Transplant organs ‘contaminated with bacteria’
More than 1,000 people who received donor kidneys, livers, pancreases and bowel tissue could have been given organs infected with bacteria from the solution used to keep them fresh.
Batches of Viaspan – meant to be a sterile, cold solution used when organs are moved – could have been contaminated with Bacillus cereus since last July, according to the Department of Health. Bacillus cereus is most well known for producing a toxin in food which causes food poisoning. Symptoms of the poisoning include diarrhoea – which may be bloody and severe – nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps.
Makers Bristol-Myers Squibb said it had found “potential contamination on the production line” of the Austrian facility where it is made. A spokesman described the recall as “precautionary”.
Batches of Viaspan are now being tested for contamination. Results are expected in the next week or two.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) alerted transplant centres to the problem last Friday, after being told about “probable contamination” by BMS that day.
Some 1,500 people undergo kidney transplants every year in Britain while some 700 people receive a replacement liver. There are about 250 pancreas recipients and 30 to 40 bowel transplants annually.
Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England, said transplant centres should continue using the solution for the time being, because there was “no evidence” it caused problems in patients.
She said: “Our priority is to ensure patients are safe. There is currently no evidence of any problems in patients who have recently had transplants where Viaspan has been used. “If we were to recall the product immediately it is clear that patients would suffer and some may die.
“The manufacturer has advised that where necessary, Viaspan can continue to be used until Transplant Teams have stocks of alternative products and patients can be prescribed an antibiotic known to be effective against the contaminant as a precaution.”
She continued: “We are now working urgently to source alternative products.”
Viaspan is the most widely used solution for storing and transporting abdominal organs, according to Professor Roger Williams, the liver specialist, and director of the Institute of Hepatology.
A spokesman for BMS said the recall could result in “a temporary out of stock situation” for Viaspan. She said: “As there are alternative solutions for organ preservation available within the UK, we recommend that transplantation centres source and use one of these alternatives until the investigation has been satisfactorily concluded and normal supply can be resumed.”
The Department of Health said alternative solutions are available to use for kidney transplants. One is Soltran (also known as Marshall’s Solution), which is available in the UK. Two further solutions – Celsior and HTK – have been identified to maintain the viability of pancreatic, liver and bowel transplants.
The department said neither has a kite mark in the UK for organ preservation. However, on Thursday night the MHRA authorised both products for human use.
Britain’s Labour Party led the argument that the state should play a key role in regulation of the Press
Debate over reform of Britain’s Press Complaints Commission
A Labour-dominated group of MPs and peers fiercely argued that the state should play a key role in regulation of the Press, the fine print of the report reveals.
This led to the committee being split and having to take the unusual step of voting on a series of proposed amendments to their findings.
One key proposal, which would reverse centuries of press freedom, was for the state to oversee a new media regulator replacing the Press Complaints Commission.
The move was backed by Labour peer and former newspaper publisher Lord Hollick, who failed to turn around the ailing Daily Express, once the most successful newspaper in Britain, and sold it and its sister titles to Richard Desmond.
The amendment said: ‘Regulation of the Press must be independent of government. But it is clear that the current system of self-regulation is broken and needs fixing.
‘We welcome the initiative taken by [PCC boss] Lord Hunt of Wirral in bringing forward industry-led proposals for substantial reform of the Press Complaints Commission.
Backing; Others who voted for the move included former Labour Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw, left and former Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury Lord Boateng, right
‘However, we think that statutory oversight of the reformed regulator is desirable. Otherwise major publishers could opt out of its regulation. Statutory oversight of the regulator would give it more authority over the industry and give the public greater confidence in it.’
Others who voted for the move included former BBC journalist and Labour Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw, who has helped lead the party’s pursuit of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers over phone hacking, and former Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury Lord Boateng. Lord Janvrin, who used to work as the Queen’s press officer, also supported the move.
Those who blocked the move included Conservative peers Lord Mawhinney, Lord Dobbs and Lord Black and MPs Penny Mordaunt, John Whittingdale and Philip Davies. Labour peer Lord Myners and Labour MP Paul Farrelly also voted against, as did Lib Dem MP Martin Horwood.
Brutal exercise, hard work and strict education – topped off with a bit of musical theatre: The days Borstals knocked yobs into shape
Borstals were introduced in Britain in 1902. The template was public boarding schools (with very secure locks) and the theory was that if delinquent youths (aged 16 to 21) were subjected to a similar regime of brutal exercise, house masters, dorms, endless lessons and the strict regime of the house system, they’d develop self-discipline and a sense of pride, and turn their backs on crime in a flash.
Unlike British boarding schools, corporal punishment (birching) was barred except in special circumstances and with special permission.
But it wasn’t all outdoor swimming, flower arranging and jolly dorms. The day started at 6am sharp with a brisk two-mile run and no breakfast (cold porridge, bread and jam) for any stragglers.
Next came cleaning and chores — bricklaying, construction work, farming, hedge-trimming, or whatever was on the agenda, followed by six hours a week of evening education either in the Borstal or local technical colleges and singing and drama workshops. Food was basic but filling, the youths were generally fit and healthy, discipline was robust and visitors were discouraged.
Borstals were more about training, correction and developing employability, and less about punishment. For many boys, there was more on offer than at home — three square meals a day and physical, mental and religious discipline. Upon their release, they were given help with lodgings, jobs and funding, and reoffending rates were low.
It wasn’t just boys. Girls (housed in separate all-women Borstals) were taught to cook, sew, iron and clean, and learned basic farming skills, flower arranging and nursing. They let off steam with netball matches, group exercise classes, dancing and ping-pong.
Borstal training was not an unqualified success. Bullying among the boys was rife. Housemasters at Rochester Borstal were constantly combing the local Medway valley for absconders — in the early 1940s there were more than 100 escapees a year.
Which is little surprise, because although many of the youths had committed only lesser offences — petty theft, minor assault — and ‘training sentences’ were indeterminate, stretching anything up to five years, until they were deemed ‘corrected’. But most youths did emerge fit, able and, thanks to the skills training, ready and eager to work.
The abolition of borstals in 1983 by Margaret Thatcher’s government left a black hole in the youth justice system.
Many people (including London Mayor Boris Johnson) consider the unique combination of hard work, self-improvement and rigid discipline was far more effective than the young offender institutions that replaced them, and which seem to offer a daily diet of snooker and television shows on wide-screen plasma TVs.
Of the young rioters arrested last year, more than three-quarters were re-offenders whose incarceration apparently had little effect. It would be interesting to know how many of them are able to bake bread, milk a cow, build a wall or, indeed, whistle a tune from the Mikado.
Britain is so far missing out on the shale gas revolution
Despite having the potential
Unnoticed by the powerhouses of the British media, the economy of the United States is rebounding on the back of a manufacturing-led boom fuelled by cheap gas. The American revival is in its early stages, but already manufacturing is being repatriated from China: an astonishing development after decades of offshoring.
The factor that above all separates the US energy market from those in Europe and Asia is the enormous increase in gas production and reserves brought about by the shale gas revolution. Which prompts the question: why are British politicians and industrialists not interested in promoting shale potential at home?
In recent years the gulf between open market gas prices in North America and the rest of the world has widened dramatically. The reason — as is now generally understood — was the development in the US of massive gas reserves trapped in previously inaccessible shale rock formations. The benchmark price at Henry Hub in Texas fell from a pre-shale peak of nearly $13 per million British thermal units (BTU) in mid-2008 to as low as $2.71 in January this year. Since January 2011 the US price has averaged less than $4 while the British National Balancing Point (NBP) price has averaged more than $9.
Open market gas prices on either side of the Atlantic roughly tracked each other for 13 years from mid-1995 until mid-2008, when they abruptly separated.
Initially many observers thought the market divergence would be shortlived. Some believed the US bonanza would evaporate, that once the easy gains had been made the marginal costs would rise, new production would be harder to bring on, and prices would return to higher levels. So far this has not happened: the typical marginal costs of new shale gas production are now around $3 per million BTU. In 2011 shale gas accounted for a quarter of US natural gas production.
The impact on reserves has been equally dramatic. In 2000, US dry natural gas resources were estimated by the Energy Information Administration at 1,500 trillion cubic feet, almost entirely in conventional reservoirs. By 2012 estimated reserves had risen by 67 per cent to more than 2,500 trillion cubic feet, of which a third was accounted for by gas in shale formations.
There is a longer-term prospect that North America will begin to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the rest of the world, helping to restore a global pricing equilibrium. To do this, American LNG import terminals which were constructed a few years ago to cope with an anticipated domestic shortage of gas are being reconfigured to handle exports. However, no gas has yet been exported, and there are already rumblings within the US that the country should not allow its sudden good fortune to be dissipated by sharing it with foreigners.
Great bulwark of free enterprise it may be, but the US has a long history of energy protectionism, from oil import quotas in the 1950s, wellhead price controls in the 1970s and a refusal to allow exports of Alaskan oil in the 1980s. But even if the US refuses to licence LNG exports, Canada, whose own traditional export markets south of the border have been hammered by the shale revival, will certainly look to sell LNG to the world.
Meanwhile the US has begun to benefit from significantly lower energy costs. Industrial output looks like growing at 4-5 per cent this year and next. Power generators are switching to gas from more expensive and dirty coal, and this trend is forecast to increase dramatically over the next quarter-century. Americans’ perennial sense of insecurity, most recently voiced by President Obama, about over-reliance on energy imports, looks like evaporating. The technological advances that have given the US its abundant shale gas will also provide crude oil from shale.
One simple example: cheap gas will encourage the US petrochemical industry to invest $30 billion in new plant over the next five years, according to the Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. Plastics producers will get a double boost from cheaper feedstock gas — the raw material for their product — and lower electricity costs. This will further increase the American advantage over competitors in Western Europe and Asia whose usual feedstock is oil.
Thus shale gas has changed the game and not only in terms of hydrocarbons supply: it has provided the US with a chance to launch an economic recovery based on manufacturing and exports.
Americans have largely taken all this in their stride, even though as shale exploration moves into liberal north-eastern states a degree of nimbyism becomes apparent. How very different from the reaction in Britain where the prospect of a large new source of energy and exchequer revenue has either been ignored or treated with suspicion.
A lot of nonsense is talked about the prospects for shale gas in Britain, both for and against. Advocates claim that there are gigantic reserves just waiting to be tapped, and that the North American phenomenon could easily be replicated here. Opponents — and they are in the vocal majority — say that fracking (hydraulic fracturing)poisons the water supply and causes earthquakes; they also worry that renewing Britain’s search for hydrocarbons will divert investment away from renewables.
The truth as usual lies somewhere between. The geological potential is certainly large, though the recoverable element of the gas in place has not yet begun to be assessed. A fundamental difference between Britain and the US is that in Britain mineral rights belong to the Crown, while in America they belong to the freeholder, which inevitably means British developments will take longer to initiate, even without political pressure from greens and local interests.
The impact on the water supply will inevitably remain a matter for concern, because of the tiny amounts of chemicals dissolved in water injected to fracture the source rock. The techniques themselves are constantly being refined and, compared to the early days in the US, the chemicals used now appear innocuous. Hydraulic fracturing does, according to the US Geological Survey, cause small but harmless earthquakes, although the recycling of waste water into deep wells can cause perceptibly larger quakes. It should be noted that most subterranean activities, such as coal mining, can cause subsidence or earthquakes.
There are several shale gas exploration sites around Britain but the most significant is Cuadrilla Resources’ initiative on the Fylde coast of Lancashire. Cuadrilla is backed by Lord Browne, lately the boss of BP. Last September Cuadrilla announced that it had identified reserves in place of 200 trillion cubic feet — roughly 20 times the proven reserves of conventional natural gas in the North Sea. Even assuming only a 10 per cent recovery rate — very conservative by North American standards — this one find potentially trebles Britain’s gas reserves, and provides George Osborne and his successors at the Treasury with an enormous opportunity.
The reaction to this good news has been, at best, muted. The BBC, inevitably, reported the story as an environmental disaster in the making. The Financial Times, preoccupied with rescuing the euro, paid it scant attention. Ofgem, which in recent years has dwindled from an effective regulator of competition to an alternative delivery vehicle for government green energy policies, reissued an old report by some tame consultants insisting that shale gas held little promise for the UK. The formal reaction from a Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) spokesman was discouraging: “Any development must sit with our plans for a strong portfolio of energy sources as we move to a low carbon economy, including renewables, nuclear and clean coal and gas.” This unenthusiastic line was repeated by the hapless Chris Huhne during his last months as Secretary of State at DECC, notably in a Guardian interview in which he repeated the demonstrable nonsense that shale drilling could lead to gas flames spurting from domestic water taps.
So, how much might this unwanted and embarrassing Fylde gas discovery be worth to the British economy? Cuadrilla is planning to bring the field up to full production by about 2020. Privately they believe they will be producing 1 trillion cubic feet, or 28 billion cubic metres a year. That is about half of current UK gas production from the declining North Sea fields.
At today’s prices that amount of Fylde gas would be worth about £4.2 billion a year to the Exchequer early in the next decade. It would also improve the balance of payments by £7 billion, and go a long way to restoring Britain’s energy independence. Tens of thousands of real jobs would be created in a depressed English region. What’s not to like?
The problem is the Coalition’s energy policy, which is really a climate change policy inherited from the previous Labour government and designed to appease environmental activists by forcing ordinary consumers to subsidise ineffectual and expensive wind energy. As I have argued previously in Standpoint, such policies will merely inflate energy costs — much of the increase ending up in the pockets of large utilities and wealthy wind farm investors — while actually increasing the reliance on natural gas to cover the gaps when the wind fails to blow.
There are some reasons for optimism. Ministers have begun to acknowledge the importance of gas: “We used to regard gas as a transition fuel. We now understand that it is in fact a destination fuel,” Charles Hendry MP said recently. They have also begun to take a more active interest in where the gas comes from: David Cameron has discussed with Vladimir Putin the possibility of extending the Russo-German Nordstream pipeline across the North Sea to Britain. But they have done little so far to encourage more exploration, least of all for shale gas.
The political difficulty is obvious: even with opposition to wind power growing increasingly forceful and articulate, it will be embarrassing to row back from an ineffectual policy whose consequences the government clearly did not understand.
But there is the heart of the matter. Wind power will require larger and larger amounts of gas generation to keep the lights on when the wind doesn’t blow, which is 70 per cent of the time on a good day and 90 per cent on a bad day. Once this has been accepted, the choice between buying more imports and encouraging the development of potentially huge domestic reserves becomes less difficult.
Unfortunately, by the time this happens the UK will be many years off the economic pace being set by the American shale bonanza. Just one more reason to pray — one cannot expect that British governments will one day again be prepared to leave these sorts of decisions to the market, and not to the vagaries of well-intentioned but ill-understood state interventions.
British High School calls in primary teacher to solve its reading crisis as pupils have abilities of a FIVE-year-old
An inner-city secondary school has had to recruit a primary school teacher because so many pupils have the reading and writing skills of a five or six-year-old.
Shocking standards of English among children aged 11 to 13 at the Sirius Academy in Hull led to the pioneering back-to-basics literacy scheme. It is believed to be the first such scheme in the country in a state-funded mainstream school.
Teacher Liz Atwood is using picture books usually aimed at youngsters barely out of nursery school, working on basic spelling and joining up letters to improve terrible handwriting.
The rise of Facebook and texting are said to be significant factors behind appalling standards of English at some schools. Teachers say they have encouraged a lazy approach to spelling and grammar as well as the use of abbreviations.
Miss Atwood, 24, is working with 38 children in Year Seven and 24 from Year Eight – around 10 per cent of the pupils in those age groups.
She sees the children in small groups four times a week for 100-minute sessions. ‘Some have a reading age of five years and the reading age is the same age as the writing age,’ she said.
Other schools facing similar problems are said to be monitoring the scheme’s progress with interest.
The teacher was recruited from a local primary school to take up the ‘transitional’ teaching post when the academy opened two-and-a-half years ago. In that time standards are said to have improved dramatically, with the group’s average reading age increasing by nine months a year.
Some of her students now in Year Eight have advanced three years in reading age since September 2010. Miss Atwood identified ‘routine and repetition’ as the key to improving literacy standards from the previous crisis level.
The bookshelves in her class reflect the primary school level study and include favourites such as Beware Of The Story Book Wolves (recommended for ages four and over), Sam’s Sunflower and several Dr Seuss classics.
The school library also has Don’t You Dare Dragon!, a pop-up style book intended for four-year-olds, and other simple-to-read picture books such as Alfie the Sea Dog.
English teacher Gemma Jackson, 27, said ‘social media’ had a negative impact on school work, with abbreviations such as ‘B4’ frequently being used.
‘When they are reading things on Facebook they do copy the language, so we get a lot of text talk and it can be so difficult to get children to write properly,’ she said.
Commenting on the learning programme, she added: ‘It has made a huge difference and you now see children walking around with books, which you never used to.’
Charlotte Hobbs, 12, has flourished with the extra help and is seen as a success of the system, though her reading level is still seven years and five months. She said: ‘It has made a big difference to my life. ‘I enjoy school so much I do not want to take a day off.’
Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, praised the initiative at the academy school – which has 1,200 pupils – but criticised standards at primary level.
He said: ‘Children should be learning stuff like this when they are five or six, not 11 and 12. They may say parents need to do more but they have to call the primary schools to account.’
British government release new hard-hitting anti-smoking advert
Nobody loathes smoking more than I do but this is complete bullsh*t. No research is quoted to substantiate the extravagant claims made — because there is none. All the evidence is that passive smoking does no harm, obnoxious though it undoubtedly is. See the references given in the sidebar to FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC
The government is rolling out a new anti-smoking campaign, highlighting the “hidden dangers” of second-hand smoke to young children.
New TV and radio adverts in England show that smoking by a window or the back door does not protect youngsters from harmful effects.
According to figures from the Royal College of Physicians, millions of children in the UK are exposed to second-hand smoke that puts them at increased risk of lung disease, meningitis and cot death.
Second-hand smoking results in over 300,000 doctors visits among children every year, 9,500 hospital visits and costs the NHS more than £23.6 million annually.
A survey of 1,000 children aged eight to 13 whose parents are smokers was released to support the campaign.
It found 98% wished their parents would stop smoking, 82% wished their parents would not smoke in front of them at home and 78% wished they would not smoke in the car.
Meanwhile, 41% said cigarette smoke made them feel ill while 42% said it made them cough.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “We all know smoking kills but not enough people realise the serious effect that second-hand smoke can have on the health of others, particularly children.
“This campaign will raise awareness of this danger and encourage people to take action to protect others from second-hand smoke.
“This is just one part of our wider strategy on tobacco. We need to do more.
“That is why next week we will end tobacco displays in large shops. We will also be consulting on plain packaging this spring.”
The porridge solution
As a lifetime lover of porridge, I am delighted to pass on this story
The 80,000-seater stadium and the 2,818 flats built for the Olympic Village in Stratford, east London, were constructed by a workforce who lived on ‘takeaways’, according to Olympic chiefs.
It was only during construction that bosses from the Olympics Delivery Authority (ODA) realised that a staggering number of the 12,000 builders working on the Olympic showpiece were living an ‘unhealthy lifestyle’ and that many were significantly overweight.
Lawrence Waterman, head of health and safety for the ODA, revealed the statistics at a health and safety conference hosted by the Police Federation last week.
He revealed statistics from an occupational health report which showed that 28 per cent of the 12,000 builders – that’s 3,360 – at the Olympic Park were classed as ‘obese’.
The report also revealed that 41 per cent of the workforce – a staggering 4,920 – were overweight and that 3,500 – 29 per cent – had high blood pressure.
He said that accidents were being caused by workers skipping breakfast after indulging in fatty takeaways the night before – leaving them ‘desperate’ for something to eat by lunchtime.
The conference heard how accidents at the massive 500-acre site ‘peaked’ in the one-hour period before lunch as workers’ minds were on what they were having for lunch rather than on the job in hand.
Mr Waterman said that as soon as bosses at the ODA realised how unhealthy the workers were they started offering bowls of porridge for just £1 to workers so they got a ‘healthy start to the day’.
He stated in his report: “They (the workers) were coming into work for three hours suffering really low blood sugar. “We had canteens offering porridge for a £1 and accidents in the morning went down.”
The campaign encouraging workers to tuck into porridge even had a poster showing Ronnie Barker as Norman Stanley Fletcher in the hit 1970s sitcom Porridge telling them to ditch fry ups and choose as ‘quick, healthier and inexpensive’ breakfast.
One 41-year-old worker, who did not want to be named, said today (Tue): “A lot of the lads on the site were pretty big. “Builders are known for their love of fry-ups and fast food – it comes as part of the job really – but nobody realised quite how unhealthy most of us were.”
The 40-year-old worker – who admitted that he was overweight – added: “Lots of us ended up eating porridge in the morning to see us through to lunchtime and I must admit it did work. “Before that we couldn’t stop thinking about what we were having for lunch.”
The Olympic Stadium was completed last year and in January this year the Olympic Village was handed over from the ODA to the London 2012 Organising Committee for the finishing touches to be made before the event kicks-off in July.
An Olympic Delivery Authority spokesman said: “The health and safety of our workforce has always been our top priority. While regular surveys highlighted obesity levels no higher than the UK average, we offered healthy breakfasts to the workforce at a reduced price in order to maintain blood sugar levels throughout the day, particularly for those skipping breakfast.
“The result was better diets, lower accident rates and a general boost to health. Our health and safety record is excellent, with 125 reportable injuries across more than 80 million man hours worked – the best ever achieved on a major UK construction project.”