Whistleblowers ‘still barred in foundation trusts’ according to head of NHS despite pledge to help staff speak out
Vast numbers of NHS staff may still be prevented from acting as whistleblowers, the head of the NHS Sir David Nicholson has privately admitted.
Sir David, who refused to stand down over the scandal at Stafford Hospital, claimed he would personally help staff expose abuses.
He told MPs on the Health Select Committee two months ago it was not only a legal duty but ‘vitally important to patient safety to make it happen’.
He added: ‘As someone who was personally involved in whistleblowing some years ago, I personally regard this as a really important issue for me.
‘Wherever I see it, or if I have a whiff of it I immediately intervene in the organisations themselves and tell them what their responsibilities are in relation to that.’
But doctors have described his pledge as a sham after a letter emerged, written days later, in which he tells an NHS employee he cannot help them speak out because a ‘legal process’ had concluded foundation trusts are ‘separate legal bodies’ from the Department of Health.
The letter, seen by Channel 4 News, suggests vast number of NHS staff are therefore not covered by this duty of candour.
Foundation trusts, which run their own finances, were championed by the last Labour government and all hospitals are expected to be part of one by 2014.
One anonymous doctor – known as ‘Dr A’ told the programme she repeatedly complained about staffing levels she believed were putting her patients’ lives at risk.
Dr Peter Wilmshurst, a retired former whistleblower, told the programme about a junior doctor who complained about unethical behaviour.
The doctor was accused of dishonesty by their trust, which then spent £5million to keep them quiet.
Dr Wilmshurst and other whistleblowers called for an independent system so the doctor or nurse is not being ‘tried’ by the very people wanting to get rid of them.
NHS England said: ‘Sir David has always been clear he would intervene where he believed individuals were being stopped from whistleblowing.
‘Sir David though does not, and has not had, the power to direct NHS Foundation Trusts.
‘However, when contacted directly by individuals who are raising issues of concern relating to Foundation Trusts Sir David has raised these with Monitor and CQC where appropriate.’
Value for money? British students pay nine times more for their University fees – but get just 20 minutes extra a week with lecturers
University tuition fees have soared by nine times in the past six years – yet students are getting just 20 minutes extra a week with lecturers as a result.
A new study raises fresh questions about standards, revealing that on average an undergraduate at an English university spends about 900 hours a year on their studies, around 300 hours less than recommended by the university watchdog.
Studying for a degree at an English university is still ‘more like a part-time than a full-time job’, according to the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), which co-authored the report.
The study also highlights stark differences between institutions and between courses in the amount of time students spend with lecturers, and suggests that some undergraduates are studying for less than half the hours of their peers.
The 2013 Student Academic Experience survey, produced by HEPI and Which?, questioned thousands of students at UK universities for their views of their courses.
The findings show that the total student workload – both time spent in lectures and private study – now averages about 30 hours a week, equivalent to around 900 hours for each 29-week academic year.
This is around 25 per cent less than the 1,200 hours suggested by the Quality Assurance Agency, the study says.
HEPI’s report on the survey says: ‘In our previous report we commented that study at an English university was more like a part-time than a full-time job, and so it has proved again.’
The survey also shows that since the first HEPI Academic Experience survey was conducted in 2006, just before tuition fees rose from £1,000 to £3,000, the amount of ‘contact hours’ – time spent with academics in lecturers and seminars – has risen by just 20 minutes a week.
During this same period, fees have risen nine-fold from £1,000 a year to a maximum of £9,000 a year at English universities.
Students are getting just eight minutes extra with lecturers compared to 2007, when fees were £3,000 a year.
HEPI’s report on the survey says: ‘There is no sign that as students pay more they are receiving more for their money, and that is reflected in a sharp increase in the proportion of students who feel that they are not receiving good value for money.’
Around three in ten first-year students at English universities, the first group to face fees of up to £9,000, say that they do not think their course offers value for money, the survey found.
The survey does reveal that students generally believe that they are putting more effort into their studies, spending 14 hours and eight minutes on average on private study, over an hour more than in 2006.
The study comes after it was revealed that the Treasury fears the funding system is unsustainable.
The Treasury is said to be concerned that the new system – which sees students borrow up to £9,000 a year for their course fees – will not recoup its costs.
Officials anticipated that 28 per cent of loans would never be repaid. It is now understood that their estimate stands at 40 per cent.
How we start being ‘fattist’ at four: Study finds children would not think of overweight person as a potential friend
This very early emergence of a dislike for fat is consistent with it being genetically inherited. Fat cavemen could not run fast so were poor hunters and were scorned for that. The “war on obesity” can be seen then as following an inherited emotional reflex, not any rational judgment. Only thus can we explain that the war continues even though we now know that people of middling weight live the longest. An alleged health crusade is nothing of the sort
They struggle to read or even tie their shoelaces. But four-year-old children have already learnt to dislike fat people.
A study of 126 boys and girls who had just started school showed they were loath to think of an overweight story book character as a potential friend.
However, they had no qualms about ‘befriending’ the same character when he was of normal weight or disabled.
The Leeds University researchers said it seems that even very young children have picked up on the prejudice against fat people that pervades society.
Professor Andrew Hill read boys and girls who aged between four and six one of three versions of a specially-commissioned children’s book.
The story described a group of children and what happened when Toby, their ‘really naughty’ cat, got stuck in a tree.
In each case, the storyline was the same. However, the pictures varied, with Alfie, the main character, depicted as being of normal weight, overweight or disabled.
The schoolchildren, who were in reception class and year one, were then asked to rate Alfie’s attributes.
Fat Alfie was less likely to win a race, do well at school, be happy with his looks and get invited to parties than normal-weight Alfie.
The Alfie who was in a wheelchair was also marked down but not to the same extent.
Most tellingly, hardly any of the children said they’d want fat Alfie as a friend.
Only one of the 43 children read the fat Alfie version of the book chose him as a potential pal.
A female version of the story produced a similar result, with just two of 30 children saying they’d want to play with fat Alfina.
The results of the study, the first to show that children of such a young age stigmatise those who are fat, were presented at European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool.
Professor Hill said: ‘This research confirms young children’s awareness of the huge societal interest in body size.
‘It shows that by school entry age, UK children have taken on board the negativity associated with fatness and report its penalties in terms of appearance, school activities and socially.
‘This negativity was shared by another visibly different characterisation, a child in a wheelchair, but to a far smaller extent.
‘But there was some evidence that older children expressed more negative views.’
He said that with parents of obese children saying their youngsters are already socially isolated at the age of five, such views could underpin weight-related bullying and victimisation.
The professor said that he believes the youngsters are picking up on a prejudice towards obesity that is all around them, from the opinions of their parents to TV shows which ‘ridicule’ the fat.
He added: ‘I think we have an underlying social commentary about weight and morals and that the morality of people is based on their shape.
‘I think that is very powerful and kids are sensitive to it.’
Professor John Wilding, of the UK Association for the study of Obesity, said: ‘I think it matters because we know that the social stigma associated with weight problems is quite significant.
‘It is reflected in reduced employment opportunities and all sorts of other aspects of life.
‘If these stereotypes are starting in childhood, it is going to be very hard to reverse them.
‘I guess we need to think about how to change that in society.’
Britain ‘faces energy crisis unless ministers abandon green policies’
Britain must abandon its bias towards green policies or face an energy crisis, a key parliamentary adviser has warned.
Peter Lilley, a member of the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Advisory board, has warned that the UK’s hesitance to embrace shale gas comes at great expense to the country.
He cites decreasing gas prices in American as an example, where gas is a third of the price of what it is in Europe, and questions why Britain is “dragging its feet”.
The UK is potentially sitting on enough shale gas reserves to heat all homes in Britain for at least 100 years, experts at the British Geological Survey claimed in April this year.
However, there has been resistance to excavate the fossil fuel amid concerns about the possibility of earthquakes and water contamination if gases are leaked into the water table while the “fracking” process is carried out.
In an article for The Spectator, the Conservative MP accuses the Department for Energy and Climate Change as being “in disarray” over the issue, with some ministers now beginning to question the direction green policies have been heading.
He claims that the green lobby is in control of the Department for Energy, dominates the EU and is institutionalised in Whitehall via the Climate Change Committee. He also accuses them of deploying “scare stories with reckless disregard for the truth” on a scale comparable to the MMR scare.
“Whatever the power of Big Oil in the past, it has been eclipsed by Big Green,” he said.
Mr Lilley said the growing battle over shale gas is a prelude to an impending energy crisis, with the green lobby counting on green alternatives becoming cheaper as imported gas prices rise.
He argues that although viable alternatives to fossil fuels may be discovered in the future, any government policy based on the assumption that this will be imminent is “doomed to fail”.
“The sooner we wake up to that fact and throw off the thrall of Big Green, the better,” he added. “There are simply no affordable renewable technologies available [at the moment] to replace fossil fuels.”
The case for decarbonising the EU economy has weakened, he added, because China, India, USA and other will not follow suit. “The idea of Britain going it alone is risible,” he said.
A quarter of young girls with absent fathers ‘grow into depressed teenagers’ but boys cope better with parental separation
Girls need fathers too
Almost a quarter of girls whose fathers were absent during early childhood suffer depression as teenagers, a report says.
Some 23 per cent will show symptoms such as sadness or severe tiredness later in life if their parent leaves before they turn five, researchers found.
It makes them almost 50 per cent more likely to have future mental health problems than older girls, confirming previous studies that suggest pre-schoolers cope badly with break-ups because they are less likely to have a support network of friends and other family members.
Those ‘coping mechanisms’ meant just 15 per cent of over-fives reported signs of mental distress later on – the same as those whose parents stayed together.
Boys coped best of all with early parental separation, with less than ten per cent in the youngest age range going on to suffer teenage depression, psychologists found.
However, that figure jumped to 17 per cent for the five to ten age group – ten per cent higher than boys whose parents stayed together.
Lead author Iryna Culpin, from the University of Bristol, said: ‘The measure that we used was a non-clinical diagnosis of depression.
‘In reality the largest group of children whose fathers were absent between nought to five years, the girls, were the ones who answered the most questions with “yes”.
‘Girls whose fathers were absent in middle childhood, or boys in general, were less likely.
‘We saw that girls who experienced divorce and a father’s absence in the first five years were more likely to develop advanced mental health, or health, issues, later in life.’
About a third of British children experience separations or divorce before the age of 16.
In order to examine the impact of the timing of a split on children, researchers asked 5,631 teenagers whether they had experienced symptoms such as sadness, unworthiness or extreme lethargy in the past two weeks.
The participants were from the Children Of The 90s project – a group of almost 20,000 youngsters born in 1991 and 1992 who scientists are studying to help discover the causes of leading health and social problems. Using the background data, the research team were able to track their family circumstances and pinpoint the effect of a father’s departure on their mental health.
‘We cannot place judgment or blame on anyone but we are suggesting these girls might be more at risk later on in life,’ said Miss Culpin.
‘This study is dependent on a host of other factors, such as social and economic factors developing independently as well.
‘We cannot accord for all the experiences children go through, but from our studies girls are more at risk if their fathers leave early on in their childhood.’
The research, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, also suggests young girls are ‘more vulnerable to negative personal events’ than boys. However, they are not necessarily more likely to suffer from depression throughout their life, Miss Culpin added.
Routine coverup of crime by British police
Police officers are afraid to speak out about the dubious practices being used to conceal true crime rates, a senior police leader has claimed.
Steve Williams, chairman of the Police Federation, said officers were under huge pressure to keep crime statistics down.
In some cases, mobile phone thefts were being recorded as lost property, while a spate of burglaries might be registered as a single offence.
But whistleblowers who might have exposed such practices in the past were now afraid to do so in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry into Press standards.
The inquiry also looked into allegations of inappropriate links between a handful of senior police officers and a small number of journalists and, as a result, some chief constables had now effectively imposed gagging orders on their staff, said Mr Williams.
‘The latest crime figures showed a 5 per cent fall in crime but, based on the anecdotes I’m getting, I am not sure that is the case,’ he said. ‘Pressure is being brought to bear on frontline officers on the way they are recording crime.
Frontline police representatives suspect many victims do not bother to report crimes because their local police station is closed. Others no longer insure household goods and therefore do not report losses.
‘Cops are very reluctant to speak to the media and say how it really is. Some chief officers have imposed almost a gagging order on their staff. I do not think the true story is getting out because of the “fear factor” in the wake of Leveson about the effect going public would have on officers’ careers.’
Last night the police watchdog launched a review of how forces record crimes. Tom Winsor, Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said it would examine claims that officers downgraded crimes to appear less serious than the offences which actually took place.
The latest crime figures published last month show the number of offences recorded by police last year fell by 8 per cent to 3.7million. The independent Crime Survey for England and Wales said the estimated level of crime fell by 5 per cent to 8.9million offences against adults, based on a survey of more than 40,000 households.
Over five years, police recorded 400,000 fewer offences than reported in the Crime Survey. Mr Williams, a detective inspector in North Wales who represents 130,000 officers in England and Wales, said: ‘There is a lack of understanding in the wake of Leveson about what police officers can and cannot do.
‘Officers feel that speaking to journalists will lead to them being labelled troublemakers and that it could lead to them losing their jobs, facing discipline or affecting promotion prospects.’
Officers at the Police Federation’s annual conference in Bournemouth yesterday confirmed manipulation of crime statistics is common.
One said that a town in the North East did not officially have a single mobile phone theft in a month, instead recording every single missing device as ‘lost’.
Another said teams of officials are employed to determine if offences could be re-categorised so that they can be recorded as less controversial offences or even no crime at all. An attempted burglary might be registered as criminal damage.
Such changes improve the appearance of a force’s crime figures because they lower the numbers of high-profile crimes.
Announcing his review yesterday, Mr Winsor told the Home Affairs Select Committee: ‘Information is the oxygen of accountability and the information must be sound.’
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary will also look at allegations that some officers encourage prisoners to confess to crimes they had not committed in order to boost clear-up rates.
Earlier this year, the Office for National Statistics said officers were under ‘informal pressure’ to meet targets and could have downgraded some crimes.
Labour called for an inquiry into whether fewer crimes were being recorded as a result of cuts.
Police officers also suspect victims are finding it harder to report crimes because police stations are closing and fewer officers are on the beat.
Police chiefs say a reason behind the fall was the ‘over-zealous’ reaction of officers when new standards were brought in ten years ago.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘Crime is falling and police reform is working – recorded crime is down by more than 10 per cent under this Government.
‘At the same time, the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales shows crime is at its lowest level since records began.’
Boris is right: the world does not owe Britain a living
Much of the fault, to paraphrase Shakespeare, lies not in the EU’s yellow stars, but in ourselves
Boris Johnson, writing for The Daily Telegraph, made the point that not all of Britain’s problems can be laid at Europe’s door
Over the past few days, a great deal of politicians’ time – and the media’s attention – has been devoted to the subject of Europe. This is only natural: the issue of our future relationship with the European Union, and the benefits and drawbacks of continued membership, is of utmost importance both to many within Britain, and to the future of our economy.
Yet it fell to Boris Johnson, writing on these pages yesterday, to make one significant point: that not all of our problems can be laid at Europe’s door. The supporters of withdrawal certainly have a case when they castigate the EU for its bureaucratic, protectionist impulses. Yet other members – notably Germany – manage to find markets for their products, and drive on the productivity of their workforce, while still being subject to the same rules and regulations. Much of the fault, to paraphrase Shakespeare, lies not in the EU’s yellow stars, but in ourselves: what the Mayor of London decried as our “short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills, a culture of easy gratification and under-investment in both human and physical capital and infrastructure”.
The lazy criticism of such comments is that they do down Britain. But that is to misunderstand the situation. Put simply, there are two components to the British disease, in its 21st-century form. The first is the structural weaknesses in our economy: the fact that while our workers spend long hours at their desks, they produce less while doing so than their American, German or even French counterparts; that we are still unable to make enough things that others want to buy, hence the fact that our current account deficit recently reached its highest level since 1989; that the state spends far too much and taxes too much, and uses that money more to promote dependency than to build the infrastructure on which future growth depends, such as new airports and high-speed rail networks.
The second part of the problem has to do with culture and mindset: put simply, the sense that the world owes us a living. And it is on this score that the Coalition is having more success. With its talk of a “global race”, reforms to education, raising of the pension age and capping of benefits, it is starting to make the case that our rivals are not just in Europe, but around the world – that the quality of our companies, and our curriculum, and our workers, must be measured not just against those of France or Germany, but China, Singapore, Brazil and everywhere else, and that we must be leaner and keener in order to compete. The good news is that, while this is not always a comfortable message, it is one in which voters increasingly see the sense.