Two newborns die after contracting a rare killer bug which swept through a neonatal unit at a scandal-hit hospital

The NHS sure are good at killing babies

Two newborn babies have died after contracting a rare killer bug which swept through a neonatal unit at a scandal-hit hospital.

The unit has now been closed and deep cleaned after staff discovered deadly bacteria at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UHNS) which left five other babies fighting for their lives.

The worrying outbreak infected seven children in total – four have now been allowed to return home while another remains in intensive care.

After the bug was detected in July the hospital continued to admit babies born in the centre, although it closed to admissions from other hospitals. Now a review of practices at the hospital by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) is underway.

Post-mortem examinations on the babies, both born before 28 weeks, found they died from the Serratia Marcescens bacteria.

Further tests on the surviving newborns showed the infection had been picked up while on the ward.

The surviving infants were found to be carriers of the bug and did not suffer the illness itself. But they were placed in isolation incubators while their treatment continued for conditions linked to be being born prematurely.

Last night, chief executive Julie Bridgewater said: ‘We identified the infection in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit(NICU). It can affect babies born extremely premature. ‘Sadly two babies who died, both born before 28 weeks, had this uncommon infection and postmortems confirmed Serratia Marcescens as the cause of death. ‘The families of the two babies were informed at the time of this infection.’

UHNS infection experts said the parents of babies already discharged had no need to worry.

Consultant Microbiologist Dr Jeorge Orendi said: ‘As a precaution we temporarily closed NICU to new admissions. ‘The five other babies who were carrying the organism, but not unwell, were isolated. ‘One of those continues to be treated on the unit for other conditions and will remain here until well enough to go home.

‘In addition we carried out a deep clean of neonatal intensive care and reviewed infection prevention practice immediately with assistance from the HPA.

‘Further tests on the organisms isolated performed by the HPA confirmed an outbreak.

‘The unit introduced enhanced contact isolation and weekly screening.

There have been no new cases of infection of babies carrying the organism since the initial cases were first identified in July.

‘All the families with babies on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the time that the infection was identified were kept fully informed.’

Serratia Marcescens is found in the stomach and bowel of children and can cause serious illness in premature babies.

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Women CAN’T have it all

Amanda Platell

The alarm goes off at 5.15 am and so does his complaining. ‘Do you really have to get up now, just ten more minutes in bed, call in sick …’ he says. ‘I have to get to the gym, my first meeting’s at eight, I’ve got to go.’ Then the familiar retort: ‘It’s always all about you… and your career.’

Such was our morning ritual — alarm ringing, complaints and an abiding feeling that I was letting my boyfriend down and spending more time and energy on my career than on him, a fact he constantly reminded me of.

Then there were the broken promises. ‘I’ll cook us a lovely dinner tonight,’ only to arrive home two hours later than planned with a lukewarm take-away.

Worse still, to call and say I was working late and could he meet me in town instead for dinner, when what he had planned for the evening could not be conducted in any restaurant.

Ten-hour to 12-hour working days, constantly on call, endless emails and texts at night and weekends . . . the pressure of a job at the top of your game is hard enough for you, but is often unbearable for your partner and relationship. The guilt — it’s enough to drive you mad, and him away.

Which is why looking back over my years — one broken marriage, three long-term relationships and now dating in my mid-50s (aaarggh!) — I have come to believe that it’s almost impossible for a woman to have a great relationship and a high-flying career.

Would I be able to do the job I do up as I was this morning at six to write this piece, often out at night meeting contacts, working weekends, early mornings and late nights, if I was married with children? I very much doubt it.

One always has to come first and, in my case, it has too often been my career.

It’s a conclusion that singer Florence Welch, of Florence And The Machine, has also reached. The singer, who has best-selling albums behind her and the world at her feet, recently admitted she broke up with her boyfriend ‘to concentrate on her career’.

Sources revealed the singer’s gruelling work schedule was getting in the way of her 15-month romance with the public school-educated James Nesbitt, and as the 26-year-old singer prepared for her American tour she just decided ‘enough was enough’.

While Welch’s decision was a calculated one, TV comedienne Miranda Hart has found that the unexpected benefit of being unlucky in love is a thriving career.

In her autobiography Is It Just Me?, she puts the phenomenal success of her TV career down to the fact that as a girl she looked ‘like a sack of offal’ and was never part of the ‘pretty girl circle’ at school who was courted by the opposite sex and asked out to parties.

‘This may seem miserable — but you’ll have space, space you can constructively use to discover and hone your skills, learn a language, develop an interest in cosmology, practise the oboe, do whatever you fancy, so long as it doesn’t involve being looked at or snogging anyone,’ she writes.

As well as the oboe, being single gives you space to climb the career ladder. If Miranda had married and was now the mother of children, she believes she would never have had the success she has today.

And I have to agree. But I never consciously set out to put my work before my relationships.

When I married, at 26, I never wanted a ‘career’. I loved my job as a reporter but I loved the idea of being a wife and mother even more. However, it soon became clear my husband wasn’t the staying kind, more the straying kind.

When I suspected he was having an affair, working late was far preferable to going home to an empty house, wondering where he was and who he was with.

The more my husband cheated on me, the more I worked. Some have put my success down to naked ambition, but I know it was caused by my abject misery at the thought of him in bed with someone else. If my ex-husband hadn’t been such a louse, I wouldn’t have the career I have today.

We divorced and I worked to keep the pain away. Part of me was determined I’d never let myself be that dependent on anyone ever again, and my job gave me the security my marriage never did.

I didn’t have children, despite years of trying, so there was no maternity leave for me or heading home early for the nativity play, or a sick child. I can now see that, at times, I put my work before the relationships that came after my marriage. It’s not a choice you want to make but one you have to if you want to survive at the top.

One Saturday night in 2000, when I was working for William Hague, I had no sooner arrived at a birthday dinner with friends when the phone went. There was a crisis — there was always a crisis — so I spent the entire night in their study working, with drinks and dinner brought up to me.

By the time I’d got through with it, at about 11pm, my boyfriend was done with me and had gone home. And who can blame him?

How many men are prepared to put up with a woman who works through the night and stumbles into bed exhausted, cancels weekend plans, misses anniversaries and birthdays, or on a night-in together falls asleep on the sofa watching Mad Men.

When I divorced after six years, my husband, who was also a journalist, said he grew tired of ‘living in my shadow’. I wanted to say, but didn’t: ‘Then try casting one of your own.’

Cruel but true, yet it did make me realise very early on that it is incredibly difficult for love to flourish if a woman has a better job or earns more than her mate.

Most men judge themselves by their careers. It makes them feel vulnerable if their wife or partner’s career is more successful. That doesn’t make for happy relationships. Women, on the other hand, will usually accommodate a more successful husband and will often put being a good wife and mother ahead of a career.

My friend Christine, a happily married mother-of-four working part-time as a doctor, admitted to me: ‘I’d always dreamed I’d be a surgeon, but my children got in the way of that. ‘It’s not that I’m unhappy, I love my family, but they sure put paid to any ambitions I had. I look at you and think, you may not have been able to have children, but you’ve had the chance few women get to fulfil their full potential as a person.’

That might be — but is doing well at work worth sacrificing so much for?

Last week, I was invited to speak to a group of men and women, most in their 20s, at the start of their careers. Expecting to be asked tough questions about politics or journalism, the hardest one came from among the lovely, young shining faces of the women.

‘You’re at the top of your game, I want that, too,’ one young woman said. ‘I want a great career — and children and a husband. Is that possible?’

It’s the same question I used to agonise about in my late 20s. I paused for a moment, wanting to cite superwoman Nicola Horlick and others who had managed a family with phenomenal career success. But I know they are the exception to the rule.

So I said: ‘I’m sure of one thing. If my marriage had lasted and I’d had children, I would never have the career I have today.’

The young woman gasped.

‘And I would give it all up in a heartbeat for the family I’d always longed for.

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Poor Amanda! This article is something of an “Apologia pro vita sua”, it seems. She has indeed been a big wheel in British journalism but being now in her 50s she will not have children. I hope her career is a comfort to her but I think it will be less so the older she gets.

There is no substitute for children. My fondest memories are of times when I was helping to bring up children. I regard my rather successful academic career as a bucket of ashes now — though it still has some uses — JR

Homage to Orwell

Here’s the latest sign of the decline and fall of the BBC: According to Baroness Bakewell, a Labour peeress who used to broadcast for the network, the BBC’s departing director-general, Mark Thompson, nixed the idea of erecting a statue of George Orwell in front of the BBC’s posh new headquarters at the top of Regent Street. Even though Orwell, n‚ Eric Blair, worked for the BBC during the Second World Disaster — an experience that only reinforced his distaste for official propaganda, including his own.

According to Lady Bakewell, the idea of an Orwell statue was turned down because the writer was thought “too left-wing.” Huh? The author of “The Road to Wigan Pier,” “Animal Farm,” “1984,” and numerous essays puncturing every left-wing bias in the book was too left-wing?

The BBC’s esteemed director-general sounds not just autocratic but ignorant. Can he have read any of those books? Not to mention Orwell’s masterpiece about the Spanish civil war, “Homage to Catalonia.”

Just his one essay on “Politics and the English Language,” which every political commentator should read and reread from time to time, would have earned him an enduring place among those trying to preserve the integrity of the language.

George Orwell was incorrigibly independent, a combination of Trotskyite zeal in his youth and Tory sensibility as he aged and learned better. Especially after having been chased out of Spain by the Communists, where he’d gone to fight by their side in that country’s disastrous civil war during the 1930s. Accusing him of left-wing bias sounds like a joke — except that the BBC lost its sense of humor long ago, along with its integrity.

When the literary critic V.S. Pritchett called Orwell “the conscience of his generation,” he may have been indulging in understatement, for by now more than one generation has come to appreciate Orwell’s enduring honesty, clarity and simple decency. For someone writing about politics of all things to embody those qualities was and remains remarkable. Orwell’s work is not just an English treasure but the world’s.

This doesn’t mean putting up a statue of Orwell in front of the BBC is a good idea. Orwell, who gave the world the image of Big Brother in “1984,” would have been be the last to encourage a cult of personality.

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More than 235,000 British six-year-old pupils fail ‘back to basics’ reading test after struggling with words like ‘farm’ and ‘goat’

Not quite as saddening as the fact that many California High School graduates would do no better

Four in ten six-year-olds failed a back-to-basics reading test after struggling with words such as ‘farm’, ‘goat’ and ‘shine’.

Pupils were tested for the first time this summer on how well they use the traditional phonics method of reading, where children learn the letter sounds of English and how to blend them.

Forty per cent – nearly 237,000 children – were below the pass mark. They were unable to read 32 words correctly out of 40.

While nine per cent scored full marks, 21 per cent failed to scrape half marks, according to results released yesterday by the Department for Education.

Boys are already trailing behind girls, achieving a 54 per cent pass rate against their female classmates’ 62 per cent.

Only 37 per cent of white boys on free school meals [What about the white boys NOT on free school meals?] reached the standard, making them the worst-performing of all groups apart from pupils from gipsy and traveller families.

Figures show that 58 per cent of the 592,010 youngsters aged five and six who were entered for the new test at the end of Year 1 met the required standard. Two per cent were allowed not to take it.

The Coalition introduced the test in an attempt to identify pupils at risk of falling behind in reading at an early stage.

It was also intended to help establish phonics – credited with virtually wiping out illiteracy where it is used systematically – as the prime technique for teaching reading in primary schools. As well as reading 20 real words, youngsters are expected to decode 20 made-up words, such as ‘pib’, ‘queep’ and ‘groiks’.

Those who failed to reach the required standard will be given extra support and put in for the assessment again next year.

The test has proved controversial, with critics claiming it merely shows how well children can decode words, rather than their ability to understand words in context.

There have also been warnings that bright pupils attempt to convert the nonsense words in the test into proper English, for example ‘strom’ into ‘storm’.

Phonics is intended to replace the discredited ‘look and say’ method of teaching reading, which has been used widely in various guises since the 1960s.

Nick Gibb, the Tory former schools minister who championed the use of phonics, said: ‘Learning how to decode is a necessary condition for reading. ‘Of course comprehension is crucial, but without the ability to decode, children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, will never have the confidence to read for pleasure.’

He said yesterday’s results showed significant improvement on a trial test last year, where only around a third passed.

The Government also published levels achieved by seven-year-olds in teacher assessments in reading, writing, speaking, listening, maths and science.

Eighty-seven per cent of the Year 2 children achieved the national standard – level two – in reading and 83 per cent in writing, with both up two percentage points on last year.

Speaking and listening also improved, to 88 per cent, as did maths, to 91 per cent, while science stayed the same as in 2011 on 89 per cent.

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British private schools warn of ‘shocking’ failure of exams system

Tens of thousands of pupils are receiving the wrong grades in GCSEs and A-levels because of “truly shocking” failings in the way exams are marked, Britain’s leading independent schools have warned.

In a damning report, it was claimed that the exams system had been undermined by a series of “systematic” weaknesses including poor quality marking, inconsistencies between competing test boards, wildly fluctuating grade boundaries and dumbed down questions.

The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) insisted that problems went “far deeper” than the fiasco surrounding the grading of GCSE English exams this summer, when as many as 67,000 pupils are believed to have received the wrong mark.

Researchers said that subjects such as English literature, history, drama and foreign languages had all been hit by “seemingly random and largely unexplained” problems over the past five years.

They quoted figures showing that one-in-five teachers believe as many as a quarter of students get the wrong GCSE grades in any one year.

It insisted that the Government’s planned overhaul of the exams system – including axing GCSEs in favour of new-style “English Baccalaureate Certificates” – would fail because it amounts to little more than “houses built on sand”.

In today’s report, they called for an urgent investigation by Ofqual, the exams watchdog, into marking standards to ensure examiners have the necessary qualifications and expertise needed to properly accredit pupils’ work.

Headmasters also demanded a sharp cut in the number of exams taken by secondary school pupils to minimise the scope for problems.

The comments come amid continuing concerns over the examination and assessment system.

Last week, the Government announced that competition between multiple exam boards was to be axed amid claims that it created a “race to the bottom”.

Commenting on the latest findings, Christopher Ray, HMC chairman and High Master of Manchester Grammar School, said: “The state of the examinations industry is truly shocking and is clearly no longer fit for purpose.

“The problems go far deeper than this year’s disastrous mishandling of the English language GCSE grades. We are publishing this evidence on behalf of all students in state and independent schools in England who do not receive the marks or grades that accurately reflect their performance and achievement”.

The Department for Education said it agreed that there were “serious problems with marking and quality control”.

The study by HMC, which represents 252 schools including Eton, Harrow, St Paul’s, Winchester and Charterhouse, was based on surveys of members and an analysis of existing research into the issue of exam marking between 2007 and 2012.

The report – published before HMC’s annual conference in Belfast next week – warned of seven failings of the “examinations industry”.

It told of significant year-on-year variations in the number of good grades being awarded. One-in-five members reported increases or drops of 10 per cent or more in the proportion of students gaining A* or A grades in GCSE English last summer compared with 2010 – even though the same staff have been teaching pupils with very similar abilities.

Researchers also complained of “erratic and inconsistent” marking of exam scripts, with “significant problems” being reported with one or more particular examinations each year. This year, one-in-five HMC schools complained over marking standards in A-level history.

HMC also said that exam boards were too secretive when schools attempt to challenge poor marking through the appeals process, allowing examiners to “hide behind protocol” rather than address failures.

In a further disclosure, the report criticised varying standards between England’s three biggest exam boards – the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, Edexcel and OCR. The proportion of A*s awarded to HMC schools ranged from 14 per cent for one board to as many as 23.3 per cent by another, it emerged.

HMC also attacked the “dumbing down” of exam questions, claiming that boards penalised pupils for coming up with imaginative answers.

William Richardson, the organisation’s general secretary, said: “You have to coach your brightest students to dumb down their answers to get an A*.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We have been clear that the exams system is in desperate need of a thorough overhaul.

“That’s why we are consulting on EBCs, new, more rigorous exams for 16-year-olds, and why we are reforming A-levels, with universities and employers responsible for their design.

“We agree with HMC that there are serious problems with marking and quality control.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This is not about reforming exams at 16 but about getting the basics right. Marking and grading are fundamental to any exam system and these issues need to be addressed or problems like the ones we have seen this summer are likely continue regardless of whether we have GCSEs or EBaccs, modular or linear exams.

“We strongly hope that Ofqual and the government will work together with teachers and leaders in all sectors, who really understand where the problems are, to make sure that these issues are investigated properly and thoroughly.

“A remedy needs to be found and implemented as soon as possible so that new qualifications are built on a solid foundation, rather than one of sand.”

Mark Dawe, chief executive of OCR, said “We continually work to improve teacher-examiner marking and have made significant investment in systems to support and improve marking quality – but there is further work to be done.

“One method which could lead to immediate improvement would be for fee-paying schools to encourage more teachers to take up assessment, helping ensure the high quality consistent marking as called for by the HMC.”

An Ofqual spokeswoman said: “There are some important challenges and questions in the report which we want to explore further and discuss with HMC. It is vital that marking is accurate and students get the right results.

“Senior staff at Ofqual have had regular discussions with HMC over a number of years.

“We have spent time discussing with them how the exam system works, and listening to their concerns, including on some of the issues raised in the report.

“We have looked at the data they have provided, for example in September last year, and asked for more detailed information to help us understand what the data are telling us. We will continue to work with them as we look into exam marking.”

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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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