Scandal of the failing foreign doctors who demand right to sit GP exams a staggering SIX times
Hundreds of foreign doctors working in the NHS are routinely failing key medical exams, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Success rates are so poor that medical associations want doctors to be allowed six attempts at passing the tests rather than the current four.
The revelation raises fears the trainee medics, mainly from India, Pakistan and Nigeria, are not suitably qualified to treat patients despite spending three years working for the NHS before taking the exam.
Until they pass the exams, which qualify them to practise independently as hospital physicians or GPs, trainees continue to see patients – under supervision – in placements at hospitals and GP surgeries.
Figures show that foreign doctors are substantially more likely to fail than UK graduates, with communication cited as one of the problems.
While just nine per cent of British doctors fail to pass the knowledge and practical exams, more than 63 per cent of foreign doctors do not reach the standard to pass.
Many take the exams up to the current maximum of four times and there is no way for patients to check how many times their GP failed before becoming fully qualified.
Foreign medical associations are now demanding that doctors are given two additional opportunities to pass the tests amid claims that examiners may be discriminating against non-UK graduates.
The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) said it had not ruled out taking legal action against the British medical colleges which set the exams.
But their claims have been refuted by leading UK specialists who say a recent study showed ‘no substantial effects of gender or ethnicity on examiner/candidate interactions’, and that passing the exams is dependent on having the appropriate skills.
Joyce Robins, co-director of campaign group Patient Concern, said: ‘This is scandalous. If a doctor can go on failing they shouldn’t be treating patients in the NHS and that should be stopped. ‘There has to be a cut-off point and four attempts is too many.’
Shadow Health Minister Andrew Gwynne said: ‘Any attempt to make it easier for doctors to pass these tough exams must be resisted.’
The row centres on foreign doctors who are training to become GPs – but a similar difference in pass rates has been observed among doctors hoping to become hospital physicians and psychiatrists.
About 3,000 doctors a year take their final professional GP exams, set by the Royal College of GPs.
Of those, approximately a third are from outside Europe and did not complete their basic medical training in the UK.
In these cases, they are permitted to apply for NHS training posts, involving three years working in placements.
The difference in the failure rate between UK and non-UK doctors is particularly pronounced in a part of the exam observing candidates in a mock consulting room, faced with 13 actors posing as patients.
The test examines their knowledge, ability to ask important questions and listen to patients’ needs.
Figures show that 63 per cent of foreign doctors failed the test, with communication one of the main problems.
They revealed that 13 per cent of foreign candidates did ‘not use language and/or explanations that are relevant and understandable to the patient’, even though all have taken English tests before working in the NHS. Only 3.8 per cent of UK candidates demonstrated similar communication problems.
Of the Indian doctors taking the test, 63 per cent failed at the first attempt. For those from Pakistan, there was a 62 per cent failure rate, while 68 per cent of Nigerian doctors failed at the first try.
Foreign doctors were also more likely to fail in a three-hour knowledge test, which is marked anonymously and electronically, ruling out discrimination. Figures show 16 per cent of UK graduates failed this compared with 46 per cent of foreign doctors.
Clare Gerada, president of the Royal College of GPs, wrote to 10,000 trainee GPs this week ‘to set the record straight’ on the examination. The letter said: ‘As in any exam, a pass cannot be guaranteed just because you have completed your training and paid to take the exam. This would be a great disservice to you, the College and, most importantly, to patients.’
Dr Ramesh Mehta, president of BAPIO, said the exam system was ‘faulty’. He added: ‘There is a very robust system of selection to get on to NHS training in the first place.
Doctors are then only put forward for exams when trainers say they are ready and are happy with their clinical and communication skills.
‘We don’t want to compromise as far as patient safety or standards of the exam are concerned. But we are worried that the way one part of the exam is organised is wrong.’
Dr Sabyasachi Sarker, president of the British International Doctors Association, said: ‘Four attempts is just too low – although we want to extend it to six for all doctors, not just those who are foreign. ‘It may not be discrimination, but possibly just an unconscious bias on the part of the examiners.’
In a year up to 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians will have the right to settle in Britain and claim benefits
And many from the gipsy community can hardly wait
Olympic boxer Bobby George stands on an icy street in the Bulgarian shanty town where he grew up.
A cruel wind whips his dark hair as snow falls on the chaotic rows of shacks which are home to 50,000 of the European Union’s poorest inhabitants.
Plunging his freezing hands into his thin leather jacket, he says despairingly: ‘There is nothing for my gipsy people here.
Their eyes are turning to England where they can have a better life. Hundreds of families want to go to the UK because they have no future in my country.’
George is lucky. Five years ago, he changed his name from Boris Georgiev and left the seedy slum of Fakulteta, on the outskirts of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, to settle in Luton, Beds, with his wife, Tina, and daughter, Gergana, now six. They have since had another daughter, one-year-old Mari.
A couple of weeks ago he returned on a cut-price flight for Christmas and found nothing much has changed. Growling stray dogs chase each other down alleyways, rats scamper over piles of rubbish, and children in slippers, long outgrown with their backs cut out, dodge horse-drawn gipsy carts as they run to the few shops for a 40p loaf of bread.
The Sofia bus route does not reach Fakulteta because the drivers refuse to go there, as do the rubbish collection men. At night, the place is pitched into darkness because there is no street lighting.
The only indication that the city authorities recognise the huge gipsy town’s existence is the electricity meter boxes bolted tightly to the tops of telegraph poles so they cannot be tampered with by residents.
The main supermarket — the owner is himself a gipsy — has stopped all credit because of the debts racked up for unpaid groceries.
No wonder that in a year’s time, when a total of 29 million Bulgarians (and Romanians) gain the right to live, work, and claim state benefits in Britain under EU ‘freedom of movement’ rules, a great many families from Fakulteta plan to decamp the 1,250 miles to the UK.
‘The gipsies have no jobs because ordinary Bulgarians do not like or trust us,’ explains Bobby George.
‘We are discriminated against as gipsy people. In Britain it is different. You treat everyone, black, white, brown or yellow, just the same. Of course, they will want to go.
‘But there will be a day when your country is full up, when you cannot afford to give benefits to any more people from Europe and the rest of the world, too. They hope to get there before that moment happens.’
Bobby, a good-looking 30-year-old with a pugilist’s nose, is probably right about Britain nearing its limits.
The latest Census, published this month, reveals how mass immigration has dramatically changed our country. Since EU borders were opened up in 2004, 1,114,368 Eastern Europeans have uprooted to live in England. Last year, 40,000 Bulgarians and Romanians moved to the UK, joining 130,000 of their countrymen who have settled here during the past decade.
But these numbers are nothing compared with the flood of migrants expected when the rules change in a little over a year’s time.
Until now, migrants from the two former communist nations (officially barred from working or claiming benefits in Britain until the freedom of movement rule comes in on January 1, 2014) have neatly exploited a gaping loophole in the EU rules.
It allows Bulgarians and Romanians claiming to be self-employed to get a British national insurance number and a raft of hand-outs, including housing and child benefit.
Many of the new arrivals have worked hard, cornering the market in car-wash companies, for instance. But others are less industrious, and include Roma gipsies who, remarkably, now sell a third of all copies of the Big Issue.
Even selling one copy a week of the magazine (created to help the British homeless) miraculously gives them self-employed status and allows them to beg with impunity outside shops and on street corners.
Bulgarian and Romanian incomers have been blamed by police in their own countries and in Britain for a massive rise in organised crime, including the trafficking of children to Britain to beg, pickpocket, milk state benefits and even enter the sex trade.
It is estimated that 2,000 children from Romania and Bulgaria are under the control of modern-day Fagins in our major cities.
According to Scotland Yard, a skilful child thief can make up to £100,000 a year ‘working’ on the streets, buses and Tubes in London — cash that is sent back to Roma villages and towns at home.
So critical is the problem that Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister visited Britain earlier this month to meet Home Secretary Theresa May to discuss how child trafficking and other organised crimes can be controlled when the UK doors swing open yet more widely.
Meanwhile, Antoaneta Vassileva, head of Bulgaria’s National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, warns that the UK is now the EU hot-spot for Roma child pickpockets from her country — a problem that will almost certainly get worse when the rules change in a year’s time.
The attitude that Britain is a land where benefits flow like milk and honey is commonplace — even though few of these Roma people speak any English and would struggle to point to Britain on a map.
The Roma, who call themselves ‘gipsy’ proudly because it means ‘free man’ in their language, are an ignored under-class in Eastern Europe.
Back in the communist era, they were protected and were guaranteed jobs — like every adult in Bulgaria.
‘Now everything has changed,’ says Mari. ‘I have to go to the rubbish tip in Sofia to rifle through other people’s throw-outs to find something to sell so my family can eat. You can see why we like Britain where everyone is treated fairly.’
Bobby George, who is acting as my guide, nods in agreement as he listens to the conversation.
The boxer won a bronze medal for Bulgaria as a light welterweight in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. After turning professional, he left for the UK.
‘I went to Luton because that is where there are cheap flights to Bulgaria. I rent a small flat for my family and half of the £550-a-month rent is paid by housing benefit and, of course, we get the state benefits for the two children.
‘When I am not in training, I try to work. I have done labouring jobs and, officially, I am self-employed so I have a national insurance card. My wife works as a cleaner sometimes, too.’
Bobby — who boxed his way to success via the local Sofia fitness centre — is a devout Christian, like most of the Roma in Bulgaria. On Saturday night, he takes me to the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Fakulteta for the weekly service of worship.
There is perfect singing by the small choir of women, and the visiting pastor stands up at the pulpit to deliver a sermon.
The theme is on obeying the Ten Commandments — and, particularly, the virtue of not stealing.
There is not a flicker of an eyelid in the small whitewashed church as the congregation listens intently to his words. And, at the end, the Roma people bow their heads in prayer and say Amen.
There are decent people here — and Bobby George, with his sporting talent and determination to succeed, is proof that many migrants wish only to strive hard and provide for their families.
But it would be misguided to ignore the concerns that he, and many others, voice at the impact on Britain when we swing open the doors to these hard-pressed people, so marginalised and mistrusted in their own lands.
Britain’s General studies exams ‘should be axed’, MP warns
The number of teenagers taking A-levels in general studies has more than halved in a decade amid fresh claims that the qualification has “had its day”.
Figures show that the number of entries for the course – first introduced in the late 50s – plummeted to just 35,500 this year.
It marked a record low for the qualification which had been the most popular A-level subject in Britain just 12 years ago.
General studies is counted in official league tables and can still be used to dictate entry to some university courses.
But critics claim that it lacks rigour, with some pupils sitting exams after receiving no formal tuition or with little more than regular general knowledge quizzes as practice.
Chris Skidmore, the Conservative MP for Kingswood and member of the Commons Education Select Committee, called for general studies to be scrapped altogether.
“General studies is a qualification which has had its day,” he said. “It should no longer be used to prop up performance in schools, especially when we live in a world where universities and employers are demanding rigorous qualifications that both have meaning and require standards of excellence.
“If we are to ensure that pupils’ valuable time isn’t wasted, we must ensure that they are focusing on the subjects that deliver a clear pathway to higher education and the workplace. General studies has no place in this new world, where the type of qualifications you take matters more than ever.”
General studies was introduced in 1959 amid fears that A-levels lacked breadth.
The course was intended to give pupils a grounding in a range of disciplines such as the arts, humanities and social and physical sciences to supplement their three specialist A-level subjects.
Current course specifications cover a range of issues such as world religions, different approaches to the media, British politics and the monarchy, the nature of scientific investigation, space and matter and the changing role of the family.
But figures reveal the subject has been marked by a serious decline in recent years.
Data from exam boards shows that 89,805 pupils took A-level exams in general studies in 2000 – making it more popular than English and maths.
But numbers more than halved to 40,984 in 2011 and dropped by a further 13 per cent this year to 35,558.
Separate data published after a Parliamentary question by Mr Skidmore suggests it is still being used to “prop up” league tables.
It emerged that 33,154 students gained straight As in all subjects last year but the numbers dropped to 32,114 after general studies entries were stripped out.
Despite concerns over the subject, some top Russell Group universities still use it as part of their admissions process.
Sheffield University said general studies was considered for entry to some undergraduate courses “where taken alongside considered general two A-levels”, while Liverpool said it was “equivalent to other A-level subjects, however some departments will not accept it”.
Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: “General studies was a solution to a perceived problem that we didn’t have a great deal of breadth in the A-level system.
“But it quickly became seen simply as a way for bright students to gain an extra A-level with very little effort and an opportunity for less able kids to collect a soft qualification.”
Research published by Prof Smithers in the 90s found some schools entered pupils for general studies exams with no formal tuition, while some played board games such as Trivial Pursuit in preparation.
A spokeswoman for the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, Britain’s biggest exam board, said entries were declining because of competition from other subjects and qualifications, adding: “General studies teaches and assesses critical thinking, argument, debate and research – all the skills that universities ask for.
“We believe that the vast majority of universities include it in offers and many, including the Russell Group, use it as a differentiator between applicants with otherwise similar grade profiles.”
British schools to be banned from taking pupils’ fingerprints without parents’ consent
Schools are to be banned from collecting pupils’ biometric data without the consent of parents, it was announced yesterday.
Hundreds of secondary schools in England use fingerprints or face recognition systems for the issuing of library books or to allow pupils to enter certain buildings.
Last night Michael Gove’s Department for Education said that from next September, schools will be forced to obtain parental permission before taking fingerprints.
The ban will also cover the use of data for face recognition as well as iris and retina scanning.
According to the DfE, approximately 30 per cent of secondary schools and 5 per cent of primary schools use fingerprinting or face-scanning systems for a number of reasons, including recording attendance, allowing pupils to check out library books, pay for lunch or accessing buildings.
Youngsters place their thumbs on a scanner and money is deducted from their lunch account, or they are registered as borrowing a book.
Schools minister David Laws said: ‘Many parents do not want schools and colleges collecting personal information from their children without permission.
‘These tough new rules will mean that, for the first time, parents will have the power to stop schools from using their child’s biometric data – like fingerprinting or facial recognition – unless they agree first.’
The new provisions in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 will apply to all England’s schools, sixth form colleges and further education institutions where education is provided to children.
Schools will have to make sure any data collected from pupils is treated with the appropriate care, and make alternative arrangements for children who refuse to have their data taken.
Three years ago, children at a comprehensive school in north west London were ‘frogmarched’ to have their fingerprints taken without their parents being consulted.
The collection of biometric data was part of a new cashless system to pay for lunches at Capital City Academy in the borough of Brent.
One mother said: ‘My son was frogmarched by one of the teachers to be fingerprinted even though he did not want to.
‘I was just furious. There has been no consultation with the parents. They just went ahead and did it.’
The school was forced to apologise and wipe all the data. It then collected fingerprints again, but this time only from pupils whose parents consented.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has spoken out against the collection of biometric data without consent.
The union passed a motion against it in 2010.
Hank Roberts, an ATL executive member, said at the time that civil liberties were being eroded, adding: ‘It’s completely and fundamentally wrong.’
Azra Haque, a teacher in Brent, added: ‘Today’s children are in general much more closely monitored than previous generations. We need a strong and explicit law in this regard.’
Last night Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, welcomed the government’s announcement.
‘This is very positive news for parents concerned about the explosion in the desire of schools to track and log pupils in increasingly intrusive ways,’ he said.
‘The important point is that a huge number of schools will have already installed this technology before this change and they must not be allowed to ride roughshod over parental concerns.’
Traditional school nativity plays make a comeback in Britain
Primary school nativity plays are making a comeback with parents demanding a return to the traditional Christmas story, new figures suggest.
For years, primary school Christmas plays have been as likely to revolve around a snowman, an elf or a reindeer than the baby Jesus, as teachers opt to avoid the Christian story in favour of secular ones.
But new figures suggest the traditional nativity play is making a comeback, with parents demanding a return to performances based on the biblical tale.
An increase in the number staged this month which focus on the Christian nativity has been reported by companies which provide schools with scripts for plays.
The comeback follows years of concern that teachers were ditching the story of the birth of Jesus in favour of secular productions for fear of upsetting pupils of other faiths.
Musicline, which sells both nativity and non-nativity Christmas plays to schools, said that this year the nativities accounted for 58 per cent of sales, up from 50 per cent last year.
Peter Chester, from the firm, said: “Ten years ago it used to be all straight nativity. But over the years that changed. In some local authority areas, like Bradford, only about 10 per cent of orders would be for titles which included the Christian element.
“This year though, we are really going strong on nativities. I get the feeling that people are increasingly fed up with political correctness and parents are saying we want something traditional.”
The rise in nativity plays is being led by modern interpretations of the traditional story, with titles such as Hey Ewe – which is told from a sheep’s perspective – and Away in a Manger, the story of Maurice the proud mule who has to share his manger with a stream of visitors.
Both titles have been written by Out of the Ark, the country’s largest provider of festive scripts for schools, with 35 titles – almost all of them nativities.
In a sign of the return of traditional tales, the firm has seen overall sales rise by 12 per cent this year.
Matt Crossey, from the company, said: “Parents want to see their kids dressed up and taking part in a nativity – it is a rite of passage.
“We keep hearing about the ‘death of the nativity’ but it couldn’t be further from the truth. The volumes are staggering. I don’t know of anyone that isn’t at least doing a nativity with reception or year 1.”
The Rt Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford and chairman of the Church of England’s board of education, said: “It’s heartening to see a rise in demand for traditional Christian nativity material. After all, if Jesus wasn’t there we wouldn’t be celebrating Christmas.
“At the same time, in recent years we’ve seen more and more families enjoying traditional crib services. The way we choose to tell the Christmas story reflects what we think Christmas is all about.”
Cathy Bell, head teacher at Esher Church School, in Surrey, where pupils performed A Wriggly Nativity – which tells the traditional story and features angels, kings, shepherds, donkeys, stars and sheep among its cast – said: “We have an increasingly mixed intake but it doesn’t really matter – it is important that every child knows and understands the story behind Christmas.”
Bentley axes its company chaplain in case he upsets non-Christian workers: Employees start campaign to have him reinstated
Any chaplain worth his salt is well used to dealing with people who are not committed Christians. This is an appalling way to treat an elderly vicar. It is just anti-Christian bigotry
Every week for ten years the Rev Francis Cooke visited the shop floor at Bentley, offering counselling and advice to the luxury car maker’s workers. But only days before Christmas he has been made redundant because the company says he might offend non-Christians.
It said there were too many religions represented among the 4,000-strong workforce at its factory to warrant a Christian chaplain.
Mr Cooke called the decision ‘ridiculous’ and said he spoke to workers of all faiths.
Staff have started a campaign to reinstate the vicar, who they said was an ‘important figure’ who had even helped one employee who had been on the brink of suicide.
Mr Cooke was directly employed by Bentley – it would pay the Diocese of Chester, which would then transfer the funds to the chaplain. He had outside roles, but this was his only paid work.
He said: ‘It is just beyond belief. The reason I have been given is that there are too many people of different faiths to warrant a Christian chaplain. Everyone thinks it is quite ridiculous. There have been no complaints against me and my position is to help people and not just those who are Christians.’
He said he had been told to leave immediately after bosses said they needed to take a ‘multi-faith outlook’.
He would visit the factory in Crewe, Cheshire, once a week for six hours, and also ran Christian courses and wrote a message in the firm’s newsletters.
‘It is not just about offering religious services,’ he said. ‘I provide counselling to workers who have stresses at home such as broken marriages. I would spend a few minutes with each person which would be enough to help them feel better.
‘I feel that there is something else behind this.’
Mr Cooke said there had been a change since the appointment of new personnel by German firm Volkswagen, which took over the British brand in 1998.
‘There have been many new faces around recently and I noticed I was being watched when I was talking to some of the staff even if it was just for a matter of seconds or minutes. I knew something was going on and that there was trouble ahead.’
Yesterday one worker said: ‘We have started a petition as we want him back. Everyone is really angry about it.’
Retired employee John Austin, 67, said: ‘He was there for a lot of people. I know one individual who was feeling suicidal, but Francis turned him around. He was a very important man at the factory.’
A Bentley Motors spokesman said: ‘We have a wide range of faiths and want to take a multi-faith outlook. It would be very difficult to have somebody from each faith.
‘This now gives us the opportunity to look at this and recognise the range of faiths we have here.’
Britain spending more on welfare payments than Scandinavians with 7 out of 10 children living in a home receiving handouts
Britain pays out more on welfare than high spending social democratic nations in Scandinavia, according to a think-tank.
Nearly seven out of ten children now live in a home that receives at least one cash handout other than child benefit, says the hard-hitting study by the Institute for Economic Affairs.
And some 17 per cent of children – around 2.1 million – live in a home where no adult is working ‘easily the highest rate in Europe’.
The think-tank’s report, Redefining the Poverty Debate, spells out how a generation of the less well-off have become enslaved to state benefits that have done little to cure the problem of poverty. It says: ‘Social expenditure in the UK stands at one of the highest levels in the world.
‘In terms of overall social spending, the UK has overtaken traditionally social democratic nations such as the Netherlands, Norway and Finland.
‘In terms of family benefits (spending on items such as child tax credit, child benefit, childcare subsidies) the UK has overtaken all of the Nordic countries.’
Figures published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development last year show that Britain spends 3.6 per cent of national income on benefits for families.
That compares with 3.4 per cent in Sweden, 3.3 per cent in Denmark, 2.9 per cent in Norway and 2.8 per cent in the Netherlands.
Kristian Niemietz of the IEA writes: ‘The conventional textbook distinction between a high-spending Nordic model and a lowspending Anglo-Saxon model has become completely obsolete.
‘The state has become a major income provider for well over half the population.’
For households in the bottom 20 per cent of the income scale ‘the government is the main breadwinner, with cash benefits representing by far the most important income source’.
Mr Niemietz added: ‘What is more remarkable is that, in the second quintile, cash transfers also contribute almost as much to total income as market earnings.
Even households in the middle quintile receive a quarter of their income directly from the state.’
The report also calls for radical reforms to welfare spending to end penalties in the system that makes families ‘financially better off’ to split up.
The report found that a couple with two children both working 16 hours a week would receive £11,545 in tax credits and child benefit, while a single parent with one child working would receive £8,160, meaning the same couple could earn more than £16,000 if they separated.
The report warns that even the government’s new universal credit system will do little to iron out the problems.
It argues that the average family could be £745 better off if ministers backed more planning reforms to reduce house prices, reformed the Common Agricultural Policy to slash food costs, reduced sin taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, removed subsidies for green energy and deregulated childcare services.
Calling for a radical rethink of how to tackle poverty, the report found that sin taxes eat up 10 per cent of the disposable income of the poorest families.
Raising a child as Christian worse than sex abuse? Oh, do put a sock in it, you atheist Scrooge
By Melanie Phillips
You really would need to have a heart harder than the five-pence piece in the Christmas pud not to feel sorry at present for Professor Richard Dawkins.
Christmas must be such a terrible trial for the planet’s most celebrated — and angriest — atheist. All that cheerfulness and pleasure associated with Christianity’s main celebration seems to drive him simply nuts.
Indeed, just a few days ago he lunged into yet another wild denunciation of religious faith. This time, the Chief Inquisitor of Unbelief declared that raising a child as a Catholic was worse than subjecting it to sexual abuse.
His view of religion is as cheerless as it is unbalanced. As countless others prepare for an enjoyable and — dare one say it — even spiritually uplifting holiday, Professor Dawkins seems to become all the more miserable. If Charles Dickens were writing A Christmas Carol today, surely he would have replaced Ebenezer Scrooge with the figure of the joyless, rage-fuelled Dawkins spitting out ‘Bah, humbug!’ at families sitting down to the Christmas turkey.
After last week’s census details which showed that Christianity in Britain is in decline, Dawkins rejoiced that it was ‘on the way out in this country’.
Well, this is tantamount to rejoicing that Britain and western civilisation are on the way out. For Christianity underpins their most fundamental moral values — ones that both believers and non-believers hold dear, such as the difference between right and wrong, respect for other people and doing good things rather than bad.
It is also woven into Britain’s literature, art, music, history and national identity.
What’s more, despite the decline in believers, nearly two-thirds of the population still describe themselves as Christian. If Britain stops being a mainly Christian country, then it will stop being recognisably Britain.
It is not just Dawkins and his followers, however, who are dancing prematurely on Christianity’s grave.
In the eyes of just about the entire governing class, cultural milieu and intelligentsia, belief in Christianity is viewed at best as an embarrassment, and at worst as proof positive of imbecility.
Indeed, Christianity has long been the target of sneering comedians, blasphemous artists and the entire human rights industry — all determined to turn it into a despised activity to be pursued only by consenting adults in private.
As it happens, I myself am not a Christian; I am a Jew. And Jews have suffered terribly under Christianity in the past.
Yet I passionately believe that if Britain and the West are to continue to be civilised places, it is imperative that the decline in Christianity be reversed.
For it is the Judeo-Christian ethic which gave us belief in the innate equality of all human beings, the need to put others’ welfare before your own and the understanding of absolute truth. Without this particular religious underpinning, our society will lose the moral bonds that instil respect and care for other human beings. Without a belief in absolute truth, it will succumb to the dominance of lies.
And it will also lose the understanding, embodied in both Judaism and Christianity, that government should be distinct from religious rule — a belief which eventually helped pave the way for democracy.
Lose Christianity, and what remains will be a vacuum which will result in religious, secular and ethnic groups fighting each other — and with the most brutal and ruthless filling the void.
Of course, non-believers can be good people, and believers can behave atrociously.
But non-believers who subscribe to the basic moral tenets of western society are subscribing — whether they like it or not — to the values given to the world by Judaism and Christianity.
Such people may not believe in God, but they were not born with these moral values encoded in their DNA. They are inescapably shaped by the Judeo-Christian culture in which such unbelievers have grown up.
Without that culture, our society would be a savage and uncivilised place, governed by selfishness, self-centredness and narcissism.
Indeed, I would go even further. Rather than religion and reason being diametrically opposed to each other — as non-believers contend — it was, in fact, the Hebrew Bible which gave us reason in the first place, by introducing the then revolutionary idea that the world had been created by a rational intelligence in linear time.
It was this belief that gave us the idea that the universe was governed by natural laws, which in turn gave rise to science and modernity.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the alarming slide in Christian belief has gone hand in hand with both the relentless coarsening and brutalisation of our culture and the progressive flight from rationality — as demonstrated by the prevalence of conspiracy theories, resistance to factual evidence, and belief in the occult. In other words, people who stop believing in God start making religions of other things. For the religious instinct seems to be hard-wired in us. Some 70 per cent believe in a soul, and more than half in life after death, and these numbers are rising.
Although many no longer go regularly to church, some 85 per cent go at least once a year — perhaps to the Christmas carol service. Despite its regrettable over-commercialisation, Christmas may be the one time when some people are exposed to the Christian message.
Many would like that message to be stronger; and not just at Christmas. But for religion to thrive, there has to be strong leadership. And both in the political and religious spheres, that has been sorely lacking.
Christmas is quintessentially the time when people get together with their families. And families are at the very heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
But for years, political leaders have done everything in their power to undermine the family by promoting nihilistic sexual licence. Even David Cameron’s supposedly ‘family-friendly’, but in fact socially liberal policies hardly correspond to Judeo-Christian principles.
Of course, we don’t expect our politicians to be religious leaders. But if society is to adhere to basic moral principles, politicians have to uphold them. Yet so much of the political class is now governed by the desire for power for its own sake, rather than to make a better world.
The leadership of the Church itself has hardly been any better.
But there are high hopes of the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who appears to have a more robust and muscular understanding of Christianity than did his predecessor.
The challenge he faces, however, is much more profound than the divisions over women or gays in the clergy. These are but symptoms of the real malaise afflicting the Church of England — which is nothing less than a loss of belief in its own Scriptural doctrines.
This deep demoralisation can be traced all the way back to the birth of modernity itself, in the 18th century.
In contemporary times, it is why the Church has grovelled on the one hand to godless liberalism, and on the other to Islam. Desperately trying to appease both to stave off its own demise, the Church has succeeded instead in creating a vacuum which has only hastened it.
The single most urgent task for Bishop Welby is surely to find a language with which the Church can reach out to all those millions who are searching for something outside themselves in which to believe but who no longer find it in Christianity.
This is not just about saving the Church of England. It is about saving the culture, identity and civilisation of Britain and the West.
Senior Roman Catholic Bishop links push for gay marriage to Nazi attack on religion in controversial Christmas sermon
A senior Roman Catholic will today use his Christmas sermon to liken plans for the legalisation of gay marriage to the way the Nazis and Communists tried to undermine religion.
The Bishop of Shrewsbury will launch a vociferous attack on the Coalition’s decision to fast track a vote on same-sex marriage in the New Year.
The Right Reverend Mark Davies will use his midnight Mass to say marriage can only be between a man and a woman.
And he will accuse the Prime Minister of attempting to redefine the institution of marriage for ‘generations to come’ without any mandate from the electorate.
Most controversially, he will equate the support for same-sex marriage with the way totalitarian regimes acted in the twentieth century.
The bishop will say that both Hitler and Stalin challenged Christianity with the notion that what they were doing was ‘progress’.
He will argue that, in a similar fashion, the supporters of same-sex marriage also use the idea of ‘progress’ to support the ‘redefinition’ of marriage.
The bishop will conclude: ‘The British people have reason to ask on this night where is such progress leading?’
And he will tell the faithful that a moment has arrived for them to ‘stand up for what is right and true as previous generations have done before us: to give witness to the value of every human life, to the truth of marriage as the lasting union of man and woman… the foundation of family.’
In his sermon, Bishop Davies will say: ‘Past generations have gathered in this cathedral on Christmas night amid many shadows which seemed to obscure the future for them.
We think of the ideologies of the past century, Communism and Nazism, which in living memory threatened to shape and distort the whole future of humanity.
‘These inhuman ideologies would each challenge in the name of progress the received Christian understanding of the sanctity of human life and the family. Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, a man without clear, religious belief, saw in this deadly struggle nothing less than the defence of Christian civilisation.
‘Few of our political leaders today appear to glimpse the deeper issues when the sanctity of human life and the very identity of marriage, the foundation of the family, are threatened.’
He will add: ‘This Christmas we are also conscious of new shadows cast by a Government that was pledged at its election to support the institution of marriage.
‘The Prime Minister has decided without mandate, without any serious consideration, to redefine the identity of marriage itself, the foundation of the family for all generations to come.
‘This is again done in the name of progress. The British people have reason to ask on this night where is such progress leading?’ In another part of his sermon, the bishop calls this country’s treatment of the elderly and sky-high abortion rates ‘the darkest shadows of our time’.
He will say: ‘The widespread neglect and ill-treatment of the frailest, elderly people in our society: concerns highlighted in the Care Quality Commission’s recent report. The growing concerns about end-of-life care and what is happening to the most vulnerable in our hospitals.
‘This dark side to our society is surely connected to the discarding of human life from the beginning in legalised abortion on an industrial scale, in reproductive technologies, in embryo experimentation which our laws have sanctioned.’
The bishop’s comments come despite the fact that polls repeatedly show the public is largely in favour of allowing gay marriage.
Ruth Hunt, of gay rights group Stonewall, said: ‘Gay people are all too aware of the horrific results of Nazi ideology due to the countless casualties of the Holocaust.
‘Bishop Davies’s comments are both deeply offensive to gay people and their families.’
The Coalition has tried to defuse Church of England opposition to its plans by specifically saying it would be illegal for any Anglican vicar to marry a gay couple.
British PM’s Christmas bid to calm Christian anger at gay marriage: David Cameron quotes Gospel of St John in annual message
David Cameron offered an olive branch to Christians last night, issuing the most overtly religious Christmas message by a prime minister in recent times.
He quoted from the Gospel of St John in an apparent attempt to parade his religious credentials while controversy rages about his government’s plans to introduce gay marriage.
Ministers have come under fire from churchmen and MPs over the plans, on which the Commons will vote in the New Year.
Mr Cameron has regularly ignored advice that politicians in the modern age should not ‘do God’. But the Prime Minister went further than ever last night when he quoted from the Bible, referring to Jesus as ‘the light of all mankind’ and the ‘Prince of Peace’.
He spoke about the ‘extraordinary year’ featuring the ‘spectacular’ Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee, when ‘we cheered our Queen to the rafters and praised the efforts of the Armed Forces’.
But the most striking passage of his message came when he turned to the meaning of Christmas.
‘Christmas gives us the opportunity to remember the Christmas story – the story about the birth of Jesus Christ and the hope that he brings to the countless millions who follow him,’ he said. ‘The Gospel of John tells us that in this man was life, and that his life was the light of all mankind, and that he came with grace, truth and love. Indeed, God’s word reminds us that Jesus was the Prince of Peace.’
He concluded: ‘So however you celebrate this time of year, it is my hope and prayer that you have a happy and peaceful Christmas.’
Mr Cameron’s message appeared designed to defuse anger at his decision to push forward plans for gay marriage despite heavy criticism.
The Bishop of Leicester has accused him of being out of touch with the ‘vast majority of practising religious people’ despite assurances that no churches will be forced to carry out such ceremonies.
In a speech last year Mr Cameron said the values of the Bible ‘go to the heart’ of what it means to be British, although he admitted he was no more than a ‘vaguely practising’ Christian ‘full of doubts’ about theological issues.
He also used his Christmas message, to be published today, ‘to pay particular tribute to our brave servicemen and women who are overseas helping bring safety and security to all of us at home; their families who cannot be with them over the holidays; and to all the dedicated men and women in the emergency services who are working hard to support those in need’.
He added: ‘When we are celebrating with family and friends, they and many others are all working on our behalf and deserve our thoughts and appreciation.’
First Christmas with his girls for father wrongly jailed for child cruelty
Evil British social workers again
With their two smiling daughters cuddled up on his knee and his loving partner by his side, Ben Butler looks every inch the contented father.
But such scenes of simple domestic bliss are a new experience for all of them – after the family was ripped apart when he was wrongly jailed for child cruelty.
It took three years to clear his name and two more for he and the girls’ mother Jennie Gray to win back Ellie and Isabella after a series of legal battles.
The four had never all lived together – and the two beautiful little girls had not even met each other until a few weeks ago after each being put into separate foster care as babies.
Now the sisters are joined at the hip, excitedly rushing up to ‘daddy’ and ‘mummy’ to ask if they can have another chocolate from their advent calendars or to show them their festive drawings of angels, stars and candles.
As the happily reunited family look forward to their first Christmas together – just one of the many milestones they were previously denied by their unjust ordeal – Mr Butler and Miss Gray, both 33, say it is ‘like suddenly having grown-up twins’.
And the doting parents are delighted Ellie, five, and three-year-old Isabella are settling in so well after their return to the family home.
Mr Butler said: ‘I worked out I’ve spent more than six months of my life in criminal and family courts over this. All we ever wanted was to be a family, but it was all so draining, there were times I thought it would never happen.
‘But we knew we had to keep fighting, fighting and at last here we are back together – just like it should have been all along. We are trying to catch up on the lost years but are Ellie and Izzy are a joy.’
The ordeal began in February 2007 when Mr Butler, a removals man, saved then seven-weeks-old Ellie’s life when she stopped breathing while he was looking after her – only to be accused of harming her. He cleared her airway after she collapsed and rushed her to hospital. But doctors found head injuries similar to those caused when a baby is deliberately hurt by being shaken.
Mr Butler, of Sutton, South West London, insisted he had not harmed Ellie. Miss Gray, who was not living with him then, supported him.
But the couple were arrested and he was charged with grievous bodily harm and cruelty. Ellie, despite going on to make a full recovery, was taken in to foster care.
While awaiting trial the Family Court ruled Mr Butler could see Ellie twice a year for four hours. Miss Gray, a graphic designer, was allowed contact with her baby six times a year for two hours at a time.
Miss Gray said: ‘I was told at one point that if I went against Ben it would be to my advantage and I’d have more chance of getting my daughter back. It’s outrageous.’
At his Croydon Crown Court trial in March 2009 Mr Butler was convicted. Given an 18-month sentence, he was forced to share a prison cell with a convicted child abuser.
He said: ‘I was put with sex offenders. I never spoke to the guy I shared a cell with – it’s like being put in a mental hospital when you’re not mental. It was just a horrible, dirty feeling where everyone is on a different wavelength.’ After three and a half months behind bars, Mr Butler was released pending appeal.
Brought together by the nightmare engulfing their lives, he and Miss Gray started seeing each other again.
She became pregnant with Isabella and, by now ‘terrified’ of the social workers, tried to keep her birth secret. But Isabella too was also taken into foster care aged six months – and social workers wanted her to be adopted.
Mr Butler’s conviction was quashed in 2010 after fresh medical evidence showed Ellie’s injuries were caused by a traumatic birth and it was also highlighted how if they had been caused by shaking her full recovery ‘would not have been expected’.
It further turned out that Ellie had a cyst in her throat which Mr Butler had pushed out of the way when he cleared her airway after she collapsed. The cyst is clearly visible on a scan taken in hospital, but it was not shown to the original jury.
It then took another two years of battling in the Family Court for the parents to persuade judges and social workers that Ellie, who had been allowed to live with her grandparents, Miss Gray’s parents, and Isabella, should be returned to them.
Finally, in October this year, High Court judge Mrs Justice Hogg praised the couple as she ruled the two girls should be allowed to go home. She said: ‘The last five and a half years must have been an extraordinarily difficult time for the parents … [They] have weathered the storm. They have each been resilient and determined, and shown tenacity and courage… I wish the parents well: they too deserve joy and happiness.’
The couple had at last achieved their dream, but were understandably anxious how their daughters would cope. Isabella came home first, then Ellie a short while later on November 11, to their new matching pink bedrooms.
Ellie is so attached to her grandparents and had been away so long they were worried if she would settle – or be jealous of the little sister she had never met.
Miss Gray said: ‘We started building them up about each other and put a picture of each other next to their beds. Their first meeting came when we took them bowling, one of Ellie’s favourite things.
‘We thought it would be difficult and they wouldn’t be able to connect quickly. But they gave each other a kiss and they were very good with each other. ‘The bond has grown between them. They play so well together and do everything together. It’s so cute. Ellie helps put Izzy’s shoes on and tries to do her hair for her.
‘We’re learning so much so fast about them, things like what their favourite colours and toys are – Ellie loves Minnie Mouse and Izzy Tinker Bell – that it’s like suddenly having grown up twins.’
Mr Butler said: ‘I hadn’t seen Izzy for two and a half years but she was calling me ‘daddy’ from the first time we met again. Now you wouldn’t know she’d been away. Her foster carers are lovely people and we thank them for all they did.
‘But what happened to us was all so wrong. My trial came down to medical opinion only and the medical evidence just didn’t add up.
‘We’ve not had a normal life for nearly six years and the pressure has been immense. We’ve missed out on so many things, like seeing our daughters’ first steps and some birthdays.
‘Now we’re just looking forward to seeing them grow up with us, taking them places and enjoying normal, everyday things. That’s all we ever wanted – to be a proper family.’
Dark chocolate inhibits blood clotting
This appears to have been a transient effect and used a “specially enriched” chocolate
Having a piece of chocolate a day – not just at Christmas – could be the secret to staying heart healthy, according to scientists at the University of Aberdeen Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health.
Lead researcher Dr Baukje de Roos, from the Rowett Institute, said: ‘It’s an acute effect in the body that men and women both benefit from, but it’s more diluted in women.
‘These findings are not a carte blanche to eat chocolates as they are extremely rich in fat and sugar.
‘But probably eating a little bit of dark chocolate containing at least 70 per cent cocoa every day is going to do more good than harm,’ she added.
The scientists from the Rowett, who joined together with the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, studied what happened in the blood of 42 healthy volunteers, 26 women and 16 men, after they ate dark chocolate specially boosted with cocoa extract.
They were investigating the effect on blood clotting, the result of over-activity of platelets that stick together blocking blood vessels that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Compounds called flavanols which are found in cocoa, tea and apples, appear have a beneficial effect on platelet function – and they are higher in cocoa-rich chocolate.
The platelet function of people eating the enriched dark chocolate was compared with platelet function in those who had eaten dark chocolate – with a lower cocoa and flavanol content – and white chocolate.
Blood and urine samples were taken and then analysed two hours and six hours after chocolate consumption.
The scientists were looking at a range of platelet function tests such as platelet activation – a reversible process where platelets are starting to get stressed and sticky – and platelet aggregation – an irreversible process when sticky platelets clump together.
They discovered the specially enriched dark chocolate significantly decreased both platelet activation and aggregation in men, but only cut platelet aggregation in women. The strongest effects were seen two hours after the chocolate had been eaten, says a report published in Molecular Nutrition Food Research.
Researchers also measured bleeding time – which shortens as platelets become stickier.
They found that the specially enriched dark chocolate significantly increased bleeding time after six hours in both men and women, possibly caused by the metabolites that our bodies produce from flavanols.
Dr Baukje de Roos, said: ‘Cocoa is a rich source of flavanols and we already knew that flavanols can stop platelets sticking together but we didn’t know how they did this.
‘It was especially interesting to see that both men and women had improvements in their platelet function, but in different ways.
‘The strength of the effects seem to be more pronounced in men.
‘Our study found that compounds deemed responsible for the beneficial effects, flavanols and their metabolites, are appearing in the blood stream and in our urine within hours of consumption, and are having a positive impact on platelet function effects.’
But the effects probably wear off quite quickly, lasting perhaps no longer than two days, which means people wanting to get consistent benefits need to take a daily dose.
‘We hope that our findings could ultimately help with the development of healthier foods and food supplements,’ added Dr de Roos.
Among health benefits from chocolate are a drop in the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, according to the biggest review ever carried out last year, based on healthy people eating at least two pieces a week.
Previous research shows eating chocolate reduces blood pressure and improves insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of diabetes.
Cannabis makes pain more bearable instead of reducing it, say scientists
i.e. Cannabis makes you “out of it”, which is not a big surprise
Cannabis can make patients feel less bothered about pain, according to a study.
Researchers from the University of Oxford have found the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis doesn’t reduce the intensity of pain, rather it makes it more bearable.
Brain scans revealed the ingredient known as THC, reduced activity in areas linked to the emotional aspects of suffering.
While some patients have found cannabis to relieve chronic pain such as sciatica it has little effect on others, say scientists
While this had a strong relieving effect on some patients, it seemed to make little difference to the pain experienced by others.
Lead researcher Dr Michael Lee, said: ‘Cannabis does not seem to act like a conventional pain medicine. Some people respond really well, others not at all, or even poorly.
‘Brain imaging shows little reduction in the brain regions that code for the sensation of pain, which is what we tend to see with drugs like opiates. Instead cannabis appears to mainly affect the emotional reaction to pain in a highly variable way.’
Long-term pain, often without clear cause, is a complex healthcare problem. Different approaches are often needed to help patient manage pain, and can include medications, physiotherapy and other forms of physical therapy, and psychological support.
For a few patients, cannabis or cannabis-based medications remain effective when other drugs have failed to control pain, while others report very little effect of the drug on their pain but experience side-effects.
‘We carried out this study to try and get at what is happening when someone experiences pain relief using cannabis,’ says Dr Lee.
The researchers recruited 12 healthy men for the study. They were given either a 15mg tablet of THC or a placebo. They then had a cream rubbed into their skin to induce pain. Some were given a dummy cream while the rest receiving a chilli cream that caused a burning sensation.
The study was performed three more times, switching one aspect of the test for each volunteer. The patient also had four MRI tests to cover each combination.
‘The participants were asked to report the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain: how much it burned and how much it bothered them,’ says Dr Lee.
‘We found that with THC, on average people didn’t report any change in the burn, but the pain bothered them less.’
Of most interest to the researchers was the strength of the connection in individuals between their right amydala and a part of the cortex called the primary sensorimotor area.
The strength of this connection in individual participants correlated well with THC’s different effects on the pain that that volunteer experienced.
This suggests that there might be a way of predicting who would see benefits from taking cannabis for pain relief.
‘We may in future be able to predict who will respond to cannabis, but we would need to do studies in patients with chronic pain over longer time periods,’ says Dr Lee.
Cannabis is a Class B drug, which means it is illegal to have for yourself, give away or sell. While THC can make users feel relaxed it can also cause hallucinations and make people feel paranoid.
The latest study has been published in the journal Pain. It was funded by the UK Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.