A hate-filled NHS bureaucracy with no regard for taxpayer funds or the welfare of patients
NHS trust spent £2m keeping skilled surgeon off work
An NHS trust spent at least £2 million of taxpayers’ cash preventing a highly-regarded consultant surgeon from working after management took a dislike to him, a tribunal has heard.
Bernard Palmer was put on ‘gardening leave’ for almost six years, until he reached 65, and was then prevented from working despite his firm desire to do so.
Mr Palmer, who practised at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage, Herts, is even now subject to a ‘gagging order’ preventing him from talking about financial aspects of his case, despite winning legal victories in the High Court and at employment tribunal.
Last night he said: “My career was effectively ended a decade early, at very great expense to the taxpayer.”
Campaigners say his case highlights how NHS trust boards can continue to throw public money at legal cases, with little external scrutiny.
Mr Palmer was suspended in 2003 after being accused of working outside his “area of expertise” during operations on two women with bowel obstructions.
He removed an ovary in one patient after spotting it had a cancerous lump, and he performed a partial hysterectomy due to extensive tumours.
Neither patient complained – a judge said the source of complaint remained “obscure” – and the trust never referred the matter to the General Medical Council.
Nonetheless Mr Palmer, who described himself as a “born surgeon”, was excluded from work until his retirement in 2009, except for a six-month placement elsewhere.
He later won a High Court case for breach of contract, and an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal and age discrimination.
The tribunal panel stated it was “sobering” that through his “prolonged and forced” absence, the trust “was paying him his full salary of £117,000 a year plus, of course, pension and National Insurance contributions”.
“Any reasonable employer would have made it an urgent priority to facilitate the return to work of such a skilled and highly paid professional,” found the panel.
A panel member said the total case was likely to have cost the taxpayer well over £2 million.
The panel ruled the trust’s behaviour amounted to “a truly shocking case” of “arbitrary and outrageous use of executive power”.
Professional rivalry appears to have underlain the situation. Some staff did not regard him as a team player and said he rarely compromised.
There was “a somewhat unpleasant atmosphere in the department of surgery at the Lister, apparently caused by professional rivalry and hostility between some of the surgeons”, found the panel.
It ordered the trust keeps paying him until he is 70, meaning it will have forked out almost £1.2 million in basic salary alone, not to mention pension benefits. Legal costs ran to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Last night Mr Palmer, 68, from Letchworth, who was supported by the Medical Protection Society (MPS), said: “I was blackballed, but no good reason was ever given.”
He continued: “I was a born surgeon, and spent 20 years to become a consultant. To have that suddenly taken away is terrible.”
“What really concerns me, is this problem is rife throughout the NHS. People are suspended for political ends, but they hardly ever go to court as they know it will be the end of their career.”
A trust spokesman said: “Mr Palmer was suspended originally in July 2003 following serious concerns raised about his clinical practice. The Trust has never since accepted that he was not working outside his field of expertise in the cases concerned.”
He said Mr Palmer had never been “gagged” from raising matters of patients safety of clinical practice, and that the confidentiality clause only extended to “details of financial arrangements”.
A spokesman for the MPS said that in 2009/10 108 doctors were “excluded” by their employers, pending GMC fitness to practice proceedings
It costs just 82p a day, so why won’t the NHS give us the drug that halts MS?
In July 2009, my husband took me to Henley Royal Regatta, the scene of many of his youthful triumphs. We enjoyed a long, hot sunny day sipping Pimm’s. It was bliss, not least because since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis the summer before, I had become increasingly anxious about outings to beaches or markets, or even parties and weddings.
For years, I’d been suffering increasing tingling and numbness in my limbs that became impossible to ignore. A clicking hip while pregnant with my youngest son – now seven – was followed by weakness in my leg, numbness in both feet, night cramps and weak bladder control.
After myriad appointments, tests and MRI scans, I received my diagnosis: primary progressive multiple sclerosis.
This is an uncommon form of the neurological condition which progresses inexorably. But like all variations of MS, in which the immune system turns inward and attacks the nervous system causing a raft of worsening symptoms, there is no cure. You are on your own.
Anything involving walking and standing became difficult. But then came salvation: a little-known treatment which I had been taking for just a month at that point called Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN). I found, like thousands of other British MS patients, that it vastly improved my symptoms.
Yet, incredibly, Naltrexone – traditionally used as a way to treat heroin addiction – has not been licensed for use in MS, so must be bought privately. And the majority of mainstream doctors dispute it is of any use, so trials are unlikely.
I am an Oxford-educated 50-year-old woman and like any intelligent person I read about any new drug trumpeted as a miracle cure in the press, where there is the odd flash of hope. Sadly, I have become used to taking the news of breakthroughs with a hefty dose of cynicism. Any innovation takes an age to reach the market and waiting for drugs to be assessed means patients are left despairing.
I wrote about my condition and its impact on a busy mother of three boys in this newspaper early in 2009. I received a slew of emails from readers, particularly fellow sufferers of MS, who urged me – in sensible, enthusiastic and articulate ways – to try Naltrexone.
It is a class of drug known as an opioid antagonist and works by inhibiting natural feel-good chemicals called endorphins, thus forcing the body to produce more. In turn this reduces painful symptoms and increases a sense of well-being.
It is given to drug addicts in a dose of 50mg, but since 1985 in the United States it has been used by a growing minority of innovative doctors in much smaller doses of 3mg to 4.5mg daily for the treatment of autoimmune disease.
When I asked, my GP maintained – and still does – that the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of LDN was weak. My neurologist feels the same, and says he would not support its use without further clinical data.
But other medics feel differently. Don’t forget that the drug is available on the NHS already, just for different conditions.
‘Three Health Secretaries have given written approval of its use on the NHS, yet so many GPs and neurologists still refuse to prescribe it,’ says Dr Bob Lawrence, who is listed on the LDN Research Trust website.
He has a personal history of MS and has prescribed LDN since 2000, crediting the resolving of his medical problem to the drug.
‘At less than £300 a year – about 82p a day – the cost is minimal compared with, for example, beta interferon, another drug for MS which costs between £9,000 and £12,000 a year,’ he says. ‘The reason no one prescribes it is because it hasn’t been trialled.’
I understand the refusal to prescribe new drugs without scientific basis but all I was left with was an airy suggestion to take extra Vitamin D. So I bought LDN through a website recommended by the LDN Trust. It asked for written confirmation from my doctor of my diagnosis, and I took my first dose in bitter-tasting liquid form in July 2009. What did I have to lose?
I didn’t notice any immediate difference to my left leg, but at least the day was not punctuated by frequent dashes to the loo.
The next morning I realised I had slept better than usual because I hadn’t been up during the night. Not once.
Walking to work the following week my leg had stopped dragging as it had been doing. The effects were minor, but noticeable, both physically and mentally. So I have continued to take LDN.
It feels positive to be taking something hopeful. LDN isn’t a miracle cure, and it’s not held up as one. Now my left leg is weaker. I can’t walk as far without getting tired. But, almost four years since I started taking it, it hasn’t got worse.
Apart from a yearly check-up with my neurologist, I don’t think about my condition. I still limp but the rest of my life – my sons, a husband, part-time work, holidays – continues.
What is so galling is that LDN supporters are forced to come across as evangelical nutters. Whatever happened to patient choice?
Woman collapses and dies after waiting three hours for paramedics
A holistic massage therapist collapsed and died after paramedics waited three hours to respond to 13 separate emergency calls, an inquest heard today.
Leisure centre staff made repeated 999 calls to get help for 48-year-old Christina Lindsay as she doubled over in agony with severe stomach pains.
But the cries for help were rebuffed by London Ambulance Service operators with a warning to “mind their language”, Westminster Coroner’s Court was told.
“At some point I demanded someone send an ambulance now as I could see the lady was in pain”, said customer service assistant Rocky Nwachukwu.
“I knew I was cursing due to frustration and seeing her in pain and not getting a positive response from the ambulance service. “But I was told to mind my language.”
Mrs Lindsay, born in Shenyang, China, under the name Hongxi Lui, was taken ill following a midafternoon swim on October 3 2011.
“While there, she swallowed pool water and began coughing”, said coroners officer Kim Bedwell.
“She was assisted to the changing room where she vomited and began complaining of abdominal pains.”
Rosalia Peluso, a sales rep at Seymour Leisure Centre, in Seymour Place, Edgware Road, northwest London, said staff expected the ambulance to arrive swiftly.
“She was in pain and not able to dress on her own, so I ask if she would like me to help”, she said.
“She was sat in a chair in the reception area and I remember her calling out, wanting help and had pains in her stomach.
“At some point she mentioned having pains in her arms as well.”
Duty manager Shaun McKinnar called for an ambulance at 4.15pm, and Mrs Lindsay was helped to a chair in the reception area to wait for paramedics to arrive.
Several staff at the centre offered help to Mrs Lindsay, and made a total of 13 separate 999 calls when the ambulance failed to materialise.
“On one occasion, I saw the lady had been moved from the chair to the floor and was lying on her back rocking from side to side”, said Mr Nwachukwu. “Clearly to me she was in pain.”
Mrs Lindsay, a holistic massage therapist, was teetotal and a non-smoker who had suffered hypertension since the birth of her son Adam in 2005, the inquest was told.
Her husband Stephen, an entertainment consultant, and her son arrived at the leisure centre before paramedics, and joined the frantic calls for help from emergency services.
“I remember work colleagues being angry with the ambulance staff while talking to them”, said fitness instructor Tahir Ozkan.
“I remember seeing her husband pacing up and down outside.”
Staff put her in the recovery position as her health continued to deteriorate, and Dr Damit Bhadura, a psychiatrist using the leisure centre, offered to help.
“I told the male member of staff I was a medical doctor and asked if he needed any help”, he said. “He appeared to be quite anxious.
“I was given a confused account, including swallowing water when swimming, chest pains, and abdominal pains.”
The inquest heard her blood pressure was raised, but the leisure centre did not have equipment to measure the glucose and oxygen levels in her blood.
Paramedics finally arrived to treat Mrs Lindsay at around 7pm, nearly three hours after the first emergency call.
She had by this point fallen unconscious and was rushed to St Mary’s Hospital, but it was too late to save her.
Toxicology reports found no alcohol or drugs in her system when she died.
Mrs Lindsay, of St Johns Wood Terrace, St Johns Wood, northwest London, was declared dead at 7.53pm that evening.
The inquest in front of deputy coroner Dr Shirley Radcliffe continues.
Elderly British patients diagnosed with ‘acopia’ – a disease that does not exist
Elderly patients often do not receive proper treatment because they are subconsciously ‘written off’ and diagnosed with ‘acopia’, a condition that does not exist, a former Government adviser on the elderly has said.
Professor David Oliver said that subconscious ageism within the NHS often meant the elderly are not correctly diagnosed and instead sent to care homes for treatable illnesses.
One study found serious conditions such as strokes, heart disease and Parkinson’s were being missed. Patients were instead diagnosed with ‘acopia’, which only means ‘failure to cope’.
Patients from the wartime generation typically do not want to “make a fuss”, he said, and so do not demand better care.
“Writing ‘acopia’ is basically saying ‘We’re not going to make a proper diagnosis. There’s that subconscious decision-making,” Professor Oliver, who has recently stepped down as National Clinical Director for Older People, told The Times.
Older people are “sometimes being written off and sent to care homes when they had perfectly treatable problems,” he said.
He added: “It’s easy for someone to come into hospital, they’ve got some dementia, they’re struggling to walk, and if you don’t really say, ‘Right let’s see what we can do to get you back on your feet’ in very short order they’re heading towards a nursing home, and sometimes it needn’t have happened.”
But older patients are often too willing to settle for inadequate care, he said.
“Often older people themselves in this country will be saying, ‘Not at my time of life doctor’, or ‘I don’t want to bother you doctor’.
“With the wartime generation they remember the NHS being founded, and what there was before, and they’re still generationally very grateful for the welfare state, they’re still respectful of professional and authority figures and they don’t generally like to make a fuss.”
He urged doctors to see past common occurrences in old age such as falls and confusion and conduct proper geriatric assessments.
No old-fashioned chivalry in a value-free world
Below is the sort of thing you get when you preach: “There is no such thing as right and wrong”. And feminist man-hatred doesn’t help either. Contempt for women is the obvious answer to such hatred
It was supposed to be a meeting of the brightest young intellects. Sadly, some of those involved in a prestigious student debating competition were only interested in small-minded behaviour.
They reduced two female speakers to tears with a barrage of sexist heckling. Students at Glasgow University made derogatory comments about the looks and chest sizes of Rebecca Meredith [above] and Marlena Valles as they took part in the finals of the annual Glasgow Ancients debating championship.
When one judge attempted to stop the heckling she was called a ‘frigid b***h’. Offensive comments continued during a party and ceilidh afterwards, it was claimed.
Miss Meredith, a politics student at King’s College, Cambridge, and Miss Valles, a law undergraduate at Edinburgh University, had reached the finals of the annual tournament that sees teams from Britain’s oldest universities compete. But as they spoke to the motion ‘This house regrets the centralisation of religion’ on Saturday evening, they were repeatedly interrupted.
Miss Meredith, 20, ranked among the top 20 speakers in the world, said that she was reduced to tears as she tried to make herself heard over the sexist heckles and intimidation.
‘The amazing Marlena Valles and I were openly booed by a small number of misogynistic male Glasgow Union debaters and members,’ she said. ‘Sexist comments were made about our appearance.’
One man yelled ‘Get that woman out my union,’ she said. ‘Our speeches were interrupted by cries of “shame woman” and boos at mention of female equality.’
When she and her debating partner complained, they were told it was ‘to be expected’ that female speakers would be booed.
Kitty Parker-Brooks, a judge at the competition, was abused as she tried to quieten the hecklers. She said: ‘I was sitting behind the boys from Glasgow Union and could hear them making audible derogatory comments about the speakers’ appearances – their hair, dresses, chest size, how attractive they were – physically picking them apart, as well as yelling “shame woman” and booing.
‘I shushed them – and one then called me a “frigid b***h”. I stood up and made a speech in the floor debate calling them out on their behaviour, saying they had acted absolutely atrociously.’
Miss Valles said on Facebook she was shocked and horrified. She wrote: ‘It is difficult to speak confidently to an audience that is booing you for the sole reason that you are a woman in a dress talking about women’s rights, especially when you are the only girls in the final. I had six separate members of the Glasgow University Union approach me and give the exact same apologist speech – “I’m sorry they did that but they aren’t bad guys and it’s just how it is here and how they are. They are only joking”.’
Marlena Valles, one of two female debaters heckled at Glasgow University
Miss Meredith said: ‘The amazing Marlena Valles and I were openly booed by a small number of misogynistic male Glasgow Union debaters and members’
Cambridge University’s debating club, the Cambridge Union Society, yesterday voted unanimously to end its reciprocal membership with the GUU and says it will not send students to debate there again.
GUU president David Lockhart said last night: ‘We would like to offer a full and unreserved apology. We will be contacting the individuals concerned to apologise personally. Displays of behaviour that are misogynistic or sexist are entirely incompatible with our values.’
The GUU did not admit women until 1980 and continues to host an annual men-only meal. Former debaters include the late Donald Dewar, the late Labour leader John Smith, Sir Menzies Campbell and Charles Kennedy.
Britain’s top judge attacks Theresa May’s criticism of judiciary
Britain’s most senior judge has launched an attack on Theresa May for criticising judges over their failure to deport foreign criminals.
Lord Neuberger said the Home Secretary’s strongly-worded criticism of immigration judges was “inappropriate, unhelpful and wrong”.
Neither ministers nor judges benefited and the attack last month, which singled out some judges for ignoring rules designed to enable more foreign criminals to be deported, were inherently unfair as judges could not fight back.
Lord Neuberger, who took over as president of the highest court in the land last October, also warned that such public attacks risked “destabilising” the delicate balance between Parliament and the judiciary.
Mrs May said the failure of judges to take new rules into account meant she would bring in new laws to stop them allowing foreign rapists and violent criminals to stay in Britain by claiming a right to a family life.
Asked about Mrs May’s attack, Lord Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court, said: “I’m concerned about it because I think it’s inappropriate and unhelpful for ministers to attack individual judges or groups of judges.
“For a minister to attack a judge I think is also wrong.”
He told the Daily Telegraph: “If we start attacking each other in public when each group was honestly trying to do its job, even if we don’t agree with the way they’re doing it, it does no credit either to the minister who’s attacking or to the judge who is being attacked.
“It’s bad for both of us and I don’t see what the benefit is.”
Asked if ministers should stop making such public attacks, he added: “Obviously I would prefer it if there weren’t any because I don’t think they’re appropriate.”
Lord Neuberger said ministers’ criticisms were unfair on judges who “don’t speak out in public against ministers”.
“One of the reasons why we don’t speak out is it just is destabilising for the system,” he said.
“We have a very good system in this country of distributing power and balancing power between the legislature, Parliament and the executive, civil service, ministers and the judges. We each respect each other’s turf.
“Inevitably there’s going to be tensions, indeed if there weren’t tensions something would be wrong. If the judges always did things ministers liked then there would be understandable suspicion as to what was going on.”
But he said any Government minister has “his or her own solution if a judge reaches a conclusion or adopts an approach the minister doesn’t like”.
“They can appeal the decision and if the appeal fails and the minister still isn’t happy then the minister can go to Parliament to change the law,” he said.
However, Lord Neuberger, 65, acknowledged the “pressures on people in public service, in particular on politicians” were great.
“I think that this happens from time to time,” he added. “It’s not the first time it’s happened.
“It’s fair to say, for both this government and the last government, that while there have been attacks on judges from time to time, which in my view are regrettable and shouldn’t happen, there’s never been any question of the government trying to do anything to undermine the independence of the judiciary, and that remains the position now.
“I’m concerned but I’m not alarmed.”
The Home Office declined to comment on Lord Neuberger’s remarks.
Bungling armed police involved in British triple murder inquest couldn’t be named – to protect their human rights
Crooked cop Cobain
A coroner banned the naming of bungling firearms officers in a triple murder inquest to protect their human rights.
In the latest secret justice farce, officers who wrongly allowed Michael Atherton to own guns were given anonymity to respect their ‘right to privacy’.
Police lawyers said their clients were worried about ‘the way in which they were talked about’ and feared ‘media pointing the finger’.
The ban was overturned following an appeal by the Daily Mail and it soon emerged that one of the officers dealing with Atherton, 42, had been selling on confiscated firearms while serving with the police.
It is the latest in a long line of orders banning journalists from reporting on the courts, which are supposed to be open to the public.
The order was made by Coroner Andrew Tweddle during the inquest into the death of Atherton, who killed himself, and three victims.
The taxi driver, who legally owned six guns, opened fire at his home in Horden, near Peterlee in County Durham, on January 1 last year. He killed his partner Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and Alison’s daughter Tanya Turnbull, 24, before turning the gun on himself. He also wounded his step-daughter Laura McGoldrick, 19, as she fled.
The inquest in Crook, County Durham, heard Atherton had successfully applied for a licence for a shotgun in 2006 and five further guns in 2008.
Officers in the firearms licensing unit at Durham Constabulary knew he had a history of domestic violence and self-harm but decided to grant his application.
One of them was Damien Cobain, a firearms inquiry officer later convicted of selling guns.
In his evidence, Cobain said he had never seen guidance by the Home Office or the Association of Chief Police Officers on the issuing of gun certificates.
Although he found Atherton had not disclosed his history of domestic violence he recommended that his application be accepted. Mr Tweddle describe the force’s procedures as ‘ad hoc ’.
An investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission into the shootings found that Atherton’s applications had not been properly scrutinised by Durham Police.
Six officers were to be made anonymous by Mr Tweddle. The order to hide their names was made under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights despite there being no legal precedent for it in the UK courts.
But after reading submissions by the Daily Mail and other media outlets, the coroner overturned the ruling, saying that open justice was more important.
Cobain has since left the force after his conviction in 2010, where he was given a suspended sentence for selling guns that were due to be destroyed after being surrendered by the public.
Disgraced Lord Mayor of Oxford quits for ‘telling 13-year-old schoolgirl she looked sexy when she bent down’
He probably spoke the truth in saying so and he harmed no-one — so the reaction seems rather hysterical
A disgraced Lord Mayor who allegedly told a 13-year-old schoolgirl she looked ‘sexy’ when she bent over has today resigned from his post.
Liberal Democrat Alan Armitage quit his coveted role as Lord Mayor of Oxford today after being accused of telling the teenager: ‘It’s sexy when you bend down like that’.
The alleged incident happened while the youngster and other members of an under-13s sport team were having their photograph taken with him.
The married father-of-three, who is a city and county councillor, claims he may have said ‘best if you stand next to me’ and was misheard.
Mr Armitage’s resignation follows a ruling by the council’s standards committee last week that it was ‘highly probable’ he did make an ‘inappropriate and disrespectful’ comment.
But the shamed public figure today announced his decision in an email to his fellow councillors and Oxford city council’s chief executive, Peter Sloman.
Despite quitting his role as Lord Mayor, it is understood he has not left his post as a councillor.