Another report on a horror hospital
Mothers and babies are being put in danger by ‘abusive’ midwives at one of the country’s largest maternity units. A damning investigation exposed the scandal after a string of deaths of women and newborns at the hospital.
The report comes after experts warned that understaffed and under-equipped maternity units across the country are coming under unprecedented strain because of the rising birth rate.
The inquiry by the Care Quality Commission warned there was ‘a culture of abuse’ among midwives and maternity staff at Queen’s Hospital in Romford, Essex.
In one case uncovered by the watchdog, an exhausted woman in labour was told by a midwife to ‘hurry up or or I’ll cut you’.
The Royal College of Midwives has warned that a record shortage of midwives around the country is putting mothers and babies at risk. At least a further 4,700 midwives are needed to guarantee the safety of women and their newborns, it said.
And an investigation by BBC Panorama revealed that nearly 1,000 mothers were turned away from maternity units last year because of a shortage of beds and midwives.
The CQC investigated hospitals run by Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust in Essex. Four women and seven newborns are believed to have died in the last 12 months on labour wards at the trust’s hospitals. It uncovered the most serious failings at the Queen’s maternity unit.
One woman who was suffering contractions every minute was told to ‘go and wait in the car park’ because there were not enough beds on the ward. Another was urged to ‘hurry up’ by a midwife because her shift was finishing at 7am.
The CQC carried out several spot checks of the hospital between July and September, sparked by the deaths of women and babies at the unit this year.
Sareena Ali, 27, from Ilford, Essex, died in January this year after staff failed to failed to notice she had suffered a ruptured womb that triggered a cardiac arrest and then later tried to revive her using a disconnected oxygen mask. Her daughter Zainab was born lifeless.
Mrs Ali’s husband Usman Javed, 29, who has since moved back to Pakistan, said she was in ‘unbearable pain’ and his pleas for help were ignored by ‘uncaring, incompetent’ midwives. She spent several days in intensive care before dying.
Then in April, Violet Stephens, 35, from Brentwood, Essex, died after midwives failed to spot she was suffering from pre-eclampsia, which leads to abnormally high blood pressure. She waited four days to have an emergency caesarean and then died hours later.
Her baby son Christian was delivered healthy and is now being brought up by her sister, Kitty Mhango, 54, who is a midwife.
The CQC’s report warned that women were ‘simply pushed through the system as quickly as possible’.
One mother told investigators how she had been left in ‘excruciating’ pain for ten hours while the doctors who were meant to be giving her an epidural injection laughed and joked in another room.
Another revealed how despite suffering contractions every two minutes, she was told by midwives ‘to go home’ because she wasn’t in labour yet.
The report also found that a quarter of women needing an emergency caesarean were waiting longer than 30 minutes – meaning there was an ‘immediate threat’ to both mother and baby.
And it also warned of concerns of high numbers of babies becoming very cold immediately after they were born because they were not being cared for properly.
The commission has ordered the hospital to improve and will carry out further unannounced inspections over the next few months. If it is still found to be failing the unit could be closed down completely and the hospital fined or taken to court.
The commission investigated maternity services, A&E departments and surgery at Queen’s Hospital and King George Hospital in Ilford.
Concerns were also raised about delays of treatment in A&E and radiology, which provides X-rays within the trust.
The CQC said that ‘despite some signs of improvement in recent months, patients remain at risk of poor care in this trust’.
It added: ‘While the most immediate concerns were around maternity services, failings were also identified in emergency care and in radiology. ‘Widespread improvement is needed in patient flows, the management of complaints, staff recruitment and governance in order to improve patient experience.’
A spokesman for the trust said all the four mothers had died at Queen’s Hospital. She said she suspected all seven babies had also died at the same hospital but did not know for certain– some may have died at King George Hospital.
It has also emerged that inspectors from the CQC were inside Queen’s Hospital when Miss Ali was dying in intensive care, but staff failed to notify the inspectors of this.
Although they only began their main main inspection in July they had been carrying out spot checks over the last 18 months.
The number of deaths in Barking, Havering and Redbridge trust hospitals is well above what would be expected. They have a maternal death rate of 17 per 100,000 patients, which is more than double the average rate across the country of 8 per 100,000.
But on the same day the report was published Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced plans to close maternity units at King George Hospital, placing even more strain on the already-failing department at Queen’s. He said he would only proceed with the plans once he could be sure services at Queen’s had improved. So far 18 mothers have launched legal action against the unit concerning poor care.
Solicitor Sarah Harman, who is representing these women along with the relatives of two who died, said the tragedies could have been avoided if the hospital had listened to patients’ concerns.
She added that in many cases the hospital had simply ‘ignored or disregarded’ patient’s complaints. Averil Dongworth, chief executive of the trust, said: ‘We are taking the findings of this report extremely seriously and have already started work to implement its recommendations.
‘The quality of care we offer, and the experience our patients have of our care is our highest concern and this report reflects an important opportunity to improve our care.’
It also emerged yesterday that one in four hospital trusts in England has higher than expected death rates which may warn of underlying problems in patient care.
Under a new system, 36 out of 148 NHS trusts were identified as having more deaths than predicted, based on factors such as age and social deprivation.
The Summary Hospital-level Mortality Indicator monitors all deaths in hospitals as well as those occurring within 30 days of discharge.
More detail HERE
UK grows by 500,000 every year: Annual population increase, fuelled by immigration, equals city the size of Leeds
Unending traffic jams and sardine trains? Brits ain’t seen nothing yet!
Britain’s population will soar by the equivalent of a city the size of Leeds every year for the next decade, according to official figures.
Revised statistics show numbers rising at a sustained pace not matched for 100 years. And the main factor behind the increase is immigration. The projections suggest that, in just over 30 years, Britain will overtake Germany as the most populous country in Europe.
All estimates produced two years ago have been revised heavily upwards in a report published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics. Over the next ten years, the population is expected to rise annually by 491,000. Leeds’s current total is 486,000.
Most will live in the already-crowded South of England.
It is predicted that the landmark total of 70million – a figure the immigration minister in the last Labour government said would never be allowed – will be reached in the middle of 2027. This is two years earlier than previous reckoning. Two thirds of the overall growth in numbers, says the ONS, will be brought about either directly or indirectly by migration.
In the long term, net migration – the number added to the population every year through arrivals from abroad – will continue to run at 200,000 a year, the ONS said. This level, some 20,000 a year more than was predicted two years ago, is more than double the net migration that David Cameron has promised will be achieved by Coalition curbs.
The revised estimates come at a time of deepening concern over the effects of fast- rising population on housing, transport, water, power and state services such as education, health and welfare benefits.
The past month has seen a row over planning rules sparked by Whitehall attempts to make room for the new homes needed to accommodate the expanding numbers, with conservation groups warning about the unrestrained construction of housing on green fields in the South of England.
Tory ministers also face pressure over plans to improve transport links through high-speed railways.
A Labour-backed think-tank has called for older people and empty nesters to be taxed out of family homes, making room for poor families living in overcrowded conditions.
And yesterday the Daily Mail revealed that British primary schools have the highest pupil-teacher ratio of any country in Europe.
Girls born in 2060 will have a life expectancy of 100 years, with boys at 98.6 years
Sir Andrew Green, of MigrationWatch, said: ‘These figures confirm that the UK’s dramatic rise in population will continue unabated. The population is now set to hit 70million in 16 years, over two thirds of which is due to immigration. ‘As people return home this evening crammed into public transport and on congested roads, they could well ask where all of these people are going to fit.’
Experts also warned of the impact on pensions. By 2035, the figures showed, there will be 2.9 people of working age to support each pensioner, compared with 3.2 now.
The estimates, based on figures for 2010, say that the current United Kingdom population of 62.3million will rise to 67.2million by 2020 – 700,000 more than envisaged in projections based on 2008 figures.
Numbers will reach 70million in 2027 and 73.2million in 2035. In the same year, Britain will overtake France for numbers, and Germany, where low birthrates have resulted in a falling population, will be matched by 2043. The land area of Germany is 137,000 square miles – almost 50 per cent larger than the United Kingdom at 94,000 square miles.
Over the next 25 years, the ONS said, the population will rise at the rate of 438,000 a year – the equivalent of a city the size of Bristol every 12 months.
If the population continues to grow at the present rate, it will be almost 100 million a century from now. In Europe, only Luxembourg, Cyprus and Ireland are likely to see faster population growth.
Net migration is directly responsible for 47 per cent of the projected population growth, and natural increase – the greater numbers of births than deaths – accounts for the rest.
But the ONS said immigration had the effect of pushing up birthrates, so that net migration was responsible overall for two thirds of population growth.
The annual rate of increase for the next decade is expected to be 0.8 per cent a year – a speed of growth surpassed only in one year of the baby-boom era of the 1950s and 60s and not matched for a sustained period since the Edwardian years before the First World War.
Immigration Minister Damian Green said: ‘Immigration to the UK has been too high. That is why we have made sweeping changes to get a grip on immigration in this country, closing down routes subject to abuse and taking action against those with no right to be here.
‘Much has been done, but there is more to do to bring down net migration to the order of tens of thousands a year and ensure migration which benefits the UK.’
Criminals released, children incarcerated. Britain’s immigrant removal system is Broken
What is wrong with this picture? Four thousand foreign criminals who should have been deported are at large on the streets of Britain, released from detention centres because there is apparently no prospect of them being deported within a reasonable time.
Meanwhile, up to three thousand asylum seekers and economic migrants, a shocking percentage of them children, remain locked up in limbo within the UK Border Agency’s thirteen Immigration Removal Centres.
It seems that nothing whatsoever has changed in Britain’s Kafkaesque system of detention since 2006 when the news that more than 1,000 foreign criminals, including three murderers and nine rapists, had been freed instead of deported, almost cost Charles Clarke his job.
The then Home Secretary called the matter regrettable; yet he did not seem regard it seriously enough to be a resigning matter. In the intervening years, that number has somehow quadrupled.
Thank goodness then, that Theresa May has taken a stand. She used her speech at the party conference to announce new moves to amend immigration rules to stop foreign criminals resisting deportation, notably by invoking the Human Rights Act, in particular, Article 8, on the right to a private and family life.
Frustratingly, Ms May’s commendable if over-due plans were overshadowed by the ensuing ‘cat-gate’ row with Ken Clarke over the Bolivian immigrant whose argument for leniency included his joint ownership of a pet feline.
It is to be hoped that Ms May will be successful in pushing through the secondary legislation needed to modify UK rules so that more offenders can be legitimately removed. The figure of 3,775 criminals released rather than deported, revealed in a new report by UKBA chief inspector John Vine is certainly shocking. Sadly, it is a statistic which highlights the fundamental and persistent failures which are now endemic in Britain’s broken immigration detention system.
The United Kingdom has the largest network of immigration removal centres in Europe, with more than 3,000 places in 13 official centres, the majority of which – nine – are run, on behalf of the UKBA, by private contractors, including Serco, G4S, Reliance Secure Task Management and Global Solutions Ltd.
Around 30,000 individuals, the majority of them, asylum seekers, pass through the system annually. Of these, around half will be processed within an eight week period. The other 50 per cent are often stuck in the limbo of a complex and labyrinthine system of asylum hearings, appeals and case resolution procedures which can go on for months and years, at significant cost to the tax payer.
The conditions in which inmates are kept at these centres varies significantly, with the centre at Dover described last year by inspector Dame Anne Owers, as ‘more like a prison’. Frustrated inmates regularly stage protests against inhumane treatment including – they claim – torture and physical abuse, prolonged detention and appalling conditions.
Campsfield House, near Oxford, has been the scene of regular riots; Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire was burnt to the ground following a violent protest after an inmate was physically restrained by G4S staff. Detainees at both centres staged protracted hunger strikes only last year, declaring they were refusing food in a bid for their voices to be heard. Suicides are far from uncommon. A Moldovan man aged 35 killed himself at Campsfield House in August while two detainees were found dead at Colnbrook detention centre near Heathrow in July.
Unsurprisingly, it is difficult to obtain much information about Immigration Removal Centres or, indeed, about the workings of the system itself from the Home Office, which generally does not publish these facts and figures, most notably on the financial costs of immigration detention.
Latest numbers, reported to Parliament last year, indicated that the average overall cost per bed per day is £120, apparently taking into consideration exceptional costs, such as damage caused by fire and also by individuals suing for unlawful detention. Thus, if a centre such as Campsfield operates at 90 per cent capacity, it would cost an estimated £9 million per year to run. Given that there is a constant barrage of litigation from detainees seeking redress for illegal detention, or separation from their children, it would seem likely that the true costs of the system are much, much higher.
The issue of children in immigration removal centres remains a thorny one, particularly for the Liberal Democrat coalition partners who made the ending of child detention a key element of their family values policies. In December 2010, Nick Clegg confidently announced that the detention of children would end in May 2012. Yet between May and August 2011, 697 children, a third of whom were unaccompanied, were held at the UK’s south-east ports. What exactly Mr Clegg intends to do with the ones who arrive inconveniently after next May’s deadline is not yet clear.
That 4,000 miscreants, among them murderers, rapists and paedophiles, have been released from an immigration detention system too hide-bound by red tape and European legislation to hold them is shocking.
Theresa May needs to move swiftly, to ensure that Article 8 is no longer used to place the family rights of foreign criminals above the rights of the British public.
However, the Home Office also needs to take immediate steps to tackle the deep-seated problems of an unstable and increasingly dangerous detention system where lone children are incarcerated, detainees are reduced to rioting in protest at inhumane treatment and suicide can sometimes seem like an acceptable alternative or a welcome release.
We need free speech for all – even bigots
A football fan has been jailed for posting sectarian comments on the internet. Why aren’t civil libertarians alarmed?
Stephen Birrell doesn’t like Catholics, he doesn’t like Celtic Football Club manager Neil Lennon and he doesn’t like Celtic supporters. These are not exactly unusual sentiments in certain parts of Scotland. But what is unusual is that last week Birrell was jailed for expressing such prejudices. His crime was to join a Facebook page and share his unpleasant views with the rest of us.
Birrell’s pearls of wisdom included: ‘Hope they all die. Simple. Catholic scumbags. Haha.’; ‘Proud to hate Fenian tattie farmers’; and ‘They’re all ploughing the fields, dirty scumbags. FTP [Fuck the Pope]’. This guy is not a pleasant individual and obviously not likely to turn up on many lists of people we would most like to have dinner with. But no threats were made, there was no incitement to commit acts of violence and Birrell did not actually harm anyone.
Yet the 28-year-old football fan was charged with ‘religiously aggravated’ breach of the peace and sent to prison for eight months. He was also banned from attending any football games in the UK for five years. In short, this was seen as a religious hate crime and all this has happened even before the new Offensive and Threatening Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill (Scotland) is passed by the Scottish Parliament – a law that would introduce prison terms of up to five years for making sectarian comments at football games or on the internet.
The idea of sending someone to prison for expressing their personal hatreds seems bizarre in a society that claims to allow freedom of speech. But in the frenzied atmosphere being whipped up around the new laws, a judge sitting in a Scottish courtroom felt emboldened to deprive a person of his liberty by criminalising his words.
Birrell is not the only victim of this draconian new mood. Last month, my nephew Brendan travelled all the way from West Belfast to Glasgow to see his beloved Celtic play, only to be arrested while entering the ground for shouting ‘Up the IRA’, a slogan still found on many gable ends in his hometown. He was held in prison all day and overnight before being charged with ‘religiously aggravated breach of the peace’. Given the prevailing climate, the addition of ‘religiously aggravated’ turns a minor incident that has been normal behaviour for a section of Celtic fans at games for many years into a serious crime with serious consequences.
And then there were the two fans whose banner mentioned the ‘Huns’, a term used by Celtic supporters (and even some Rangers fans) for many years to describe the Rangers football team and its supporters, a term that has now been criminalised in the rush to label every expression as a symbol of sectarian hatred. These fans were also arrested and one was charged with a hate crime. The case was postponed several times, leaving the fans unaware of their fate.
For months, I have warned that politicians are using the physical attack on Celtic manager Neil Lennon by a Hearts fan to blur the distinction between words and deeds. This poses a serious threat to free speech and civil liberties. But few civil liberties champions have joined this particular campaign, apparently finding the principle of free speech easy to sacrifice when it comes to ‘uncouth’ football fans who upset their liberal sensibilities.
But you don’t need to like fooball fans to defend their right to free expression. I don’t like anything Birrell says or represents, but I defend absolutely his right to say it without being locked up and labelled a criminal.
Birrell’s case, and the many more that will inevitably follow as fans outdo each other in their rush to take offence at the sectarianism of their rivals, have nothing to do with justice and everything to do with the ongoing demonisation of one group – football fans – in society.
Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, can now claim the dubious distinction of presiding over one of the most authoritarian and illiberal pieces of legislation in Western Europe. Anyone who remotely cares about basic civil liberties should howl with rage at the imprisonment of Stephen Birrell and should stand up now to defend free speech and the right of football fans to be offensive, whether on Facebook or in the stands at Ibrox and Celtic Park.
Two strikes and you’re inside: Repeat criminals to face mandatory life sentences in Britain
Good if it happens but British judges are a law unto themselves
Repeat criminals convicted of a second serious offence will face a mandatory life sentence, under new ‘two-strikes’ rules.
Life terms will automatically go to anyone twice given jail terms of ten years or more for crimes such as rape, child abuse, serious GBH and terrorism offences.
They will also apply to the crime of ‘causing or allowing the death of a child’ – the offence for which Baby Peter’s mother and boyfriend were jailed.
The sentences will replace Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs) which saw dozens of criminals locked up indefinitely without any prospect of parole.
As the plans were revealed last night, it emerged Justice Secretary Ken Clarke had suffered a major defeat in his opposition to mandatory jail terms for 16 and 17 year-olds caught wielding a knife.
Just 24 hours earlier Mr Clarke had made clear his opposition to such a move. On Tuesday he told the Home Affairs Select Committee compulsory jail terms for young offenders were ‘a bit of a leap’ for the British judicial system.
But Mr Clarke faced pressure from his Cabinet colleagues, including Home Secretary Theresa May, to accept tougher terms.
On Tuesday he told MPs: ‘The idea that mandatory sentences now apply to certain types of offence, to young offenders, to children, to juveniles, is a bit of a leap for the British judicial system.’ But last night he said the term was necessary to ‘send out a clear message about the seriousness of juvenile knife crime’.
The knife sentences apply to any offenders who are convicted of the new offence of ‘aggravated’ knife carrying – when they used the blade to threaten or endanger life. Anyone aged 16 or 17 would face a four-month detention and training order.
The Government has already announced proposals for a mandatory six-month sentence for adults convicted of the same offence.
As well as mandatory life, Mr Clarke also announced a new ‘Extended Determinate Sentence’ that will see serious offenders required to serve at least two-thirds of their term. Currently they are released automatically at the half-way point.
It will apply to serious sex and violent crimes and jailed for four years or more. After they have served two-thirds, they will only be released when the Parole Board says they are safe to go back on the streets.
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said: ‘Under our plans we expect more dangerous offenders to receive life sentences.
‘Those getting the new Extended Determinate Sentence will have to serve at least two-thirds of it behind bars before release. ‘We are clear that there will be no automatic release before the end of the full sentence for the most serious cases.’
Repeat offenders responsible for half a million crimes
Rehabilitation is a fantasy for these people. Only permanent detention can protect the community
More than half a million crimes were committed by known offenders last year, with half carried out by career criminals. The crimes were all committed by repeat offenders and included 3,400 serious violent or sexual offences. It is the first time such figures have been released and more than 270,000 offences were by criminals who had at least 25 previous convictions or cautions to their name.
Separate figures showed 134 dangerous criminals were suspected of carrying out serious further offences such as murder, rape and other violence despite being monitored by the authorities.
The figures once again raise questions over the ability of the justice system to rehabilitate offenders. Prisons minister Crispin Blunt said: “Reoffending in this country is unacceptably high and these statistics underline the urgent need for steps to reform the system and introduce a rehabilitation revolution to our prisons and community sentences.”
A total of 510,000 offences were committed in 2009 by criminals within a year of them completing a previous sentence, the Ministry of Justice figures showed. More than 10,000 burglars went on to commit another 1,800 domestic burglaries within a year, and almost 3,000 thefts.
And more than 6,000 serious violent offenders went on to commit more than 650 violent offences, 48 of which were classed as serious.
The breakdown of figures also showed that more than 8,000 sex offenders, including more than 4,000 who abused children, went on to commit more than 1,200 further sex crimes, including 330 against children.
Of the 134 dangerous or sexual offenders charged with a serious further offence last year, 26 were managed with regular multi-agency public protection (Mapp) meetings, other figures showed.
Three of these were assessed as posing the highest risk to the public and eight serious case reviews were ordered after the offenders went on to kill or rape, or tried to murder or rape, despite being monitored.
Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (Mappa) panels, which include police, councils and other Government agencies, were set up to manage the risks to the public from dangerous criminals after they leave prison.
In raft of justice statistics, it also emerged that the prison population is still on course to hit 92,000 by 2014, despite Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary’s plan to cut the population by 3,000.
However, the projections do not take in to account sentencing reform measures currently going through parliament.
It is also estimated that the summer’s riots will result in numbers behind bars increasing by 1,000 for the next 12 months.
Mistakes by British examiners fuel rise in number of teens being given extra marks for High School exams
The number of teenagers receiving extra marks in their A-levels and GCSEs rose this summer, fuelled by the mistakes in exam papers, figures show. The mistakes ranged from wrong answers in a multiple choice paper to impossible questions and printing errors.
Around 372,300 requests were made for ‘special consideration’, up 13 per cent on 2010, says exams watchdog Ofqual. Almost of all these – 354,200 in total – were approved.
Pupils can be awarded up to an extra 5 per cent of the maximum mark for a paper depending on their special circumstances. The maximum 5 per cent is usually awarded in ‘exceptional cases’, for example, if a candidate recently suffered the death of a close family member.
But around 2 per cent of the marks available can be awarded to a candidate who suffered a minor illness, such as a headache, on the day of the exam.
A separate report from the watchdog, also released yesterday, shows teenagers were caught cheating more than 3,600 times this summer. The most common offence was smuggling banned items, such as mobile phones, calculators, dictionaries or study guides, into the exam hall. The second most common type of offence was plagiarism, failure to acknowledge sources, copying or collusion, the report found.
In half of cases (51 per cent) students lost marks, and in nearly a fifth of cases (19 per cent) pupils lost the chance to gain a qualification. In almost a third of cases (30 per cent) candidates were issued with a warning. In total, 3,678 penalties were issued to candidates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland during the June 2011 exam series, down 11 per cent on last year.
Ofqual said the series of blunders in this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams also accounted for part of the rise in special consideration requests.
It has been suggested that around 100,000 students were affected by around 12 mistakes in GCSE, AS and A-level papers set by five exam boards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Ofqual chief executive Glenys Stacey said: ‘The figures show an increase in applications for special considerations. ‘We know that the exam paper errors account for some of this increase because special considerations were part of the redress arrangements put in place by the awarding organisations.
‘We do wish now to explore further with the awarding organisations the details behind this year’s figures, particularly the relationship with the exam paper errors. ‘Our inquiry is ongoing and we will publish a final report before the end of the year.’
Ministers have also announced plans to give Ofqual the powers to fine exam boards that make mistakes.
Toni Pearce, National Union of Students (NUS) vice-president for further education, said: ‘The large number of exam errors in the summer were unacceptable and these figures begin to show the huge disruption they caused.
‘Young people should be able to sit exams confident that they will be a true test of their ability and exam boards must make sure that real improvements are made in time for next year’s exams.
‘The anxiety and uncertainty caused by knowing that someone else’s mistake may have had a detrimental effect on a young person’s exam performance is unacceptable and we look forward to the results of Ofqual’s scrutiny of this year’s failures.’
‘Mickey Mouse’ courses to be axed from British league tables
Thousands of so-called “Mickey Mouse” courses are being cut from school league tables under a government drive to restore rigour to the education system.
Currently about 7,000 vocational qualifications are counted in official school performance tables, a fact that has led to head teachers allegedly entering pupils for “soft” courses to boost their school’s position in the highly competitive rankings. Ministers have published “strict new rules” designed to ensure that only the most rigorous vocational qualifications can be counted in league tables in future.
Over the past decade, courses in cake decoration and hairdressing were allowed to be counted as “equivalent” to certain A-levels and GCSEs in official school tables. Labour education ministers insisted that vocational qualifications should be seen as of equal value to academic education, but critics argued that too many schools were choosing easier courses to boost their position in the league tables.
Under the current system, some vocational courses are worth multiple GCSEs, with a level 2 BTEC in “horse care” deemed to be equivalent to four GCSEs at grade C or higher. In future the number of vocational courses that will count towards a school’s league table result will fall to “a few hundred”.
Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said: “No pupil should be preparing for a vocational qualification simply to boost the school’s GCSE or equivalent score in the performance tables.
“These reforms will lead to a boost in the quality of vocational qualifications being taken and will enhance the opportunities for young people to progress.”
The number of qualifications judged to be eligible for inclusion in league tables has risen from 15,000 in 2004 to 575,000 last year.
Under the new rules, pupils will still be able to take existing vocational “equivalent” courses if they think they are the right option for their careers.
However, only those qualifications that meet the Department for Education’s new rules will be counted in official league tables ranking schools on their exam results from 2014.
In order to pass the test, vocational courses must offer pupils “proven progression” to a range of further study options, rather than sending teenagers into a dead end.
All courses must take up as much study time as at least one GCSE, and they will have to categorise results using a GCSE-style grading system of A* to G. This will exclude a range of qualifications that are short courses and offer simple pass or fail results. Ministers will publish the full list of courses approved for use in league tables early next year.
A government source said there had been a 3,800 per cent increase in the number of non-academic qualifications awarded to pupils since 2004.
“Under Labour, millions of children were pushed into non-academic qualifications that were of little value,” he said. “The Government is raising standards for all by allowing only the very best qualifications in the league tables and increasing the number of children doing the academic subjects that parents and universities value most.”
Aspirin every day can cut cancer risk by 60%: British scientists find first proof of preventative effect
If you’ve got a genetic defect called Lynch syndrome
Taking aspirin regularly can cut the long-term risk of cancer, according to the first major study of its kind. British researchers found it can reduce the risk by 60 per cent in people with a family history of the disease.
The landmark research covering 16 countries is the first proof that the painkiller has a preventive action that is likely to benefit anyone using it every day.
Millions who take low-dose aspirin to prevent heart disease will gain from its anti-cancer properties, while healthy people may follow the example of increasing numbers of doctors who take it for insurance.
In the study of 861 patients with Lynch syndrome, a genetic fault leading to bowel and other cancers at an early age, half were given two aspirins a day, 600 mg in total, for two years.
The remainder were given placebo, or dummy, pills, says a report published online in The Lancet medical journal.
Initially, the researchers found no change in cancer rates between the groups. But when they followed up the study after five years, they detected a significant difference.
By 2010 a total of 19 new bowel cancers had been identified among those given aspirin and 34 among the placebo group – a cut of 44 per cent among those taking the drug.
When researchers focused on the 60 per cent of patients who they were certain had conscientiously taken aspirin for at least two years they found an even more striking result. Just ten cancers were discovered in the aspirin group compared with 23 in the placebo group, a cut of 63 per cent.
Rates of other cancers linked to Lynch syndrome were almost halved by taking aspirin.
Professor Sir John Burn from Newcastle University, who led the research, said: ‘What we have finally shown is that aspirin has a major preventive effect on cancer but it doesn’t become apparent until years later.’
The study is being hailed as the last piece of the jigsaw after years spent trying to prove that aspirin has a direct effect in stopping tumours. A big step forward came last year with a study which showed that low-dose aspirin cuts overall death rates by a third after five years’ use.
However, it used records to look at the incidental benefits for patients taking it to stave off further heart attacks and strokes. The latest trial actually set out to prove that cancer could be prevented in people taking it for no other reason.
Experts say healthy middle-aged people who start taking aspirin around the age of 45 or 50 for 20 to 30 years could expect to reap the most benefit because cancer rates rise with age.
There is widespread concern that side-effects such as stomach bleeding and haemorrhagic stroke outweigh any advantage among healthy people.
Sir John, who takes aspirin every day, estimates there are 30,000 people with Lynch syndrome in the UK who might benefit from aspirin treatment. He said: ‘If we put them all on two aspirins a day now, in the next 30 years or so we would prevent 10,000 cancers. On the other hand, this would cause around 1,000 ulcers.
‘If we can prevent 10,000 cancers in return for 1,000 ulcers and 100 strokes, in most people’s minds that’s a good deal, especially if you’ve grown up in a family with three, four, five, six people who have had cancer. ‘On the other hand, if you’re just in the general population and you don’t have cancer in your family, then that’s going to be a much finer balance.’
Further research will take place, he said, to discover the ideal dose of aspirin.
Professor Chris Paraskeva, Cancer Research UK’s bowel cancer expert at the University of Bristol, said: ‘This adds to the growing body of evidence showing the importance of aspirin, and aspirin-like drugs, in the fight against cancer.’