There is substantial evidence that the arts can enhance the effectiveness of conventional medical treatments and aid patient recovery ("Cash-poor NHS spends millions on art", 15 December). Research has shown that the integration of the visual and performing arts in healthcare reduces drug consumption, shortens stays in hospital, improves patient management, and increases job satisfaction and staff retention. The medical literature on arts and health provides evidence of reduced anxiety and depression during chemotherapy, improved blood pressure among heart patients, improved clinical states in intensive care, diminished stress before surgery and less need for pain relief after it.
This is why so many hospitals, mental health units, care homes and hospices enlist the arts to help alleviate pain and distress. Much of the money does not come from NHS budgets but from charitable, grant-giving and other external sources.
Hamish McRae is correct that we are second only to the United States in being busy shoppers (15 December). The downside is that we have become the victims of Scrooges of the first order. Many shop staff must work late on Christmas Eve to prepare the Christmas unwantables as sale items for Boxing Day. The same staff need to be in store at some ungodly hour on Boxing Day. Consequently, thousands of workers will count themselves lucky to be able to steal a few hours on Christmas Day with their beloved, but too tired to have a real break. For those living away from home it will be a miserable time. Merry Christmas indeed and I pray you all have time to celebrate this year.
A recent survey showed that every minute of the working day a shopworker is being verbally abused, threatened with violence or physically attacked. Shopworkers report that incidents are more frequent in the run-up to Christmas. Verbal abuse cuts deep. Many staff will go home upset about an unpleasant incident and worried it will happen again. That is why Usdaw, the shopworkers' union, is running a Respect for Shopworkers campaign, asking customers to "Keep your Cool at Christmas".
General Secretary Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw)
My old friend and colleague Tom Mangold has criticised me for the "Postscript" to my book The Secret Worlds of Stephen Ward, written with Stephen Dorril and republished this month (8 December). This reports the allegation made to us by a former MI6 operative, Lee Tracey, that Ward's death was effectively a murder committed by a man working for MI5.
Mangold's article states that I failed to make "two simple 'check your facts' phone calls", to him and to Ward's host on the night he died, Noel Howard-Jones. Not true. Mangold was a key witness, so I did speak with him – and so reported in the text both when the book first appeared in 1987 and this year. Howard-Jones declined to comment on Ward's last hours for the first edition of our book – as was reported in the text.
We also note an account of the evening's events by a then colleague of Mangold, photographer Bryan Wharton. Wharton's recollection includes events that Mangold's does not. Two other Ward associates, the entertainer Michael Bentine and Paul Mann, a key figure in the Profumo case, told us they had information indicating that Ward's death was not suicide. Another witness, a friend of the alleged murderer, refused to comment.
Would Mangold have wanted us simply to omit all of the above from our account of Ward's death? Would that have been good reporting? I don't think so.
Co Waterford, Ireland
Hamish McRae says that a pound invested in someone's twenties will probably be worth four times as much as a pound invested in their fifties (15 December). But interest rates have been around zero for years and may even be significantly negative when investment charges are allowed for. Compound interest does not help in these circumstances!
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