NHS hospital ‘playing games’ with cancer waiting times
An NHS hospital has been accused of “playing games” with waiting times for cancer examinations, as new figures show that more people are enduring delays before receiving important tests.
The Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust is telling GPs that if patients cannot attend a specific appointment for cancer checks within the recommended two weeks, they should hold off making the referral.
The tactic could mean that those with suspected tumours have to wait longer before they can be seen by a specialist, but it will stop the hospital missing a Government target for carrying out initial cancer tests within a fortnight.
Dr Paul Roblin, chief executive of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Local Medical Committee, told the trade magazine Pulse: “This is the perverse effect of targets. People start playing games if targets are likely to be breached.
“If a proportion of patients breach the two-week wait because they can’t attend, then the trust doesn’t like it because it looks bad on their wait statistics. It is a clinical nonsense.”
A spokesman for the trust, which runs the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, said: “Occasionally patients given urgent appointments fail to attend on the day because they are unavailable through family commitments or holidays. This means we cannot see them within the two-week deadline.
“What we are suggesting to GPs is that where a patient knows they will not be able to attend an appointment within the next two weeks, perhaps it would be more appropriate to refer them as soon after their previously arranged holiday or family commitment.”
Meanwhile official figures published by the Department of Health on Wednesday show that more patients are having to wait longer than the target of six weeks for key tests such as MRI and CT scans, hearing tests and barium enemas.
At the end of August, there were 550,284 people still waiting for diagnostic procedures, including 11,424 who had been on the list longer than the recommended six weeks.
This represents a rise of 700 on the previous month and of 5,500 from the same time last year. In addition, 1,277 patients have experienced delays of more than 13 weeks, compared with just 198 who had been waiting that long in August 2010.
The Department of Health insisted average waiting times remained low and blamed a handful of trusts for delaying too many patients’ tests.
A spokesman said: “The average waiting time for a diagnostic test in August 2011 was just 2 weeks. A year ago, the average waiting time was 1.9 weeks – this shows that waiting times remain low and stable. “But we know that some Trusts are underperforming – just five NHS trusts are responsible for over a third of all those waiting over six weeks so we have asked SHAs to work with Trusts to ensure that action is being taken to address this.
“However, pressures on the NHS continue to rise. Diagnostic tests in the 3 months to August 2011 increased by 4.9 per cent compared to the same period last year. This increase shows that patients are getting the tests they need but it is adding pressure on our health services. This is why we need to modernise the NHS to protect it for future generations.”
Barriers to adoption put up by British social workers to be swept away
Race rules which block white families from adopting black children should be ripped up to end the national ‘scandal’ of thousands of youngsters left languishing in care, the Prime Minister said yesterday.
Mr Cameron said the Coalition would put a new ‘focus’ on making sure that more children are given the chance of a permanent family.
And he signalled that the Government would sweep away the apartheid-style race rules which have prevented children from finding a loving home.
The PM said he wanted to see more children adopted by families following figures this week which showed that just 60 out of 3,660 babies under one were adopted last year. In total, there are over 65,000 children in care.
‘This may not seem like the biggest issue facing the country, but it is the biggest issue for these children,’ he said. ‘How can we have let this happen? We’ve got people flying all over the world to adopt babies, while the care system at home agonises about placing black children with white families.
‘With the right values and the right effort, let’s end this scandal and help these, the most vulnerable children of all.’
Recent figures showed that it takes an average of two years and seven months before a child going into the care system – often living with frequently changing foster parents or in children’s homes – has his or her future settled by adoption.
For those left behind, the future has often proved bleak. Among teenagers who have recently left the care system, nearly a third are NEETs – not in employment, education or training.
Adoption by couples of a different race from the child has been banned since the 1990s following claims that the child suffers identity crisis. Independent research has found that this is not the case.
Ten years ago Tony Blair vowed to sweep away the petty rules but his 2002 Act, which introduced adoption by gay couples, failed to meet a target of 50 per cent more adoptions from care.
In many cases, the authorities demanded that potential parents have the same ethnic make-up as children they wished to look after permanently.
Adoptions were also prevented to parents judged too old, too unhealthy, or to be smokers. The hostile approach has been blamed for helping to cut adoptions tenfold since the 1970s.
Last year, ministers pledged to act after figures showed a disastrous drop in the number of children trapped in state care who escape into adoptive families.
Final British High School exams no longer trusted says A.C Grayling, who can’t tell the difference between A and A*
A-levels and GCSEs are of such poor quality that they are no longer a reliable way of selecting university candidates, a leading academic has warned. Professor A C Grayling said that students with a string of top grades are ‘no brighter’ than those who look ‘less brilliant’ on paper.
The popular philosopher, president of a new private university, the New College of the Humanities, made the comments during a scathing attack on the exam system. He said that he and his colleagues will have to interview every single candidate because grades do not give a fair reflection of ability.
Professor Grayling, speaking at the annual meeting of 250 leading private school heads, said he made the discovery while interviewing youngsters for the first intake, in 2012. He remarked that a female pupil with two As and a B at A-level was more ‘interesting, lively and thoughtful’ than one with three A*s and two As. He has offered places to both.
He blamed the failings on the ‘tyranny of testing’, saying pupils are taught to the test, rather than taught to think.
‘We intend to interview personally every plausible-looking candidate because we can’t really rely as much as we would like to be able to on A-level and GCSE results,’ he said.
Professor Grayling told delegates at the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference annual meeting at St Andrews, in Fife, Scotland: ‘We are subjecting our young people to exams every single year, from GCSEs through to when they leave university.
‘GCSEs, AS, A-levels, first-year module exams, second-year module exams, third-year module exams – this is a tyranny and distorts the education process. ‘They are so focused on getting an A* or getting a first in their first-year modules that they lose the point of what they are doing.’
The £18,000-a-year NCH, which is opening in Bloomsbury, Central London, had said it would only accept the brightest pupils with straight A grades.
Professor Grayling’s comments are likely to prompt claims that the NCH is being forced to accept less able students to fill its places, even though it is only seeking to recruit 180 in its first year. A spokesman for the college said it had received 1,300 inquiries from potential applicants.
However, it has only had firm applications from a handful of students who got their A-levels this summer and are taking a gap year.
This obsession with fat is really taxing
Denmark has introduced a ‘fat tax’ – but what business is it of governments to tell us what we should eat?
‘A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of health authoritarianism.’ With apologies for misquoting those dead, hairy Germans, Karl and Frederick, the creeping terror these days is not the possibility of the workers of the world uniting (if only). Instead it is governments’ decision to fill in the blank where their sense of purpose used to be with increasing intervention into every once-private detail of our lives. It’s no longer ‘you are what you eat’, but ‘you’ll be what we tell you to eat, or else’.
The latest episode in the war on our waistlines is the introduction of a ‘fat tax’ in Denmark. From 1 October, Danes are being charged for the amount of saturated fat in the food they eat. Any food that contains more than 2.3 per cent saturated fat – like meats, cheeses, butter, crisps and some fast foods – will be taxed with 16 Kroner (about £1.84) for each kilogram of saturated fat. For example, a packet of butter will now cost about 25 pence more than before.
Denmark is not the first country to impose this kind of tax. In January, Hungary introduced a tax on any ‘unhealthy’ foods that have more than the approved amount of fat, salt and sugar. The Hungarian policy looks like a blatant tax-grab justified on the basis that people who eat the wrong foods should pay more. Other countries that have introduced, or are considering introducing, similar taxes include Romania and Finland, while taxes on fizzy, sugary drinks have been in place for some time in five EU countries, including Denmark.
The question is, why the hell should a government decide – or heavily influence – our choice of food? Surely we should be the judge of what we eat. Why should we be taxed just for enjoying food?
In his bestseller, Kitchen Confidential, the American chef and writer Anthony Bourdain is forthright in his defence of butter: ‘I don’t care what they tell you they’re putting or not putting in your food at your favourite restaurant, chances are you’re eating a ton of butter. In a professional kitchen, it’s almost always the first and last thing in the pan.’ You want your food to taste good? Then you need plenty of fat and salt in it. That’s Cooking 101, but clearly they don’t care about that in the corridors of power in Copenhagen.
The fat tax is also fat headed. For example, it’s been known for decades that saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease. In the early 1980s, a major study compared two groups of subjects: one ate a normal American diet; the other ate a diet that was lower in fat and, in particular, saturated fat. The result? No difference in heart-disease rates. In fact, even when the link between heart disease and saturated fat was first mooted in the 1950s, the data it was based on was extremely ropey. Yet this tale survives despite repeated failures to confirm it.
Nor is there much evidence that fat itself is fattening. In reality, it seems the previous Danish government (it just lost power in the September General Election) decided that Danes needed to be taxed on their unhealthy eating habits and then spent months trying to figure what exactly ‘unhealthy’ meant.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the war on our waistlines is being waged on a different front. A report by the School Food Trust claims that 40 per cent of primary schoolchildren’s packed lunches contain no fruit or vegetables. The SFT doesn’t have much faith in parents to feed their children properly, so it is urging them to allow their children to have school dinners instead.
Patricia Mucavele, research and nutrition manager at the SFT, told the BBC: ‘Packed lunches aren’t as nutritious as school meals – they are typically higher in saturated fat, sugar and salt, and often contain foods that can’t be provided in schools, such as sweets and salted snacks.’ Never mind what parents know about their own children’s food preferences, the cost of meals or all the other considerations that go into parental choices about what they feed their kids, the experts have spoken. If all else fails, the packed-lunch police (ie, teachers) will admonish any parents who don’t play by the rules.
Over in Ireland, there has been a bizarre, EU-funded health campaign that takes the notion of ‘fat=disease’ to its logical conclusion. ‘We’re all in the grip of an epidemic’, the campaign ad says. ‘Most of us already have it and we’re rapidly passing it on to others, giving them a higher risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and cancer. It’s overweight, and it’s spreading.’ The message is ‘stop the spread’. This isn’t even a campaign against obesity – it’s against being merely overweight – and it flies in the face of evidence that carrying a wee bit of spare tyre is actually good for you (or at the very least, harmless).
For years, governments and health campaigners have been trying to make us afraid of what we eat, demanding that we only consume prescribed foods in prescribed amounts. It’s worked, to a degree. Even the most sceptical of people will have internalised some of this nonsense, turning their backs on foods they enjoy because they’ve been told that they’re deadly.
But clearly, in health campaigners’ minds, we’re not scared enough. So we must be cajoled and manipulated into further changing our diets, whether through food taxes, lectures about our children or fearmongering adverts. The aim is not, however, to make us slimmer or healthier – which is handy as such nagging and penalising doesn’t seem to make us any thinner anyway. No, the aim is to exercise influence over our lives, to give the powers-that-be a reason to be in power.
Medical professionals and TV documentary makers like to point out how being fat will leave you semi-helpless, struggling to get round on a reinforced mobility scooter. But by encouraging us to worry constantly about our health, it is this endless process of messing with our heads in relation to what we eat that is truly disabling.
Wind turbine fail in Britain
An eco-friendly school has been left £55,000 out of pocket after its wind turbine broke – with governors admitting that it was based on “completely unproven technology”. The company that installed the turbine has gone bust leaving the school with a pile of scrap.
The Gorran School in Cornwall revealed its 15 metre turbine in 2008 which was designed to provide it with free electricity – and sell any surplus power to the National Grid.
The system was seen as a green blueprint for clean, sustainable energy for schools nationwide and received grants from various bodies including the EDF power firm.
But soon after being installed the wind turbine became faulty and after a few months seized up – showering the school’s playing field with debris.
Since then the school has been locked in a battle with suppliers Proven Energy which has now gone into administration leaving the school with little hope of any money being returned – and a pile of scrap in their field.
Sue Hawken, chair of the school governors, said:”It has been an absolute nightmare from start to finish. “We’ve put a claim in but realistically I don’t expect to get a single penny from this company. “Unbeknown to us, the 15 kilowatt turbine that Proven Energy installed was completely unproven technology that never really worked.
“Proven Energy wrote to us to confirm the design fault. With that in mind we are advising owners to place their wind turbines on brake as soon as it is safe to do so. “It is an absolute disgrace and I feel the company has acted atrociously.”
The school says it will look at solar panel as an alternative in the future. [Good luck with that too. All the sunshine Britain gets makes that a GREAT choice]