The doctor and nurses putting lives at risk because they can’t speak English
When Jan Middleton woke in her hospital bed at 2am, she feared immediately that her life was in grave danger. She had already undergone an operation to remove a brain tumour but had been readmitted after developing a serious post-surgical infection.
So when she woke in the middle of the night to discover the infection had spread, causing new lesions to open up on her face, Ms Middleton, 54, realised she needed help quickly. ‘It was terrifying, and made worse by the fact that I had been told the brain infection put me at a high risk of meningitis and stroke,’ she says.
‘I told the nurse, an Asian lady, that she needed to call the on-duty doctor straight away. ‘But her English was extremely poor. She kept repeating, “What you saying to me? I don’t understand. Your English not good.”’
After trying for half an hour to get through to the nurse, Ms Middleton was exhausted — and very scared. In desperation, she pulled out her mobile phone to dial 999 for help. ‘I was on the tenth floor of the hospital. I couldn’t get down to A&E on the ground floor on my own,’ she explained.
‘But I couldn’t wait until the morning. When I started to tell the nurse that I was calling 999, she seemed finally to understand and bleeped for a doctor. But it had taken a 30 minutes.’
Ms Middleton, an articulate and resourceful former lawyer, eventually received the emergency attention she wanted. But she had fallen foul of a burgeoning problem in Britain’s hospitals — one which many other patients are not nearly so well equipped to handle.
Growing numbers of the NHS’s medical and nursing staff come from overseas, and their English is so poor they cannot communicate effectively with patients.
Yet, far from tackling this dangerous situation, the European Union is set to reinforce rules which ban English tests for doctors and nurses from the EU before they are allowed to work here, branding it a ‘restraint of free movement’ of workers.
The European directive, currently being debated in Brussels, insists that British employers can only test medics from Europe after their poor English has endangered patient care, flagging ‘serious and concrete doubt about the professional’s sufficient language knowledge’.
And, as Jan Middleton can attest, that is already happening in our hospitals with alarming frequency. After her first experience of the problem in 2009, at London’s Charing Cross Hospital, she was moved to the nearby Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, to have her infection monitored. But after ten days of having blood samples taken from the same place on her arm, she had become very sore.
‘A phlebotomist (blood taker) arrived whose first language was not English,’ Ms Middleton says. ‘She kept trying to take blood from the same site, which hurt, so I tried to explain that she would need to find another vein. ‘She walked off and consulted with a nurse who spoke the same foreign language as her — I don’t know what language it was. But I believe they were Far Eastern.
‘Then they both left without taking a sample. I later found out that they had written on my notes that I refused to allow them to take my blood.’
Ms Middleton attributes this to another language mix-up, adding: ‘Not taking blood could have had extremely serious ramifications, as it was in the middle of the process of trying to stop an infection. ‘These incidents did not only cause me distress, but impacted on my medical care.’
She complained to the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which is in charge of the Charing Cross Hospital, about the first incident. The response left Jan seething. ‘They said they were offering language lessons to foreign nurses,’ she says.
‘It seems unbelievable to me that they would knowingly recruit people who don’t speak English and use NHS money — paid for by the taxpayer — to do it.’
Her story adds to a growing list of incidents involving language confusion among doctors and nurses whose English is poor.
Most notorious of all is the case of 70-year-old David Gray, who died in Cambridgeshire in 2008. He was killed by Daniel Ubani, a German doctor of Nigerian origin, who administered ten times the normal dose of diamorphine. Dr Ubani said he was confused about the difference between drugs used here and in Germany.
A British inquest ruled Mr Gray’s death was manslaughter, but the doctor was prosecuted in Germany where he was fined and given a suspended jail sentence.
The General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council — along with royal colleges representing doctors, surgeons and nurses — all argue that failing to test foreign medics’ English exposes patients to serious risks. The organisations have united to call for urgent action to tackle the problem, and for the EU proposals to be changed.
The General Medical Council (GMC) has written to Brussels pointing out that it has already had to strike off one EU surgeon who — to the horror of the doctors and nurses assisting him during a high-risk operation — would only speak in a foreign language.
And the GMC adds that it has been forced by EU regulations to register doctors from Europe whose grasp of English was so poor they had to use interpreters to apply for their permits to work here.
‘This is a serious cause of concern to us,’ says the GMC, adding that the employment of doctors whose English simply wasn’t up to the job had led to several disciplinary cases. Indeed, in the case of Dr Ubani, his poor English meant he was refused work by the NHS in one part of the country — but was later accepted for work in Cornwall. This then enabled him to work in Cambridgeshire.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, has said: ‘The proposals on language requirements will raise serious concerns for patients. ‘We will study the detail carefully but it remains our view that the final directive should provide greater safeguards.’
According to evidence given in the House of Lords this year, more than 88,000 foreign-trained doctors are registered to work in Britain, including 22,758 from Europe. They account for almost a third of the total.
In the past 12 months 3,179 nurses from other EU countries have registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council — although it is not known how many went on to work in hospitals.
All non-EU doctors and nurses coming to work from abroad have to undergo rigorous English exams.
The current situation is a deeply confusing mess for NHS employers — because no one seems really to know where they stand. In January the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said he believed employers effectively have the right to check any doctor or nurse’s language skills.
But the GMC and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), say the EU’s ‘freedom of trade’ ruling takes precedence over Lansley’s decree.
Professor Norman Williams, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons, and Sir Richard Thompson, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, recently issued a public statement calling for ‘urgent action’ to enable employers and regulators to check EU doctors’ English.
Amid this turmoil, fewer than one in ten NHS hospitals is checking whether nurses from Europe can adequately speak English before turning them loose on the wards, according to Freedom of Information requests obtained by the Mail in January.
The resulting problems were outlined by Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association. She said: ‘We get a lot of calls from relatives saying elderly patients are trying to ask for more pain relief or that they want something different to eat and the message just isn’t getting across. ‘Often these patients, who are physically very weak, just give up. It’s abysmal.’
Such problems are not restricted to hospitals. John Catchpole, 67, from West Sussex, who works in graphic design, says the foreign staff at his mother’s care home struggled to keep track of residents’ medication.
‘My mother Winnie was in a care home in West Sussex before she died aged 92 in 2010, and we constantly came up against the problem of medical staff who couldn’t communicate properly,’ he says.
Mr Catchpole says the qualified nurses at the home did not have a strong grasp of English, and the communication problem was intensified by the fact that their patients were mostly deaf or hard of hearing.
‘On a number of occasions, I found the nurses could not tell me what medication my mother was on as their spoken and written English was so poor. ‘They couldn’t pronounce even the most common antibiotics such as amoxicillin. One young woman from Slovakia who worked there couldn’t even understand the questions that I asked her.’ He adds: ‘It is downright dangerous to be working with elderly people who are on lots of medication when you can’t even say or write down correctly the name of the drugs they’re on.
‘My mother suffered with dementia for eight years before her death, and amid such conditions, her own little world was probably the best place for her to be.’
Such problems seem increasingly common, according to Stephen Burke, the director of the website for care users, goodcareguide.co.uk. ‘A number of reviews on Good Care Guide have commented about the poor language skills of nurses in care homes,’ he says.
‘Reviewers have posted examples of where older people have gone unfed, without drink or left in soiled sheets because of communication problems.
‘One reviewer was devastated by the way she was told about her mother’s death by someone who couldn’t speak English well.’
In fact, the current EU rules seem so ridiculously confusing that a company teaching English to foreign nurses working in the UK has found itself effectively barred from operating in Britain. Instead, it has to send tutors abroad to teach the nurses before they arrive.
The specialist school, called English for Nurses, was set up last November by Kate Fowler, a Bristol-based nurse, and her German-born colleague Sabine Torgler.
Ms Fowler explains: ‘The problem is that UK authorities and employers are so worried about the EU ban on language-testing that they won’t even approve our courses for teaching English to overseas nurses who are already here — in case they somehow constitute “testing”.’
Instead, the school’s tutors are travelling to Germany and Austria to teach nurses there before they reach England. So far, the school has taught more than 100 nurses in this way.
Ms Torgler, who moved to Bristol eight years ago, knows how difficult it can be for nurses from abroad to understand the specialised type of English that is regularly used in the NHS.
Despite having previously lived in Australia, she found it took her more than six months to adapt to the terminology employed on Bristol’s hospital wards. ‘I had a good basic understanding of English when I came to work in Britain, but the sort of English that enables you to work safely in a hospital is just not as simple as ordering a cup of coffee in a restaurant,’ she explains.
‘Early on, I was working in a head-injury unit when an elderly lady told me she wanted to “spend a penny”. I thought that she wanted to go down to the kiosk to buy a snack.
‘One of my German colleagues told me that she spent her first days on an NHS ward not knowing what a “handover” was. This is where nurses discuss patients’ cases as they change shifts. It is absolutely vital to safe health care.
‘If you don’t know such things, you are a burden to your English colleagues. But nevertheless, you can come to Britain from the EU, get registered with the NMC and find a job when you only understand 70 per cent of what your new colleagues are saying. ‘The 30 per cent that you don’t understand is very probably the most important bit.’
Around the country, some NHS trusts have taken initiatives to help foreign staff understand local idioms.
In Norfolk, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital has set up classes to help foreign nurses learn local colloquialisms, such as ‘blar’ (cry) and ‘hull up’ (vomit).
Doncaster Primary Care Trust has produced a Yorkshire-English dictionary to help foreign doctors working in the area translate their patients’ medical conditions. Dr Lis Rodgers, the Doncaster GP who compiled it, said that many overseas doctors have perfect English, yet still struggle to make sense of the region’s slang.
The dictionary will help them grasp that ‘bins’ means glasses, ‘bits’ means genitals, and that a patient ‘popping their clogs’ is not taking part in a local dance tradition.
Ms Fowler says she has discussed the new Brussels directive against language tests with experts in European health care regulation. ‘The consensus is that the directive will most likely not be changed,’ she says. ‘That will compound a lot of existing difficulties.
‘Our health service would grind to a halt without overseas nurses. But they need support to communicate. ‘They desperately need to learn the sort of medical English that is constantly spoken in hospitals, on top of the English they learn at ordinary language schools.’
Sadly, if the EU gets its way, it’s clear we cannot be sure that hospital staff will speak decent conversational English, let alone the sort of complex technical terminology that can save lives, or at the very least, not put them in danger.
Maimed by the NHS: Catalogue of errors revealed as patients are KILLED by drugs meant for others
A terrifying catalogue of people have been left injured, maimed and poisoned by negligent medics, new NHS figures reveal.
The dossier of slip-ups includes patients killed by being given drugs intended for others, people left conscious as surgeons start to operate on them and dozens of victims who wake from surgery to find swabs and needles have been accidentally left inside them.
The list of NHS horrors also includes faulty equipment giving patients incorrect ‘all-clear’ results and name mix-ups leading to surgeons operating on the wrong people.
A collection of statistics, released in a Freedom of Information survey, shows for the first time how critical mistakes are being made on a daily basis inside the NHS.
Officials logged 760 so-called ‘serious untoward incidents’ last year in the NHS made up of 263 surgical blunders, 50 equipment failures and 447 drug incidents.
Other medical gaffes included NHS South East Coast logging three incidents where people had the incorrect lens fitted to their eyes during cataract surgery and a number of patients had items like a feeding tube and swabs accidentally left inside them.
They even had to deal with one case where the anti-bacterial hand wash used on the wards kept vanishing – only to find a patient was responsible for drinking it.
NHS South West admitted it had incidents where surgeons removed the wrong teeth from a patient and in two separate cases an operation was needlessly carried out after a misdiagnosis.
In NHS West Midlands medics got two patients mixed up resulted in one having a biopsy when it should have been taken from another patient with the same name. A hospital within the same organisation had a failure of its emergency bleep system because of the theft of metal cabling.
A patient being treated for a gynaecological procedure at NHS South Central ended up having to undergo an operation to remove a piece of forceps from her, after they broke off during the examination.
In separate data hospitals recorded 4,121 people who needed additional care because they suffered an accidental cut, puncture, perforation or internal bleeding while being treated for something else, an increase of 42per cent in the last five years.
Another 199 hospital patients had items unintentionally left inside them following surgery or other medical treatments. These people needed almost another 800 nights in hospital to sort out the problem.
There were also 45 patients who suffered adverse effects because the equipment used on them had not been sterilised properly, while another 85 people were given emergency care as a result of not being given the correct medicines during surgery.
Hospitals also revealed around 3,500 people suffered complications because a medical device or piece of equipment failed to work properly.
The NHS admitted that it paid out more than £2million to patients last year who woke from surgery to find an item has been accidentally left inside them. Each victim was paid an average of around £12,500 for the anguish and pain caused by the NHS error.
Another £310,000 was paid out by the NHS to people who found out that surgeons operated on the wrong part of their body. The most common mistakes were made in relation to extracting the wrong teeth but medics have also blundered by operating on the incorrect ear, eye, kidney and knee.
A total of 52 patients sued the NHS for a total of £2.8million because they had been allowed to go home from hospital too soon, before they developed severe complications.
Joyce Robins, Co-director of Patient Concern, said: ‘The level of mistakes in the NHS is both shocking and frightening. There are inherent risks in modern medicine and some accidents are inevitable.
‘But we should not have to fear going home with extra unwanted bits left inside us, the wrong part of our body mutilated or complications caused by dirty equipment.
‘Patient Concern sees no end to avoidable disasters as long as safety protocols, procedures and guidance remain advisory rather than mandatory.
‘A comprehensive and successful system of checks before every operation was brought over from the USA. But it is a lucky dip whether your hospital and operating team have adopted this check list, because in the NHS each trust is free to do as it likes. Imagine the consequences of the aviation industry treating compliance with safety rules as optional!’
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘The vast majority of NHS patients experience good quality, safe and effective care and the UK is seen as one of the world leaders in the international drive to improve the safety of healthcare.
‘Only a very small number of errors put patients at serious risk but we have made it clear that unsafe care is not to be tolerated.’
Secret courts, the cover-up of a Mafia-style shooting, and a worryingly unaccountable police force
Official secrecy is pervasive in Britain — approaching that of a Fascist state:
At around 7.30pm on Tuesday, March 20, a Russian banker was gunned down outside his flat near Canary Wharf in London. German Gorbuntsov remains gravely ill in hospital having been shot three times in the stomach and once in the face.
Attempted assassinations of multi-millionaire Russian oligarchs are, thank goodness, unknown occurrences on British streets. And yet for reasons best known to themselves, officers at Scotland Yard did not immediately inform the media what had happened.
The day after the shooting they put out a bland and disgracefully misleading press release stating that there had been a routine shooting near Canary Wharf. So low-key was this statement that the British media ignored the incident altogether, which one suspects was what Scotland Yard had intended.
Indeed, the police mentioned that Trident Gang Crime Command was investigating the attempted murder, inviting newspapers to conclude that this was just another home- grown crime.
It was only on Friday, three days after the shooting, that the truth finally emerged. The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that Mr Gorbuntsov had been the victim of an attempted murder in London, and the British media were at last appraised of what had happened.
Over the past few days many details have been filled in. Mr Gorbuntsov was preparing to claim political asylum in Britain. Before amassing his fortune he was jailed for robbery. He was reportedly a witness to a 2009 murder attempt in Moscow on a billionaire banker called Alexander Antonov. Oh, and he has a mistress in London and a wife in Russia.
Isn’t it amazing that we should learn about this incident from a newspaper in a country with a long and continuing record of muzzling truth? We would almost certainly still be in the dark were it not for Kommersant. Though we pride ourselves on living in a free country, we are obliged to rely on the media of a gangster state to learn what is happening on our own streets.
But this is not because our media are sleepy. It is because the Metropolitan Police apparently tried to suppress an important story. So long as Mr Gorbuntsov did not die, and his would-be assassin was never apprehended and brought to justice, they would have had no obligation to come clean.
Why didn’t Scotland Yard want us to know? I can think of two possible reasons. The first is that MI5 and/or the Foreign Office wanted it hushed up. If they suspected that the Russian authorities were somehow behind it, they might have their own reasons for keeping schtum for the moment.
More likely, perhaps, the Metropolitan Police did not want the world to know that only a few miles from the Olympic Stadium, and four months before the Games begin, a Russian hoodlum has been spraying around gunfire. It somewhat gives the lie to the notion that London is a safe city.
Whatever the explanation, a cover-up is outrageous. Mr Gorbuntsov’s neighbours were kept in the dark, and therefore incapable of estimating the danger they were in. And the wider public were not told that a Russian mafia-style attempted killing had taken place on British soil.
Moreover, it was not until last Saturday — after our media had taken up the Kommersant story — that Scotland Yard confirmed the victim’s name and on Sunday and Monday put out two press releases setting out in fuller detail what had happened, and appealing for witnesses. In other words, the proper administration of justice had been delayed for several days. If it were not for the Russian newspaper, it might have been delayed indefinitely.
The new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, should make a statement explaining why his officers appear to have concealed from the media an extremely serious incident about which it was undoubtedly in the public’s interest to know.
If we hear nothing from him, we can only assume that Scotland Yard is less convinced than it used to be that it has to account for its actions — and that Mr Hogan-Howe thinks it acceptable to brush the attempted assassination of a Russian oligarch under the carpet.
I believe that what has happened in this case owes a great deal to the changed relations between the police and the media as a result of the Leveson Inquiry. A number of statements by senior officers including Mr Hogan-Howe himself, as well as a preposterous review by former parliamentary commissioner for standards Elizabeth Filkin, have insisted that police officers should be extremely wary of ever talking to the media.
Of course, no one doubts that a few years ago senior journalists at News International got far too intimate with some senior police officers, and there may have been criminal collusion. If so, prosecutions must follow.
But in one fell swoop we have gone to the opposite extreme, so that police officers are now terrified of talking confidentially even to journalists whom they used to trust. Crime correspondents have testified to the Leveson Inquiry that their police sources have all but dried up.
A year ago, before the current state of affairs, well-placed police officers would have informed their contacts in the Press if a serious crime was being covered up, as the attempted murder of German Gorbuntsov was. Nor, in those days of greater openness, is it likely that Scotland Yard would have issued the kind of statement it did last Wednesday, which misled the media.
There is another case in which the Metropolitan Police appear to be pushing their luck, and taking refuge in the new more secretive world in which they like to operate. The inquest into the death of Mark Duggan, whose shooting by police in Tottenham was the spark that ignited last summer’s riots, may be partly held behind closed doors.
This follows an application from the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which says it has findings which should not be disclosed even to the coroner, but there is no doubt the Metropolitan Police would agree. Secret justice is seldom justice.
A killing sets off the worst riots in modern times, and it is seriously suggested by the authorities that people should be kept in the dark. It is a matter of overwhelming public interest that the truth should be ascertained so that the lessons can be learnt.
We don’t want a police force that hides its blunders and conceals important crimes. It is certainly not in the interests of justice, but nor is it in the interests of the police themselves to lose trust as a result of concealment, as Mr Hogan-Howe should have the gumption to realise.
Covering up the attempted murder of a Russian oligarch on a London street is undesirable from every point of view. And the worst of it is that it inevitably engenders the suspicion that there are other cover-ups, other important stories being withheld from the media.
In this case we are indebted to a Russian newspaper, which has sources not controlled by Scotland Yard. But how much more illuminating information is being kept from us of which we are wholly ignorant?
That is the deadly, unanswered question. The less journalists talk to police officers in the know, the more likely it is that we will have a secretive, unaccountable police force.
Racist British Social workers “snatched me from the white parents I loved to make me live with a black family”: How the colour-obsessed foster care system sentenced Dawn to a life of regret
Dawn Cousins was taken from her foster parents in Oxfordshire when she was seven years old. They had fostered her from birth, and wanted to adopt her, but social services told them not to pursue their application because they were white and Dawn would be better off with a black family. Here she tells how this decision affected her…
Her earliest childhood memories are as cherished as they are vivid. There were Saturday mornings digging potatoes in the allotment with her father, and the smell of sausages wafting from the barbecue during family holidays in Cornwall.
Lazy summer afternoons were spent playing in the garden with her three older siblings; family dinners were boisterous affairs; and birthday parties were celebrated with homemade cake. Dawn Cousins grew up feeling loved and secure, and that her future was full of hope. At least she did until she was seven.
At that point, her idyllic life was snatched away when a social worker took her away from her picturesque Oxfordshire home. Dawn was informed that despite the fact her parents Gina and Pete had fostered her from birth, they were unsuitable for raising her.
She spent the next six months in a children’s home before being adopted by a couple who lived 50 miles away. She had to adapt to her different family, start a new school, and make new friends.
So what was the reason behind social services’ drastic decision? Dawn’s parents were not abusing her nor were they embroiled in a life of crime. They were doing nothing to jeopardise their little girl’s well-being.
They were a decent, middle-class couple who desperately wanted to adopt Dawn, and had attempted to do so. However, social services told them not to pursue their application because they were white. Since Dawn was mixed race she would be better off with a black family, they said.
Until recently, local authorities made it incredibly difficult for white couples to adopt a mixed-race child.
And although Education Secretary Michael Gove issued new guidelines last year relaxing the rules on inter-racial adoption, it is still more difficult for cases to be approved than same-race ones — resulting in growing numbers of children left in care.
Recent figures show that only 3,050 children were adopted from the 65,000 in care in 2010 — many of whom could have found happy homes with parents of a different race.
Much has been made of the devastating effect such antiquated rulings have had on prospective parents. But what of the impact they have had on children — especially when they carry both black and white genes? In Dawn’s case it led to years of confusion and squandered opportunities. As an adolescent, she went off the rails, had a breakdown and was put back into care.
It is only now, at 38, that she feels able to reflect on a system she believes badly let her down.
Dawn’s British biological mother, Linda, gave her up for adoption when she was born in June 1973, after Linda’s Jamaican immigrant husband, Owen, walked out on her. Dawn’s foster parents Pete — now 70 and a retired civil servant — and Gina, 69, had two daughters and a son of their own but were overjoyed that they were able to look after Dawn, too. She says: ‘They were generous people who wanted to help others less fortunate.
‘Mum and Dad, as I called them, treated me the same as their other children. I was their first foster child — and from the start they made me feel welcome.’ A bright girl, Dawn excelled at school. She claims her skin colour was never questioned by anyone, not even herself.
‘I never asked my parents why my skin was darker, and my hair curly and black,’ she says. ‘I would have loved my sister’s long blonde hair but it didn’t occur to me to ask why mine was so different.
She says she only discovered Gina and Pete weren’t her real parents when the official from Slough social services called on the family one afternoon in July 1980.
Dawn was told then that she could no longer live with the people she loved. Her belongings were packed in a bag and she was driven away while Gina looked on in tears. ‘I howled as I looked at Mum out of the car window,’ Dawn says. ‘I remember clutching my cuddly dolphin for comfort, feeling frightened and confused.’
On her arrival at Bramerton Children’s Home in Maidenhead, Berkshire, the social worker told Dawn that because she was mixed-race, it was better for her to be looked after by a black family.
‘She showed me pictures of my biological parents in my file, explaining that my mother had been white and my father from Jamaica. Apparently they’d got back together after I was born and had another baby. ‘I was shocked. I’d never heard the word mixed-race before nor contemplated the fact that my real parents weren’t Gina and Pete. I was hurt. All I wanted was to be home with the adults I knew as my mum and dad.’
Dawn’s memories are grim of the children’s home, which closed down in 1988. She caught head lice and her diet was so poor that she lost a lot of weight. ‘I cried myself to sleep most nights,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t understand why Gina and Pete hadn’t visited or phoned me.’ Only later did she find out that Gina had arrived at the home with a cake she’d made for Dawn’s eighth birthday — but was turned away. She and Pete were told they had to sever all contact with the little girl.
It was revealed last year that children from ethnic-minority backgrounds wait three times longer on average than white children to be placed with families.
However, in Dawn’s case she was told less than a year after being moved to the home that a black couple in the London Borough of Harrow wanted to adopt her. They were Berna and Glen, now 69 and 79, who moved from Grenada to Britain as teenagers. Berna was a nurse, Glen a housing officer, and they had a daughter three years older than Dawn but were unable to have another child.
‘The social workers made me parade around in front of them while they stared at me,’ recalls Dawn. ‘It wasn’t Berna and Glen’s fault – they probably felt as awkward as I did. But I felt like a commodity. The only thing I could see we had in common was the colour of our skin.’
That visit was followed by several others until Berna and Glen were given permission to adopt Dawn, late in 1981. ‘By then I’d got used to being in care and at my new school,’ she says. ‘As miserable as my surroundings were, I’d made friends and was reluctant to leave.’
She was subjected to even more swingeing change after she moved to Berna and Glen’s three-bedroom terrace house to begin the latest chapter in her life. Her new mum served rice and chicken instead of the shepherd’s pie and burgers she was used to, and started greasing and plaiting Dawn’s Afro hair which had always hung loose. There were no holidays, and the only occasional outings were to the local shopping centre.
And Dawn’s relationship with her elder sister was often tense. ‘Until I arrived, she’d had her parents’ attention all to herself.‘Race had never been an issue with my white siblings but it seemed to be an issue with her. ‘She would comment on the fact that my skin was lighter, and my hair not pure Afro.’
Dawn’s new parents were stricter, too. She wasn’t allowed on the bus on her own, and she had to stay in her room until she’d finished her times tables.
‘Everything seemed more formal,’ she recalls. ‘Berna and Glen, who I called Mum and Dad, kept telling me how grateful I should be to have these opportunities. I loved them and they were kind but I missed Gina and Pete.’
As the years passed, Dawn became increasingly unhappy. ‘I gravitated towards a white teacher at school because she reminded me of my old mum,’ she recalls.
‘The area we lived in was multi-cultural, so school was a mixture of black, white and Asian children. At break times and in the canteen, they’d divide into groups. ‘The black children said I should play with them but I mainly bonded with the white children because they reminded me of my childhood. I felt torn.
‘I had one mixed-race friend and I was so envious that she lived at home with her white mum. I wanted the same for myself. I felt totally confused about who I was and where I belonged.’
By the time she was 15, Dawn was so desperately unhappy that she had started skipping school and shoplifting. ‘At home I would lock myself in my room and lash out if Berna and Glen tried to comfort me,’ Dawn admits.
‘We never talked about my time in care or being fostered. ‘I didn’t want to confide in anyone, and felt too guilty to tell them how unsettled I felt after everything they’d done for me.’
That year, Berna and Glen separated and social workers decided Dawn should be taken back into care. She moved into Haslem House children’s home in Harrow, and lived there for a few months until she was 16. ‘There was nothing to rebel against when I was back in care,’ she says.
‘I realised for the first time that I was responsible for my own behaviour. Instead of self-destructing, I actually wanted to make something of my life.’
Although the high grades Dawn had been predicted to achieve in her early childhood were no longer possible, she did manage to get five GCSEs.
Afterwards she moved into a nearby council flat on her own. This further change sparked Dawn’s desire to track down her biological parents. She says: ‘I’d often wondered what my birth mother was like, and at 16 I was old enough to find out.’
In 1990, social workers agreed to put her in contact with Linda, who is now 58. She was still living in Slough and had kept the two sons she’d had with Dawn’s father Owen, 64 — Paul, 41, and David, 36.
Dawn says about her first visit to Linda: ‘I was so nervous that I vomited on the way there. When I arrived, Linda seemed fragile. She’d had epilepsy and been in poor health when my father left her. She seemed more vulnerable than me. ‘Any anger I had towards her dissolved, and I was left feeling a mixture of relief and happiness that we’d made contact.’
Two years later, when Dawn was 18, she fell in love with a Jamaican driver and had two daughters with him — Sapphia, now 18, and Yasmin, 16. ‘Perhaps subconsciously I was trying to recreate the mixed-race family environment I longed for’
The couple split up shortly after Yasmin’s birth, and Dawn embarked on a romance with a white electrician who became the father of her twins, Amber and Ryan, now 13. The couple were together for six years, until 2006.
Dawn is now single, and says: ‘Perhaps subconsciously I was trying to recreate the mixed-race family environment I longed for.’
When she was 31, Dawn decided to read her case files, which had been kept in Slough social services’ archives. ‘I thought they’d help me find closure and make me better able to understand my childhood,’ she explains. For the first time she saw how social workers had considered it best to uproot Dawn and place her with a black family. ‘Seeing it written down made me cry with anger and regret,’ she says. ‘All the happy years of childhood I could have had were wasted.’
Understanding for the first time that Gina and Pete had not wanted to give her up, Dawn decided to contact them. Incredibly, their contact details on her files were still valid nearly 25 years later. Dawn says: ‘They invited me for dinner and cried as they explained how distraught they had been to give me up.
‘They said they had tried to adopt me but couldn’t because I was mixed race. They were then forbidden to send cards or presents to me, and had no right to contact me. I felt relieved and sad that they had missed me as much as I had missed them.’
Dawn, who now works as a counsellor for a charity, meets Gina and Pete several times a year — and they have become a welcome presence in her life and her children’s lives too.
She has also built bridges with her ‘second’ mum Berna.
Dawn says: ‘I made contact when I became a mother myself. Since then we have worked on our relationship and become friends.’
But Dawn can’t help feeling that her life would have worked out rather differently had Gina and Pete been able to adopt her in the first place. ‘It is absurd that social services thought they were acting in my best interests,’ says Dawn. ‘I think I would have a good case against them in court, given the stress I have suffered.
‘A white couple should be able to adopt a mixed-race child. ‘It’s their love that counts — not the colour of their skin.’
Let’s roll out the grammar (selective) schools across Britain: Call for nationwide expansion after a breakthrough in Kent
New grammar school classes could open around the country after the first major expansion of academic selection for 50 years was given the go-ahead yesterday.
A call went out to ‘roll out the grammars’ after Tory-controlled Kent took advantage of new Coalition rules to announce the expansion of existing schools with ‘satellite’ campuses.
The move is the first significant boost for the pro-grammar lobby since the Labour government of the 1960s launched its still controversial drive to turn the country’s 1,300 grammars into comprehensives.
Campaigners hailed Kent’s decision as a ‘small but important step’ towards the creation of a grammar school in every area where there is parental demand.
Under plans approved yesterday by councillors, a grammar school annexe will open in Sevenoaks under the umbrella of at least one existing selective school located in a nearby town.
The satellite school will cater for 120 first-years students, rising to a full capacity of about 840 pupils.
Laws introduced by Labour still outlaw the creation of entirely new grammars but the Coalition brought in powers in February that allow schools to expand in response to parental demand.
They can operate satellites on separate sites as long as they retain the same catchment area and staff.
THE HISTORY BEHIND GRAMMAR SCHOOLS
164 grammars remain under the 36 councils that stood firm in retaining selection
The name comes from 6th century schools that taught Latin grammar to monks
They exploded in number with the arrival of the nationwide 11-plus exam in 1945
In their 1950s heyday, up to 1,300 grammars across England and Wales educated the top 25 per cent of pupils, with secondary moderns and technical schools teaching the rest
Harold Wilson’s Labour government began dismantling grammars in 1965, with education secretary Tony Crosland vowing: ‘If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every ******* grammar school.’
The remaining grammar schools were able to protect selective admissions by applying for grant-maintained status under 1988 laws introduced by the Tories which allowed them to opt out of council control
More areas that have retained selective schooling are expected to follow Kent’s lead as competition intensifies for places.
A grammar in Torquay has already looked into expanding and schools in Buckinghamshire are said to be interested.
Sixty-six Kent councillors backed the expansion plan yesterday, with just three against. Councillor Jim Wedgbury declared: ‘We can make history and start the roll-out of grammar schools across the nation.’
Jennie Varley of the National Grammar Schools Association, said: ‘This is excellent news. This may now encourage other grammar schools to do the same.’
Education Secretary Michael Gove has said his ‘foot is hovering over the pedal’ of allowing full-scale expansion of grammars.
Tory MP Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, said: ‘The Government is going some way to satisfying the enormous pent up demand for more selective education.’
But he added: ‘These arrangements will do nothing to improve choice for the very many people living in areas which currently have no grammar schools.
‘Those people, may just wonder why they are not allowed the same kind of choice as parents in Kent. The whole logic of this must really push in the direction of further relaxation of the rules.’
Kent’s announcement follows a three-month campaign by husband and wife Sarah and Andrew Shilling, who highlighted the severe shortage of selective places in Sevenoaks.
The town is served by one comprehensive. More than 1,000 pupils make a round trip of 25 miles a day to grammars in nearby towns.
The Shillings’ petition attracted 2,620 signatures, prompting the council to act. Mrs Shilling, a mother of three, said: ‘This is great news for the children of Sevenoaks.’
Under the plan, two forms of entry for girls and two for boys who pass the 11-plus would be created, either in two separate annexes or one on the same site.
A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘The over-riding objective of this Government’s reforms is to increase the supply of good school places so parents have real choice.’
British university drop-out rate soars by 13pc in a year
Record numbers of students quit university courses last year as the higher education drop-out rate soared above 30,000 for the first time, official figures show.
More than one-in-five undergraduates are failing to compete the first year of their degree at the worst-performing universities, it emerged, prompting fears that millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being wasted on unwanted courses.
At some universities, an estimated four-in-10 students will fail to finish the course they started after either dropping out, switching to another institution or graduating with a lesser qualification.
In England, the University of Bolton had the worst drop-out rate with 21.4 per cent of students quitting higher education after just a year. An estimated 45 per cent of undergraduates will fail to complete their full degree course, it emerged.
Drop-out rates were as high as a third at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland and hit almost a quarter at the University of West Scotland.
Across Britain, the number of students dropping out increased from 28,210 to 31,755 last year – a rise of almost 13 per cent.
It was the first time since records began a decade ago that the rate had crept above 30,000, fuelled by an increase in the overall student population.
The rise – in data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency – comes despite the Government spending £1bn on initiatives designed to improve student retention.
The University and College Union warned that the drop-out rate would soar in coming years following a decision to increase the cap on student tuition fees to £9,000.
Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, said undergraduates would be tempted to chase places on the cheapest courses, even if they fail to fit their requirements.
“Over the past five years, in England alone, over £1bn has been spent on measures to improve student retention in higher education,” she said.
“Sadly, today’s figures show that too many students, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, are still failing to complete their studies.
“We have real concerns that the new funding regime with hugely increased tuition fees may force some students onto courses that, although cheaper, do not best suit their abilities.
“That scenario is likely to lead to further drop outs, which will not benefit the student, the university or society.”
Figures from HESA show the number of students dropping out of university each year along with the proportion expected to complete the degree they started.
In all, 8.6 per cent of students quit higher education after 12 months last year compared with 7.9 per cent a year earlier. Some 21.6 per cent are expected to fail to complete their degree.
According to data, the worst performer was Highlands and Islands where 32 per cent dropped out last year and just 48.6 per cent of students are expected to finish the degree course they started.
More than one-in-seven students dropped out of higher education altogether at eight other British universities, including West Scotland, Bolton, West London, London Metropolitan, Swansea Metropolitan, Middlesex, University Campus Suffolk and Salford.
By comparison, Cambridge and St Andrews had the lowest drop out rates last year with just 1.4 per cent of students quitting, following by Oxford at 1.4 per cent.
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “Although our student completion rates compare well internationally, we want to reduce the number of students who don’t complete their studies.
“We are improving information for prospective students so that they can make more informed choices and we are committee to a better overall student experience.”
One-a-day heart pill to stave off stroke is given the green light
Warfarin (rat poison) is very dangerous so an alternative is good news
The first once-a-day anti-clotting drug for patients with an irregular heartbeat has been given the green light for use on the NHS. Rivaroxaban works as well as warfarin, a treatment based on rat poison which has been used since the 1950s, but with fewer side effects.
Hundreds of thousands of patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) could be eligible, which may prevent 5,000 strokes a year.
The drug is the second new anti-clotting agent to get the go-ahead from the NHS rationing body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), which recently approved Pradaxa.
AF is the most common heart rhythm disturbance, affecting up to 1.2 million Britons and causing 12,500 strokes a year. In AF, the upper chambers of the heart are out of rhythm and beat much faster than normal, which allows blood to pool and generate tiny blood clots which can trigger a stroke.
Rivaroxaban is expected to become a blockbuster drug. As a daily pill, it has a key advantage over Pradaxa, which must be taken twice a day.
AF patients have to take anti-clotting agents for life, but Nice says the new drugs offer value for money either as a replacement for warfarin or for patients who cannot take it.
At £2.10 a day, Rivaroxaban is slightly cheaper than Pradaxa (£2.50), but there is still a big price differential with warfarin. The new drug costs £64 for a month’s supply, compared to warfarin’s cost of only £1, plus clinic visits. Some of the clinic costs associated with monitoring warfarin may be recouped, says Nice.
Warfarin, which is still used in large doses to kill vermin, has been given routinely to AF patients for decades, reducing the rate of stroke by up to two-thirds at the cost of increased bleeding.
But it is inconvenient for patients because careful monitoring and regular blood tests are needed to prevent excessive bleeding from cuts or stomach ulcers.
A consensus conference by the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh estimated 5,000 strokes and 2,000 premature deaths a year could be avoided through effective detection and treatment of AF, with only half of patients currently receiving drugs.
Trudie Lobban, chief executive and founder of the Atrial Fibrillation Association, said prevention and treatment of strokes should be an NHS priority.
She added: ‘After 60 years when warfarin was the only option for patients we now have a choice of agents that will have a significant impact on strokes and quality of life. They are opening the way for raising awareness and education, and encouraging GPs to check for AF.’
Rivaroxaban was developed by Bayer AG and Johnson & Johnson and is expected to make peak sales worth two billion euros a year in Europe.
Dr Peter Coleman, of The Stroke Association, said: ‘Warfarin is a highly effective treatment for stroke prevention, but it is not suitable for everyone. ‘We’re pleased to hear that GPs will have another safe medication in their armoury to treat patients with atrial fibrillation.’
Professor Carole Longson, of Nice, added: ‘We know that people taking warfarin can find it difficult to maintain their blood clotting at a proper level and are often not within the target therapeutic range.
‘Rivaroxaban, like dabigatran etexilate, which Nice recently approved as an option for this indication, can benefit people with AF in these circumstances.’
British woman fired for REFUSING to wear blackface makeup
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t
“An actress, who claimed she was axed from a production of South Pacific after refusing to ‘black up,’ has been thrown out of her amateur operatic group.
Ros Broad, from South Petherton, Somerset, was horrified when cast members were ordered to coat their faces in ‘mahogany brown’ make-up for the Yeovil Amateur Operatic Society (YAOS) show.
She and three other actors refused to don the face paint and were axed from the production she claims. Following a meeting on Monday, Mrs Broad has also had her 20-year membership with the group revoked. It is thought the other members who refused to wear the face paint are still members of the society.
Now YAOS could be referred to the Equality and Human Rights Commission by a race relations charity after singing teacher Mrs Broad was left ‘humiliated’ by the ordeal.
Somerset Racial Equality Council’s David Onamade said he would be looking for answers from YAOS and could take the matter to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. ‘I think the group is ill-advised and this amounts to victimisation,’ he said.