£1m payout to widow left pregnant when her husband died in tragedy ’caused by knee surgeon playing God’
The wife of a sales manager who died when a surgeon botched a routine knee operation has been awarded a seven-figure payout.
Penny Belcuore, 36, fought back tears outside court as she described her family’s struggle to carry on without her husband, Luigi, at their side. She has accused the surgeon involved – Professor James Richardson – of ‘playing God’ with her husband’s life.
Mr Belcuore, 43, who was known to friends as Louis, died three years ago after Professor Richardson injected him with an air bubble during surgery to correct a painful knee cartilage problem.
The bubble caused a massive embolism and led to Mr Belcuore having a fatal heart attack on the operating table. Four weeks later his wife discovered she was pregnant with their third child.
Yesterday, Mrs Belcuore said she was ‘relieved’ to have been awarded the money, which would provide financial security for her children Lydia, six, Sienna, five, and Louis, two, who was named after his father.
She would not disclose the exact amount but it is understood to be at least £1million.
‘For the past three and a half years I have felt in a state of limbo, trying to find out exactly what happened and why Louis died suddenly during what should have been a routine knee operation,’ she added.
‘Whilst I am grateful my children’s future is now at least financially secure, it remains an ongoing struggle to carry on without Louis by my side.’
She added that she would only ‘fully come to terms’ with what had happened if proper answers were given about what happened that day and she was given proof the same errors would never be allowed to happen again.
Mr Belcuore was operated on at the Robert Jones & Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic and District Hospital in Oswestry, Shropshire, in October 2009 after suffering chronic pain in his knee, which he felt every time he tried to lift his children.
He agreed to take part in a clinical trial testing new techniques for treating knee cartilage problems, during which stem cells were to be taken from his cartilage and applied to damaged areas in the hope they would regenerate.
Serious problems started, however, after Professor Richardson adapted a piece of equipment without authorisation.
Instead of using a plastic tube to spray a substance to help his blood clot, he used a needle, directing high-pressure air at the wound for several minutes to dry the blood.
The technique caused an air bubble to enter Mr Belcuore’s veins, which made his heart stop.
Mrs Belcuore is now waiting for the General Medical Council to rule on the treatment given to her husband.
The payout she received yesterday was approved at the High Court in Birmingham by His Honour Judge Robert Owen QC after a full admission of liability by the hospital.
Mr Belcuore, a sales manager for American computer company Nvidia, lived with his wife and children near Studley, Warwickshire. He also left behind three sisters and elderly parents who live in Italy.
Solicitor Caroline Cross, representing the hospital, said: ‘The Trust deeply regrets the tragic loss of Mr Belcuore’s life in 2009 and offers its sincere apologies to Mrs Belcuore and her family and would like to wish them well for the future.’
Patients being forced to wait for more than five HOURS in ambulances outside A&E because of bed shortages
Patients are having to wait five and a half hours in ambulances parked outside A&E because there are not enough beds.
Some relatives are arriving at hospital to visit their loved ones only to find they are still ‘queued up’ outside the main entrance.
Last week some 4,500 patients waited in ambulances for at least half an hour before they were admitted.
Since the beginning of November there have been more than 68,000 such cases, a rise of a third compared to the same period last year.
Figures obtained by Labour show that one patient brought in by Great Western Ambulance Trust in the last two months was made to wait 5 hours and 42 minutes. Another taken to hospital by West Midlands Ambulance Trust waited five hours and five minutes.
But there is concern that keeping ambulances outside hospitals for so long puts other patients waiting for help at risk.
One unnamed paramedic, who works in Hertfordshire said: ‘Someone will die this winter as a result of no ambulance being available at the time of the emergency. It is not a matter of if, but when.’
Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: ‘These chaotic scenes in A&E take us straight back to the bad old days of the mid-1990s. ‘Up and down the country, ambulances are unable to dispatch patients, hospitals are full to bursting and people are waiting on trolleys in corridors.
‘The Government must take urgent action to ensure all A&Es have enough staff to provide safe standards of patient care and meet national standards.’
Another unnamed paramedic, who works in North East England said: ‘Families of sick people arrive at hospitals and expect to find them in a bed, but they are still outside in an ambulance. The frustration of ambulance staff is beyond belief’
Many emergency departments have become increasingly overstretched over the last few years and at times they are just too busy to admit new patients.
But there is also concern that staff are deliberately making patients wait outside so they can meet targets and avoid fines. The rules state that hospitals ensure that at least 95 per cent of patients spend no more than four hours in A&E before they are discharged or taken to other wards. Yet the clock only starts once patients are admitted, so managers will be inclined to leave them outside when they are very busy.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘The public will be deeply concerned by these figures, and deserve to expect the quickest access to A&E possible. ‘Long periods of waiting in an ambulance clearly adds to the stress and discomfort patients are already experiencing.
‘The Government needs to act to address the severe service pressures that lead to these unacceptable bottlenecks.’
NHS figures show that the number of emergency admissions has risen by 8 per cent in a year to 17.6 million. This rise has partly been blamed on the failure of GP out-of-hours services as well as the increasing elderly population.
A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘The NHS is seeing an extra one million more patients in A&E compared to two years ago and despite the additional pressure overall it is coping well.’
Failing schools ‘hampering economy’: Britain will not prosper unless education is overhauled, report warns
Britain’s economy will not prosper unless its ‘mediocre’ education system is overhauled, a hard-hitting report says today. Failing schools and poorly performing teachers lead to a ‘waste of human resources on a grand scale,’ causing long-term damage to the UK, the scathing document says.
Local councils which do not let failing schools close must see their wings clipped, and the system for assessing teachers must be revamped, it argues.
Written by a Nobel Prize-winning economist as well as former members of the Bank of England, the report from the London School of Economics calls for radical change to get the UK growing again.
It says ‘short-termist’ banks that refuse to lend to small businesses are suffocating innovation.
It also blames ‘years of inadequate investment’ and ‘political procrastination’ over the UK’s ageing transport and energy infrastructure for holding back growth.
The symposium has spent the last year looking at ways to help the UK’s moribund economy, which is now teetering on the edge of a triple-dip recession, grow in the long term.
The report says: ‘After years of inadequate investment in skills, infrastructure and innovation, there are longstanding structural weaknesses in the economy, all rooted in a failure to achieve stable planning, strategic vision and a political consensus on the right policy framework to support growth.’
The potential of thousands of children from poorer backgrounds are being squandered by underperforming schools, it says.
‘Our failure to provide adequate education to children from disadvantaged backgrounds constitutes a waste of human resources on a grand scale.
‘It holds back economic opportunities and is detrimental to growth,’ the report states.
Co-author Professor Tim Besley, a former member of the Bank of England’s influential rate-setting body, said: ‘Rarely are skills thought of as a growth issue. But catching up with Australia or Finland would lead to very significant increase in income for the UK.’
He suggested doubling teachers’ probation periods from two to four years, and assessing them more on the job rather than intensely at the start of their career.
‘We need to focus more on how schools are dealing with disadvantaged children – such as those on free school meals. That is where the big gains in growth will come from,’ he added.
It should be easier for underperforming schools to shrink in size, meaning fewer children join them each year, the report also says.
It wants local councils to allow failing schools to shrink and successful schools to take on more pupils. Vocational skills are ‘particularly poorly developed’ and should be made more available through more apprenticeships, it adds.
Brute force open-access
The fact that governments intervene in one area gives them an excuse to intervene in another. The demand [in Britain] that all car passengers, including those in the rear seats, should be compelled to wear seat-belts was justified by the observation that taxpayers supported the National Health Service, so if a passenger was injured in an accident, it would be a cost on us all. Laws banning smoking, and this week’s proposal to put a tax on sugary drinks, are other examples that use the same justification.
Now the universities minister David Willetts is causing a stir in academe with his plans to force through open access. At present, academics do their research and try to get it printed in various academic journals. The more prestigious the journal, the more the paper is scrutinised through peer review, so getting printed in a good journal is some indication of quality. It is a costly process, and the leading journals can be quite expensive for libraries to buy, but at least the research that does get published is reasonably reliable.
However, Willetts takes the view that, since since we have a taxpayer-funded university system and a taxpayer-funded set of research councils, anything the academics produce rightly belongs to the public and should be made immediately and freely available – what is called ‘open access’. The universities will not have to pay to get articles processed, and their libraries will not have to pay for the expensive journals, but they will have to pay to make the research available.
So it is quite probable that many of today’s journals, and the learned societies that sponsor them, will simply disappear – which may help explain why a dozen of them have written to the government to complain about the idea.
Many academics have already opted for an open access policy (a policy practiced by the Adam Smith Institute too), since they want to get their work and ideas out to a wide audience. But often, papers are put online without proper editing – because the authors are not professional editors – which means that mistakes creep in (something that can be potentially dangerous in, say, medical or engineering research papers online). And the research goes up without proper peer review that might expose fundamental errors.
Academics will find that it is their university colleagues, not anonymous expert peers in the field from all over the world, who decide what goes online – but university jealousies can be very bitter. If there is no effective peer review, it will be hard to know which research is reckoned to be reliable and which is not.
All papers that go public will have to be treated as potentially suspect. Mind you, in economics, some of us came to that conclusion many years ago. Perhaps David Willetts would be better employed making sure that research projects were a proper use of taxpayers’ money, rather than bullying his university employees about how they present it.
British Minister tightens up nursery staff qualifications slightly in bid to raise standards
Good to see some cost consciousness here — with a relaxation of staff ratios
Childcare workers need fewer qualifications than those working with animals, a minister will warn today as she unveils plans to raise standards. Elizabeth Truss will express concern at the ‘hair or care’ stereotype of underqualified girls going into hairdressing or childminding.
In a bid to drive up standards, the Tory education minister will insist nursery staff must have at least a C in GCSE English and maths.
The minister will say: ‘Staff in this country earn about £6.60 an hour on average, only a little above the minimum wage. ‘This speaks volumes for how much those working in the early years have hitherto been valued.’
She has designed radical reform to improve the quality of personnel. But in a bid to drive down costs so better staff can be attracted by better pay, adult/child ratios will be relaxed.
Each nursery worker will be able to look after four under-two-year-olds, rather than three as now. The number of under-fives goes up from four to six. Childminders will be able to have two babies in their care rather than one, and four under-fives, not three.
Miss Truss will also announce new graduate level ‘early years teachers’ specifically trained to teach young children.
In a speech in London, Miss Truss will say that ‘too many people who work with young children are under-qualified’.
‘Given what we know about early years development, it is no longer acceptable that childcare professionals are not required to have a GCSE grade C or above in English and maths,’ she will say.
Highlighting the contrast with abroad, she will say: ‘In France, at least 40 per cent of staff in crèches must hold a diploma, which demands a three-year, post-16 course. In the Netherlands, certified childcare workers must train for two years post-18.’
Expert Government advisers, she will add, have expressed concern at ‘the hair or care stereotype’, in which often students with ‘the poorest academic records’ are steered towards childcare.
She will quote Helen Perkins, head of early years and childhood studies at Solihull College, who said: ‘We demand that students need a relevant qualification before they are able to handle animals independently on our animal care courses. Nobody demands the same level of qualification before you can be left alone with a baby.’
Older pre-school children do best in ‘teacher-led settings’ with ‘structured activities’, which will be favoured by Ofsted, she will say. However, Labour’s shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said the plans threatened child safety.
‘This Government has created an affordability crisis by cutting support and pushing up costs for parents. Watering down quality is the wrong way to try to deal with the problem they’ve caused,’ he said.
‘Experts are warning this could threaten child safety and won’t reduce costs. Parents will be worried.’
Ministers are also finalising plans for £1.5billion in tax breaks for working families with young children, expected to be worth at least £1,000 a year to help pay for spiralling costs of childcare.
Details are expected to be announced in the Budget in March.
From Cromwell to Kipling and Ennis, a new ‘patriotic’ test on Britain’s culture for migrants
Migrants who hope to become British citizens will have to learn about 1066, Rudyard Kipling and Olympic hero Jessica Ennis under new citizenship tests, ministers said yesterday.
They will be examined on their knowledge of William the Conqueror, the Reformation and Oliver Cromwell in a reformed version of the tests that must be passed before qualifying for a passport.
But some names familiar to schoolchildren will be missed out of the tests developed by the Home Office.
While the Life in the UK handbooks praise Florence Nightingale as ‘the founder of modern nursing’, there is no mention of Mary Seacole, her Jamaican-born contemporary promoted over the past two decades as of equal importance.
The decision to omit Miss Seacole is the second indignity her reputation has suffered in a month. At the end of last year Education Secretary Michael Gove instructed she should no longer be part of the National Curriculum.
The handbook, to teach newly-arrived migrants ‘the values and principles at the heart of being British’, also contains no use of the word ‘multicultural’.
History exams will be introduced for those wanting to take out British citizenship in March, and the handbook they must study is available today.
The citizenship tests first brought in by Labour seven years ago contained no questions on history or the development of British culture, and instead concentrated on ensuring migrants had grasped practicalities like how to make a GP appointment or claim benefits.
Immigration minister Mark Harper said: ‘We have stripped out mundane information about water meters, how to find train timetables, and using the internet.’
People living in Britain should already be capable of using public transport, credit cards and coping with job interviews, the Home Office said. The history chapter demands knowledge of the Stone Age, the Wars of the Roses and the Glorious Revolution.
Politicians including Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher are featured, alongside literary heroes and heroines.
Industrial pioneers are praised, although, oddly, the handbook has a section on Isambard Kingdom Brunel but does not mention he was the son of an immigrant.
Musical figures run from Henry Purcell to The Beatles and migrants are required to learn about literary figures from Geoffrey Chaucer, through Jane Austen to Wilfred Owen.
Those taking the test will also be expected to be familiar with details of sporting events including the Olympic Games and to know about sporting icons such as heptathlete Jessica Ennis.
Existing Life in the UK tests were taken by 150,000 people last year. At present it contains 24 multiple choice questions and candidates have 45 minutes to answer them. The pass mark is 75 per cent.
Dawkins causes Twitter row with Islamic barbarian jibe
Not content with upsetting the Jewish religion, Professor Richard Dawkins, the celebrated atheist, has now annoyed some Muslims.
Speaking about the damage caused to the library in Timbuktu, in Mali, he described those who burnt it down as Islamic Barbarians.
His comments have been interpreted as being derogatory to Islam and insulting to followers of the religion by some on the social networking site Twitter.
The best selling author of The God Delusion and Oxford Professor, Tweeted that “Like Alexandria, like Bamiyan, Timbuktu’s priceless manuscript heritage destroyed by Islamic barbarians”.
His comments were met with a backlash with many people condemning him of unfairly attacking Islam and ignoring the many acts of vandalism carried out by Christians.
But he hit back saying: “Some people (perhaps 1st language not English) think I was calling ALL Muslims barbarians. No. I was calling Islamic BARBARIANS barbarians.”
The row is reminiscent of a storm he caused last year when he was accused of making a “profoundly anti-Semitic” remark by criticising the Old Testament.
Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, claimed that a remark in Prof Dawkins’s The God Delusion, likening God as portrayed in Jewish scriptures to a fictional villain, was based on centuries of prejudice.
He said that although Prof Dawkins does not believe in God, he was nevertheless a “Christian atheist” as opposed to a “Jewish atheist”.
Prof Dawkins, an Oxford evolutionary biologist, dismissed the allegation as “ridiculous” and said he was not “anti-Jewish” just “anti-God”.
We must shine a light into the dark corners of Britain’s secret state
The Coalition should ditch the Justice and Security Bill, which would cover up Britain’s complicity in torture
When I worked on the City pages of The Daily Telegraph a quarter of a century ago, we young reporters were advised by Christopher Fildes, the paper’s legendary financial columnist, to take note of three corporate sell signals.
The first concerned the chief executive. If he purchased a string of racehorses, it meant that he wasn’t concentrating on the job and had got ideas above his station. The second was the appearance of a fountain in the head office foyer, a sure indication of extravagance and frivolity. Finally, Mr Fildes urged us to view with distrust all companies that shifted to a lavish new headquarters. Too often for comfort, he asserted, such a move presaged disaster.
When I moved to cover politics, I soon realised that the same rule applied in the public sector. The textbook case concerns the Home Office, which notoriously descended into a dysfunctional shambles after it moved from its headquarters in Queen Anne’s Gate to gleaming new offices in Marsham Street eight years ago. Likewise, the government Whips Office lost all purpose after being shifted from its historic 12 Downing Street base.
Something went wrong with the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) shortly after it moved into its hideous new HQ, whose rear end overlooks the Thames with the same elegance and charm as the stern of an expensive cruise liner. I am not talking about the operational errors, of which one of the most recent has been the failure to grasp, despite warning signals, the role played by al-Qaeda in the Syrian uprising until too late. Far more troubling have been the structural problems that emerged after the existence of SIS was formally acknowledged in 1994 – by curious coincidence the same year as the building in Vauxhall was opened.
The first of these has been the propinquity between the intelligence and political establishments, a normal state of affairs in authoritarian states but always very troubling in democracies. This became manifest after 1997 under New Labour, when for a time SIS and the Blairite machine in effect merged. New Labour spin doctors travelled to Vauxhall to brief intelligence chiefs on how to conduct their public relations. Meanwhile, SIS shockingly tolerated New Labour’s use of secret intelligence as political propaganda.
This process reached its apotheosis in the notorious Iraq dossier of September 2002. Ten years have passed since the start of that catastrophic conflict and still questions remain to be answered. The Chilcot Inquiry, which was supposed to answer them (then again, perhaps it wasn’t) appears to have sunk without trace.
The second problem involves British complicity in torture. Like the repudiation of traditional intelligence methods that led to the Iraq fiasco, this had its origins in the merger between the security elite and the political class after 1997.
Bear in mind that Margaret Thatcher, when prime minister, had refused to countenance the use of evidence gathered under torture. This doctrine was turned on its head by Tony Blair’s government. After 9/11, though under pressure from the United States, British intelligence officers (from both SIS and the domestic intelligence agency MI5) were still barred from carrying it out themselves. But a new convention permitted them to seek evidence gathered under torture.
In particular, Britain became heavily complicit in what is known as extraordinary rendition, or the kidnap and subsequent torture of individuals as a matter of state policy. It goes without saying that this activity is against the law, and wholly contrary to our international obligations as a signatory of the United Nations Convention against torture.
Reports of British involvement leaked out at an early stage, but for a very long time were denied by ministers. Foreign secretary Jack Straw exploded in indignation when Britain was accused in 2005 of being party to the CIA extraordinary rendition programme: “Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also, let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there is simply no truth that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition, full stop.”
Mr Straw has since gone quiet in the face of a mass of overwhelming evidence. This silence brings me on to the Justice and Security Bill, whose committee stage will today be debated in the Commons. A superbly researched Centre for Policy Studies pamphlet titled Neither Just nor Secure, by Anthony Peto QC of Blackstone Chambers and the Conservative backbencher Andrew Tyrie, argues that the Bill may stop the truth ever emerging about British involvement in torture. It enables government secretly to present evidence in civil cases, without allowing the other party or his or her lawyers to see it. The other party can never even know, let alone challenge, the evidence presented against him. A judge will decide whether the evidence should be heard in open court.
Second, the Bill blocks the courts from using the information-gathering legal principle known as Norwich Pharmacal. “This would make it harder,” argue the authors, “to uncover official wrongdoing in matters such as extraordinary rendition.”
Third, the authors demonstrate that the mechanisms set up by John Major in the Intelligence Services Act of 1994 to make the security services accountable have failed. Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee is beyond incompetent. It is supposed to oversee the security services. In 2007, the hapless ISC found no evidence of complicity in any extraordinary rendition operations in a notorious report from which, it has now emerged, 42 vital documents had been withheld. The Gibson Inquiry into rendition, set up by David Cameron in 2010, was just as useless and has now been abandoned.
Successive ISC chairmen (the former foreign office minister Kim Howells has been the worst) have been bossed around by government, and shown a feeble-minded naivety. “In recent years,” the authors note, “a string of appointees have come out of Government to chair the Committee only to return to the front bench afterwards.” Nothing in the Justice and Security Bill remedies this toothlessness.
John le Carré once wrote that “the only real measure of a nation’s political health” is the state of its intelligence services. For much of the last century (as readers of Mr le Carré’s novels can surmise) they have manifested a distinctive British integrity, ruthlessness, tolerance, eccentricity, and breathtaking heroism when required.
But, if Mr le Carré is right, something must have gone wrong with 21st-century Britain. Few sensible people would deny that we need effective security services, nor that the great majority of people who work for them are highly capable and patriotic, condemned by the nature of their work to stay quiet about their achievements and the bravery of what they do.
But the best intelligence officers admit that British complicity in torture has amounted to a thoroughgoing betrayal of our values, acted as a recruiting sergeant for terrorism, and made intelligence gathering more difficult. Deepening the secret state is a step in the wrong direction. The objective of any decent government should be to expose as much of the truth as we can about British involvement in torture, not to hush it up. It’s time for the Coalition to ditch its shameful little Bill.
Must not mention that some people are mentally retarded
A more sophisticated person might have called the team “challenged”. It would be fun seeing what reaction that got. “Challenged” is PC at the moment but if it became widely used, it too would probably get get criticized. “Retarded” was once PC too. It substituted for “stupid”, “dumb”, “imbecile” etc. It still is used that way on occasions — if you are allowed to mention the subject at all
Former England rugby star and Sky Sports commentator Stuart Barnes has been slammed for accusing England of playing like “retards”.
Barnes, 51, was taking part in a “round table” preview of the Six Nations tournament alongside ex-players Jeremy Guscott, Lawrence Dallaglio and Sean Fitzpatrick, when he made the insensitive remark.
He said of England in the Sunday Times piece: “I hate to say it but I utterly agree with Jerry (Guscott): since 2003, we’ve been retards at the breakdown.”
The chief executive of the London Centre For Children With Cerebral Palsy yesterday criticised Barnes’ “offensive” language.
Marc Crank said: “It’s very unfortunate. Barnes is young enough to know that retard is an offensive term. “It really isn’t appropriate to use and I think it sends out the wrong message.
“If you’re in your 80s, you can be a little more tolerant of this while not actually approving of it. But there’s no excuse here.