NHS 111 number: 1 in 8 calls unanswered
One in eight calls to the NHS’s new non-emergency number is going unanswered, amid reports people are having to wait over half an hour. Ministers want 111 to be the only number people need to call in England, “if you urgently need medical help or advice but it’s not a life-threatening situation”.
But a pilot in four areas – Luton, County Durham and Darlington, Lincolnshire, and Nottingham – is highlighting worrying problems.
Official statistics show that in September, 12 per cent of calls went unanswered. Across the four areas there were 33,707 calls to the service.
The Department of Health expects 12 million calls a year to the free 111 number in England, based on scaling up that figure.
Writing on the NHS’s own web page about the 111 number, one caller expressed frustration at being unable to get through despite waiting 35 minutes.
“All I wanted was a bit of advice. I now need to go to work and have had no help from anyone,” the caller wrote.
“I had the sense to take pain killers myself, hope this new service gets better.”
A month ago Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, announced that 111 would be rolled out nationwide by April 2013, abolishing the concept of “out-of-hours” care. It is also meant to encompass NHS Direct.
The Department of Health claimed the September statistics showed an “encouraging picture”. A spokesman said: “Lessons learned from the pilots will ensure that when the service is rolled out nationally it will provide people with a first class service.”
He added: “We know that unanswered calls are usually callers who get through to the NHS 111 message and hang up. This could be because they wanted to speak to their GP practice, but it was still in the ‘out of hours’ period and they were therefore transferred to NHS 111. “This figure does not mean patients are receiving a poor service.”
A spokesman for NHS Direct echoed this, saying the vast majority of the 12 per cent of unanswered calls were of people who chose to hang up, after learning they were being put through to the 111 service when they wanted to speak directly to their GP.
When such callers were stripped out, she said “the rate of abandoned calls in September was 0.4 per cent”.
UK Border officials ‘have lost track of 124,000 asylum seekers and migrants’
Border officials have lost track of a population of asylum seekers and migrants as big as that of Cambridge, it emerged last night.
MPs said the number of individuals ‘lost’ by the UK Border Agency had almost tripled in six months from 40,500 in March to 124,000 in September.
Officials say they have placed the cases in a so-called ‘controlled archive’ for applicants who cannot be contacted by officials. But the home affairs select committee said the archive had, in reality, become a ‘dumping ground for cases where the UK Border Agency has lost track of the applicant’.
The archive includes the cases of around 98,000 asylum seekers who cannot be found, in which the agency has no idea whether the applicant even remains in the UK. Following a UKBA review, it also includes around 26,000 migrant cases, most of which are more than eight years old, relating to those who have overstayed their visas or who have been refused an extension of leave, such as students.
The MPs said: ‘Whilst we appreciate the difficulties involved in tracing people with whom the agency have lost contact, usually for a period of several years, it is clear that the controlled archive has become a dumping ground for cases on which the agency has given up.
‘From 18,000 files in November 2010, the archive now contains 124,000 files, roughly equivalent to the population of Cambridge.’ Keith Vaz, the committee’s chairman, said: ‘The UK Border Agency is still not providing the efficient, effective service that Parliament expects.’
David Cameron recently called upon the public to report any suspected visa over-stayers or other illegal immigrants to the Crimestoppers hotline so UKBA could investigate.
But Mr Vaz added: ‘There is little point in encouraging people to do this if the border agency continues to fail to manage the intelligence it receives or to keep track of those who apply to stay.’
The process of going through old asylum and immigration cases began under Labour. Where officials could not find the applicant, they put their case into the controlled archive so they could effectively stop looking.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the campaign group MigrationWatch, said: ‘This is Labour’s chaotic asylum legacy.’
Border officials have lost track of a population of asylum seekers and migrants as big as that of Cambridge, it emerged last night.
Where are they? Officials say they have placed the cases in a so-called ‘controlled archive’ for applicants who cannot be contacted by officials
And Damian Green, Minister for Immigration, said: ‘I am determined to deal with the historic asylum cases left by the last government and we are making real progress tackling the archive to trace these individuals.’
The revelation came as the public continued to sign the MigrationWatch ‘No to 70million’, which calls on ministers to get a firm grip on immigration policy, at the rate of more than 1,000 every hour yesterday. Last night, the Downing Street e-petition had been signed by 67,000.
Do British fathers no longer have ANY rights at all?
Fathers denied legal rights to see their children after a break-up. Grandparents dismissed as causing ‘damage’ to their grandchildren when they ‘interfere’ in divorces.
The reforms to family law proposed by the Government’s adviser on families reads like some poisonous feminist tract from the Sixties.
David Norgrove’s Family Justice Review is a misguided piece of outdated, sexist nonsense which enshrines in law a mother’s unassailable right to raise her children — alone.
Mr Norgrove decrees that fathers should have no legal right to enjoy time with their children when a relationship ends. He even says that for a father to have a ‘meaningful relationship’ with his children after his marriage breaks down can do ‘more harm than good’.
He claims his review is all based on what’s ‘best for the child’.
Yet he ignores decades of research that shows children from broken homes benefit from maintaining a stable, constant relationship with their mothers and their fathers, as well as with their extended family.
As Iain Duncan Smith says — and countless parents who’ve been through the agony of a divorce know — these reforms would ‘fuel the epidemic of fatherless families’.
And there is a terrible irony here: successive governments have, quite rightly, gone to huge efforts to ensure fathers from broken relationships support their children financially. Now they are being told that, despite that support, they will have no legal right to any access.
Few of us have been untouched by the break-up of a family, whether our own, our children’s or a friend’s.
I’m not saying all fathers are paragons — the sad truth is that both mothers and fathers use their children as pawns for maximum leverage in divorce negotiations. It’s just that the law as it stands gives women the upper hand.
In the bitterness of a divorce, some women use every dirty trick in the book to deny decent men access to their own children. I have even known normally sensible women, egged on by their divorce lawyers, to claim falsely that their husbands abused them, so as to deny them access to the children.
I’ve seen successful career women claiming poverty or even quitting work to screw every penny out of their children’s father, yet still deny him access.
Guilty till proved innocent is the dictum for dads in the Family Law Courts.
David Cameron has long promised his will be the most family-friendly government in history. He can prove it by condemning Mr Norgrove’s unjust Anti-Family Review and enshrining in law the right of every decent father to a fair share in the raising of his children.
Sir Michael Wilshaw takes over at Ofsted: How the hero of Hackney aims to save Britain’s schools
A granite veneer of impersonal grey surrounds Sir Michael Wilshaw: the suit, the notice-board in his office and the rims of his spectacles that shield currant-like eyes are grey, framed by neat, whitish-grey hair. If I did not know he was a head teacher, who has just been appointed the new head of Ofsted, I might suspect him of being a plain clothes detective appropriately impervious to back-chat or challenge.
For Sir Michael, the “miracle maker” who made Mossbourne Academy in Hackney a model of success, the Ofsted job is a chance to bring the same “no excuses” grit to a national stage. Already he has ruffled feathers with his claim this week that schools like his own must act as “surrogate parents” for children of “dysfunctional families”, often offering them an alternative to gang culture.
“We are filling in those gaps all the time,” he says. “We get these children in at 7.30am every morning to do an hour’s reading, before school starts. They stay until 6pm, to make sure they do their homework. And we have them coming in at weekends. They may be loved, but they don’t have the support they need at home to succeed and so teachers are like surrogate parents.”
So far the report for the rest of England’s 30,000 schools is a damning “could do better”. The gulf between independent and grammar schools, with glittering Oxbridge entry and A* exam results, is widening; the number of teenagers going to top universities from state schools is pitifully low and many middle-class parents would rather re-mortgage their homes than “risk” the local comprehensive.
“We have to ask why are parents sending their children to independent and grammar schools,” says Sir Michael. “Is there disillusionment? There certainly is. Standards are too low and they have to be raised. Undoubtedly in some places it’s going to be harder than others. But if we want a world-class education system that’s what we’ve got to do.’
The £180,000 Ofsted position was advertised twice, without any takers. Sir Michael, 65, admits he received a “whisper” in his ear, but for the man dubbed the hero of our education times by Education Secretary Michael Gove, it must surely have been more like a desperate howl of entreaty.
Despite its position in the middle of one of Britain’s poorest housing estates, with 40 per cent of students on free school meals, Mossbourne Academy achieved record exam results of 82 per cent A* to C GCSE passes, including maths and English; it sent eight students to Cambridge, a single mother among them; and a further 60 per cent won places at top Russell Group universities. As head of Ofsted, it is a message that Sir Michael is determined to spread.
“There are a growing number of schools producing fantastic results in areas of deprivation, because of the effort they are putting in and the high aspirations of the children,” says Sir Michael. “It can be done. We’ve got to stop making excuses for background, culture and ethnicity and get on with it.”
Sir Michael acknowledges that Mossbourne epitomises an education system polarised between “outstanding” and so awful that even Ofsted’s inspection grading terms have lost all meaning. “Good” is often considered little more than acceptable, while “satisfactory”, ironically, is damning.
“It makes no sense that 19 per cent of schools are judged outstanding overall, but teaching is judged as outstanding in only 4 per cent of schools,” says Sir Michael. “You should not be able to have one without the other. Not least because it does a disservice to schools that are truly outstanding. As for ‘satisfactory’, well, that’s an awful word, isn’t it? I want to replace it with ‘improving’ for schools heading in the right direction. And another word for those that are not.”
Already Ofsted is facing drastic reforms to cut red tape under changes that will come into effect when Sir Michael takes up his position in January. Parents will have the power to trigger fresh inspections and Ofsted will focus only on four key areas: behaviour, leadership, outcomes and teaching.
“You can identify a failing teacher very quickly,” says Sir Michael. “My difficulty is the teacher who can turn it on when observed, but fades back into mediocrity when there’s no one watching. We need robust performance management. That takes courage.”
Sir Michael’s own background is modest. He was the son of a postman, who grew up in a Catholic household in London. He “only just scraped” his own exams and went on to gain a history degree at Birkbeck College. As a teacher, he has worked consistently in some of the toughest areas in London, including West Ham and Hackney. Indeed, some question whether he is more inspiring as a head than an inspector.
“It was a hellishly difficult decision,” he says. “But this is a chance to shape the national education scene and make a difference, although I’m expecting more brickbats than bouquets.”
For now he remains most committed to the poorest children. But Sir Michael is pragmatic in achieving his goal, and will borrow from and copy the best of what the independent schools have to offer.
“I visited Wellington College and the students there think they are masters of the universe,” he says. “They think they’ve a right to the best universities and the best jobs. They have that sense of entitlement. And that’s what I want to give children in the state sector.”
He has also forged a partnership with Bishop’s Stortford College, a private school in Hertfordshire, to support Mossbourne in its Oxbridge applications. “They send around 30 kids to Oxbridge. They knew how to do it. They gave us good advice, as well as opening up our eyes to the standards that were required to get in.
“That was crucial. I don’t agree with tokenism. That only reinforces mediocrity among poor children. You can’t go to the hothouse of Cambridge and cope if you haven’t got there by the same means.”
As well as teachers, Sir Michael has heads in his line of fire. A head teacher can make or break a school and, according to Sir Michael, those children requiring “surrogate parenting” from their schools need heads who can fight their corner to compete with the most privileged children.
“I was rapped over the knuckles for saying good leadership is about power and ego,” he says. “But that’s what the independent sector has, very powerful figures who resist government interference and won’t do anything that won’t benefit their school. We need those slightly maverick figures who know what they believe in and fight for it. Do we need empire builders? Yes, we do.”
Of course, for most children education is about what happens in the grey middle of the debate, not at the outer extremes of Oxbridge glory or severe special needs. But I resist looking for the cracks in Sir Michael’s granite veneer.
Our hope is that he will do for all poor children of England what he’s done for those of Hackney – and in doing so will take the rest of us along for the ride.
The bus stop bullies: How many British schoolchildren are too scared to even go to school
Tens of thousands of children are terrified of going to school because ‘bus stop bullies’ make their journeys a misery.
Gang culture and a breakdown of discipline have turned English school children into the most bullied youngsters in Europe, research has revealed.
A third of those aged 12 to 16 live in fear of bullies, and one in six is so scared of their tormentors that they are frightened of travelling to and from school.
The bus stop bullies often target vulnerable youngsters from their school who do not have the ‘protection’ of gang membership.
The situation is far worse than in other European nations, including Poland, Holland and Spain, and many children said they did not know where to turn for help.
Stephen Moore, co-author, said: ‘The primary threat to personal safety comes from other pupils, generally from the same school.
‘Whilst incidents may be regarded as ‘low impact’ in terms of objective levels of harm – name-calling was much more common than violence – these low impact incidents can potentially have a significant effect on the emotional wellbeing of young people.
‘Interestingly, the patterns of bullying outside school and the responses varied quite noticeably across the different European countries, and the same notions of bullying were not held across the various countries.’
The study looked at 855 children in the east of England, from a mixture of rural and urban schools.
Mr Moore added that children do not know where to turn. He said: ‘The issue of who to turn to when a problem occurs during the time before and after school was a dilemma for the young people, as it was recognised by the pupils that threats and violations to personal safety at these times were not necessarily a matter in which they wanted to turn to the school for support.
‘It was most often other young people who provided the support and advice when young people were bullied. ‘The research found that this level of support was not fully acknowledged in current bullying strategies, nor was the sophistication of young people in dealing with bullying incidents.’
As well as speaking to pupils in England, researchers sampled children from Spain, Poland, Hungary, Cyprus, Portugal, Holland and Italy.