‘Fatal’ delays in ovarian tests: One in three women waiting six months or more for diagnosis after first seeing their doctor
One in three women with ovarian cancer had to wait six months or more to be diagnosed after first seeing their doctor.
Revealed in a study by Target Ovarian Cancer, the delay in treatment for the ‘silent killer’ – so-called because it is difficult to diagnose – may have fatal results.
It is estimated that 500 lives a year could be saved through earlier diagnosis if the UK could match the best rates in Europe.
The charity’s Pathfinder Study found that almost a third of women with the disease had to wait at least six months for a correct diagnosis.
Initial symptoms may include a distended abdomen and a sense of bloating.
Misdiagnosis is common, with 30 per cent of women wrongly thought to have irritable bowel syndrome, 15 per cent ovarian cysts and 13 per cent a urinary infection. Even when GPs suspect ovarian cancer, one in 10 doctors had the request for a diagnostic test refused by trusts or hospitals.
Women may also take time to act. One in four took more than three months to visit their GP after first symptoms.
More than half took over a month, with one in 10 never consulting their GP about their complaints. The figures were revealed in a survey of doctors, nurses and patients.
About 4,400 women die each year from the disease, often because it is found only when it has spread to other parts of the body.
Esther Matthews, 60, from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, who is married with three children, developed symptoms of bloating, abdominal pain and breathlessness in February 2010. Her GP initially diagnosed a urinary infection and prescribed antibiotics, but when it didn’t clear up it took weeks to get hospital tests.
She said ‘Misdiagnosis and delays meant seven frustrating months before I was finally diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was a frightening and anxious time for me and my family. ‘I was lucky, and am now free of cancer, but for many, the delay means their cancer has already spread, and treatment is difficult.’
Annwen Jones, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “Early diagnosis is key. 32 per cent of women are diagnosed in A&E. 75 per cent of women are diagnosed once the cancer has spread. This is unacceptable.
‘We must improve symptom awareness with women, improve GP knowledge and ensure they have prompt access to diagnostic tests.’ He said pilot schemes in the Government-backed Be Clear on Cancer awareness campaign should be extended across England, while other home nations must similar action to stop women needlessly dying.
Mother saves son’s life after Googling revealed he could have a BRAIN TUMOUR not simply ‘migraines’
A mother saved her seriously-ill son after she realised he could have a brain tumour by searching for his symptoms online.
Sabina Jones, 31, knew there was something seriously wrong with her son, despite doctors diagnosing him first with a stomach bug and then with migraines. She pleaded with doctors to give him a CT scan, which revealed the cancer.
Kian Jones needed an emergency operation at Birmingham Children’s Hospital to remove the inch-long tumour.
The schoolboy had started suffering persistent problems with vomiting, his vision and headaches during last summer
Mrs Jones and husband Dave said they took him to the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital on three separate occasions, where his condition was firstly dismissed as a stomach infection – and then as migraines.
Sabina, from Shrewbury, said the tumour was only discovered in mid-October when she trusted her mother’s intuition and pleaded for further tests.
Mrs Jones questioned why the tumour wasn’t found earlier. She said: ‘I was on the computer Googling and looking up symptoms of persistent headaches and vomiting and the site said your GP would normally refer you for a CT scan to rule out anything serious.
‘We were quite angry because we felt no one was listening to us. ‘My husband did get angry and we did get a letter of apology from the doctor that said it was migraines.
‘I can understand the first time when he went in. But for it to happen again with the same symptoms and him constantly being sick, I though they would do more tests.
‘Had we not pushed for the scan, things could have been very different. I think that sometimes they are too quick to fob it off as something that is not important. It is a bit scary really.’
When he was first admitted to hospital on September 1 last year, Sabina said they were told by doctors Kian may have been suffering some form of gastroenteritis. He is now on the road to recovery and undergoing regular chemotherapy as part of his treatment.
Sabina said the family would be attending a meeting with hospital bosses to discuss how the tumour was missed and to seek reassurances the problem will not happen again.
She added: ‘He is dealing with it amazingly. He is going to school all day every day, other than when he has got hospital appointments.
‘He still sees his friends and he wants to try and get as much normality as he can. His school have been brilliant and his close friends have been brilliant. ‘He absolutely loves football. They have said hopefully when it is all sorted, he will be able to play again.’
A spokesman for The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust said: ‘While we cannot comment specifically on this case, we can confirm that our priority is to make sure people have timely access to safe, high quality services when they need them.
‘Brain tumours in children are very rare and can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can be similar to those that occur with other much more common and less serious childhood illnesses.
‘We have invited the family to meet with the Trust to discuss their concerns and this offer remains open to them.’
Friends and family have already organised a charity fun day and a walk up Snowdon to raise funds for Brain Tumour Research. They also hope to pay for a dream holiday to Florida for Kian – after the family were forced to cancel a planned trip to Mexico this summer due to his condition.
Why pushy parents are the bane of British private schools
Under-pressure parents are increasingly complaining to their children’s prep schools. But teachers know that academic success can’t simply be bought.
In school staffrooms, the stories are legion: the father of a five year-old who asked her class teacher at parents’ evening, with a straight face, whether his daughter would get into Oxford or Cambridge; the mother who emailed her seven-year-old son’s housemaster every evening at around 10pm for a whole term demanding news of her darling; the Russian oligarch who informed the head during a tour of the school that he would only send his four-year-old there if she was accelerated by two year groups because she was so bright; or the couple who turned up with a bundle of banknotes when they were told their twins weren’t academically able enough to be placed in the group getting extra coaching for common entrance.
Recently we heard that in a survey published in the new edition of Attain, the house magazine for the 600 members of the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS), “the vast majority” of head teachers at these fee-paying junior schools named the “unrealistic demands” of parents as the “biggest frustration” of their job, streets ahead of paperwork, rapid changes in government policy and overall workload. One spoke of some parents having the “attitude” towards education of “being a customer buying a product”.
Clearly, high-achieving parents at every kind of private or independent school often have unrealistically great expectations. Alexia Bracewell, head of Longacre School for two to 11-year-olds in Guildford, Surrey, was one of the frustrated heads in the IAPS survey. “I’ve had parents, typically those who have been to Oxford or Cambridge, or Eton or Harrow, who come in to see me because they are upset that their child isn’t shining in the core curriculum subjects,” she says. “They assume that ability in those areas is genetic, and that any problems must therefore be the school’s fault. I have to explain, as respectfully and tactfully as I can, the nature-nurture debate.”
And pressure from demanding parents is being ratcheted up. “As the economy declines and families are stretched even further to pay fees, they have even greater expectations of the value-added a private school can offer, and rightly so,” she adds. “That is why they are making sacrifices to pay.”
The result, though, is that key exchanges between parents and schools end up being committed to paper and filed. “Increasingly I am finding that I have to put things in writing,” says Bracewell. “For instance, when I advise parents against selecting an elite, hothouse secondary school because, even if their child is tutored within an inch of her life, she still may not pass the entrance exam and, even if she does, may not thrive there, I find that some go away and enter her anyway. Then, when she fails, they come back and blame me: ‘You never told us this was going to happen.’ That is why I have to keep a written record.”
Her frustration concerns only a tiny minority of parents, a message reinforced by Julie Robinson, a former prep school head and now director of education and training at IAPS: “Yes, of course I’ve come across unrealistic parents – we all have. But in general in life you have the 80-20 rule, where 20 per cent of the people make 80 per cent of the problems. In prep schools I’d say it was more like 90-10.”
So what prompts this minority to take up such a disproportionate amount of head teachers’ time? Peter Tait, head of Sherborne Prep School in Dorset, is reluctant to blame them. The problem, this New Zealander says, is the education system in this country. “Many of these parents are in a tough place at the moment, especially in those parts of the country such as London and the South East where there is a shortage of places at the most esteemed secondary schools. And they are willing to fight hand-to-hand to get the best for their son or daughter, which is not in itself a bad thing. Therefore, they are very, very demanding of prep schools.”
At the heart of the matter, he believes, is the rapidly changing concept among fee-paying parents of what constitutes value for money. “We have moved strongly across the board in education towards a dog-eat-dog world of individualised learning and teaching to the test. In the process we seem to have lost a sense of the school and the classroom as a community.”
Tait has a plain-speaking message for any angry parent who comes to see him to complain that their little Johnny isn’t making the necessary grades to get them into the secondary school of their aspirations. “I tell them to relax. Their child is in professional hands. We can take the pressure off children, especially at such an early age, rather than increase it. And if they insist on talking about [secondary] schools where the competition is fierce for places, I advise them to go and see the local GP nearest to that school to find out how many children there have developed eating disorders or mental illness because of stress.”
Testing, examination pressures and the scramble for grades and places, though, are part and parcel of every schoolchild’s routine, whether they are in the private or the state sector. So do parents react differently to those issues if they are paying fees?
Margaret believes that they do. She has taught for 25 years in and around Liverpool in both state primaries and prep schools and wants to remain anonymous. She left the private sector, a decade ago, disillusioned by what she saw as its upside-down values. “In the primary schools where I have taught, there is more of a sense of the parents respecting the teachers. In the prep school, it was as if the parents were ultimately in charge, and the teachers subservient.” In the end, she says, it comes down to money. “I’m not sure if it was me projecting on to them, or them on to me, but every parents’ evening I felt as if my job was on the line. And that was something shared with others in the staffroom. If there was an issue with a child, we felt inhibited about asking the parents what we could do together to tackle it. They were paying, so it was our job and our job alone to sort it out.”
That message, she says, was reinforced from above. “We knew that if we didn’t attract and retain sufficient parents willing to pay fees then we could lose our jobs. We were constantly being told by the head that the school would fail if we weren’t ‘working at two levels above the national curriculum’.”
Such an explicit demand is unusual, says Julie Robinson. “In my experience prep school heads are very careful about making such extravagant promises to parents because every child is different. But, while it is important for parents to realise you can’t pay your child’s way into Oxbridge, those who work hard to afford fees have every right to focus on value for money. The challenge is finding a common language for quantifying what represents value.”
Aging naturalist doesn’t like people
Humans are a plague on the Earth that need to be controlled by limiting population growth, according to Sir David Attenborough.
The television presenter said that humans are threatening their own existence and that of other species by using up the world’s resources.
He said the only way to save the planet from famine and species extinction is to limit human population growth.
“We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now,” he told the Radio Times.
Sir David, who is a patron of the Optimum Population Trust, has spoken out before about the “frightening explosion in human numbers” and the need for investment in sex education and other voluntary means of limiting population in developing countries.
“We keep putting on programmes about famine in Ethiopia; that’s what’s happening. Too many people there. They can’t support themselves — and it’s not an inhuman thing to say. It’s the case. Until humanity manages to sort itself out and get a coordinated view about the planet it’s going to get worse and worse.”
Sir David, whose landmark series are repeated from Monday on BBC2, starting with Life on Earth, has also spoken out about the change in wildlife documentaries during his lifetime.
The 86-year-old said commentary from presenters like himself are becoming less necessary as camera work is able to tell a story.
“I’m not sure there’s any need for a new Attenborough,” he said. “The more you go on, the less you need people standing between you and the animal and the camera waving their arms about.
“It’s much cheaper to get someone in front of a camera describing animal behaviour than actually showing you [the behaviour]. That takes a much longer time. But the kind of carefully tailored programmes in which you really work at the commentary, you really match pictures to words, is a bit out of fashion now … regarded as old hat.”
The freezing out of a skeptic
The BBC froze me out because I don’t believe in global warming: Outspoken as ever, David Bellamy reveals why you don’t see him on TV any more
David Bellamy still has the most wonderful face. He is pink-cheeked and beaming, his nose is impossibly broken and squashed, his eyes are kind, his hair and beard are now white but still lustrous and his vast fleshy ears are bobbing with hearing aids.
‘Come in! Come in! Sit wherever you like, that’s a comfy seat there,’ he booms, waving his hands and pointing with enormous sausage fingers. ‘Rosemary! Can we have some tea, please?
ROOOOSEMARY!’ he roars in the general direction of the kitchen and his wife of 56 years.
‘She’s the love of my life, you know. I adoooore her. We met in Love Lane in Cheam when she was just 17 and I just knew. We used to canoodle on the train together. Ooh, I’m the luckiest man in the world. I married a wonderful woman, I’ve toured the world, I’ve stood on the top of the world, I’ve made more than 400 television programmes and I’ve had one of the most woooonderful lives…..’
Everything about him exudes joy and enthusiasm. He hops from subject to subject like a vast hairy bunny.
So in our first 40 minutes chatting in his cluttered home in the middle of nowhere in County Durham, we cover everything from God (‘It’s important to have something to hang things on’), to his five children, four of whom are adopted (‘Goodness knows how old they all are — you’ll have to ask Rosemary, but we’ve got nine grandchildren and they’re all different colours’).
We take in the Royal Family (‘I worship them — particularly Prince Philip’), his lifelong love of ballet (‘Do you know, I actually wrote a ballet that’s been performed six times?’), his beard (‘I’ve never shaved in my life, never ever’) and his passion for very brief Speedo swimming trunks (‘My children hate them, but I can’t bear anything flapping around my legs’).
He rambles on in that brilliantly distinctive voice, great paws waving, eyes rolling. He turned 80 last week but he is just as he always was — a joy and a treat.
Until, that is, we touch on climate change and the vicious backlash he suffered when, in 2004, and in the face of scientific convention and public opinion, he dismissed man-made global warming as ‘poppycock!’
‘From that moment, I really wasn’t welcome at the BBC. They froze me out, because I don’t believe in global warming. My career dried up. I was thrown out of my own conservation groups and I got spat at in London.
‘And the worst thing that ever happened — I got a letter that said, “David Bellamy is the worst …..”
Oh, what was it? Damn, I’m always forgetting things. Rosemary?!’
‘Are you on about the paedophile thing?’ she says, emerging with tea. ‘Yes! It said: “David Bellamy is a paedophile because he doesn’t believe in global warming and is killing our children.”
‘And it’s just nonsense. For the last 16 years, temperatures have been going down and the carbon dioxide has been going up and the crops have got greener and grow quicker. We’ve done plenty to smash up the planet, but there’s been no global warming caused by man.’
During his heyday as a conservationist and TV personality in the Eighties and Nineties, David was everywhere — peering through palm trees, wading through marshlands and delivering wonderful rambling monologues illustrated with madly windmilling hands. ‘I never used a script. I didn’t have people sitting in branches for six months to get a shot. I just talked and talked. It was wonderful.’
He made all those TV programmes, wrote more than 45 books, inspired comedian Lenny Henry’s ‘grapple me grapenuts’ catchphrase and starred in a Ribena commercial.
He also had a Top 40 hit with Brontosaurus, Will You Wait For Me? and appeared on Jim’ll Fix It. ‘I didn’t like Savile. He was always telling me I should become a DJ because I’d make a lot more money. And why did he pick his nose like that? He was for ever fiddling with it. Not nice.’
Bellamy also set up endless charities and campaigning groups (he was patron of more than 400 at one time — ‘I helped to start conservation’) and was never afraid to get stuck in (‘I used to play rugby and I’ve always liked a punch-up’), speak his mind or live with the consequences.
He spent his 50th birthday in prison in Tasmania after blockading the Franklin River in protest against a proposed dam — ‘I had so many letters from all around the world, it was amaaazing!’
And in 1996 he let rip against wind farms (‘because they don’t work’) during one of his regular appearances on Blue Peter: ‘That was the beginning really. From that moment, I was not welcome at the BBC.’
But it was his global warming comments in 2004 that really cut him adrift. The killer blow came when he was dropped by The Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, of which he was president. ‘I worked with the Wildlife Trusts for 52 years. And when they dropped me, they didn’t even tell me.
They didn’t have the guts. I read about it in the newspapers. Can you believe it? Now they don’t want to be anywhere near me. But what are they doing? The WWF might have saved a few pandas, but what about the forests? What have Greenpeace done?’
‘There are some very strange people out there,’ says Rosemary quietly.
It must have been terribly upsetting, I suggest. ‘Yes. It did upset us terribly,’ she says. ‘But we pretended not to be upset, didn’t we David? The best thing to do was not to talk about it. So we didn’t. It’s been very difficult, because he does feel strongly about things.’
‘I still say it’s poppycock!’ he snorts. ‘If you believe it, fine. But I don’t and there’s thousands like me. David Attenborough used to be one of us on wind farms, but then he changed his mind.’
For years, he and 86-year-old Sir David were peers. Isn’t he just a bit envious that the other David will probably still be churning out award-winning wildlife programmes when he’s 100 while he spends most of his time pottering in his garden, watching Upstairs Downstairs and Dad’s Army box sets and ‘just keeping up with what’s going on’.
‘No, no! You can’t knock him — he’s done a fantastic job of opening people’s eyes, and he has all the gadgets and stuff. But we’re different. He’s a natural history man and I’m a campaigner.
‘And I can’t complain. When I was at the BBC, I could do whatever I wanted. In those days, you could say what you liked. You can’t now. ‘The world’s gone bonkers. What about this latest bloody thing — that poor lady who went to court because she wanted to wear a cross? It’s madness.’
It all started at Durham University, where David first studied and later taught botany: ‘Some of my lectures used to go on for hours. In my second year there I thought I should take my students to see a tropical rain forest — I’d never seen one. When I got there the only thing I could name was a cheese plant. So we got a nine-year-old local boy called Boko to tell us all the names and one day he didn’t turn up. He’d died of malnutrition — there was no food. I couldn’t believe it.’
That was the beginning of his environmental campaigning. After the Torrey Canyon oil disaster off the British coast in 1967, Bellamy, who was working on a project in Cornwall, gave a single TV interview on the subject and was spotted as television gold.
Decades of relentless programme-making during every university holiday followed. ‘I only ever filmed in the holidays, so my family could all come with me, which nearly bankrupted me.’
It was quite a family. ‘We were always going to have two children of our own and adopt two, but we lost our first five children before our son Rufus was born — two lived for a day, the others didn’t make it that far and Rufus was in an oxygen tent for six weeks. So we adopted the next four, from all round the world, and they’re wonderful.’
There were also 32 different species of pet, including a crocodile. ‘I bought it back from Australia — you couldn’t do that now.’
Today, David is the first to admit he’s getting old. Physically, he’s in brilliant shape — at 6ft, he’s still an impressive specimen and instantly recognisable. ‘I can’t get on to a train or aeroplane without people coming up and saying: “David Bellamy! We haven’t seen you on telly — we thought you were dead!”’
But he’s forgetful, is for ever grasping for missing words (which Rosemary patiently supplies), and after years of deafness has recently succumbed to hearing aids. ‘Bloody things. But it’s nicer for Rosemary that I’m not yelling all the time.’
Rosemary has always been his ‘pillar’, he says. ‘She deals with everything. For years I didn’t know who my bank manager was. She dealt with all that. And taught full time and brought up five children and bought my clothes. I once had to buy a shirt and tie to get into a club in London and I had no idea how to go about it.’
Does he ever regret his outspokenness and how it might have affected his image and popularity?
‘Absolutely not! Who cares if they’ve put me on the back burner? I can still talk to my flowers, which are all fine and growing amazingly and say, “Thank you very much, David!”’
And with that, we say our farewells. He gives me a warm hairy hug and big wet kiss.
‘I’m the world’s luckiest man — I’ve stood on top of the world and I married a wonderful woman and I’d still die for my country. And the BBC still makes damn good programmes, doesn’t it?’
The tyranny of equality laws
If you have old-fashioned views or use archaic language at work, expect to be reprogrammed by the new overseers of equality.
‘Balancing religious and other rights is horrible work, which somebody’s got to do. Strasbourg reminded us on Tuesday that it does it as well as anyone else.’ This was how a Guardian editorial summed up the Strasbourg court’s judgement last week on discrimination claims brought by four devout Christians. The Independent claimed that the judgements showed the court’s ‘usefulness and general good sense’.
The cases involved four people sacked for expressing religious beliefs in various ways: a registrar, Lillian Ladele, who refused to officiate at same-sex civil partnerships; a relationship counsellor, Gary McFarlane, who didn’t want to work with gay couples; a nurse, Shirley Chaplin, who refused to stop wearing a small crucifix on a chain; and an airline employee, Nadia Eweida, who refused to stop wearing a small cross. Eweida won her case; the other appeals were dismissed.
While the liberal broadsheets supported the judgements, the Daily Mail advanced a Eurosceptic stance by denying that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg was the right place for religious-freedom cases to be determined. But the newspaper didn’t question the right of domestic courts to determine such matters. Indeed, the Mail argued for more court scrutiny, specifically of the medical evidence for the health-and-safety justification given by National Health Service (NHS) bosses for denying nurse Shirley Chaplin the right to wear a cross. Finding a mainstream commentator who questions the right of courts, domestic or European, to rule on workplace behaviour is as hard as finding a uniformed nurse with a visible crucifix.
The ever-expanding world of equality
In recent years, governments have subjected the workplace to a slew of equality and anti-discrimination laws. Now codified in the Equality Act 2010 and supplemented with human-rights legislation, the reach of the legislation has enabled Muslim schoolchildren to claim a right to wear a jilbab and other schoolchildren have claimed the right to style their hair with cornrows. Gay couples have used the act to challenge bed-and-breakfast owners who turned away unmarried guests. The legislation has also been used by many campaigners to challenge welfare cuts, library closures and university tuition-fees to name but a few.
It is not always immediately apparent what these challenges have got to do with equality or anti-discrimination laws. But the legislation readily lends itself to support those who claim to have been subjected to some unfairness on the grounds of age, disability, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. The ambit of these laws is so wide that there is scarcely a workplace or service-delivery decision that cannot be challenged under the Equality Act.
This is not to say that these challenges always win. Nobody keeps statistics and, in any case, many challenges are compromised before they become public, whether or not they have any merit. The 25 per cent success rate from the four applicants in last week’s cases may even have been higher than normal. What matters is that employees, employers and citizens generally are constantly subject to the threat of legal action under the Equality Act. The possibility of a claim under the Equality Act is there when an employer or school draws up a dress code, when an employee addresses a colleague, or when a service provider makes a spending cut.
The constant threat of a claim
A recent survey of 1,000 workers by the solicitors Allen & Overy highlights the extent of the problem in the workplace. Some people refer to a person who is wholly or partly of non-white descent as ‘coloured’; indeed, some people describe themselves as such. When asked if the term ‘coloured’ was offensive, 50 per cent of respondents said it was, but 38 per cent said it was acceptable. The journalist who wrote up this survey for the Law Gazette under the heading ‘Office banter is not black and white’ noted how the black person who was deeply offended at being called coloured could bring a harassment claim if the conduct was unwanted and causes offence. He also noted that the average tribunal award for race discrimination is £102,259, payable not only by the employer, but in some circumstances shared by the employee as well.
Six-figure damage awards may require pretty serious and persistent conduct, but that misses the point. The employees who have not accepted modern modes of address could find themselves subject to discrimination claims that would cause considerable worry and anxiety regardless of whether the claims succeeded. The Law Gazette article also noted how the gesture of anonymously giving a colleague a St Valentine’s Day gift can amount to sexual harassment where the conduct is unwanted. The lovesick optimist who persists in his pursuit could land his employer in an employment tribunal where the average award for this conduct is £9,940. So the unwanted box of chocolates could turn out to have been very expensive. The price we all pay is even greater, although impossible to quantify, when ordinary human interaction can become the subject of expensive and potentially ruinous litigation.
The four cases ruled on in Strasbourg were about weightier matters than office banter or boxes of chocolates, but they show the extent to which the workplace has become a legal hot potato. It is a strange world that allows an employer’s uniform code to result in hearings before an employment tribunal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal, the Court of Appeal and then the European Court of Human Rights. It is even stranger to note that Ms Eweida’s claim against British Airways (BA) failed in each of the three domestic courts, for different reasons each time, but succeeded by a five-to-two majority in Strasbourg. And it succeeded not because of any bright line of principle that could in future guide employers to know whether their dress code was lawful or not. It succeeded in Strasbourg because ‘the court has reached the conclusion in the present case that a fair balance was not struck’. Equality legislation requires all employers, big or small, to throw themselves at the mercy of judicial discretion.
The decline of discrimination
Eric Pickles, the Lib-Con secretary of state for communities and local government and the minister who has criticised some court decisions for curtailing religious freedom, said he supported the Strasbourg court’s dismissal of the claims brought by Gary McFarlane and Lillian Ladele. McFarlane lost his job with Relate after saying during training that he would not be able to provide sex therapy to gay couples. Ladele was disciplined by Islington Council in north London when she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnerships. Pickles supported these decisions with reference to the need to provide public services on a non-discriminatory basis and he proceeded to say that he could just remember the days when in Bradford there were signs saying ‘blacks need not apply’. Pickles is 60 years old, so is referring to signs that appeared more than 40 years ago.
In her introduction to Blackstone’s Guide to The Equality Act 2010, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC notes that ‘when the model for our anti-discrimination laws was first developed, a sign saying “no Irish, no blacks, no dogs” in the window of a bed & breakfast, or a job advert saying “women need not apply” were commonplace around the country’. Similarly, she notes ‘offensive descriptions of, and hostile attitudes towards, disabled people were also commonplace’. But she, like Pickles, is talking about a different era.
Society has moved on and the attitudes that Pickles and Kennedy refer to as existing decades ago no longer exist, save in the eccentric. Those attitudes no longer have any social force. The misguided office worker who uses inappropriate office banter is a more likely target for a discrimination claim today than the employer who would turn away ‘blacks’. And where a Christian hotelier turns away a gay couple, it’s a safe bet that there will be other hotels and guest houses up the road that will not. This is not to say that all forms of unjustified discrimination have been eradicated, but it is to say that the need for the widespread intervention of the law as sanctioned by the Equality Act is anachronistic and creates far more problems than it solves.
Why the interest in equality today?
Ironically, as the need for anti-discrimination laws has waned, so governments of all persuasions have wedded themselves to an ever-expanding Equality Act agenda. There is as much chance of Eric Pickles repealing some equality legislation as there is of Gary McFarlane providing same sex counselling. Why?
The answer cannot be practical. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the BA decision, nobody can doubt BA’s efforts to accommodate Eweida’s religious beliefs. BA’s dress code had for some years caused no known problems to any employee, including Eweida, who for two years appears to have worn a cross concealed under her clothing without objection. When she complained BA offered her a temporary administrative position which would have allowed her to wear the cross openly without loss of pay. Yet despite those efforts, the Strasbourg court found BA’s decision unlawful. The lesson for employers is that to avoid legal challenges they may as well count angels dancing on a pinhead.
The amount of time and money tied up in drafting and implementing anti-discrimination policies is already substantial. The Allen & Overy survey found that 55 per cent of workers had read their employer’s ‘dignity at work’ policy (a figure I found surprisingly high). It then noted that ‘38 per cent of them had received training on it’ (ditto) in circumstances where an ‘all reasonable steps’ defence would require an employer to do more than just have a policy on a shelf or on its intranet. The report notes that workers ‘need regular training on its implications and their legal liability’.
And therein lies the explanation for today’s prevalence of equality legislation and codes. We live in an era where the powers-that-be do not trust employers, employees or any ordinary person – that is, you and me – to treat each other fairly. Neither do they trust organisations to provide services fairly. ‘Workers need regular training on dignity at work’ is code for saying that workers need to be re-programmed in how to think, talk and behave. Laws, anti-discrimination policies, codes of behaviour and training courses on ‘dignity at work’ become the order of the working day. The non-legal framework within which ordinary human behaviour has traditionally been negotiated is replaced with a legal one from on high. And for those who transgress: see you in court.
The many judgments that courts and tribunals will give on the many claims that are brought will do nothing to provide the clarity on equality legislation that employers understandably claim they need. There cannot be clarity to the many and diverse situations that arise in the workplace. Different staff for different reasons will always want to dress and work differently and for different reasons. It is endemic in equality legislation that the courts cannot establish rules of law that will enable people to know in advance what decision the courts will make. What equality legislation does is transfer power from the workplace to the courtroom. It takes power away from employers, employees and service users and vests it in judges. As I have argued previously, these laws also stifle any proper debate about the important issue of tolerance, religious or otherwise, by fostering intolerance.
The Guardian talks about the ‘horrible work, which somebody’s got to do’. I do not see ‘balancing religious and other rights’ as ‘horrible work’. I see it as an opportunity for there to be a genuine debate in the workplace and elsewhere about tolerance. Left to their own devices, and without the threat of legal proceedings, most staff would resolve their differences amicably. Somebody has got to do it, but it shouldn’t be the courts. The misanthropic argue otherwise.
Church of England’s official Twitter feed sparks row after ‘offensive’ joke about gay marriage and Katie Price
A totally harmless joke
The Church of England’s official Twitter feed was branded ‘offensive’ yesterday after a quip about gay marriage and former glamour model Katie Price.
A user calling himself ‘Just Skippy’ began the exchange by sending a question to the Church’s Twitter account, @c_of_e. He wrote: ‘Can I ask what @c_of_e thinks about Katie Price marrying for 3rd time making a mockery of marriage yet you are against Homosexual marriage.’
In response, the Church replied: ‘We don’t have an official policy on Katie Price. Having said that, Jordan gets quite a few mentions in the Old Testament’ – a reference to the reality star’s name in her glamour modelling days.
While some readers were amused by the unexpectedly light-hearted quip, others took offence – illustrating the pitfalls of trying to communicate to the world in just 140 characters.