Teenager died of tuberculosis after string of doctors fail to spot condition and one even branded her ‘lovesick’
A 15-year-old schoolgirl died of tuberculosis after a series of doctor errors missed the chance to detect and cure her disease, with her GP claiming she was ‘lovesick’, an inquest heard today.
Alina Sarag died in January last year after a GP allegedly advised her that her physical deterioration was due to mental health problems.
The teenager’s father, Sultan Sarag, told Birmingham Coroner’s Court his daughter was told she needed to see a psychiatrist or even a spiritual healer.
Alina’s parents called her GP more than 50 times about their daughter’s ailing condition over a four-and-a-half month period before her death. She was also seen by more than five doctors at four different hospitals but medics failed to detect the curable disease.
Her distraught father, Sultan Sarag, 43, broke down as he told the court: ‘The doctor said to her ‘Did you meet someone on holiday? Are you missing him? ‘She found it very distressing he was suggesting she was lovesick for a boy. ‘He said all the problems were in her head and she should see a psychiatrist or spiritual healer.’
Mr Sarag also claimed Dr Sharad Shripadrao Pandit accused him of ‘mollycoddling’ Alina, and refused to test his daughter for TB. He told the inquest: ‘He said: “We don’t need these tests, we are not going to get them done either.”‘
Alina was told by her GP that she may have bulimia and would need to see a psychiatrist, the inquest heard.
Mr Sarag – who is also being treated for TB – told the inquest his daughter vomited up to 10 times a day and had to be carried to bed ‘like an old woman with weak legs’. ‘I would spend hours rubbing her back, arms, head and neck to try and help ease her pain,’ he said.
He added that he made more than 50 phone calls to the GP’s surgery in Birmingham but Dr Pandit failed to return his calls.
Mr Sarag said: ‘There was mass neglect. The medical profession, as soon as they mess up they hide.’
Alina first contracted TB in 2009 after a girl at her school was diagnosed with the illness.
She was prescribed a course of antibiotics at Birmingham Chest Clinic but medical staff never followed up her treatment.
Alina was struck down again in July 2010 after returning from a trip to Pakistan with her family.
The inquest heard a simple phlegm test would have shown Alina was suffering from TB but this was never carried out.
Instead, doctors shrugged off her family’s concerns and told them Alina was suffering from a chest infection despite being classed as a ‘high risk’ patient.
Alina’s weight plummeted and at one point she was so ill she could only tolerate baby food.
After doctors at Heartland and City hospitals did not detect TB, Alina was admitted to Sandwell Hospital where she stayed for five days. TB was picked up but no phlegm test was carried out and a chest X-ray was thought to have found a chest infection.
She later saw a clinical psychologist at Birmingham Children’s Hospital but was in too much pain to complete the assessment.
On January 6, 2011 Alina was rushed to hospital after suffering breathing difficulties and she died of a cardiac arrest.
No midwife present for 1-in-4 women at crucial moment of giving birth
One in four women do not have a midwife present during the crucial moments of giving birth, according to a new study.
The research, for the Royal College of Midwives, reveals that women across the country are being let down by under-staffed maternity services.
On average, a quarter of women said they did not have a midwife with them when they felt they needed one most.
The problem varies across Britain and is worst in London, where 31 per cent of women said their midwives were not in the room when there was a problem.
In the North West of England, where there is also considerable pressure on maternity units, 27 per cent found themselves alone at important points.
This compares with just 13 per cent in Northern Ireland and 16 per cent in Scotland.
It comes even though successive governments have promised that all women giving birth must have one-to-one care.
The study, carried out by parenting support club Bounty, did not clarify when in particular women needed the support of a midwife.
But Cathy Warwick, of the Royal College of Midwives, said: ‘It varies depending on the individual.
‘Those in early labour want support, especially first-time mothers. For others, it’s when labour is at its most onerous near the end.
‘It is worrying that there are a significant number of women who feel they are not supported.
‘The key to solving this problem is to increase the number of midwives – we need 5,000 more in the NHS.’
During the survey of more than 1,600 women, mothers were also asked how well they knew their midwife during the pregnancy, with 21 per cent responding that they did not know them well.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: ‘Improving maternity care is a priority for the NHS.’
British schools forced to spend £328m on ‘over-inflated’ exams
Head teachers criticised the “over-inflated” exams system today after it emerged that schools were forced to spend almost £330m on GCSEs and A-levels last year.
Figures show that the amount of taxpayers’ money spent on tests increased by 8.5 per cent in the last 12 months, despite a drop in the overall number of qualifications awarded.
In total, exam fees have more than doubled in the last eight yeas and now account for the second largest share of school running costs.
The disclosure will prompt fresh concerns over the cost of qualifications offered by Britain’s biggest exam boards.
According to Ofqual, the exams regulator, all major exam boards recorded increased turnover in the last financial year.
The Association of School and College Leaders warned that fees had soared because of repeated political meddling in the exams system, including the introduction of bite-sized modules in GCSEs and A-levels and pressure to hit targets – resulting in more pupils re-sitting tests.
Brian Lightman, the union’s general secretary, said: “It is further evidence that the exams system is over-inflated.
“This represents a massive amount of public money and you have ask whether it’s the best use of resources when so many other parts of the education system are being squeezed. It’s money that would have been far better spent on teachers.”
Malcolm Trobe, ASCL policy director, added: “The general feeling in schools is that exam fees are too high. The exam boards are being more cost-effective – for example, by doing more marking online – but that’s not reflected in the fees that schools have to pay.”
Ofqual found that £328.3m had been spent by English state schools on exams in 2010/11. This was up from £302.6m a year earlier and just £154m in 2002/3.
The study revealed that exam fees made up 8.6 per cent of schools’ total running costs last year, compared with 7.8 per cent 12 months’ earlier and just six per cent eight years ago. It was the second biggest strain on running costs after “learning resources”, such as text books, said Ofqual.
The rise comes despite a drop in the number of qualifications awarded last year, it emerged.
Ofqual said the price rise was probably driven by “an increase in the level of the fees charged” by examiners combined with a shift in demand towards more expensive qualifications.
It follows criticism over training seminars staged by senior examiners – normally costing between £100 and £200 per teacher – to help schools boost pupils’ GCSE and A-level results.
Today’s report covers expenditure on GCSEs and A-levels alongside other qualifications – principally vocational courses.
Fewer GCSEs were awarded but rising numbers of vocational qualifications were sat, it was revealed. Numbers increased to almost 8m from just 2.2m in 2002/03.
The report shows that almost 160,000 students took a Level 1 award in music performance last year, while a similar number took a Level 2 award in food safety in catering – which is equivalent to a GCSE.
It means more people took these courses than traditional GCSEs in chemistry, German, biology, physics or Spanish, although most entrants would have been adults.
Parents who lit birthday candles on three-year-old’s cake at play centre party reported to police by British health and safety fanatic
No three-year-old’s birthday would be complete without a brightly-coloured cake with candles on top.
But Oscar Barlow was left in tears when police swooped on his party at a play centre – after staff said his cake was a health and safety risk.
Bosses at Rumble Tumble play centre said the candles constituted a safety risk and if the family wanted to light them they would have to move to a specific area and be monitored by staff.
After a disagreement, Oscar’s mother Natasha Bent and her family trooped out into the car park to light the candles outside instead. But they were stunned when two police officers arrived at the children’s play centre in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent.
The children burst into tears as officers spoke to the family over claims they had acted in an intimidating manner.
Last night Miss Bent, 27, insisted she had not been threatening and claimed they were frustrated by the health and safety red tape. Miss Bent said the family decided to visit the play centre after returning from a theme park on Oscar’s birthday last Thursday.
‘When we were there we brought in Oscar’s birthday cake from the car, but just as we were going to light the candles they told us we couldn’t. ‘All we wanted to do was sing Happy Birthday and have Oscar blow out the candles,’ she added.
‘We tried to reason with a staff member but she said we were bullying her and told us to leave, saying she was going to call the police. In the end we went outside and lit the candles in the car park. Oscar and the other children started crying when the police turned up. ‘How on earth would a child get injured by singing Happy Birthday?
‘It was a bad way for a three-year-old to experience a birthday. It’s a special occasion and his first one understanding what a birthday is. ‘I love my son with all my heart and didn’t want other children to have their birthday ruined.’
Her partner David Meir, 32, said: ‘When the police officer told us the staff member had accused us of intimidating her, I just laughed. I had my two sons with me so there’s no way I’d do that in front of them.’
Rumble Tumble declined to comment on the matter. A Staffordshire Police spokesman said: ‘Officers established the dispute was over the level of service received and advice was given to all involved.’
British government cracking down on “special needs” racket
Hundreds of thousands of children face being taken off the special needs register because they have been wrongly labelled as requiring extra help, the Government will announce today.
Under the biggest shake-up of the system for 30 years, ministers will toughen up rules on the diagnosis of behavioural and learning problems. It follows concerns that schools are abusing the system to disguise poor teaching and climb league tables.
For the first time, rigorous screening measures will be introduced to prevent pupils from being classed as having special needs when they have merely fallen behind or caused disruption in class.
The bureaucratic process used to identify children with the most severe special needs will also be scrapped and replaced with a single assessment covering education, health and care.
Ministers believe that the current system is “outdated and not fit for purpose”. They claim that those most deserving of help often find it difficult to get adequate support while too many are wrongly placed on the register.
Almost 1.7 million schoolchildren in England – more than one in five – have some form of special needs requiring particular attention from teachers.
In some schools, more than half of pupils are registered as suffering from problems that affect their ability to play a full part in lessons or activities.
It has been claimed that many difficulties are exaggerated to explain poor exam results or bad behaviour.
Ofsted has claimed that as many as 450,000 “special needs” children are actually no different from other pupils. Many are simply underachieving because of a culture of low expectations, a report found.
Figures show that pupils from poor homes are far more likely to be diagnosed with special needs than those from middle-class backgrounds. Inspectors suggested that state schools were being encouraged to over-identify pupils to attract more funding from local councils and to boost their position in league tables that give weighting to schools with high numbers of special needs children.
Parents of children with severe special needs can also qualify for extra tax benefits.
Today, the Government will announce a major shake-up of the system to “tackle the practice of over-identifying”. Ministers will legislate for the proposals in the Children and Families Bill announced in last week’s Queen’s Speech.
The two most common categories of special needs – “school action” and “school action plus”, which are usually diagnosed in-house by teachers – will be scrapped and replaced with a single grouping.
There will also be “tighter guidance on which children should be identified as having special educational needs alongside better training”. The new guidelines will be published following a fresh consultation exercise.
Ministers will also announce plans to form an expert panel to look at which children should be classed as having behavioural, emotional and social development difficulties to stop these problems being “overused” by schools.
At present, just one in seven pupils with special needs has a “statement” – a legal document setting out their entitlement to certain teaching and support.
The Department for Education says this system is “complex and adversarial”, with children facing “multiple assessments over months and years to get the basic support they need”.
Under the reforms, parents will be given legal powers to control budgets for sons and daughters who do require support, enabling them to buy specialist help instead of relying on services provided by local authorities. Young people with the most serious problems will get help up to the age of 25 instead of the current “cliff edge” cut-off point at 16.
Children with special needs will be able to gain a priority place at one of the Government’s academies.
Better teaching training will also be introduced to give new and existing staff help to “manage challenging behaviour” and bullying.
A Coalition source said there was “broad agreement” that the current categories used to diagnose some special needs problems were “far too broad”, with children classed as requiring extra help when their needs “could be met with strong teaching and pastoral care”.
“We are going to tighten up the definition of special educational needs in the statutory guidance so children who have genuine special educational needs get the support they need,” the source said.
Sarah Teather, the children’s minister, is expected to say: “The current system is outdated and not fit for purpose.
“Thousands of families have had to battle for months, even years, with different agencies to get the specialist care their children need. It is unacceptable they are forced to go from pillar to post, facing agonising delays and bureaucracy to get support, therapy and equipment.”
The current system of identifying special needs has been blamed for delays that have led to disabled children waiting months for a new wheelchair.
The Council for Disabled Children suggested that some youngsters were left in pain and required operations to correct growth problems because their wheelchairs were too small for them.
Why should an insult be against the law?
What matters most: free speech or public order? And how much of the former must we sacrifice to ensure the latter? This question has vexed our legislators for many years. In 1936, with Mosley’s Blackshirts on the march in London’s East End, a new Public Order Act criminalised behaviour that was not of itself violent but was “threatening, abusive, insulting or disorderly” and that was intended or likely to cause a breach of the peace.
The aim was to stop fascists screaming abuse at Jews in the streets; and while most civilised people wanted to shut the thugs up, there was a good deal of agonising over whether the wording was an unwarranted restriction of free speech, the beacon of liberty that marked us out from what was happening in Continental Europe at the time. On the other hand, the fear perpetrated by the Blackshirts was itself a threat to essential British liberties. A balance had to be struck and Parliament endeavoured to do so.
This debate was revisited 50 years later, when the Thatcher government updated public order laws in 1986 to take account of the disturbances in Brixton and Toxteth and at a succession of industrial disputes, such as the miners’ strike and Wapping. Ministers also wanted to get a grip once and for all on the mayhem that had taken hold of our national sport. Every Saturday, the football terraces were a seething mass of contorted faces and vile chanting (so little change there, then). Crucially, section five of the Public Order Act 1986 removed the requirement for an intention to cause a breach of the peace. Instead, abusive or insulting behaviour was to be penalised if it was within the hearing or sight of a person “likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress”. This marked a further retreat from free speech. As one legal textbook put it, the criminal law had been “extended into areas of annoyance, disturbance and inconvenience”.
Here we are, 25 years on, and once again this provision is proving controversial, not least because it is being used to criminalise what many people might consider simply to be a point of view that others do not like. Tomorrow, a parliamentary campaign is being launched in an effort to persuade the Government to remove the word “insulting” from the Act after a series of arrests and prosecutions of Christians for expressing their opinions.
They include a preacher who was convicted under section five for walking the streets of Bournemouth carrying a placard with the words “Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism”. Another case involved Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, Christian hoteliers in Liverpool charged with insulting a Muslim guest because they engaged in a conversation about religion. Mr Vogelenzang was alleged to have said that Mohammed was a warlord, while his wife stated that Muslim dress is a form of bondage for women. They were acquitted, but campaigners argue that they should never have been arrested in the first place and that people like them would be spared months of worry if the law was amended. Other notorious arrests under this measure include that of a teenager who described the Church of Scientology as a “cult” and the Oxford undergraduate who was arrested for asking a police officer if he realised his horse was gay.
Clearly, none of these “crimes” were envisaged as such in 1936, when a real menace stalked the land, or even in 1986, when the law was changed largely to stop abuse by football fans. The obvious problem is the subjective nature of an insult. While most of us can recognise abusive language when we hear it, in what way is it a crime to take issue with someone else’s opinion, or even their religion? This is likely to become more problematic as the gay marriage debate heats up. This measure was not in the Queen’s Speech, principally so that Her Majesty would not have to announce something opposed by the Church of which she is head. But when the consultation ends next month, the Government intends to legislate. As Lynne Featherstone, the Lib Dem equalities minister, said at the weekend, the consultation is not about whether to proceed, but how.
Christian groups are worried that antipathy to gay marriage will fall foul of the law. In this they are supported by Peter Tatchell, the human rights campaigner, who sees how such a law can easily be abused on grounds of political correctness. It is not so long ago that it would have been used to stop gay pride marches. Nor are these isolated matters. Figures unearthed by the Conservative MP Dominic Raab show that in 2009, section five of the Public Order Act was used more than 18,000 times, mainly for the non-specified crime of insult.
The Home Office has been consulting on this matter, but shows little inclination to do anything about it. If the debate around gay marriage is not to get ugly, the Government would be advised to change the law before people are hauled before the courts for defending their traditional understanding that matrimony, as the root of the word suggests, is the union of a man and a woman.
In a free and civilised country, people should not be abusive or gratuitously offensive to each other; but they should be entitled to voice an opinion that someone else might find insulting. It is a hallmark of liberty that it allows a person to say something that is provocative, otherwise it is no freedom at all. John Milton put it best: “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
British cellphone networks already practicing censorship
Non-sexual websites such as one created by the residents of St Margarets, Middlesex, to act as an online hub for local news and events, and a blog that challenges the impartiality of the BBC, have been blacklisted by mobile networks, a report by the London School of Economics found.
Currently, the major mobile networks impose restrictions to block access to content unsuitable for under-18s by default, on the grounds that young people may access the internet from their smartphone unsupervised. Adult customers who want to access such material must ask for the restrictions to be lifted and provide credit card details to prove their age.
The blacklists sometimes go too far, the report says. They have also been imposed on eHow.com, one of the biggest general ‘how to’ websites, on a church in Sheffield, on a London bar, and on the business website of a graphic designer, the researchers said.
“It can mean a business is cut off from a slice of its market,” said the report, which was produced by the LSE’s Media Policy Project in collaboration with the Open Rights Group, a campaign group which opposes online censorship.
“It can simply see people unable to get directions to a bar. It may stop a prominent political organisation from reaching concerned citizens.”
This “over-blocking” is likely to become a bigger problem if compulsory pornography filters are imposed on home broadband networks, the Open Rights Group said.
“This report shows how child protection filters can actually affect many more users than intended and block many more sites than they should,” said campaigner Peter Bradwell.
“The lessons for ‘porn filter’ proposals are clear. Default-on blocks can have significant harmful and unintended consequences for everybody’s access to information.”
The report also identifies a lack of transparency from the mobile networks over the rules they use to decide what to restrict, and highlights difficulties in getting wrongly-imposed blockades lifted.
David Cameron said this month that he would consult on introducing a similar system for home broadband, meaning custopmers would have to tell their provider if they want access to adult material. Supporters of the idea, promoted by the Conservative backbencher Claire Perry, argue children are being damaged by easy access to explicit content online and that the internet industry does not offer parents enough control.
Opponents such as the Open Rights Group argue that tools are available for parents to take responsibility for what their children see online. Professor Tanya Byron, who conducted a review of child safety online for the Government, also criticised filtering systems, suggesting they could result in “lulling parents into a false sense of security”.
British charter schools accused of selling “incorrect” food
The Coalition’s flagship academies are ignoring healthy eating guidelines by “regularly exposing” children to cakes, crisps, fizzy drinks and fried food, according to research.
Many schools have dropped national standards introduced in the wake of a campaign by Jamie Oliver, the television chef, because of financial constraints and pressure from pupils and parents, it emerged.
The School Food Trust said that schools were failing to act in pupils’ “best interests” and may be driving up obesity rates by permitting the sale of unhealthy food.
But separate research suggested that academies were only performing marginally worse that other state-funded schools and were actually more likely to provide children with free water.
It also emerged that some made annual losses of up to £43,000 on school catering services – the equivalent of an experienced full-time teacher.
The conclusions come just weeks after Mr Oliver attacked a Government decision to exempt academies from healthy eating guidelines, saying four-in-10 children were now overweight.
Today’s report said some academies – independent state schools funded directly from Whitehall – were providing “food and drink that complies with many of the standards” but others were “doing less well, particularly with regard to food such as confectionary, soft drinks, starchy foods fried in oil and savoury snacks”.
“Here, children were once again being regularly exposed to foods high in fat, sugar and salt, which the standards were specifically designed to reduce or eliminate,” said the trust.
“Many academies appear to have good intentions, but are doing little to monitor what they actually provide to their pupils.”
The last Government launched a crackdown on unhealthy food after a campaign by Mr Oliver showed that pupils were regularly being fed chips and reconstituted meat, such as Bernard Matthews’ Turkey Twizzlers.
The sale of high-fat and sugary food was banned from canteens and vending machines following the disclosure.
But academies, which account for around half of state secondary schools in England, are not bound by the rules.
As part of the latest study, the School Food Trust surveyed more than 100 of the schools.
According to the research, a quarter of academies provided crisps and savoury snacks, one-in-six stocked chocolate and more than half sold cereal bars, which are usually high in sugar.
More than eight-in-10 sold squash such as Robinsons Fruit Shoot, Drench and Capri-Sun and a small number provided pupils with Coca Cola, Sprite and energy drinks including Lucozade and Red Bull.
One-in-10 schools said they refused to follow the guidelines and a third thought they were too restrictive. Some heads shunned them because of financial reasons and pressure from parents and pupils, it emerged.
But a separate study – based on in-depth interviews with 13 academies – found that many were performing no worse than other state-funded schools. In some cases, academies were more likely to comply with national rules cutting down on the use of salt, confectionery and condiments and and all academies were more likely to provide pupils with free water.
This study also concluded that most academies made a loss from catering, with one losing £43,000-a-year – the equivalent of one full-time teacher. It comes despite claims last month that academies were profiting from the sale of unhealthy food.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We trust teachers – the professionals on the frontline – to do what is best for their pupils. Many academies go over and above the minimum requirements and are offering their pupils high quality, nutritional food.
“The School Food Trust’s own research on all secondary school food shows that even with food standards in place, many maintained schools – far from being paragons of nutrition – are not meeting all the standards and are still offering cakes, biscuits, confectionery and non-compliant drinks to their pupils.
“Clearly there is room for improvement in all schools – maintained schools as well as academies.”
Why mid-life health kicks can WRECK men’s bodies: Jogging and low-fat food will make you fatter and damage your heart
Hitting 40 marks a turning point for many men and their health. Their metabolism slows, leading to the dreaded belly and the first signs of ageing and long-term disease — raised blood cholesterol and high blood pressure — begin to appear.
Last week, came the gloomy prediction that almost two thirds of men aged between 40 and 100 will be obese by 2040, risking type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and early death.
The thickening waist and heightened sense of mortality is often enough to kick start a new regimen, which usually means choosing low-fat foods and taking up jogging (indeed, jogging is almost as much a rite of passage for the middle-aged man as buying a fast car, with David Cameron and Boris Johnson recently spotted pounding the pavements).
But these are actually the worst things the middle-aged man can do, says Dr Charles Clark, a consultant surgeon and expert on diabetes. Like a growing number of experts, Dr Clark (an honorary research fellow at the University of Glasgow), says low-fat diets could be making our long-term health worse. That’s because they are often high in sugar and carbohydrates.
Dr Clark and others believe sugar, and its effect on the hormone insulin, is the real dietary evil behind our ever-rising obesity levels and our frightening incidence of heart disease.
In a new book, he claims that controlling insulin is the key to protecting a man’s heart, and also protecting him against a host of potential killers — raised cholesterol, diabetes, cancers — as well as reducing his risk of arthritis and obesity, and even boosting his libido.
It is a controversial view, but Dr Clark has strong medical credentials, having published more than 80 scientific research articles in high-profile journals such as the British Medical Journal.
As for jogging, Dr Clark says if you’re unfit, it’s a quick-fire way of destroying your hip and knee joints and placing a tremendous strain on your heart and lungs.
But all is not lost, for Dr Clark believes men can dramatically improve their health, and reduce their risk of killer diseases, in as little as two weeks by making a few very simple changes.
Here are some of his key recommendations.
AVOID ‘LOW-FAT’ FOODS
We’ve long been told that high-fat foods (such as cream and cheese) clog up the arteries. So, for most men, going low-fat would seem the obvious way to eat healthily.
But Dr Clark says dietary cholesterol accounts for just 15 per cent of the total cholesterol in our bodies — the rest is manufactured by the liver.
As he explains it, the problem is sugar. In response to sugar in the blood, the body produces the hormone insulin.
This in turn instructs the liver to metabolise dietary fat and convert any extra food in the blood into triglycerides (a form of blood fat).
These triglycerides are bundled into globules transported through the blood to be taken up by the fat cells. That’s how excess food makes us fat.
Insulin also controls the extent to which the liver creates and pumps out cholesterol. Scientists believe high insulin levels are more likely to trigger the production of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.
When insulin levels are reduced, the liver cells find it harder to convert the fat in food into cholesterol and tends to pump out more ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.
Dr Clark says low-fat diet foods (yoghurts, ready-meals, biscuits, even salad dressings) are very often pumped with extra sugar to make them palatable and people on low-fat diets are very likely to fill up on carbohydrates, both of which raise insulin levels, increasing LDL and triglycerides.
Exercise plays an important role in keeping insulin levels under control.
But while jogging is an excellent form of exercise when you are fit, it is also an excellent way of precipitating a heart attack when you’re not, says Dr Clark.
If you are overweight with poor muscle tone, jogging is a fast track to ruining your hip and knee joints and put unbearable strain on your heart and lungs.
Instead, start exercising slowly and build up your fitness gradually by walking for 20 minutes five times a week, and adding some gentle muscle-building exercises (such as lifting light weights) and stretching.
Cat lovers beware! One bite from a cat can put you on the critical list:
“A few weeks ago I was at my friend Helena’s house playing with her cat, Mr Fluff, when he suddenly lashed out. Mr Fluff is a cutie, but he’s a very aggressive moggie — and has been confirmed as semi-feral by a cat behaviouralist.
I’ve never left Helena’s house without a map of scratches on my arm. This time Mr Fluff flipped and leapt at me with a low growl. Hanging on to my arm with his claws, he sunk his teeth into my wrist twice. I flung him off and, while spinning around, whacked my wrist against the door-frame. Ouch. Helena came running.
Mr Fluff was now crouched, hissing. She tried to pick him up to soothe him, but he shot at her foot and bit it, too.
Thinking little of it (other than that Mr Fluff could do with a relaxing spa day), we washed our bites with soap and water, slathered on Sudocrem and I went to bed.
The next morning my hand hurt. I ignored it. But when I tried to pull my tights on, I couldn’t grip them to yank them up. My hand was red and swollen.
I went to Chelsea & Westminster A & E and regaled them with the tale of human versus cat while I had my tetanus jab.
I couldn’t understand why they kept asking me about the tiny bites on my wrist. And then an X-ray revealed I had no fracture. ‘We think your hand is infected,’ the nurse explained.
‘A cat bite is much worse than a dog or rat bite. It’s the worst animal in the UK to be bitten by. ‘Their mouths are filthy, swimming in bacteria. But because it’s so rare that they bite, it’s not widely talked about.’
I listened, half amused, as they told me I would go for a ‘wash out’ the next morning under general anaesthetic. The procedure sounded innocuous, so why would I need a general? ‘We’re just going to explore the wound,’ the surgeon explained. ‘You’ll probably be OK to go home tomorrow.’
They hooked me up to an antibiotic drip while, using my BlackBerry, I changed my Facebook status to a jolly ‘Catherine Gray has been hospitalised by a cat!’ before drifting off to sleep.
When I came round, searing agony gradually set in. ‘We’ve opened up the two bite marks and made two new incisions. There was a lot of pus to drain,’ the surgeon explained. ‘I’ve fed antiseptic ribbons through your hand to fight the infection further.’ These ribbons are gauze soaked in antiseptic, more commonly used after the removal of cysts.
The pain was such that nurses came with vials of morphine for me to gulp down every few hours.
I learnt that dog bites turned infectious around 15-20 per cent of the time, but cat bites do in 50 per cent of cases because moggies have thin, pointy teeth, which effectively inject you with bacteria. Even if you wash the wound immediately, chances are you won’t get the bacteria out.
I read of a woman in Wales who died after contracting a rare blood disorder caused by a cat bite.
Now, I was scared. Nobody had explained the peril I was potentially in; presumably because they didn’t want me to panic.
I later learned the danger was particularly severe because the bites were to my wrist. As Dr Suranjith Seneviratne, a clinical immunologist from London’s Royal Free Hospital, explains: ‘The wrist is packed with tendons and blood vessels, so infection can be pumped to vital organs very quickly and cause them to fail in extreme cases.’
I’d originally been told I could probably go home later that day. ‘We want to keep you in another night, just to keep an eye on you’ was the casual verdict.
Day after day rolled by. I was regularly pumped with antibiotics and my hand slowly healed. There were four scarlet incisions, each about a centimetre long and deep.
I whiled away the time with The Hunger Games trilogy, and could now waggle my fingers. I was high as a kite on morphine and tramadol and quite enjoying myself.
A test on the third day showed that the cat had given me Pasteurella multocida and Staphylococcus aureus. An internet search revealed that both were potentially lethal. I didn’t want to know more.
‘If bacteria such as these travel from the soft tissue of the hand into the bloodstream, they can go to vital organs such as lungs very quickly, and can absolutely cause death,’ Dr Seneviratne tells me now.
This is because they can trigger sepsis, where the immune system goes into overdrive and begins attacking the body, leading to organ failure. I am really, really glad I didn’t know that at the time.
But after four nights came the words of doom: ‘Another washout in the morning.’ I argued against it.
‘But I can wiggle my fingers! It feels all better!’ I pleaded, only to be told sternly: ‘If we don’t get all of the infection out, the consequences could be extremely serious.’
The previous time I’d been wheeled to theatre I was enjoying the novelty of my first hospital overnighter. This time, my face was ashen and I was trembling from nerves. I was worried I would come out without a hand.
When I came round two hours later, my hand was still there but the pain was excruciating. My teeth chattered. It took seven doses of morphine for the pain to come down to bearable — usually you only get one dose every few hours.
At night, I barely slept. I begged the nurses for as much morphine as they could administer.
When three doctors swept back my curtain at 11am the next day, I physically winced. But it was good news: ‘Your tendons are fine. You can go home later today. You’ll need to come back in a week for us to check the wound and for physiotherapy.’
For the next fortnight, I couldn’t really type. My mum or boyfriend washed my hair because I couldn’t get the bandage wet. I would dictate texts to my boyfriend.
Two months on, although full range of movement has been restored, a too-firm handshake makes me flinch. I’ve been told I might never recover complete function of my hand so may not be able to play tennis or horse-ride again.
My hand is still inflamed, and the scars are blood red. My friends have affectionately dubbed my hand ‘the mutant claw’. But at least I’m alive.
‘People underestimate the danger a domestic cat bite can do,’ says Dr Seneviratne.
‘Obviously being bitten by a stray cat is far worse, due to rabies, but bacteria such as Pasteurella are often missed by GPs, so it’s crucial to go to A&E with a cat bite.
‘You would have been at risk of death had you not received the right treatment so promptly. ‘Those with a low immune system, say someone ill, are even more at risk.
‘I’m not remotely anti-cat,’ he adds. ‘A human bite is far more lethal, because we have more bacteria in our mouths than any other animal, yet no one would suggest all humans should be banished.
‘But people do need to be educated that cats are the most dangerous animal in the UK to be bitten by.’
The only thing I’m bitter about is that I’m now slightly nervous around animals. Recently a feisty spaniel play-nipped me, not hard, but I burst into tears.
I still love cats, but the nation does need to know that our furry best friends are potentially lethal.
BBC runs an old fashioned revival hour for Greenies
Is this an attempt to outdo the Heartland Institute? On Thought for the Day, BBC Radio 4’s prime time religion slot, John Bell, a church of Scotland minister, discussed men, and in particular their badness:
“However the notion that men are inherently superior doesn’t stand up to empirical proof. While in physical strength they might usually have the advantage, in terms of moral fibre and human decency men don’t always come out on top.”
No indeed. One aspect of their badness that is of concern to John Bell is of course, climate change:
“…the people who are most vocal in denying human responsibility for the disastrous effects of climate change are mostly male.”
That’s bad, I must say. But there are other equally bad men around, sinners to rank alongside those who are a bit doubtful about whether we are all about to fry. Can you guess what they are?
* people who control factories of wage slaves in the developing world
* the commanders of terrorist regimes
* leaders who threaten or declare war
* those involved in paedophile gangs
* networks of men who organise systematically the abuse of children
Sir David Jason: Political correctness is killing the British sense of humour
“As the star of Only Fools and Horses and Open All Hours, Sir David Jason is responsible for some of the most amusing moments on television. The comic actor says many of them would, however, never make it to the screen these days because of a growing “political correctness” that is killing comedy.
Sir David, who was knighted by the Queen in 2005, points to the speech impediment suffered by Ronnie Barker’s shopkeeper, Arkwright, in Open All Hours, which created much gentle comedy.
“Barker’s character had a stutter and he got nothing but good mail from people who stuttered because, basically, they were saying they bring people to the front,” he says at the first anniversary performance of Shrek The Musical at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. “The other thing was that they didn’t think it was disrespectful. He only ever got positive responses.”
Earlier this month, a tabloid newspaper was widely criticised after it published a headline poking fun at the speech impediment suffered by Roy Hodgson, the newly appointed England football manager. The Press Complaints Commission said it had received more than 100 complaints.
Sir David points out that one of the most popular episodes of Only Fools and Horses, called “Stage Fright”, involves a nightclub singer who can’t pronounce his Rs.
There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up — on his usual vastly “incorrect” themes of race, genes, IQ etc.