have tended to make the examinations user-friendly and schools have pre-processed the information.
`The children are drilled and taught to the test, and coursework is given back to them with suggested improvements.
‘This takes the fun and the challenge from education and makes it rather dull, as the pupils seem to be saying in response to this research.’
Dr Karina Halstead, who runs private tutor firm, London Home Tutors, has witnessed first-hand a `dramatic slump in standards’ that has left pupils needing to do little more than `follow instructions’ to pass exams.
She said: ‘There has been a remarkable change in the level of difficulty.
‘While more people are hiring private tutors today, they use them for far fewer sessions than a decade ago.
‘This is because there is less need. Today, we mostly teach strategic exam passing technique, rather than give weekly tutorial so help students develop an in-depth knowledge and understanding of a subject.’
The three-year study of 8,334 children was conducted by the Centre of the Use of Research in Education.
It found that more than half of primary-age pupils, 52 per cent, disagreed or strongly disagreed that lessons were too difficult, as did 57 per cent of secondary pupils.
Amongst the older pupils, maths was considered the hardest subject, but also rated the most useful, after PE, for life outside school.
Religious education was seen as the least useful.
The findings also showed the number of children believing work is not too hard for them rose between the first year of the survey, in 2008, and the final round, in 2010.
Professor Philippa Cordingley, director of the project, said: `These findings seem to us to support the inference that even though the majority of learners report a reasonable level of difficulty, a small but significant proportion of learners are not being challenged sufficiently, and that, in the primary phase particularly, this is more true of higher achieving learners.’
Rise of the tutor as British parents lose faith in classroom teaching
More parents are hiring private tutors for their children as fears grow about slipping standards in the classroom. Almost a quarter of pupils aged 11 to 16 have received hired help to boost exam results, a sharp rise since 2005, a study has found. In London, this increases to almost four in ten children – a trend which reflects the scramble for places at leading schools in the capital.
In some secondary schools it is thought as many as 65 per cent of pupils will benefit from a tutor at some point.
The findings suggest successful schools are climbing exam league tables thanks partly to the work of private tutors. And with prices for such teaching sessions set at up to œ60 an hour, children from affluent families are more likely to get a boost than those from a disadvantaged background.
In the study, market research company Ipsos MORI polled 2,739 children between the ages of 11 and 16 in England and Welsh state schools and compared findings with a similar poll in 2005. It found the proportion sent to tutors had increased from 18 to 23 per cent.
It is believed the increase in tutoring among 16 to 18-year-olds was prompted by unprecedented competition for scarce university places this year, which is the final year before fees hike to œ9000.
The study follows recent evidence of a surge in the number of children as young as three receiving private tuition.
Asian and black families are the most likely to hire private tutors, with 42 per cent of Asian children and 38 per cent of black children getting extra help, compared to just 20 per cent of white families. And of today’s figures, 25 per cent of tutored children are from affluent families, while 18 per cent come from poorer backgrounds.
Yesterday, educational charities warned the trend could widen the educational gap between the `haves and have-nots’ with poorer parents unable to afford private tuition.
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: `Private tuition appears to be booming despite the recession. `While it is natural that parents should want to do the best for their children, it does give well off families an advantage, particularly when money to help children from poorer homes is being cut.’
The Sutton Trust has funded a pilot scheme of 100 pupils from poor homes in London who will be given one-to-one tuition in a bid to boost GCSE maths scores.