New dodge used by NHS to avoid lawsuits
Hospitals are handing out leaflets from ambulance-chasing law firms encouraging patients to sue for compensation.
Companies are paying NHS trusts thousands to leave calling cards and booklets in A&E waiting rooms that urge patients to use their services to claim money back for injuries. In return, the firms promise not to help patients sue hospital staff for medical blunders.
MPs have accused NHS trusts of colluding with lawyers in ‘shady-backhand deals’ that only serve to encourage the nation’s soaring compensation culture. Up to two thirds of hospitals in England display posters, calling cards or leaflets for personal-injury solicitors who in turn pay them up to £50,000 a year.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who raised the matter in the House of Commons this week, accused the trusts of acting in a ‘shockingly unethical way.’
‘It is morally wrong that any organisation should seek to avoid its own legal responsibility by doing shady back-hand deals with ambulance chasing lawyers,’ he said. ‘This practice, which I believe arose under Labour, is outrageous. I have spoken to my local NHS trust and I have also raised this issue with the Secretary of State. ‘I cannot believe that this Government would knowingly condone such dubious practices, and like many colleagues, I want these practices stopped.’
One firm, Asyst, gives patients ‘information booklets’ with advice on how to treat various ankle, eye and head injuries, using crutches or looking after their wounds.
On the back of each leaflet is an advert that asks them ‘Have you been injured? We can help you claim compensation, no win no fee’ and a freephone number is printed at the bottom.
Other firms handing out similar cards include Claim500, which promises to ‘take the stress out of injury claims’ and Provision, a company that says it has contracts with 90 per cent of hospitals.
The firms put patients in touch with dozens of solicitors who will then handle their cases.
But they insist they have special arrangements with hospitals that state they will not help patients sue them for medical blunders.
‘It is a cosy deal between a monopoly public service provider and a profit-seeking legal firm and that’s quite disturbing’
‘There’s an argument to say there’s some merit in allowing people to know about legal action they can take but the deal that’s done between the legal firms and hospitals seems quite disturbing because it means that a monopoly public service is teaming up with a profit-seeking commercial company. ‘I am not sure that this cosy arrangement is in anyone’s best interest other than the hospital and the legal company.’
In 2004 the Labour Government published guidelines for hospitals stating that there was ‘no place’ for such advertising. The guidance said it encouraged patients to bring about ‘frivolous’ claims.
The amount paid out by the NHS for medical blunders has trebled in the last decade, according to Government figures. They reveal that hospitals paid out nearly £1billion in medical negligence claims last year, involving 8,655 cases.
Woman, 23, died of cervical cancer ‘because doctors said she was too young for a smear test’
A 23-year-old died of cervical cancer because doctors said she was too young for a smear test, her devastated family have claimed. Mercedes Curnow, from Cornwall, first went to her GP at 20 years old but her mother says her symptoms were ‘ignored’ because of her age.
After a year of doctors visits, Ms Curnow was taken to A&E by a family member and diagnosed with cervical cancer in April 2010. But by then it was too late and, after 33 radiotherapy sessions and nine months of chemotherapy, she died at home in her mother’s arms on December 14 last year.
Ms Curnow’s mother Sandra Cousins is furious that she was not screened for the disease, which killed reality TV star Jade Goody in 2009 aged 27. ‘Had Mercedes had a smear test when she started to present symptoms, she would be alive today,’ said Mrs Cousins, of Crowlas, near Penzance in Cornwall. ‘It is an aggressive cancer and it races through the body. The sooner they catch this disease the better.’
Government legislation was changed in 2003 to mean regular smear tests are only given to women aged over 25, where previously all women over 20 were given the tests.
Mrs Cousins said: ‘I had two children before I was 25. It is just horrendous that they don’t do anything earlier and I don’t understand it. ‘When I look back now I don’t know how we got through any of it. To watch your own daughter crawl across the room and across her bed is totally soul destroying.
‘But it’s what happens to all those girls, not just Mercedes. They are like a silent group. It feels like that. ‘Mercedes said nobody was interested in cervical cancer because there are bigger cancers, despite what Jade Goody did.’
Ms Curnow had previously worked as a travel agent but left her job to study photography at Truro College. Before she died, she ordered and wrapped Christmas presents for her family and friends to open.
Her distraught mother has now set up a foundation in her daughter’s memory to encourage other young women under 25 to seek medical attention at the earliest possible signs of cervical cancer.
More than 1,000 people have joined the Mercedes Curnow Foundation for the Detection of Cervical Cancer on Facebook since it was launched on January 5.
The page reads: ‘If their GP practice does not take notice of symptoms, then our goal is to provide help, support, advice and funding for private cervical smear tests for women/girls under 25.
‘Had there been cervical smear testing offered in England as in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the age is 20, Mercedes would be alive today.’
Mrs Cousins hopes to bring about a change in the law to lower the age of regular testing back to 20.
She said she and her daughter had discussed the idea before Ms Curnow’s tragic death, and the 23-year-old had hoped to give talks in schools if she recovered.
A Department of Health spokesperson said an expert committee found that screening in women aged under 25 does more harm than benefit.
‘Cervical screening is not a test for cancer, but tests for abnormalities that could in future develop into cancer,’ said the spokesperson. ‘In the vast majority of younger women, the abnormalities clear up on their own and are not a good indication of future cancer.
‘Cervical cancer and mortality from it are very rare in women under 25. Since the starting age was raised in England in 2003 there has been no increase in mortality in women aged 20 to 24 or 25 to 30 years old.’
A fifth of British primary schools at bursting point (but if you move to the country there are plenty of places)
A fifth of primary schools and a quarter of secondaries were full or had too many pupils last year, official figures show.
Statistics published by the Department for Education (DfE) reveal that more than 4,000 schools across England were at or above the limit in terms of student numbers.
The figures suggest that some places are feeling the squeeze on places more than others – with Bristol and parts of London among those hardest hit.
The data shows that 3,438 primary schools (20.4 per cent) were full or had pupils in excess of school capacity as of May last year, along with 837 secondaries (25.4 per cent).
At the same time, nationally, there were 444,410 unfilled primary places, with a further 396,240 available in secondary schools – many of these are in rural areas.
The data shows that among those most affected by a lack of school places is Barking in east London. The borough has 19,615 school places, but is projected to have 26,879 primary pupils by 2015/16 – a shortfall of 7,264 places. Waltham Forest is expected to be short by 5,372 and Brent by 6,234 places. Outside the capital, Bristol is expected to have a shortfall of 6,684 primary places by 2015/16.
The DfE said it is targeting funding at the areas facing a critical shortfall to help them provide extra school places.
Today’s figures also show that according to local authority forecasts, there is expected to be an extra 454,800 pupils at primary school nationally by 2015/16, while the number of secondary-age pupils will increase by 44,210.
Schools Minister Lord Hill said: ‘We’re creating thousands more places to deal with the impact of soaring birth rates on primary schools. ‘We’re more than doubling targeted investment at areas facing the greatest pressure on numbers – to over £4 billion in the next four years. ‘We are building Free Schools and letting the most popular schools expand to meet demand from parents.’
The figures come as the West London Free School, spearheaded by writer Toby Young and which opened in September, announced plans to submit an application to open a primary school in 2013. Mr Young said that the primary would offer the same ‘classical liberal education’ as the existing secondary school.
If approved, the primary school will open with two reception classes in 2013 and take on more pupils each year. Mr Young said the new school would help meet the demand for places in Hammersmith and Fulham.
What’s the matter? Half a million children aged under 15 in Britain are unhappy
Over 64 pages, it sets out to provide a detailed analysis of what makes children in modern Britain happy. Yet the traditional family unit is given such little importance in the report by the Children’s Society that the word ‘marriage’ does not merit even a single mention.
The charity insists it is the quality of the relationships within a family, rather than its structure, which has the biggest impact on a child’s well-being. But last night family campaigners expressed dismay that the importance of marriage could be so casually dismissed by an organisation with close links to the Church.
The report – called Good Childhood – studied 6,000 youngsters aged eight to 15 to provide a snapshot of modern childhood and suggest how their life prospects could be improved.
Worryingly, it concluded that at any one time one in every 11 – equating to half a million across the country – were unhappy with their lives.
The research, endorsed by the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, one of the charity’s presidents, states the roots of happiness lie in stability and calm at home.
But it also said material possessions have a significant impact, with iPods, designer trainers, satellite TV and ‘the right clothes’ regarded as vital elements of a child’s well-being.
The findings run counter to its previous studies. Three years ago the Children’s Society published a report in which it said children do best when brought up by two parents with a long-term commitment to each other, and warned that co-habiting relationships were more likely to break up and damage children.
Yesterday’s report, however, said it was not important that children lived with their birth parents. It declared: ‘It is not the structure, but the relationships within a family that children care about. Loving relationships between a child and their family are ten times more powerful than family structure in increasing well-being.
‘Our research shows that the quality of children’s relationships with their families is far more important than the particular structure of the family that they live in.’ But it continued: ‘Stability is important. Children who experience a change in family members they are living with are twice as likely to experience low well-being.
‘The quality if children’s relationships with their families is far more important than the particular structure of the family they live in’
‘In general, children living with both birth parents in the same house have higher levels of well-being than children living in other family arrangements. However this is not necessarily comparing like with like.
‘Children not living with both birth parents are also much more likely to have experienced recent family change, which is also an important factor associated with levels of well-being.’
The report also found material factors were of deep importance. ‘Children in families who have experienced a reduction in income are more likely to have low well-being,’ it said.
‘Children who do not have clothes to “fit in” with peers are more than three times as likely to be unhappy with their appearance. Around a third say they often worry about the way they look.’
The society produced an ‘index of material well-being’ to measure ‘items and experiences which children feel are important for them to have a “normal” childhood’. The list included designer trainers and cable or satellite TV at home.
Launching the report yesterday, Dr Sentamu said: ‘We should see this report not as simply an interesting piece of research but an urgent clarion call to action. Can we move beyond narrow measures of human success such as health and financial security to ask harder questions about personal fulfilment or what is known as subjective well-being – in other words people’s contentment with their life as a whole?’
But there was criticism from campaigners for family life. Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust, said: ‘It is disturbing that a report published by a charity dedicated to encouraging policies that promote the welfare of children should have nothing to say about the positive and protective value of marriage.
‘There is a mountain of evidence that demonstrates that children living with their own married parents tend to have fewer emotional and behavioural problems, enjoy better health, do better academically, and have lower levels of stress, depression and anxiety.
‘Since subjective well-being is notoriously difficult to define and even harder to measure, there is no basis for asserting on the basis of a study of this nature that family structure has little or no effect on a child’s well-being.’
Researcher and author Jill Kirby said: ‘The best guardian of stability for children is having two married parents. The Children’s Society is ignoring that in favour of a materialistic disposable society.’
Is breast really best? Study finds babies fed on formula milk cry less and are easier to get to sleep
A lot of foot shuffling over that below!
It is often said that breast is best. But bottle-fed babies are the best behaved. A study of British infants found those who were breast-fed cried more, smiled and laughed less and were harder to soothe and get off to sleep than their formula-fed counterparts.
In one of the first studies of its kind, the temperament of more than 300 babies was assessed when they were three months old.
This was done by asking their mothers to answer almost 200 questions about their children from how they responded to being washed and dressed to how easy they were to get down to sleep.
The results varied little between boys and girls, socio-economic status of the parents or the mother’s age. However, there was a clear link with the method of feeding, the journal PLoS ONE reports.
Researcher Ken Ong, of the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge, said that the cries of a breast-fed baby don’t necessarily mean it is hungry. Instead, the child may simply be seeking the comfort and closeness of its mother.
Dr Ong, a paediatrician, said: ‘If anything, what might account for the difference is that bottle-fed babies possibly get more nutrients than is typical. ‘Research suggests that these infants may be over-nourished and gain weight too quickly. ‘Our findings are essentially similar to other stages of life; people often find that eating is comforting.
‘Rather than being put off breast-feeding, parents should have more realistic expectations of normal infant behaviour and should receive better understanding and support to cope with difficult infant behaviours if needed. ‘These approaches could potentially promote successful breastfeeding, because currently many mothers attempt to breastfeed but give up after the first few weeks.’
Breastfeeding has been shown to help protect babies against obesity, eczema and ear, chest and tummy bugs. Avoiding formula can cut the odds of child being a fussy eater in later life, as well as cut the woman’s odds of some cancers and help with weight loss.
Despite this, Britain has one of the lowest breast-feeding rates in Europe. Around three-quarters of new mothers start breastfeeding but by four months, this number has dropped to just a one-third.
Professor Nick Wareham, director of the MRC Epidemiology Unit, said that while the results don’t prove breastfeeding to be the cause of the babies’ irritability, learning more about the subject could help boost breastfeeding rates.
But others said that in some cases only a bottle will satisfy a baby’s hunger.
Clare Byam-Cook, a former midwife who has taught celebrities such as Kate Winslet and Natasha Kaplinsky how to feed their babies, said: ‘Breast is definitely best – as long as mother and baby are thriving on it. ‘But if your baby is crying and unsettled and when you give it a bottle it becomes calm and settled, then a bottle is best.
‘If you offer the baby a bottle and he doesn’t settle, then something else is the problem and the mother needs to find out what it is.’
Must not make light-hearted allusions to tragedies
“Jeremy Clarkson’s comments have once again sparked fury after he compared synchronised swimming to the deaths of 23 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe.
In a column for the Sun, the Top Gear presenter said the sport amounted to ‘Chinese women in hats, upside down, in a bit of water.’ He added: ‘You can see that sort of thing on Morecambe Beach. For free.’
Twenty-three Chinese migrant workers were drowned picking cockles in Morecambe Bay in 2004 after they were trapped by the rising tide.
The deaths of the men and women – aged between 18 and 45 – exposed the illegal practices of gangmasters who exploit vulnerable migrant workers for cheap labour.