Little boy, 4, died after blunders by clinic at centre of NHS scandal
A four-year-old boy died after one of the hospitals shamed by David Cameron as having persistently high death rates repeatedly failed to diagnose his cancer.
Mackenzie Cackett’s tragic plight won the heart of the Duchess of Cambridge when she made a trip to The Treehouse hospice where the little boy spent his final weeks last year and where she is patron.
With Mackenzie vomiting and complaining almost daily of headaches, his desperate parents went to the scandal-hit Colchester General Hospital four times over seven months before doctors finally discovered a tangerine-sized tumour at the top of his spine.
It was removed but when the cancer returned it took a further two months for doctors to diagnose it, after dismissing his symptoms as ‘unrelated’ to his original tumour.
The hospital, which is under investigation over its death rates, has admitted making ‘administrative errors’, which meant that crucial appointments were never made and Mackenzie’s diagnosis and treatment was delayed.
His parents, James Cackett and Danielle Uren, from Halstead, Essex, have told how doctors dismissed their concerns and insisted Mackenzie was ‘perfectly healthy’.
They said nurses seemed more concerned with protecting themselves than Mackenzie after they filed a complaint when Danielle swore at them in frustration.
Mackenzie’s treatment has never been subject to a proper investigation and his devastated parents have been left wondering if he could still be alive if his care had been better.
Danielle, 29, said: ‘Mackenzie is just another statistic as far as the hospital is concerned. The treatment by Colchester Hospital has caused so much upset and guilt.
‘The fact they weren’t able to help him and have not acknowledged that they did so little makes us, as parents, feel guilty. They have avoided blame and it’s unacceptable.’
The family’s ordeal began in July 2010 when two-year-old Mackenzie began complaining of headaches and started vomiting.
GPs insisted repeatedly that he was healthy, but Danielle finally rushed her son to A&E at Colchester in September where he had blood tests and a stomach X-ray. But a crucial follow-up appointment to review the results was never made.
Several more hospital appointments also failed to come to a diagnosis and further administrative mix-ups meant an MRI was delayed for four weeks.
The scan, in February, finally revealed a tumour at the top of his spine – the spot he had pointed out to GPs seven months previously. Danielle said: ‘I burst into tears. I said, “He’s been telling you for months”.’
Mackenzie was rushed to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge for surgery, but when his symptoms returned in September 2011, he was again taken to Colchester.
The hospital claimed that his symptoms were unrelated to the cancer and he was sent home.
But in January 2012, Mackenzie woke up paralysed from the waist down and a scan at Addenbrooke’s revealed there was a second tumour on his spine.
His parents were told that he had between three days and two weeks to live. He died on May 28.
Danielle said: ‘We did not tell him he was going to die. He was too young to understand.
‘When he asked us why his legs weren’t working, we just said, “You’re legs aren’t well”, and he accepted it. It was difficult those last few months, but I shut all my anger away.’
Colchester Hospital said: ‘We have always made it clear to Mackenzie’s parents that our door is always open to them if they have any outstanding concerns they wish to discuss.’
Mother who was in agony after childbirth discovers doctors left placenta inside her for EIGHT WEEKS
A mother has described her suffering after bungling medics left her placenta inside her – for two agonising months.
Elizabeth Hart, 30, says doctors failed to spot the potentially fatal complication when she gave birth to daughter Poppy.
In the eight weeks that followed, her battle with constant pain and exhaustion left her unable to breastfeed.
But she claims that doctors at Queen’s Hospital in Romford, Essex, weren’t interested in her plight – and even refused to examine her when she went to A&E.
In desperation, she eventually booked an appointment with a private gynaecologist, who told her that she had not delivered the placenta and it had become infected inside her.
She said: ‘I was really ill [after the birth]. I was sent back to Queen’s two weeks later and they admitted me to the gynaecology ward.
‘I told the gynaecologist how ill I’d been and she wasn’t interested. The doctor at my eight-week check-up wasn’t interested either.
‘I was in lower-back and stomach agony and I didn’t have any energy. I’d tried to breastfeed, but I was too exhausted.
‘I didn’t bond with my daughter because I felt so ill and I had a bit of post-natal depression as a result. It made a big impact on my life.’
She has now set up a charity to support expectant mothers.
‘I don’t want this to happen to someone else,’ she said.
‘My aim is to build a network of midwives, social workers and mums with their own stories to help and guide women who are struggling.’
The make-up and hair designer, from Romford, said doctors at Queen’s Hospital had mentioned the condition ‘retained placenta’ anecdotally but did not diagnose her with it following Poppy’s birth last June.
Retained placenta is potentially life-threatening if left untreated because it carries a high risk of infection or internal bleeding.
A spokesman for Queen’s Hospital said: ‘I am sorry if Ms Hart is unhappy with the care she received. We have not received a complaint from Ms Hart, but would be happy to look into her concerns if she would like to contact us.’
On the website she has set up, Miss Hart explained that she struggled to breastfeed Poppy because her blood count was half what it should be.
‘After having Poppy, I felt seriously ill,’ she said.
‘However, the hospital and my own GP told me there was nothing wrong with me, and that it was normal to feel like this after giving birth. In fact, after my GP told me that I had an alarming amount of white blood cells, I paid privately to get to the bottom of the problem.
‘The only issue health visitors or gynaecologists from the NHS seemed to care about was that I was not breastfeeding.
‘The fact that I could not breastfeed because I was so unwell didn’t occur to them.’
David Cameron: doctors should have been struck off after Stafford hospital scandal
Doctors and nurses should have been struck off after the Stafford Hospital scandal, David Cameron said today, as he apologised for the “appalling” failure of care.
The Prime Minister said medical regulators must now explain why no one has been discplined after the Francis Inquiry detailed years of abuses at two Stafford Hospitals.
He said the “overwhelming responsibility” for the failures should be laid at the door of the board of Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust.
However, he said the Health Secretary will now be writing to the standards bodies for doctors and nurses to ask why medical staff involved in the scandal are still practising.
The report itself did not name and shame any officials or doctors. It blamed an “insidious negative culture” for years of poor care between 2005 and 2009, including patients left unwashed, in soiled sheets and thirsty.
Mr Cameron agreed that there should be no “scapegoating” but he also demanded answers about the failure of regulators to hold individuals to account.
“We can only begin to imagine the suffering endured by these whose trust in our health service was betrayed at their most vulnerable moment,” he told the House of Commons.
“I would like to apologise to the families of all those who suffered from the way the system allowed this horrific abuse to go unchecked and unchallenged for so long. “On behalf of the Government and indeed our country, I am truly sorry.”
In an unexpected move, Mr Cameron did not launch an attack on last Labour government’s policies, even though the scandal happened on its watch.
He said that “targets became too tight and too obsessive” but the last Government “recognised that and started to change the approach.”
In a partial defence of his own NHS reforms, Mr Cameron said some financial targets are necessary. However, he added that nothing is more important than patient care.
The Prime Minister would not be drawn on whether the Government will would implement the report in full but he did reveal there will be a new chief inspector of hospitals to oversee care standards.
Ann Clywd, an MP who has said her husband died “like a battery hen” in an NHS hospital, will help reform the health service’s complaints system.
Health minister will now decide which of the report’s recommendations to implement.
Robert Francis QC, who chaired the inquiry, suggested new standards for healthcare assistants, who work unregulated in the NHS. He also recommended a new “duty of candour” on doctors and nurses, which would oblige them to report malpractice.
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, said he wanted to examine the report more closely, but he is “sympathetic” to the idea of a duty of candour.
Boy falls foul of British definition of “offensive”
It’s offensive if someone else thinks it is
Ben Hayward, 14, was accused of making the racist hand gesture and clicking his heels while saying “Heil Hitler” to his unnamed teacher.
But the boy insisted he did not know he was being racist and was just stretching out his left arm to imitate his teacher’s gesture as she attempted to keep students quiet outside the classroom before the performing arts class.
Despite denying saying the phrase or that he clicked his heels, officials from Meopham School, in Meopham, Kent, handed him a two-hour detention.
But the schoolboy and his parents refused to accept that the incident was racist and demanded an investigation by the school, claiming the teacher was mistaken.
While the detention was initally postponed, officials later contacted his family to say Ben had to serve his punishment, despite the head teacher, Matthew Munro, admitting that the school was prepared to drop its claims that the incident was racist.
But last week, Ben returned from school and told his parents he had been in exclusion for the day. Ben’s phone was confiscated, he was placed insolation and communication with other children was “severed”.
Today, his father, Scott, 41, from Cuxton, Kent, said he now plans to lodge a complaint with the board of governors after the school failed to inform him why the punishment had “escalated”.
He said the incident had left his wife, Robyn, 37 and his other teenage son, 17, who also attends the school, deeply upset. The couple also have a three year-old daughter.
“We asked the school to talk to the teacher as we thought she may have misjudged the incident as racist,” said Mr Hayward, a director of a construction company.
“At most it could have been seen as undermining her authority but definitely not racist.
“If investigated properly with witness statements from the other 20 or so children there, it would show the teacher was mistaken.”
He added: “It’s been upsetting because Ben has been questioned again and again because we’ve not been getting answers from the school. They are keeping us in the dark. But we stick by our son.
“He was being silly and was just mucking about with his mates. There was nothing in it. He understands that he has done something wrong. We have been questioning him about it to make about what has happened.
“We are quite upset about this. We feel we have not been listened to. We did really like the school.”
Mr Munro today defended the school’s handling of the incident, which occurred in November last year.
“The standard procedure when students have an after school detention is if they miss it twice they will have a day of internal exclusion in our internal exclusion unit,” he said.
“We had discussions with Mr and Mrs Hayward and we did agree we wouldn’t categorise it as a racist incident but that it would be a serious incident and the punishment would stand.
“A racist incident is defined by perception of other people rather than the intention of the person who committed it and this is the point we tried to make.”
He added: “The fact remains a teacher took great exception and perceived the incident as racist. However, as I said this was a point we were willing to re-categorise and that is where we left it.”
The co-educational secondary school has about 650 students and has “specialist status” as a Sports College.
Last week the school joined the Swale Academies trust as a sponsored academy. The trust principal Jon Whitcombe was unavailable for comment
British recycling con: Millions of tons end up in landfill as officials admit success is exaggerated
Millions of tons of rubbish carefully sorted by families for recycling has been buried in landfill.
After years of denials, officials admitted yesterday that much of the waste councils claim to have recycled is turned away by depots.
A paper from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs revealed that most managers at plants that recycle rubbish for industrial use say that at best ‘some’ – and in other cases ‘hardly any’ – of the waste sent to them is usable.
The news confirms the fears of many householders – forced to comply with fortnightly collection rules and bin police regulations – that the painstaking recycling process ends when the dustmen have finished their round.
The abolition of weekly rubbish rounds for half the country in favour of fortnightly collections began eight years ago, supposedly to reduce landfill and carbon emissions. Many families must now sort their rubbish into several different bins, and official figures show 43 per cent of household waste is now recycled – around three million tons a year – up from just over 30 per cent seven years ago.
However, recycling has now levelled off and amounts of household rubbish sent to power-generating incinerators are going up.
Now it has emerged that the level of rubbish that is recycled has been exaggerated. The admission comes in a ‘quality action plan’ from Defra, which is under the control of Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.
The document contains proposals to revamp household recycling schemes run by local councils, warning: ‘Current recycling rates are likely to be overestimates as many do not account for material rejected by the MRF [materials recovery facility] during the sorting process in a robust manner.’
MRFs divide materials from household recycling bins into paper, metal, plastic and so on. Material is then sent from the MRFs to reprocessing plants, which turn waste material into usable products. However, these materials are also often inadequate.
The Defra report said a survey found that 60 per cent of reprocessing managers say that only ‘some’ or ‘hardly any’ of the material they are sent by MRFs is good enough to use.
Three quarters of the reprocessing plants added that recycling material delivered by councils is of worse quality than that from their other suppliers. The rejected material is often sent to landfill.
The survey, conducted by the Defra-financed Waste and Resources Action Programme, found that on average more than 18 per cent of mixed plastic sent to reprocessing plants cannot be recycled.
For mixed paper the figure is 15 per cent; for card and plastic bottles 12 per cent; and for newspapers and magazines 10 per cent.
The Defra document cautions: ‘If it transpires that material collected for recycling is sent to landfill or illegally exported, this can undermine confidence and damage efforts to increase recycling.’
The paper also acknowledges for the first time that the main reason for abolishing weekly rubbish collections, and demanding families put rubbish into separate recycling bins, is a European directive.
It reveals that EU rules now require householders to sort rubbish into separate bins, adding that ‘the revised Waste Framework Directive requires us to promote high-quality recycling as a way of maximizing the environmental benefits of recycling.’
Christine Melsom of the Is It Fair? council tax campaign said: ‘I am an enthusiastic recycler but I have been lied to. People will not obey recycling rules if all their efforts are for nothing.’
And Doretta Cocks of the Campaign for Weekly Waste Collections warned: ‘The more you make people obey complicated rules, the more likely they are to put out contaminated recycling.’ A spokesman for Defra said councils are to get new guidance on how to calculate recycling figures.
Resource management minister Lord de Mauley added: ‘The quality of [recyclable] material is important but often overlooked.’
Outrage among British Greenies as ministers ‘break vow’ to bring in levy on plastic bags
Ministers were last night accused of breaking promises to reduce plastic bag usage and its devastating impact on the environment by appearing to dismiss calls to charge a small fee.
Despite growing momentum to introduce a charge for the bags, Richard Benyon said it ‘may not be the best option’ due to ‘pressures on household budgets’.
Measures to slash the billions of carrier bags handed out by retailers every year were backed by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and then prime minister Gordon Brown when the Mail launched its ‘Banish the Bags’ campaign in 2008.
Usage initially dropped by 14 per cent, but the issue was then kicked into the long grass by the Coalition and in 2011 350million more bags were handed out.
Mr Cameron responded by issuing an ultimatum to supermarkets ordering them to deliver significant falls in numbers or be forced to by law.
A poll last year found a majority of the public would back a charge.
However Mr Benyon – the minister in charge of the natural environment – laid out objections on cost grounds, despite research showing a fee would make people re-use bags and therefore escape the charge.
Just three months ago farming minister David Heath said a charge – which has been successfully introduced in Wales at 5p, is coming to Northern Ireland in April and is being consulted on in Scotland – would change behaviour in ‘that very large middle group who want to do the right thing and feel guilty when they do not’.
Campaigners say plastic carriers are used for an average of just 20 minutes but damage the environment for hundreds of years, killing birds and wildlife which ingest them and blighting beaches.
Dr Sue Kinsey, senior pollution policy adviser at the Marine Conservation Society, said: ‘We are absolutely astounded that Richard Benyon has come to this decision.
‘Our research shows that bag charging is popular and effective.’
Green MP Caroline Lucas accused the Government of ‘betraying its promise’ to take action and said the Mail’s campaign had ‘demonstrated the level of public support for such a measure’.
It is understood the Treasury wanted to block a charge which could raise millions of pounds a year for good causes.
The Environment Department, Defra, insist they have not made a decision yet and are still monitoring the situation in other parts of the UK while ‘considering all the relevant factors, including the pressure on household budgets at this time’.
A Number 10 source denied the idea had been axed and said it was ‘still on the table, and we are looking closely at the situation in other parts of the UK’.
Immigrants in Britain to be banned from taking driving tests in foreign languages in bid to stop cheating and boost road safety
Immigrants are to be banned from taking driving tests in 19 foreign languages in a bid to stop cheating and boost road safety, it was announced Tuesday.
As well as beating fraud and keeping unsafe drivers off UK roads, the move to end foreign translations and translators will increase ‘social cohesion and integration’ in Britain and cut costs, the Government said.
Those learning to drive can currently take their theory and practical driving tests in any of 21 languages.
Nearly 145,000 tests are taken every year in languages other than English and Welsh – from Albanian to Urdu – at a rate of around 2,700 a week.
Of these, 108,374 were for the theory test and 35,000 for the practical test. The evidence also suggests that many were re-takes.
Plans to outlaw the test being carried out in ‘non-national languages’ are set out in a major consultation by the Government’s Driving Standards Agency.
Official figures show that since 2009 some 861 people had their theory test passes revoked after being coached on what to do during their theory and practical tests by ‘back-seat’ translators. Nine DSA-approved interpreters were also struck off for their part in such frauds.
Ministers are also concerned about handing licences to people who are unable to read road signs.
Currently people whose first language is not English or Welsh can request pre-recorded voice-overs for the computer-based car and motorcycle theory tests in 19 foreign languages.
The 19 Languages covered by interpreters are: Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, Dari, Farsi, Gujarati, Hindi, Kashmiri, Kurdish, Mirpuri, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Pushto, Spanish, Tamil, Turkish, Urdu.
Candidates can also use approved interpreters on theory tests, usually if a voice-over is not available in a candidate’s native language, or where a candidate speaks a dialect that would make a voice-over difficult to understand.
Interpreters can also be used in practical tests to translate the examiner’s instructions. Candidates have to pay for interpreters themselves, but the cost of developing and updating voice-overs for the theory test is met by the DSA. Ministers say the service, introduced by Labour, costs taxpayers £250,000 a year.
There are currently 122 approved interpreters for the theory test where the potential for fraud is seen as more acute. However, a DSA spokesman said: ’For the practical test, candidates can bring anyone to interpret for them’.
Of 1.68 million theory tests carried out in 2011-12, some 106,112 used foreign language voice-overs and 2,262 involved an interpreter being present, making a total of 108,374.
When individual theory candidates are counted, some 57,361 requested voiceovers and 1,690 requested interpreters in 2011/12, suggesting many re-sat their tests at least once.
Of the 1.57 million practical driving tests conducted in 2011-12, ‘around 35,000 were conducted with an interpreter present,’ says the new report. When individual practical test candidates are counted, some 19,555 requested interpreters, again suggesting that many took their test more than once.
Announcing the plans to remove voice-overs on the theory test and scrapping the use of interpreters on all tests, road safety minister Stephen Hammond said allowing interpreters on tests for those whose first language is not English ‘presents the risk of fraud’.
Launching the eight-week public consultation, Mr Hammond said the Government’s ‘preferred choice’ was to remove all voice-overs and translation services in non-national languages.
He added that interpreters could, for example, ‘indicate the correct answers to theory test questions’.
Mr Hammond said: ‘There is a potential road safety risk of drivers not understanding important traffic updates or emergency information, but allowing interpreters on tests also presents the risk of fraud, for example if they are indicating the correct answers to theory test questions.’
It would reduce fraud by addressing ‘the problem of an interpreter attending for test with a learner driver and communicating advice beyond a strict translation of the theory test questions or the instructions given by the examiner.’
Lives could also be saved by improving road safety, he stressed, saying: ‘There is concern about the ability of non-English or Welsh speakers to understand road signs and other advice to drivers.’
He said the move would also help to ‘enhance social cohesion and to encourage integration in society by learning the national language’.
Mr Hammond noted: ‘We want to ensure that all drivers have the right skills to use our roads safely and responsibly. We also want to keep test fees to a minimum for candidates, and I am not convinced that providing translations is the most effective use of resources’
Britain’s now the migrant magnet of Europe: 600,000 come here in one year… twice as many as go to France
Britain has become the biggest magnet for migrants in Europe, EU officials revealed yesterday.
The highest total recorded – 590,950 – came to live here in 2010, their figures showed. This intake was more than twice the 251,159 migrants who opted to go to France.
It means that this country has overtaken Spain and Germany, where levels fell sharply, as the top target for immigrants seeking jobs and a new home.
The rise in numbers coming here marks a historic immigration landmark and comes as a new wave of incomers from Romania and Bulgaria is expected in 2014.
Whitehall has declined to publish its estimates of how many will come then.
For decades, Germany has had higher immigration levels than Britain while Spain’s rates shot ahead ten years ago as its boom drew millions from Spanish-speaking Latin America.
French immigration dropped below British levels in the 1990s.
But the latest analysis by Eurostat, the EU statistics arm, indicated that economic collapse in Spain and tighter controls in Germany have made Britain the main destination for migrants from Europe and elsewhere.
The comparisons cover 2010 but the UK is likely to have retained top place in the immigration table.
Latest figures show there were 536,000 long-term immigrants to Britain in the year to April 2012.
The level is far ahead of likely totals for Spain and Germany, despite the efforts of the Coalition to cut the numbers of unskilled foreign workers.
Its limited success in this may be further highlighted next year when EU legislation allows Romanians and Bulgarians the unfettered right to live and work in Britain.
German cities facing less pressure from immigration than their British counterparts have already complained of the impact of migrants from the two Eastern European countries. Yesterday, the Mail reported that they have warned Chancellor Angela Merkel about ‘significant costs of poverty migration’ and a risk to ‘social peace’.
Think-tank Migrationwatch warned that restricting the impact of immigration here is going to be a major headache for ministers.
Its chairman, Sir Andrew Green, said: ‘These figures are yet another indicator showing that Labour lost control of immigration. Our mass immigration far exceeds that of all the other major countries in Europe.
‘The Government is making huge efforts to get the numbers under control but it is not going to be easy given that Britain has become the destination of choice in Europe.’
Immigration into Britain was running at just over 300,000 a year until rising under Labour in 1997.
Numbers passed 400,000 in 2003 and 500,000 in 2004 when the borders were opened to workers from Poland and eight other EU countries.
Germany, Spain and almost all other EU countries put curbs on Eastern European workers.
UK officials predicted that only 13,000 Poles would arrive but, in fact, more than a million did so and Polish is now this country’s second most common language.
Immigration peaked in 2010 and dropped to 566,000 in 2011. Full figures for 2012 have not yet been published.
After coming to power in 2010, the Coalition promised to cut net immigration to below 100,000 a year.
But ministers have struggled to reduce this statistic, which measures how migration increases the population after immigration and emigration have been counted.
The figure fell from 252,000 in 2010 to 183,000 at the latest count. However, it is still well above net migration in Germany, whose population swelled by 151,600 in 2010. That year, Spain’s net immigration was just 62,200 as 400,000 quit its collapsing economy.
Eurostat said immigration restrictions had been a success across much of the EU. Limits focused on attracting specific migrants to combat skills shortages, based on language proficiency, work experience, education and age.
It added: ‘Significant resources have been mobilised to fight people smuggling and trafficking.’
The figures reveal how the dramatic fall in migration to Spain and Germany began in 2009 as the recession began to bite. In Germany, it fell from 682,000 in 2008 to 404,000 in 2010. In Spain, it fell from a peak of 958,000 in 2007 to 465,000 in 2010.
The impact of immigration to Britain was underlined by the 2011 census, which showed the population was 63.2million, half a million more than expected.
There were four million immigrants in a decade, whose arrival helped push the population of England and Wales up by 3.7 million.
It isn’t those who oppose gay marriage who are the bigots – it is the liberals who demonise them
Most British people are in favour of gay marriage. Those who aren’t constitute a minority, mostly comprised of people who are elderly or dim, or both. In 50 years’ time, the thought that anyone could oppose gay marriage will seem as outrageous as the fact that people were once in favour of slavery.
This is what I have heard on the BBC in recent days. I have listened to the often admirable Peter Kellner of the pollster YouGov asserting that those who are against gay marriage are in a minority. A man from Ipsos Mori, whose name I can’t remember, said something similar.
The BBC, too, has quoted polls which supposedly prove that most people are pro gay marriage. In its customary spirit of even-handedness, the Corporation has constantly wheeled out the Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, who had described those against gay marriage as a ‘nest of bigots’.
And my oh my, didn’t those Tory MPs opposed to gay marriage, who were cunningly unearthed by the BBC, sometimes look gruesome? If these not always very bright or alluring people were typical representatives of the antis, did one really want to be one of their number?
After a time, even I began almost to believe that the national mood had been transformed and that there must be a strong majority of people who passionately want gay marriage — with only a bigoted minority against. Roll with the times, said a voice in my head. It’s what David Cameron believes.
And maybe, I reasoned to myself, those in favour were right. Who are we Christians to lay down the law in a country that is no longer Christian? Isn’t love what matters? Why should gays be excluded?
Isn’t Mr Cameron correct to say that marriage is such a splendid institution that it should be enjoyed by homosexuals, too?
Then I heard a Tory MP whom I hadn’t heard of speak in the Commons debate on Tuesday. David Burrowes, a leading opponent of gay marriage, described how he had been called a Nazi and a bigot and subjected to death threats because of his views. His children had been told that their father is a bigot and a homophobe.
I thought of Polly Toynbee, and her ‘nest of bigots’. What nasty, intolerant language to use. The language of a bigot, in fact. I asked myself whether anyone I knew, or had heard, spoke about the supporters of gay marriage in such terms. I couldn’t think of any.
Then I took another look at the YouGov poll so freely cited by the BBC. It’s true that 56 per cent of respondents said that they were in favour of gay marriage, but there were 38 per cent against. That’s a substantial minority, and perhaps the figures would be different if the question were asked in a different way.
For example, a ComRes poll commissioned by a group called the Coalition for Marriage asked whether ‘marriage should continue to be defined as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman’. This poll found 53 per cent in favour of this proposition and 36 per cent opposed.
I wonder how often this poll was mentioned by the BBC. I’ve heard no reference to it. To a large extent, the question frames the answer. YouGov put it one way, ComRes another.
My guess — no, it is closer to a conviction — is that only very few people are passionately in favour of gay marriage. Indeed, the YouGov survey found that only seven per cent of voters rate the issue as one of their most important concerns.
Moreover, the British are polite and tolerant people, unwilling to erect barriers against their fellow citizens. They are also terrified of being branded as ‘homophobic’, which has joined ‘racist’ and ‘Nazi’ in the lexicon of things that none of us wants to be.
I don’t think many people want gay marriage. I even doubt that the majority of gays do. Indeed, ComRes asked gays and lesbians whether they would consider entering into a gay marriage: only 31 per cent said they would. For all the noise created by campaigners, it’s not the burning issue David Cameron thinks it is.
But it does worry a significant number of people, many of them Christian, some of them Muslims, who have been demonised by secular liberals such as Polly Toynbee as bigots or loonies who won’t adapt to the times and, so it is claimed, are stuck in the past.
Is the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, an atavistic bigot? Are most Anglican and all Roman Catholic bishops? Are the nice people in my church congregation (few of them Tories, I suspect) also bigots?
And are the 136 Conservative MPs who voted against the Bill on Tuesday (despite some informal whipping in what was supposed to be a free vote) all bigots, along with the 22 Labour and four Lib Dem MPs? Just for believing what, until the day before yesterday, almost everyone believed, and many still do?
How brilliant the secular liberals are at stigmatising the mainstream beliefs of moderate people, and trying to frighten them into believing that they are extremists who must change their ways. But it is the liberals, in their intolerance and caricaturing of their opponents, who are the real extremists.
There’s nothing new about this. Over the past 50 years, similar tactics have been used to introduce one revolutionary social reform after another, often with undesirable consequences, though usually presented at the time in a spirit of measured reasonableness.
As a result, we’ve got abortion on demand, pornography accessible to every child with a computer, and contraceptives handed out to 14-year-old girls like lollipops, without their parents having the right to know. What next? The legalisation of drugs, perhaps.
The social campaigners win one battle and go on to the next. The social conservatives put up a fight, and nearly always lose. So it goes on.
What was novel about this particular battle is that the Tory leadership is fighting on the side of — no, leading — the secular liberals. It marks a watershed in modern Britain when the leader of the party to which instinctively conservative people might be expected to look — that’s still most of us — champions social revolution.
Mr Cameron has said he believes in gay marriage because he is a Conservative. The evidence of Tuesday is that many Conservative MPs have an entirely different concept of conservatism.
The Prime Minister (who couldn’t be bothered to listen to the debate in the Commons on Tuesday) may win the votes of a few ‘metrosexuals’, but he will probably lose the support of many more Tories.
More lethally, far from showing that his party is modern and ‘de-toxified’, he has succeeded in having it represented by its political enemies, and the BBC, as divided and still toxic.
And for what? David Cameron may have pleased a few fervent supporters of gay marriage, but he’s dismayed many people, not least in his own party, who see themselves as part of the mainstream.
The real problem destroying the NHS? Politicized bureaucrats
The remark was made only in passing, but it summed up the problem that has blighted our National Health Service for far too long.
I was standing next to a porter in an NHS hospital corridor. Ahead of us clustered a group of men and women in suits, sipping coffee. I had never seen them on the wards. Who were they? ‘Managers!’ the porter snorted. ‘The only time you see them is when they are hovering around the coffee shop. They never go on the wards. All they do is get in my way when I push a patient through.’
I thought of his words this week when Julie Bailey, co-founder of the lobby group Cure the NHS, described the horrors she had witnessed on the wards of Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust. ‘You only had to open a ward door at the hospital …. to know that care was appalling. But the people in charge chose not to do that.’
Nor was it just managers who failed to take that simple step of opening the ward doors. It goes all the way to the top.
Yesterday Robert Francis QC published his second report into the failures at Mid Staffordshire, laying bare how a wide range of commissioning, supervisory and regulatory bodies in the NHS — right up to the most senior figures at the Department of Health at Whitehall — also failed to see for themselves just how their policies were playing out on NHS wards.
Had they done so, they would have seen how the Trust’s desire to be granted ‘foundation status’ — and the financial freedoms that went with it — was causing patients ‘horrific experiences that will haunt them and their loved ones for the rest of their lives’. Those were the words of Francis in his first report two years ago.
How could our NHS have sunk so low?
I spent 10 months investigating NHS management for a think-tank report, visiting hospitals and talking to staff and patients. The failings that turn hospitals into killing fields were there for anyone to see. I fear they still are.
Because despite its excellent analysis and 290 recommendations, the Francis report does not confront the central problem: the politicisation of the NHS.
Under Labour our health service, with its top-down, target-driven culture, became a PR machine for the government at the expense of patients’ lives. It became a bureaucratic behemoth whose hospital managers worried far more about pleasing their Westminster masters than about the sick and vulnerable in their care.
Now it is going through yet another political upheaval under the Coalition, as control over budgets is handed directly to panels of GPs. But the central problem remains the same: the NHS is still a monolithic state industry, too often impervious to the public it is meant to serve.
During my investigation, NHS chief executives and middle managers regularly complained to me that the majority of their time was spent not on their hospital and patients but on NHS central bureaucracy and responding to its sometimes hourly demands. As one chief executive said sadly to me: ‘Above all, I realise what my job is really about is politics.’
New initiatives continually cascaded from Whitehall. At one meeting of senior managers ‘compliance issues’ took up all of the agenda. How could they afford to implement the latest government initiative and pay for a manager to check compliance? Which initiative had now moved out of fashion and could be quietly dropped?
The only time they discussed what was actually going on in their hospital was over the issue of staff parking.
On the wards it was a similar story. Junior doctors and nurses came up with new ideas to streamline the system, save money or help patients. They were ignored. No one of any seniority was interested: they were too busy looking upward, not downward.
Improving your patients’ lot does not win promotion. Compliance with the latest fad from the Department of Health, irrespective of its damage to the patient, does. Yet the Francis inquiry makes no mention of Whitehall’s culpability. While civil servants continue to micro-manage our hospitals, staff will continue to put them first and patients a poor second.
In response to the inquiry’s recommendations, David Cameron announced yesterday that he was setting up one regulatory inspector for the NHS. This is certainly a step in the right direction. But will it really make the radical difference our NHS so urgently needs? Forgive me for being sceptical.
Patients continued to die at Mid Staffordshire because the countless organisations that are meant to monitor and scrutinise noticed nothing.
They, like everyone else, failed to go on the wards and see what was going on. It meant, as Francis points out, that the Trust board could rely on ‘apparently favourable performance reports by outside bodies, such as the Healthcare Commission,’ rather than ‘effective internal assessment and feedback from staff and patients’.
Perish the thought of anyone actually approaching a patient to ask their opinion.
Even those who tried to raise the alarm were ignored. Amanda Pollard, an inspector at the Care Quality Commission (CQC), specialised in the control of infections such as the MRSA superbug. At the time, this was a major concern on every trust’s radar. Inspections were carried out at Mid Staffordshire over two days and resulted in a detailed, in-depth report highlighting critical failings.
But then new initiatives came down from the centre and the focus of the trust changed. The infection teams were disbanded. As Pollard says: ‘I could not believe something so effective could be thrown away.’
Unfortunately no one informed the superbugs that they were off the agenda. They continued to kill patients on Mid Staffordshire wards. Bravely, Pollard resigned from a job she loved and went public with her concerns. The Francis inquiry now calls for a similar duty of candour to be imposed on NHS staff. But how effective can this be if the culture itself is not confronted?
Plenty of staff raised concerns at Stafford Hospital. When Pradip Singh, consultant gastroenterologist, complained, he was temporarily suspended. After that, he felt he had to consider his family and mortgage.
The truth is, it is not up to staff to implement the wholesale change the NHS needs. It is the job of government and the Department of Health.
The report also fails to acknowledge how the problems at Mid Staffs first came to light. Patients, we should remember, could still be dying in pain and squalor were it not for the Dr Foster Unit, an independent health data organisation established in 2002 at Imperial College. In 2006, it was their research which showed that the Trust had an excess death rate of 27 per cent above the national average.
Crucially, the unit was not part of the top-down culture where it is in no one’s interests to ask awkward questions for fear that it might harm your career. Far from offering thanks, the hospital board attempted to rubbish Dr Foster’s figures while a further 231 people died.
The Francis inquiry has correctly identified the institutional culture that caused so much suffering and death. But it has sidestepped calling for an overhaul of the system.
It is an opportunity lost. It means that in hospitals around the country the unreality of government-speak will continue to come up against the reality of too few staff and too many patients, to the detriment of us all.
While the careers of politicians, civil servants and managers depend on camouflaging this uncomfortable fact, we will have a health service that, as Chris Turner, a junior doctor in Stafford Hospital’s A&E, so chillingly put it, is ‘immune to the sound of pain’.
A generation of ‘little savages’ raised in nurseries as daycare is linked to aggression in toddlers
A rapid increase in nursery places has led to a generation of violent ‘little savages’, psychologist Oliver James has warned.
Mr James, the best-selling author of books on child-rearing, said ministerial proposals to allow childcarers to look after more youngsters would fuel aggression in the under-threes which would have lasting effects.
Shoving youngsters in to nurseries was simply ‘warehousing’ them so that the government could push mothers back to work to reap income for the Exchequer, he argued.
Nursery places in Britain have expanded at the same time as a rise in violence in primary school classrooms.
The author of How Not to F*** Them Up said: ‘We start off as Barbarians and what makes us civilised is being loved and looked after.
‘If you are an 18 month-old in a nursery, it is impossible for you not to feel threatened. You are surrounded by savages and you are a little savage too.’
Mr James criticised Education Minister Elizabeth Truss’s proposal to allow childminders and nursery staff to care for more children with fewer employees.
He told the Mail: ‘To try and look after three young toddlers is hard but to try and look after four is just mad. How on earth do you do that well and meet their needs?’
Mr James pointed to a study in America which tracked youngsters for 15 years. It showed a correlation between the hours placed with nursery to increased aggression and bad behaviour, reported by both parents and nursery workers.
‘Studies show there is a direct link between how many hours you spend in daycare up to the age of four and a half and how aggressive you are.’
The Mail has also highlighted how 40 primary school children in England are expelled every day for assaulting their teachers. Violence levels have soared most in the South East – rising 41 per cent from 2006/7 to 2010/11. Some 8,030 pupils aged five to 11 received were expelled in 2010/11 – a 15 per cent rise over four years.
‘The explosion of violence in the classroom is very plausibly linked to the rise of daycare under New Labour,’ Mr James said.
‘Since this generation of primary kids are the ones who are reaping the harvest of Harriet Harman and her colleagues’ plans of turning SureStart into a giant creche, it is not surprising that we are seeing more violence.
‘No one can deny that daycare increases aggressiveness of toddlers. A toddler raised at home with a single carer is six times less likely to be aggressive than one enduring more than 45 hours a week daycare and the more daycare a child has, the greater the aggression. This aggression is sustained and predicts greater problems in primary schools.’
Mr James pointed out that politicians often did not use day care and themselves hired nannies to care for their children.
He said there was a need for British-based research to study the long-term effects on children who are ‘warehoused’ in nurseries.
Instead of expanding nursery places or encouraging childminders to take on more youngsters, the government should create a network of nannies.
Government proposals to demand higher qualifications from nursery staff would do little to raise the standards of care, Mr James added. He said: ‘There are armies of East European women who do not have any training in childcare at all but many are far better than indigenous childcarers who scrape through school and are doing it for the money, often spending the day texting their boyfriends.’
Fulltime nursery places in England soared from 431,600 to 721,500 between 2003 and 2011, according to official figures provided by the Family and Parenting Institute and Daycare Trust
Jill Rutter, research manager for the Family and Parenting Institute and Daycare Trust said: ‘Oliver James uses evidence from the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development childcare study as evidence that nurseries fuel child aggression. Yes, he is right in one way: long hours of nursery care were associated with increased behavioral problems in children of four and five in this study. But the same study showed that this was a small effect compared with the quality of parenting. Moreover, children who attended high quality nurseries were much less likely to experience later behavioural problems.’
She added that nannies may be better for babies but few parents could afford the £25,000 to £30,000 cost. ‘Nurseries or registered childminders are the only affordable option for most parents. Given this reality and the findings of the US study about the effects of quality, we should be promoting quality nursery and childminder care, rather than criticising working parents.’
The charity has itself opposed any loosening of the ratios for children, warning that the quality of care would suffer.
A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘This research is about children spending time away from their parents; it is not about nursery staff: child ratios.
He added: ‘In fact, the best education systems consistently prioritise staff quality over the size of classes, as the OECD has said. Nursery staff qualifications are crucial when it comes to the quality of early education.’
Andreas Schleicher, deputy director for education and special adviser on Education policy at the OECD, said: ‘High performing education systems consistently prioritise the quality of their staff over the size of classes. OECD’s work on early childhood education underlines the importance of having staff with proper educational qualifications and that staff qualifications are the best predictor of the quality of early childhood education and care.’