Hospital bugs hit an all-time high: Number of patients picking up life-threatening infections has doubled in two years
A record number of patients picked up life-threatening infections in NHS hospitals last year, alarming figures show. Poor hygiene on the wards has resulted in those with hospital-acquired infections doubling from 22,488 to 42,712 in just two years.
Most of those affected are elderly, meaning their chances of recovering from the surgery or serious illness they were being treated for in the first place are drastically reduced. The average age of patients battling hospital bugs is 76.
The figures, from the NHS Information Centre, cover all hospital infections including superbugs MRSA and C.difficile and other dangerous illnesses such as norovirus and E.coli. Experts say that while efforts to eradicate the superbugs have had some success, the other avoidable bugs are on the rise.
Only today the Health Protection Agency announced there have been 46 outbreaks of suspected norovirus in hospitals over the past two weeks, with more than half leading to ward closures or restrictions. Since the beginning of October, there have been 244 confirmed outbreaks.
Infection experts warned that some of the diseases are becoming ‘hyper-resistant’ to antibiotics. Critics say that while trusts are getting to grips with familiar superbugs, other infections are slipping under the radar because figures on their prevalence do not need to be submitted to the Department of Health for scrutiny.
The sharp rise in the numbers suffering from hospital infections is mirrored by a similar spike in the compensation the NHS is paying to such patients which reached a record £6million last year.
Hospitals have tried to make wards cleaner by introducing handwash and encouraging patients and visitors to be more aware of the need to be hygienic. Such efforts, however, appear to be in vain.
According to data submitted by hospitals to the NHS Information Centre, in 2010/11, there were 42,712 cases in which a hospital consultant recorded a patient’s illness as being a ‘nosocomial condition’ – that is an infection picked up in a hospital or medical environment. It is the highest rate in the 13 years for which records are publicly available. In 1998/99 it was just 335. This year’s figure is up 36 per cent on the 31,447 recorded in 2009/10 and almost double the 22,488 of 2008/09.
Hospital-acquired infections lead to extended stays in hospital of around one month. Last year patients battling these conditions took up almost 800,000 NHS bed nights and equated to 2,200 beds on a daily basis.
Joyce Robins, co-director of Patient Concern said: ‘This is a terrifying prospect for vulnerable elderly people who think they are going into hospital to get better.
‘It contrasts sharply with the happy propaganda that has been telling us that infection rates had dropped sharply. It is shocking that there seems to be no effective way of motivating hospital managers to stop this appalling waste of money when they are laying off front line staff to cut budgets.’
Earlier this month it emerged that 38 trusts had been affected by outbreaks of norovirus, with many having to close wards. Almost 800 patients were affected.
In the last year, compensation payments to the victims of hospital-acquired infections reached record levels and almost trebled from the previous year’s figure to more than £6million. When the legal costs associated with the cases are added in, the total bill to the NHS came to more than £10million. It means around £30,000 every day is drained out of the NHS budget to pay for the claims of those who pick up life-threatening infections while in hospital, often for routine treatments.
The NHS figures do not break the infections down by type, but along with MRSA and C. diff they are expected to include norovirus, E coli, various urinary tract infections and conditions such as pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterial infection that can attack everything from organs to soft tissue.
Epidemiologist Dr Mark Enright, of London’s Imperial College, said: ‘MRSA and C. diff have largely been controlled, because hospitals can get into quite a lot of trouble because they have to report to health authorities. ‘But there are other organisms which are resistant to antibiotics, such as pseudomonas aeruginosa. These are present in the environment but can be dangerous in hospitals, affecting people with depressed immune systems.
‘This increasing trend of hospital-acquired infections is extremely concerning’ ‘It can be very difficult to stop them spreading all over hospitals. If you are a nurse on a busy ward at night you can’t always change gloves between patients so you will always get a measure of bacteria transmission.’
Michelle Mitchell, charity director of Age UK, said: ‘This increasing trend of hospital acquired infections is extremely concerning. People over the age of 60 are 88 per cent more likely to acquire these infections. ‘This can be extremely distressing for older patients and their families, and can have a detrimental effect on their recovery.’
A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘These figures are misleading. The NHS has got better and better at tackling hospital infections, demonstrated by the record lows we have seen this year. ‘Because we are not complacent, we have introduced mandatory reporting of more hospital infections. That means that we have shone a light on the problems previously swept under the carpet. But patients should be confident that the measures we have taken will continue the downward trend in hospital infections.’
Girl, 12, dies of septicaemia after ‘doctors were too busy to do simple blood tests’
An immediate antibiotic infusion would almost certainly have saved her
A girl of 12 died after doctors failed to carry out blood tests because they were too busy, an inquest was told. Emma Stones was admitted to Tameside General Hospital in Greater Manchester with flu-like symptoms but contracted a bacterial infection which led to septicaemia.
She died from the blood poisoning 16 hours after she was admitted to the hospital.
The inquest heard how there was a catalogue of errors in the lead-up to her death.
Coroner John Pollard criticised the lack of urgency and co-ordination in her care, but he said he could not be sure that earlier intervention would have saved her.
The hearing was told how:
* Emma’s blood pressure was never taken as it should have been under hospital policy;
* A junior doctor wanted to take a blood sample but a senior registrar was too busy to help;
* A team of three nurses failed to regularly monitor her throughout the night – she should have been observed every four hours;
* One nurse was suspended as a result and later received a warning after an internal disciplinary hearing;
* Two other nurses will now be made subject of extra training in observations
A series of policy changes have been implemented at the hospital as a result of Emma’s death.
Mr Pollard said the issues amounted to ‘inertia’ on the part of staff.
Emma, a pupil at Cromwell High in Tameside, Greater Manchester, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth. Doctors said she was stable before her condition deteriorated without warning.
She lived with her twin sister, Christina, and parents Mike Stones and Tracey Futcher on Chester Avenue in Dukinfield, near Tameside.
Emma, who suffered health problems throughout her life, was taken to hospital on the advice of community nurses at around 3.45pm on Sunday, February 6. The hearing was told how junior doctor Dr Kayleigh Hughes wanted to take a sample of her blood and asked for help. But a senior registrar was too busy to carry out the test due to his workload, the inquest heard.
Mr Pollard also hit out at a breakdown of communication between staff. Dr Hughes wasn’t told that Emma’s heart rate had risen rapidly, the inquest heard. There was nothing to indicate that Emma was seriously ill, but her heart rate increased five hours after her admission.
The inquest was also told that key information about what treatment Emma might have needed was not included on a handover note when staff changed shifts. Emma’s condition deteriorated and she had a heart attack at around 8.15am the following Monday morning.
Tests ruled she contracted an infection, group A streptococcus, which led to septicaemia, or blood poisoning. The infection, described as serious and rapidly progressive, could have caused toxic shock syndrome.
Children’s services matron Wendy Hulse said changes to nursing policies had been made.
The inquest heard that doctors’ notes will now be reviewed with regard to their content, not just their dating and signing. Detailed changes to staff shift handover arrangements are also being made.
Philip Dylak, director of nursing at Tameside Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘While it would not be appropriate for the hospital to comment on the details until the coroner has reached his verdict, we would wish to express our deepest sympathies to the family of Emma Stones at this very difficult time.’
The inquest will resume on March 6, where Mr Pollard is due to reveal his findings.
The idea of a memorial for the St Paul’s protest plumbs new depths – even for the C of E, says James Delingpole.
Maybe they could commission it from Tracey Emin, this “memorial tent” they’re thinking of putting on permanent display inside St Paul’s Cathedral in honour of the Occupy protesters. Or, if that sounds too obvious, maybe they could get Jake and Dinos Chapman to do a diorama of 10,000 bankers having their arms and legs ripped off in ironic homage to Goya’s Disasters of War. Or how about a gigantic, jewel-encrusted dog-on-a-rope from Damian Hirst? Or an installation by Chris Offili of dirty needles, condoms and unsold copies of the Socialist Worker sitting on a pile of elephant poo?
Whatever they decide on, this much is clear: something must be done to honour the defiance, tenacity and heroic soap-shunning of the protesters who’ve spent the past few weeks camped outside St Paul’s. We learn this from no less an authority than the Bishop of London himself, speaking on Christmas Day as he presented some of the protesters with a big box of chocolates: “The canons have been very imaginative and consulting with the protesters about how to leave a legacy of the protests. We are looking for ways of honouring what has been said when the camp moves on.”
Thus Dr Richard Chartres, third most senior clergyman in the Church of England (after the Archbishops of Canterbury and York), doing a bravura impression of Peter Simple’s barmily progressive Bishop of Bevindon, Dr Spacely-Trellis. The only giveaway is that Chartres forgot to slip in the phrase “in a very real sense”. Otherwise, the impression would have been note perfect.
What’s particularly depressing about this episode is that Chartres is supposedly one of the Church’s more traditional senior clerics. If this is the line the Church’s reactionary old school is taking, imagine what insanities its more progressive elements are yearning to impose on us. Presumably they won’t really feel that justice has been done until St Paul’s has been razed to the ground and replaced by a permanent Anti-Capitalist Peace Camp.
As Time magazine claimed, 2011 may have been the Year of the Protester. But it was also the Year When The Church Of England Lost The Plot Completely. All the signs were there in October when, instead of seeking immediately to evict the rabble that had forced St Paul’s to close for longer than it did even during the Blitz, the Church instead decided to cosy up to the protesters and “feel their pain” – and thus prolong the occupation. But even by the modern C of E’s dismally inept standards, the Bishop of London’s yuletide surrender-monkey offering really does plumb stygian new depths of abject inanity.
Does the Bishop of London seriously imagine that Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece will be enhanced or edified by erecting a permanent memorial to a motiveless bully mob of Leftist agitators? Has it not occurred to him how oddly this might sit in a church which houses the tombs of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, men whose service to the nation consisted of rather more than snarling slogans for three months? Is he not aware that St Paul’s purpose is not merely to act as a political playground for the smelly, activist few, but as a historical monument to be enjoyed by the many?
Probably Dr Chartres is aware of all these things, for he is not stupid. Also – as I noted when he presided over my daughter’s confirmation last year – he is capable of addressing the numinous with deep conviction and authority. But, unfortunately, he happens to be part of an organisation that has long since lost its original raison d’être. Today’s vibrant, forward-looking, ecumenical Church of England has much more to do with diversity outreach, climate change, grievance nurturing and banker bashing than it does with religious worship.
It’s this lack of genuine religious conviction, I’m sure, which explains why the C of E has got itself into such a muddle over the occupation of St Paul’s (and the occupation of Bristol Cathedral where the protesters are replacing tents with wooden structures so that they can stay all winter).
Had it stopped to consider for a moment, the Church could have found plenty of Biblical authority not to endorse the Occupy protest movement. It could, for example, have pointed out that though Jesus drove the money-lenders out of the Temple, this was because of his objection to the commercialisation of the house of God rather than because of a principled rejection of all forms of capitalism.
And true though it may be that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus had none of that inverted snobbery you find in the Occupy movement or the C of E. As the tales of Jairus and his daughter, Zacchaeus the tax collector, and the Centurion’s servant all indicate, Jesus was just as comfortable doing outreach work among the rich and powerful as he was among the poor and needy. But to understand all this would involve a certain familiarity with the New Testament. And I’m not sure that the C of E bothers overmuch with that old-fashioned stuff these days.
Archbishop of Canterbury blasted for comparing rioters and bankers as politicians urge him to focus on religion
A minister hit out at the Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday for comparing City bankers to the rioters who tore apart Britain’s cities over the summer. Coalition trade and investment minister Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, who is also an ordained minister in the Church of England, said bankers had changed their attitudes since the crash of 2008.
His comments come as a growing chorus of leading politicians urge the Archbishop to concentrate on spiritual matters and leave the politics to them.
Dr Rowan Williams raised eyebrows on Sunday by saying the rioters were no worse than the bankers and that ‘bonds of trust’ had broken throughout society.
In his Christmas sermon, he said: ‘Whether it is an urban rioter mindlessly burning down a small shop that serves his community, or a speculator turning his back on the question of who bears the ultimate cost for his acquisitive adventures in the virtual reality of today’s financial world, the picture is of atoms spinning apart in the dark.’
But the Government hit back yesterday, with Lord Green saying: ‘I think a lot has changed since 2008 actually, and I think there has been a lot of soul-searching in the financial services industry, quite rightly too. ‘There are clearly a lot of current challenges but at the level we are talking about has there been an attitudinal change? Yes, I think there has.’
Lord Green, a former chairman of HSBC, said the Government would need to remain ‘watchful’ to stop ‘backsliding’ by the City. But he said it was wrong to single out the financial services industry for criticism.
He said: ‘It is important not to treat banking like some special mysterious art, banking is a business and all businesses face this question – what is your contribution to human welfare and to the common good.’
Lord Green’s case was bolstered yesterday by figures from the independent Centre for Economics and Business Research, which showed the City bonus pool has been cut by 40 per cent since the crisis of 2008. During the last Labour parliament the pool averaged £9billion. Under the Coalition, the average for the last two years has been £5.5billion. The average bonus paid has gone from £9,053 to £5,465.
Lord Green’s intervention pitches the Coalition into a fresh conflict with the Church of England. It comes just days after Prime Minister David Cameron launched a veiled attack on Dr Williams’s forays into politics.
In a highly personal speech on religion, he called on the Archbishop to lead a revival of Bible values in Britain rather than focus on politics. He said he was content for Dr Williams to make political statements, but warned him he should not be surprised if the politicians hit back.
The Archbishop has repeatedly spoken out about the Coalition’s austerity programme, accusing the Government of peddling ‘radical policies for which no one voted’ –– despite polls showing the public supports the cuts.
The BBC’s Sorry Journalism
Tibor R. Machan
The BBC recently published the following in a report about the Republican primary contest in Iowa: “Correspondents say a Ron Paul victory in Iowa would be a major embarrassment to the Republican party as many of his views are seen as too libertarian and isolationist. Mr. Paul would order a $1 trillion (£641bn) spending cut, eliminating a number of government agencies, including the Department of Education. He also proposes returning the dollar to a gold standard and cutting all foreign aid, including to Israel….”
“At a recent campaign stop in Iowa a breast cancer survivor began crying after he told her insurance companies should not have to cover those who are already sick, Reuters news agency reports….”
This passage is worth some attention if only because those of us who have sympathies toward Representative Paul’s libertarian politics should not duck out when opponents target him for criticism, be it fair or not. Let me start with the last bit, the treatment of a crying breast cancer survivor as a kind of “gotcha” device versus Paul. (And incidentally, who are those correspondents who say that Paul’s “victory would be a major embarrassment to the Republican party”? Let’s have some names her, some attributions, by BBC!)
Now we all have hopes and wishes that people will be helpful to and supportive of us, especially when we suffer from maladies or hazardous conditions we had no role in bringing about. Casualties of acts of nature do often deserve our sympathy and even help, unless they have been negligent in taking precautionary measures, such as saving up for health insurance. Even in cases when one has been negligent, often others overlook this and tend to be considerate beyond the call of duty, as it were.
Representative Paul and other libertarians are often first in line with offering private support to such people. The citizens of the US are often first in lending a hand to those who have been hit with natural disasters, like a tsunami or earthquake, and the essence of generosity is precisely that, offering private support and aid to those in need.
What Paul and libertarians in general object to is the coerced support given to those in need by governments are expropriate resources from the citizenry, take a sizable chunk of it for administrative expenses, and distribute the funds according to the lights of the politicians and bureaucrats. This kind of forcible distribution of others’ money is what libertarians are against as a matter of principle and Ron Paul is no exception. This does not at all make him or libertarians callous, heartless, cruel or anything of the kind, however much many claim this about them, ones to whom it seems to come very naturally to confiscate other people’s resources and do with it as they think they should. (I explain this in some detail in my book, Generosity, Virtue in Civil Society .)
As to the cuts supported by Ron Paul, I would urge those who are going to give the matter some thought to consider, once again, that these cuts are an effort to eliminate or at least reduce the forcible taking by some people of the resources that belong to others and to which they have no right whatever. All charitable, helpful acts must be voluntary otherwise they have no moral merit whatsoever. Yes, there are some spurious arguments claiming that out good behavior may, indeed must, be imposed upon us by wiser and more virtuous people than we are but it is just a ruse. No one can make other people moral except by example!
This also applied to foreign aid, be it to Israel or Mongolia. People abroad aren’t entitled to the property of Americans or anyone else who has not voluntarily given it to them. Israel is no exception!
Unfortunately this line of thinking is rarely if every presented to readers in an accurate way so they could consider it without bias. Instead journalists have a dogmatic commitment to the coercion involved in government support for the needy, failing to even mention that kind of thinking summarized above and making it appear that those who do share it are monsters.
Lost of people also mistakenly identify the coercive taking of people resources with Robin Hoodism but in fact Robin Hood took back from the tax takers what they forcibly took for the those whom they victimized. The proper approach to seeing people in need is to mount a serious, voluntary effort to secure support for them, starting with one’s own, not to advocate taking from them what belongs to them and what only they have the rightful authority to give away.
Now in a messy world it is very difficult to be principled and trying to be usually brings on the charge of being an ideologue, a blind adherent to simplistic ideas. But in fact it shows integrity, nothing less! And it is time that politicians show some of it because without integrity the game is up anyway–trust, honesty, responsibility and all such virtue go out the window, never mind simple, honest generosity.
How a little-heralded, old-fashioned history book about great Britons has struck a nerve
Almost ten years ago, a survey was launched to find the most significant individuals in our nation’s proud history. More than a million people took part, and, not surprisingly, the winner was Sir Winston Churchill, unquestionably the greatest statesman of the last century.
Yet for one observer, who had served in the British Army before working in the City, the results of the Great Britons poll were deeply depressing.
Appalled that Princess Diana had somehow finished third, John Lennon seventh and the actor Michael Crawford in 17th place, Adrian Sykes decided to write a book celebrating the men and women who had really contributed to Britain’s glittering past.
Not even Mr Sykes, however, could have imagined how successful his enterprise would be. The result, Made In Britain, has not only attracted rave reviews from historians, it even has an endorsement from the most influential reader of all, the Prime Minister.
Asked what books were on his bedside table, David Cameron replied: ‘I’m reading something called Made In Britain. It’s a very nice, rather old-fashioned history book about the great figures and inventions of British history. ‘It’s just rather good — I’ve been reading bits with my children.’
There is something rather heartening in the fact that Mr Cameron has been whiling away the evening hours with such a patriotic tome. And, no doubt, Mr Sykes’s stirring accounts of the battles of Agincourt, Trafalgar and Waterloo helped to stiffen the Prime Minister’s sinews before he stood up to France’s latest two-bit Napoleon, the preposterous Nicolas Sarkozy, at this month’s European summit.
Yet behind the success of Made In Britain — which is, as Mr Cameron admitted, a rather old-fashioned kind of book, albeit a splendidly colourful and entertaining one — there is a profoundly depressing reality.
Recent polls show that nine out of ten adults can name all David Beckham’s children, yet one in three thinks Churchill was a fictional character and one in four believes Hadrian’s Wall was built to keep out the French.
Of course, historical ignorance is as old as history itself: even the Victorians used to berate their children for not knowing the difference between Robert the Bruce and Sir Robert Walpole. And yet behind these figures lies a deeply troubling modern malaise.
A report last week by the Commons All-Party Group on History found that, more and more, history is concentrated in private schools and grammar schools, while comprehensives opt for supposedly less difficult subjects.
Last year, fewer than one in three 16-year-olds in Britain’s comprehensives were entered for GCSE history, compared with 55 per cent of grammar school pupils. And in 159 state schools, almost incredibly, not one pupil was entered for the GCSE history exam.
In the poor Knowsley area of Merseyside, for example, just 11 out of a potential 2,000 pupils took A-level history last year — and just four of them passed.
At the root of all this is the unforgivable fact that, almost alone in Europe, British youngsters can drop history before they turn 16.
As a result, modern schoolchildren are force-fed with facts about the Nazis and the U.S. Civil Rights movement, but often know little about the rise and fall of the British Empire, the origins of Parliament or major events such as the Hundred Years War.
Even many high achievers now leave school with only the vaguest knowledge of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which the our last Catholic monarch, the despotic James II, was forced off the throne and replaced by his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange.
In that moment, our constitutional monarchy was born; but how many youngsters are aware of it today?
Indeed, how many know about the Great Reform Act of 1832, which outlawed the corrupt rotten boroughs and paved the way for the expansion of the franchise, the rise of women’s suffrage and the birth of our modern mass democracy?
Through no fault of their own, thousands of our children are leaving school every year ignorant of what their parents and grandparents once took for granted: the inspirational, heart-warming knowledge of what we all once recognised as our national story.
Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that so many modern youngsters feel rootless and alienated, adrift in a landscape they do not understand.
But the study of our nation’s past is more than mere antiquarianism. The truth is that history is the fundamental subject from which everything else flows. All that we know, all that we are, is built on the legacy of our predecessors, from the language we speak to the latest technological gadgets.
The study of the past is more than the dry recital of half- forgotten facts. It is a debate without end, offering youngsters the chance to develop their powers of deduction and to challenge the received wisdom.
And in an age of growing individualism, when greedy self-interest too often trumps social responsibility, history offers a rare chance to come together.
For contrary to the progressive doctrines fashionable since the Seventies, there is nothing reactionary or old-fashioned about teaching your own national history, or about inviting youngsters to be proud of their country’s past.
Indeed, it is baffling that so many card-carrying left- wingers, who spend so much time preaching about the values of community, are so indifferent to the one thing around which all decent British people can rally: our splendidly colourful, rousing and inspirational history.
For 13 years, New Labour, which positively gloried in its commitment to modernity and its scorn for history, spent much of its time bleating about Britishness lessons and citizenship classes. It would have done better to teach our children their own national story — the subject most likely to inculcate a real sense of community and identity.
For too long, in fact, our intellectual classes have been engaged in a gigantic cultural cringe, abasing themselves before unreadable Continental theorists and queuing up to disavow Britain’s imperial past.
Faced with this exhibition of masochistic servility, it is no wonder so many teenagers feel there is little to be proud of in our national story. Yet as Adrian Sykes’s book shows, the truth could not be more different.
Of course all nations love to think themselves important, and every country’s past is dotted with jaw-dropping landmarks, colourful characters and pulse-speeding stories.
But you merely have to scan the pages of Made In Britain to realise that for excitement, incident and sheer worldwide influence, our splendid history is second to none.
No drama, after all, can compare with the spectacle of the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I and claimant to the English throne, besieged by her rival King Stephen in Oxford Castle in the winter of 1142, only to mount a stunningly audacious overnight escape through the snow, lit only by moonlight.
Nor could any scene in a novel compete with the excitement of the future Charles II, fleeing from the victorious Roundheads after the Civil War battle of Worcester, hiding from his pursuers up an old oak tree.
No fictional character can compete with Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Saxon warrior king who united the English people, smashed the Vikings, and spent his spare time translating books of philosophy, or with Oliver Cromwell, the great commoner who was called by God to cast out tyranny and superstition and in the process created parliamentary democracy.
Then there was Captain Cook, the eighteenth-century explorer coursing through the uncharted seas of the South Pacific, to discover the east coast of Australia, circumnavigate New Zealand and meet his death in a fight with natives on the sands of Hawaii.
And even modern history teems with unforgettably colourful characters, from Douglas Bader, the RAF air ace who won 20 dogfights despite having had both legs amputated, to Margaret Thatcher, the Grantham grocer’s daughter who defied the odds to become our first woman Prime Minister.
But there is more to the rich pageant of our national story than the great and the good.
One of Mr Sykes’s most memorable characters, for example, is the bare-knuckle boxer Tom Cribb, born near Bristol in 1781, who moved to London at the age of just 13 to work as a coal porter.
Known as the ‘Black Diamond’, Cribb won the national boxing championship in 1805 after fighting George Maddox for a staggering 76 rounds. And five years later, he became world champion after beating the American ex-slave Tom Molineaux in 35 rounds, although, in fairness, Molineaux was injured when the overexcited crowd invaded the ring.
To his credit, Mr Sykes finds room for our peerless literary and cultural heritage, from Shakespeare’s glittering verse to Dickens’s pungent social criticism. And as a real treat, there is a whole page of witticisms by my favourite Englishman of all, that supreme Tory maverick, Dr Samuel Johnson, the greatest literary figure of the 18th century.
‘The expense is damnable, the position is ridiculous and the pleasure fleeting,’ ran the great man’s view on sex — one unlikely to be shared by another colourful Johnson, today’s Mayor of London.
And in a remark that would no doubt strike horror into today’s politically correct Anglican clergy, Dr Johnson had firm views on women priests. ‘A woman preaching is like a dog walking on its hind legs,’ he observed. ‘It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.’
For all the jokes, though, Mr Sykes’s book reminds us that more than any other people on earth, it is the British who have contributed most to the comfort, ingenuity and enterprise of the modern age.
Where, after, all, would modern science be without Sir Isaac Newton, the passionately religious Lincolnshire boy, whose ideas about gravity and the laws of motion, first proposed in 1687, utterly transformed humanity’s understanding of the physical world?
Where, for that matter, would we be without the extraordinary polymath Robert Hooke, who surveyed the buildings of the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666, discovered the law of elasticity, built some of the first modern telescopes and virtually invented the first modern plan-form map?
Then there was Michael Faraday, the self-taught Southwark youngster who transformed Victorian technology through his discovery of the electromagnetic field, his invention of an early Bunsen burner and his discovery of the principle of induction. Not for nothing did Einstein keep a picture of Faraday on his wall, next to that of Newton.
And perhaps above all, there was Charles Darwin, the Shropshire lad whose five-year voyage to South America, the Pacific Islands and Australia on HMS Beagle fuelled his ground-breaking ideas about evolution and natural selection, smashing the old theories about life on earth and utterly revolutionizing the way millions of people made sense of their place in the world.
On top of all that, where would the world be without the seed drill, the power loom, the sewing machine, the Valentine’s card, the typewriter, the pram, the corkscrew, the postage stamp, the flushing toilet, the smallpox vaccine, or, indeed, the computer? All these things were invented in Britain — yet very few of us know it.
Yes, our national story has its fair share of crimes and misdemeanours. But the truth is that, from free trade and parliamentary democracy to the glories of the English language and the reassurance of the rule of law, British history is a jewel without compare.
‘The past is a foreign country’, wrote L. P. Hartley at the beginning of his great novel The Go-Between. ‘They do things differently there.’
But while Adrian Sykes’s book makes a wonderfully old-fashioned introduction to that vast and impossibly rich continent, it can never compensate for the pleasures of a full guided tour, led by passionate and committed teachers.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has already spoken of his desire to reinstate history at the heart of the curriculum.
He must ensure that the journey back in time becomes the centrepiece of our children’s schooldays: a chance not just to tread the fields of Waterloo or the Somme, or to see Jane Austen and Isambard Kingdom Brunel at work, but to encounter an uproariously varied range of characters, to make lifelong friends, to draw lessons and parallels, and to meet humanity in the raw.
Without our history, we are nothing. It is precisely the record of our tremendous past that has inspired so many of our greatest names, including modern-day pioneers such as physicist Stephen Hawking and internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee, to expand the boundaries of human achievement.
For too long, generations of British children have been denied the opportunity to enjoy the richest heritage of any nation on earth. Cheated of their birthright, they have been starved of the sheer intellectual pleasure that only history brings.
Putting Adrian Sykes’s labour of love in every teenager’s hands would be a fine start. But the task of inspiring our nation’s youngsters should not be left to retired City executives, no matter how enjoyable the results.
Mr Gove must take inspiration from the days when every child, rich and poor alike, grew up with a deep love of Britain’s magnificent history. In this respect, at least, it is time we turned back the clock.
Britain’s future lies with America, not Europe: “In 1952, then-U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson said that ‘Britain has lost an empire but has failed to find a role.’ Sadly for Britain, it decided to renounce its longstanding global cultural, legal and philosophical links to North America and instead looked for that role in Europe. Despite its geographic proximity to Britain, the Continent is nevertheless home to a host of cultures, legal systems and governing philosophies very different from those of traditionally liberal Britain. The consequences from that bad choice have bedeviled Britain for decades.”
Alcohol pricing: Better England free than England sober: “The Libertarian Alliance, the radical free market and civil liberties institute, today condemns proposals to make it harder for poor people to buy alcohol. The proposals include higher taxes, compulsory minimum prices for drink, further controls on advertising, and power to close down retailers. The only disagreement between the three main parties is how far they wish to go.”