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Tuesday 17 February 2009
Letters: Alcohol related illness and the NHS
Alcohol damage places a heavy burden on the NHS
My decision to release figures highlighting the growth in alcohol-related liver transplants was not an attempt to provoke an argument about who is most deserving of medical resources in our society, but rather to highlight the serious consequences of our society's relationship with alcohol. (Opinion, "Doctors are there to help patients – not judge them", 16 February.)
As a politician, and a flawed human being, I find the idea that doctors should make moral judgments about whether a person deserves medical treatment abhorrent. Not least, because I recognise that I have not always lived a blameless life when it comes to my own health. But at the same time, we cannot continue to ignore the fact that hospital admissions related to alcohol rose by 57 per cent over the past five years to almost 800,000. Such growth is clearly unsustainable in the long term.
Rather than reach the point where we ask our doctors to decide who deserves scarce medical resources the most, we must reduce alcohol-related harm now. I believe that selling alcohol at a lower price than it costs to produce is irresponsible. Studies show it is the cheapest alcohol that is of particular appeal to children, binge drinkers, and those who suffer from alcohol dependency.
A recent independent report has shown that setting a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol could see hospital admissions drop by 40,000 a year. Politicians are meant to advocate policies that will have a real and lasting impact on people's lives. Sadly this government has never shown the type of leadership necessary to tackle the alcohol-related problems facing our society.
Don Foster MP
Liberal Democrat Shadow Culture Secretary, Houses of parliament, London SW1
Banks serve selves before customers
It isn't only the banks' big fish whose culture has besmirched banking. In recent years I have felt that all the advice I have been given by local bank staff has been much more to the advantage of the so-called "adviser" than to me. At the most recent interview I extracted from the "adviser" an admission that, although she didn't receive a direct bonus for what she was trying to persuade me of, it did count towards her credits, and that was a considerable incentive. Bank advice driven by an aggressive sales culture can be very bad for customers; it would be more honest for banks to call their "advisers" "salespeople" then it would be clear whose interests were being served.
The Rev R P Crew
Although attention is currently focused on bonuses paid to bank executives, the pay of building society chiefs deserves closer scrutiny. Last year I voted against the directors' remuneration report of my building society, which gave its chief executive a £1m bonus and a pay increase of 117 per cent. Sadly I was in the minority. Perhaps this year members will take more notice of such excesses.
When working for BP in 1993, I went offshore to test what turned out to be the discovery well for the Foinaven field west of Shetland. The field contained some 500m barrels of oil. Should I have applied for a 10 per cent bonus? The answer seems obvious to me; not at all as there were thousands of other people involved in one way or another in the discovery.
So why do city traders earn 10 per cent of their trading profits as bonuses? Who processed all their deals in the back-office? Who provided them with the funds to trade with in the first place? If it was really all down to them as individuals, why are they still working for a bank rather than simply working for themselves?
From a wider perspective, who brought them into the world? Which teachers worked patiently to explain the intricacies of english and maths?
We are all connected. Yes, individual effort can be rewarded – but if we want long-term sustainable economics, reward systems need to recognise the connections.
My desk calendar for this week has the following quotation. Thomas Jefferson 1816: "I sincerely believe that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies." Andrew Jackson, in 1836, disbanded the second federal bank, remarking to the bankers: "You are a den of vipers and thieves".
Even Henry Ford cautioned: "It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning."
The distrust of bankers is clearly not something that started in the early 21st century.
In a day when risk assessment is stifling every public initiative, how is it that our financial services have been so wanting in this vital aspect of their work? On the one hand, children should be able to go to school when it snows, hospitals able to attempt new techniques and police allowed to apprehend criminals without fear of a litigation suit or a blizzard of form-filling. On the other hand, we want to ensure that individuals act responsibly, whether it be with a scalpel, or with someone else's money.
My great-great-uncle, who died in the 1930s having just retired as managing director of what was destined to become a leading "FTSE 100" company, left his entire estate to the workforce's pension fund, on the grounds that he felt that he owed most of his good fortune to their efforts. Allowing for some conspicuous publicised exceptions, such philanthropy is now long since dead and gone.
John Scott Moncrieff
Perhaps the West Indies Cricket Board should urgently ask leading bankers to give them a short course on grovelling in public while not accepting any blame.
Swainby, North Yorkshire
Severn Barrage's impact on people
Your correspondents have written at length (2 February) about the impact of the proposed Severn Barrage on the wildlife of the estuary. Some thought should also be given to effect of the construction on the local humans.
The Barrage will be one of the largest structures ever built in the UK. The Government should state what quantities of aggregates and cement will be required and identify the quarry sites which will provide the raw materials and the mode of transport to the terminals on each bank of the Severn. On the English side the existing road network can barely cope with existing traffic, especially in the summer when the M5 is blocked solid with holiday traffic. New railways would take years to plan. If sea transport is used, new docks could be needed.
These problems are surmountable but only at considerable cost. Local people might welcome the concept of a Severn Barrage but may very well say Not In My Back Yard when it comes down to it.
John E Orton
Brian Baxendale (letters, 4 February) is wrong in saying that the alternative to a Severn Barrage would be about 2,000 off-shore wind turbines. The alternative is marine-current tidal turbines placed around our coast at the many "pinch points" where the second-largest tidal range in the world also flows around all our western coasts.
The turbines are much, much more mechanically efficient than the barrage turbines because they operate during the ebb and flow of the tides not just twice a day. They cause no visual or sound pollution, no environmental damage or shipping obstruction and the number needed would cost many billions of pounds less than a barrage. They can also be erected and dismantled in a few days. 7,000 could generate not just 5 per cent of our total needs but at least double that. More, placed in the Pentland Firth, could produce much much more, perhaps even half of all our perceived energy needs.
Two operational turbines are working now in the Strangford Lough and Menai Straits, so we know what they can do and what they cost; most important, we also know they work.
D-Day veterans' final trip to France
Further to your report "D-Day veterans turned down for bank account" (12 February) I should like to make clear that the Overlord Account is entirely different from the Normandy Veterans Association account. The former is approaching business associates and those of successive generations who agree to sponsor one or more veterans to attend the final commemorations in France in June 2009. In a matter of weeks the new account, now opened with HSBC at Downend, Bristol, has attracted sponsorships by McCain Oven Chips, Pretty Polly Stockings, Yorkshire Tea and numerous other businesses and individuals.
Peter L Hodge
Honorary General Secretary to the Normandy Veterans Association, Bristol
Who would sell legalised drugs?
There is an aspect of Johann Hari's solution to the hideous effects of the illegal drugs trade ("Obama and the lethal war on drugs", 11 February) that I have never quite understood. In a world of legal but regulated free markets in currently illegal substances, exactly who will replace the syndicates operating out of Afghanistan and Mexico? Parallels with alcohol prohibition, when "legal" companies at least existed, are surely not applicable. Is it anticipated that the state should run the operations, or will it be a new field for venture capitalism?
Eminent, and eminently quotable
Martin Gilbert wrote that, when researching the life of Winston Churchill, he found that it was impossible to authenticate various sayings that were widely attributed to his subject. He thought that there was a process by which stories about half-forgotten figures such as William Joynson-Hicks and F E Smith had become attached to Churchill to make them more interesting.
I wonder if the same thing has happened to the saying: "You should make a point of trying every experience once, excepting incest and folk-dancing."
Brian Viner (13 February) credits Sir Thomas Beecham with this observation, but the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations says that the source was "a sympathetic Scot" quoted in Farewell My Youth (1943) by the composer Sir Arnold Bax.
Lost and found
Writing about looking for things, Philip Hensher (16 February) says: "Whatever it is, it's always in the last place you look". Well obviously, because when you have found it, you stop looking.
Johann Hari is hopelessly naive about freedom of speech ("Despite these riots, I stand by what I wrote", 13 February). Adolf Hitler's "freedom" to insult Jews and his henchmen's "freedom" to define them as scum overwhelmed an entire people; past "freedom of speech" allowed some to argue that Africans are best fitted for slavery. Today's "freedom of speech" merchants are blind to the degradations these "freedoms" bestow – not least on women, and not least on poorer young women in the western world, where enslavement to the freedoms of pornography and sexual abuse are more prolific than anywhere or at any time in history.
A natural selection
I am surprised that Simon Carr (Opinion, 14 February) does not mention the real reason why women chose partners with smaller heads. It has nothing to do with male brutish appearance or domestication. Rather, the evolutionary advantage of producing offspring who can actually emerge alive from the pelvic U-bend that is the human birth canal, is enormous.
Dr P J Strube
The article on the New Zealand octopus ("Legging it", 14 February) reminded me of my favourite Frank Carson joke. "Cooking an octopus. Took five hours. It kept switching the gas off." Perhaps it wasn't a joke after all.
With regard to the white horse (report, 13 February), wouldn't a white elephant be better? We could always pretend we couldn't see it.
My wife has just received a letter from a public utility company addressed to Mr's Stephen's.
Dr Meic Stephens
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