New Emergency room target ‘missed in six of last ten months’

In my recent visits to Brisbane’s best private hospital — wholly covered by my private health insurance — my waiting time on each occasion has been about two minutes. It shows what is possible with adequate staff

Hospitals have missed the new easier A&E waiting time target in six out of the last twelve months, figures have revealed.

The Coalition relaxed Labour’s A&E waiting time target to allow doctors more time to treat complex cases within the emergency department rather than admit them to wards for only a short period.

Under Labour, 98 per cent of patients had to be treated and discharged from A&E within four hours and this was relaxed to 95 per cent.

It means five per cent of patients are now allowed to breach the four hour wait instead of just two per cent.

New data from the NHS Information Centre suggests this new target has been missed for six of the last ten months.

The ‘experimental’ data includes a raft of new measures to better reflect the patient experience of A&E and allow hospitals to compare their own performance against others.

It shows that more than five per cent of patients have waited more than four hours in January, December, October, June, May and April, when these figures were first collected.

It means tens of thousands of patients waited more than four hours in A&E deparments in England in those months.

Labour have accused the Coalition of losing control of waiting times and allowing them to increase.

However, officials at the Department of Health said, the Information Centre statistics are not robust and their own data which is collected from more hospitals shows a better performance.

Jamie Reed, Shadow Health Minister, said: “The Government is distracting the NHS with a wasteful reorganisation that is damaging patient care.

“Thousands of nursing jobs have been axed and patients are paying the price with longer waits in A&E and for operations. The Government abandoned Labour’s A&E waiting time standard and now they’re even failing to hit their own lowered target in six of the last ten months – leaving people waiting longer in discomfort in our hospitals.

“David Cameron needs to focus on what matters and not headline-grabbing announcements – patients and the NHS deserve better.”

Health Minister Simon Burns said: “The figures published today are experimental and based on Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) data.

“Our official monitoring of the 95 per cent target of people seen within four hours at A&E is based on better quality, more robust data which is collected from more organisations.

“This therefore gives a more accurate picture – the A&E Situation Report data indicated that 95.8 per cent of patients spent less than four hours in A&E in January 2012.”


UK plans to stop Greek influx

The British Home Secretary Theresa May said “work is ongoing” to restrict European immigration in the event of a financial collapse.

The British Home Secretary Theresa May said “work is ongoing” to restrict European immigration in the event of a financial collapse. Photo: Getty Images

THE British government is drawing up plans for emergency immigration controls to curb an influx of Greeks and other European Union residents if the euro collapses.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, said “work is ongoing” to restrict European immigration in the event of a financial collapse.

People from throughout the EU, with the exception of new member countries such as Romania and Bulgaria, are able to work anywhere in the single market.

However, there are growing concerns that if Greece was forced to leave the euro, it would effectively go bankrupt and millions could lose their jobs and consider looking for work abroad.

The crisis could spread to other vulnerable countries such as Spain, Ireland and Portugal, although Britain is regarded as a safe haven because it is outside the single currency.

Details of the contingency plan emerged as the euro crisis deepened on Friday. Catalonia was forced to turn to the Spanish government for a bailout and speculation mounted that Bankia, the troubled Spanish bank, would need $24 billion in state support. European markets fell again as the euro dropped in value against other major currencies.

The Home Secretary said while there is no evidence of increased migration at present, it was “difficult to say how it is going to develop in coming weeks”.

Several European governments introduced temporary immigration controls when countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic joined the EU, to stop an influx of workers. France also threatened to reintroduce passport controls at the Italian border after an influx of Libyan and Tunisian refugees during the Arab Spring.

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, said it had made contingency plans to deal with the break-up of the single currency. They involve preparations to evacuate Britons from Greece if civil disobedience spirals out of control and for banks to take steps to protect Britain against euro liabilities.

Ms May indicated she is looking at limiting free movement of labour, irrespective of the financial crisis, and that the issue is already being discussed at a European level.

Germany has reportedly drawn up a six-point plan to rescue Greece and the eurozone’s other failed economies in the same way east Germany was rebuilt after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, wants to revitalise the eurozone’s weaker countries with a package of privatisations, according to Der Spiegel.

The comments came amid rumours detailed by the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ that a “planned departure” for Greece would take place over June 2 and 3.


British Labour party leader calls for laws to stop discrimination against troops

Ed Miliband yesterday called for new laws to protect members of the Armed Forces from discrimination as he visited British troops in Afghanistan.

The Labour leader also called for the international community to ‘up its game’ on political progress in Afghanistan – or risk wasting a decade of sacrifice by British soldiers.

He said that reports last week that soldiers had been turned away from a pub in Blackpool by bouncers saying ‘no Army here’ highlighted the barriers they faced.

More than a quarter of personnel  are refused a mortgage, loan, credit  card or mobile phone despite having  a full-time job with a reliable income.

Mr Miliband said: ‘I think it is wrong that any of our troops face discrimination, disadvantage or unfair treatment because they have served in the military or because they are serving. ‘I want cross-party talks, I want to work with the military charities, to say, “How can we really resolve this issue?” ’

After flying into Camp Bastion, the Armed Forces’ main base in southern Helmand, Mr Miliband and Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy visited  a memorial to fallen British troops at a patrol base in the Nahr-e Saraj district.

Mr Miliband denied his trip was a PR stunt. ‘My purpose for being here is to express the deep sense of gratitude I have for our troops,’ he said.

He expressed fears that the country would slip back into being a failed state when combat troops are withdrawn in 2014, during a visit to the capital Kabul for talks with president Hamid Karzai.

He flew in after visiting troops serving in southern Helmand, where he expressed surprise at the level of progress being made in training the Afghan security forces ahead of the international pullout.

Despite giving his backing to the planned withdrawal date – reaffirmed at last weekend’s Nato summit in Chicago – and to Prime Minister David Cameron’s approach, he said there was ‘a long way to go’.

In an address to troops at the end of a tour of British bases yesterday, Mr Miliband told a gathering of troops that political failure must not be allowed to undermine their ‘extraordinary’ efforts.

A total of 414 members of UK forces have died since operations in Afghanistan began in October 2001.

Speaking at the British Embassy ahead of talks with Mr Karzai – as well as senior ministers and opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah – he said: ‘It is incredibly eye-opening coming out and actually seeing what they are doing, throwing themselves in harm’s way, every day going out on patrol.

‘Seeing it up close, with people who are young enough to be my son or daughter doing that, is incredibly humbling.  ‘I think the best way we can honour the sacrifices our troops have been making is to make sure that they have the best support when they come back home.

‘But also, the international community needs to up its game in getting a lasting political settlement here in Afghanistan because I think that is necessary in order to prevent Afghanistan slipping back into being a failed state and there is a lot more work to do to make that happen.’

He continued: ‘In this final phase it is very important that we don’t take our eye off the ball. I do not think the Government is, I am not criticising the Government.  ‘The Prime Minister is right to set a timetable. I think we should stick to the timetable.

‘We have invested a lot. Many of our troops have made huge sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice. The best way we can honour that is to ensure the political settlement we need.’

All three of the districts where the UK is involved have now been transferred to Afghan control – with some troops telling Mr Miliband their local counterparts have become 10 times more efficient within just a couple of years.

The transition process is due to be complete across Afghanistan by the middle of next year ahead of the 2014 Nato pullout deadline. Talking with an Afghan colonel, Mr Miliband praised the ‘tremendous strides forward’.


‘Why do people hate Jews?’ Shocking GCSE religious studies question set by Britain’s biggest examinations board

Britain’s leading examining board has been accused of ‘justifying’ antisemitism in schools after GCSE pupils were asked in an exam to explain ‘why some people are prejudiced against Jews’.

More than a thousand religious studies students sat the test last Thursday, which was set by one of the three major English exam boards, AQA.

The bizarre question has sparked fury among teachers, parents, ministers and members of the Jewish community who have blamed the body for ‘justifying’ anti-semitism in schools.

‘Clearly this is unacceptable and has nothing whatsoever to do with Jews or Judaism,’ said Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Rabbi David Meyer, the executive head of Hasmonean High School, whose pupils do not sit the AQA exam, said that the question had ‘no place’ in an exam paper.

‘The role of education is to remove prejudices and not to justify them,’ he said. ‘The question plants suggestions and implies ideas that shouldn’t be instilled into students.’

The question has caused such outrage that it has been carried to the very top of Government.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: ‘To suggest that anti-semitism can ever be explained, rather than condemned, is insensitive and, frankly, bizarre. AQA needs to explain how and why this question was included in an exam paper.’

He said that it was ‘the duty of politicians to fight prejudice, and with antisemitism on the rise we need to be especially vigilant’.

However, one examiner leapt to the board’s defence, saying it was a ‘legitimate’ question that pupils needed to be asked.

Educator Clive Lawton, formerly an A-level chief examiner for religious studies for another board, said: ‘I do understand why people might react negatively to the question, but it is a legitimate one. ‘Part of the syllabus is that children must study the causes and origins of prejudice against Jews.’

A spokesperson for AQA said that the question was part of a paper focusing on Judaism and the ‘relevant part of the syllabus covers prejudice and discrimination with reference to race, religion and the Jewish experience of persecution.

‘We would expect [students to refer] to the Holocaust to illustrate prejudice based on irrational fear, ignorance and scapegoating.’

She added: ‘The board is obviously concerned that this question may have caused offence, as this was absolutely not our intention’.  ‘[The question] acknowledges that some people hold prejudices; it does not imply in any way that prejudice is justified’.

Ofqual, which regulates exams, said that it was in discussion with AQA: ‘We will take appropriate follow-up action if necessary.’

Approximately six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust by the Nazi regime and its collaborators in the build up to and during the Second World War.


British teachers given ‘overly generous’ severance payoffs of up to £200,000

Official figures show that educational staff received packages worth tens of thousands of pounds after either being sacked or made redundant over the past year. Some teachers were given the generous packages to leave their school “by mutual agreement”, according to information released under freedom of information laws.

Many signed confidentiality clauses, meaning the terms of their payouts are prevented from being made public.  But one head teacher in London was handed almost £200,000 from taxpayers for loss of office when his school underwent a merger.

Last night critics described the payouts as “overly generous” packages at a time when schools were under pressure to make budget savings.  According to a survey of London-based schools, more than 160 staff received the packages after losing their jobs over the past year.

Campaigners warned that it was “almost inevitable” that taxpayers in other areas across the country were facing similar situations.

According to the survey, Dinesh Ramjee, the former head of Henry Compton school in Fulham, west London, received £195,490 to leave after it merged with nearby girls’ school Fulham Cross to become Fulham College.

Other payouts included a head teacher in Lambeth, south London, who was handed £117,500 after stepping down “by mutual agreement”.

Another in Enfield, north London, received up to £30,000 after resigning and signing a confidential “compromise agreement”. This meant no further action could be taken against the local council.

In south-east London, one Bromley teacher was given a “termination payment” of up to £22,000 while an unidentified Greenwich school staff member was awarded nearly £60,000 after being made redundant.

“Taxpayers will view these payouts as overly generous packages at a time when schools are searching for savings,” said Emma Boon, campaign director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.  “If it was happening on a large scale across the country, that would be worrying.”

But Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head teachers, added: “Headship is an accountable role, and rightly so.  “But if we move people on when things aren’t working or the role is redundant, we need to ensure they and their families are protected during the change.”

Mr Ramjee, who stepped down from his role in August 2010 after 37 years in education, told the Evening Standard that his settlement, negotiated by union representatives, was a “private arrangement between myself and my governors and the local authority”.

A Hammersmith and Fulham council spokesman also defended the arrangement.  He added: “We now have one Executive Head teacher, instead of two, at Fulham College which has lead to substantial and ongoing savings for taxpayers.

“We have seen significant improvements in school standards over recent years and now boast some of the best and most popular schools in the country.”

Last month, official figures released for the first time showed that 700 senior staff in state schools earned more than £100,000, including 200 who are paid at least £110,000.


Malthus is back!

No failure of prediction fazes the believers in too many people and diminishing resources

A couple of weeks ago The Royal Society published a major new report called People and the Planet(pdf),which has drawn a lot of criticism for its apparent commitment to outdated “Limits to Growth” type thinking.

As Tim Worstall points out, while there is much to merit in the nuanced analysis of the main report, in the actual discussions of what we should do about both consumption and population,

it appears that we really are running out of “reserves” and that we should hand out condoms to all and sundry. That last isn’t all that surprising, as Jonathan Porritt is part of the team and he’s incapable of saying anything else on the subject.

Indeed, Porritt is not of course a scientist at all, more an activist, and his presence here which does in itself raise serious questions about the integrity of the study, if it means that the science is being mixed up with ideological interpretations and policy recommendations.

Similarly, Mark Lynas argues

Whilst using a lot of dark language about increasing numbers of humans globally, the report nowhere acknowledges that the current median level of total worldwide fertility has fallen dramatically from 5.6 in the 1970s to only 2.4 today. In other words we are already close to natural replacement levels in terms of total fertility – the reason that the absolute population will continue to grow to 9 billion or more is that more children are living long enough have their own children. To my mind a reduction in infant mortality and an increase in life expectancy are self-evidently good and desirable – and their impact on world population levels should be celebrated, not bemoaned.

Lynas goes onto to explain that the main failing of neo-Malthussianism is that it assumes resource consumption is a “zero-sum game”- that there is a finite pie to be shared by an expanding population, with only one possible outcome- not enough pie to go around. While this might be true in an absolute sense, it ignores technological developments which allow economic growth – “qualitative” rather than just “quantitative” growth to continue even as per capita, and ultimately even total impacts may plateau and even decline.

Chris Goodall at Carbon Commentary picks up on this theme by arguing that more resource consumption and growth need not necessarily result in greater impact. He uses the example of waste and rubbish:

Waste production per person in the UK peaked at around 520 kg a year in the year to March 2002. The latest two quarters figures are fifteen per cent below that level. The latest quarterly figures suggest a figure of about 443 kg. The decline from year to year isn’t smooth but is probably getting steeper.

As societies get richer, they become smarter, more eco-conscious and generally have a tendency to clean up our act. Goodall wryly continues

In contrast to what the Royal Society says, growth may be good for the environment. We waste less and are prepared to devote more cash to ecological protection. Technology improvements mean things last longer and use fewer physical resources to make. Regretfully, I have to say that the world’s most prestigious scientific institution should spend more time checking its facts.

Ben Pile sees the Royal Society’s report in the context of climate change politics, an old story used to bolster the floundering old story of catastrophic climate change:

the Royal Society’s sideways step from climate alarmism to Malthusianism is also a step backwards. Before climate change became the dominant narrative of political environmentalism, the principle issues were ‘limits to growth’ and ‘the population bomb’. Those vehicles failed to give the environmentalists’ political project the profile it needed. Malthusianism was, in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, too easily rebutted. And in the dark days of the cold war, we seemed to have bigger problems to face. The end of the cold war arrived, and the brief era of optimism ended with climate change. It filled the nuclear-winter-shaped hole. But now there is widespread acknowledgement that climate change has been over-stated, the institutions which have sought to attach themselves to the issue have had to find a new story. And the new story is an old story…

Pile is critical of the august scientific institution stepping beyond its role of science into the realm of public policy and lifestyle recommendations- hand out contraception, get the rich world to curtail its consumption.

What caught my eye in particular was Pile’s pointing out that just the week before the publication of the report none other than Paul Ehrlich was made a fellow of the Royal Society.

And in doing so, the Royal Society abandons its claim to be a scientific authority. It has embraced a particular ideology… a nasty, anti-human perspective on the world. It can no longer say Nullius in Verba (on the word of no one). It’s perspective is no longer fixed on the material world. The object of its ‘science’ is now the human world, and control over it.

As it happens, I had just purchased on impulse a copy of a book that has quite a lot to say about Mr. Ehrlich. Future Babble by Dan Gardner is a truly fascinating study of failed predictions of apocalypse, both supernatural and ecological.

Gardner adopts Philip Tetler’s classification, after Isaiah Berlin, of experts as either “Hedgehogs” or “Foxes”

“The fox knows many things,” the warrior-poet Archilochus wrote, “but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Tetlock was involved in a committee brought together by the National Research Council in 1984, at the height of the Cold War, to examine the success or failure of expert opinions. In an extensive study involving 284 experts in many different fields, Tetlock compared predictions with reality, and found that the foxes- who tended to make much more cautious and contingent predictions, scored much more highly than the over-confident hedgehogs.

“On both calibration and discrimination, complex and cautious thinking trounced simple and confident.”

Ehrlich provides a spectacular example of a hedgehog, having founded a career spanning several decades on failed predictions.

“In the early 1970s, the leading edge of the age of scarcity has arrived,” he wrote in 1974′s The End of Affluence. With it came a clearer look at the future, revealing more of the nature of the dark age to come.” Of course there would be mass starvation in the 1970s- “or, at least, the 1980s.” Shortages “will become more frequent and more severe”, he wrote. “We are facing, within the next three decades, the disintegration of nation-states infected with growthmania.”…The mere continuation of current trends will ensure that “by the year 2000 the United Kingdom wil simply be a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70million hungry people, of little or no concern to the other 5-7billion of a sick world.”

Despite these outrageously wide-of-the-mark predictions, Ehrlich’s appointment to the Royal Society is only the latest in a long string of top awards, including the Gold Medal Award of the World Wildlife Fund International; the John Muir Award of the Sierra Club; the MacArthur Fellowship, nicknamed the “Genius Award”; and the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, widely considered the Nobel of environmentalism. Many of these awards were for his work as a biologist, but they were often given for his popular books like The Population Bomb.

Gardner notes that “the Crafoord Prize citation specifically noted Ehrlich’s ‘numerous books on global environmental problems, such as overpopulation, resource depletion nuclear winter, and greenhouse effects. It has been said that with Rachel Carson he is the one person with the greatest importance for present-day awareness of the imminent global catastrophe.’”

No matter what global catastrophe, Gardner wryly points out- on a survey of Cambridge University alumni in 2009 producing a list of the most important 50 books ever on sustainability, representing “the wisdom of our age” The Population Bomb came in at number four…

Another doomer who has made a career from predicting collapse is peak-oil pundit James Howard Kunstler. Well known in the peak oil community for his role in the documentary The End of Suburbia and his 2005 book The Long Emergency, Kunstler is lesser-known, or perhaps forgotten as “one of the most extreme voices in the Y2K fiasco.”

“If nothing else, I expect Y2K to destablize world petroleum markets”, Kunstler wrote, and the effects of that wil be as bad as, or worse than, those of the 1973 oil embargo. Industrial agriculture will collapse. “Spectacular dysfunction” will plague car-dependent cities. Supply chains will crumble. “I doubt that the WalMarts and the K-Marts of the land will survive Y2K.” That was the minimum-damage outcome. He actually expected things to get much worse…

Failure- even repeated failure over decades- does not seem to be a hindrance for these hedgehogs. “One might think that after Kunstler’s Y2K pratfall people wouldn’t pay for him to be their tour guide to the future, but The Long Emergency was a best-seller and Kunstler- a wildly entertaining speaker- became a fixture on the lecture circuit, where he is paid significant amounts of money to tell audiences they are doomed”- while “for experts who want the public’s attention” Gardner observes, “Ehrlich is the gold standard. Be articulate, enthusiastic, and authoritative. Be likeable. See things through a single analytical lens and craft an explanatory story that is clear, conclusive, and compelling. Do not doubt yourself. Do not acknowledge mistakes. And never, ever say ‘I don’t know’.”

What is fascinating is that retrospect does not seem to make these predictors of doom any the wiser. Rather than admit failure and revise their approach- turning as it were from Hedgehog to Fox- both Ehrlich and Kunstler played down the gaps between forecast and reality: for Ehrlich, the expected population collapse may not have happened on the timescale expected, but it is bound to come sometime- all the signs are still there; while Kunstler tended to exaggerate the actual effects and downplay the extremity of his own predictions. And anyway, even if Y2K didn’t do for America, the whole place is on the way down anyway- which makes him nearly right in any case.


About jonjayray

I am former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party. The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody
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