Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Just don't fall ill

Is anyone really shocked to discover the National Health Service betrays Britain’s elderly?

The report by NHS Ombudsman Ann Abraham details ten cases where patients have been neglected, left hungry, without water, in squalor and in pain.

As anyone involved with the sordid saga of Stafford Hospital could confirm, these are not isolated incidents. Shabby treatment is commonplace.

Surely the time has come for us to accept the NHS is not the magnificent social benefactor we like to think it is.

Free health care – or, at least, care which is free when we need it – is a wonderfully humane ideal we all enjoy. The last thing we want is to be reaching for the credit card in the middle of a heart attack.

On the other hand, the very nature of the NHS leads its vast army of employees to see themselves not as the servants of their patients but as their masters.

The NHS is an organisation whose principle aim is to care for the welfare of its own staff. Second come politicians who claim credit for pouring our money into its ever-open maw. The patients come a poor third.

Horror stories of maltreatment at the hands of the NHS are legion.
After Ms Abraham’s report, the finger of blame has been pointed firmly at nurses whose duty it is to tend to the basic every-day needs of their patients.

Nurses do, indeed, deserve much of the blame. According to an old-school “angel” I was talking to the other day, what many modern nurses lack most of all is compassion.
There is little fellow feeling for the human beings they are supposed to be looking after.

My friend said she recently held the hand of a very sick man who was on his last legs. He smiled wanly at her and said: “Do you know, you are the first person in this hospital who has showed me any sympathy?”

It is not all the fault of nurses, though. The whole of the NHS culture needs to change.

Because we patients do not pay directly for our treatment, NHS staff see no need to treat us as customers who pay their wages.

They think they are doing us a favour by deigning to minister – however half-heartedly – to our needs.

At the start of the fifth inquiry into the Stafford Hospital scandal, his second as chairman, Robert Francis QC said he’d already heard “many stories of appalling care”.

As he listened, “the question that went constantly through my mind was, why did none of the many organisations charged with the supervision and regulation of our hospital detect that something so serious was going on, and why was nothing done about it?"

After his last inquiry, Mr Francis said: "The deficiencies were systemic, deep-rooted and too fundamental to brush off as isolated incidents."

The terrible truth is that the “systemic, deep-rooted and fundamental” deficiencies at Stafford Hospital can be found throughout the NHS.

In some cases, our hospitals kill patients who should survive. In others, they cause pain and humiliation.

Yet still we regard the NHS as some kind of totem, to be worshipped and protected from every attempt at change or reform.

One terrible day, each of us will fall into its clutches. When we do, of course we want happy, well-paid and well-trained staff to care for us.

The Government’s plans to reform the NHS, by giving family doctors the money to buy services, may help. Perhaps they will refuse to send patients to the most inhumane and degrading hospitals which will, as a result, be forced out of business.

Somehow I doubt if it’ll work like that. GPs are part of the problem. Every time I see my own doctor’s BMW with its personalised number plate, I think we must be paying him too much.

I never get a chance to discuss this with him, however, because it’s almost impossible to get an appointment in less than three weeks’ time.

Perhaps he thinks that, by delaying it so long, the patient will either be cured of their ailments and won’t need to be seen at all or they’ll be dead.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What was it Enoch said?

Today's news:

More than three million migrants came to Britain under the previous Labour government, campaigners claim.

Migration Watch UK said official figures to be released on Thursday will show for the first time that net migration since Labour came to power in 1997 topped the three million mark.

Sir Andrew Green, the think-tank’s chairman, said: “The sheer scale of what has occurred is changing Britain fundamentally and irrevocably and in ways the majority of the population did not ask for, were not consulted about and did not wish to see.”

Read more:

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Steamed up about free speech

Speech isn’t free in this country. You never have had the right to say anything you want. And sometimes it’s extremely expensive indeed.

Sky football commentator Andy Gray knows the high price that can be paid if you speak your mind, even in private.

But imagine you’re no more than a devoted steam railways fanatic and you find yourself with a legal bill of £335,000 as a result of something you wrote in a newsletter distributed to 413 people.

That’s what happened to Tom Watson and Richard Corser when they were involved in publication of an article in a newsletter for the 400 members of the 6024 Preservation Society.

The society is dedicated to preserving an old Great Western Railway steam engine called King Edward I. If you’re a steam buff, King Edward I is one of your pin-ups.

It was built in 1930, at a cost of £7,500. It ran for over 30 years hauling services such as the "Cornish Riviera Express", "The Bristolian", "The Inter City" and the "Cambrian Coast Express" sometimes travelling at over 100 mph.

It was withdrawn from service in 1962 and sent for scrap. It was rescued by the preservation society and moved to the Birmingham Railway Museum in Tyseley in 1989.

It was back on track the following year and has been hauling excursions ever since, largely thanks to the enthusiasts of the 6024 Preservation Society.

Unfortunately, they fell out with their chairman Steve Underhill. Luckily I don’t know the details of the dispute so I can’t run the risk of repeating what turned out to be a libel.

What I do know, however, is that Mr Underhill took exception to what was published in the society’s newsletter, “The King’s Messenger”.

It was so bad, he sued Mr Watson and Mr Corser for libel. And, instead of sitting down and coming to a sensible compromise, the two sides headed for our learned friends and the High Court.

This was a potentially disastrous decision for both sides – the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut.

A nasty squabble turned into a fully-fledged legal battle with the preservation society promising to back Mr Watson and Mr Corser.

In effect, the society put its ownership of the steam engine on the line. On the other side, Mr Underhill risked penury.

One side had to lose and the loss was bound to be devastating for somebody.

The train buffs argued that whatever they may have said about Mr Underhill was privileged because the newsletter only went to its own members.

Mr Underhill’s lawyers discovered it had also been sent to 13 people who send in photographs of the steam engine and were not members of the society.

As a result, the society lost its claim of privilege.

So then it was faced with arguing over the libel itself and, at this stage, the society threw in the towel, apologised to Mr Underhill for whatever it may have said, and agreed to pay him damages of £7,500.

Mr Underhill’s reputation was restored and the money he received was reasonable, given that only 413 people read the original allegations in the first place.

The society, on the other hand, was presented with a legal bill for a truly staggering £335,000. It has been forced to sell the engine to one of Britain’s richest men, Investment manager Jeremy Hosking.

To be fair, a hearing in the High Court is never a cheap option. Our learned friends like to think of themselves as taxis for hire but they tend to be taxis to the moon.

It is hard to imagine why either side was prepared to risk so much for so little. Admittedly, Mr Underhill emerges without a stain on his character and it does matter when someone is unfairly maligned in print.

Even so, the risk was enormous. He says: “Had my lawyers not believed in my integrity and agreed to fight this case on a ‘no win no fee basis’ after my own funds and those of my partner had run out, I would have been left with no means of removing a dreadful slur on my character.”

Had he lost, Mr Underhill, not the society, could be facing the massive £335,000 bill.

He might well say that, as the injured party, he would never have lost – but the law is a lottery. Just because you’re in the right doesn’t mean the law will come down on your side.

This country’s law courts are routinely used as a libel casino by the rich and famous from around the world.

It would be a pity to close off this opportunity for our flagging economy to earn some foreign currency.

But small societies and ordinary people must remember – the law is for the very rich and the very poor only. It is not for the likes of you and me – never has been, never will be.

If you find yourself in a serious dispute, my advice is try rock-paper-scissors. It’s cheap, there’s always a clear winner, and the result will be as fair and just as most decisions in the High Court.