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Monday 15 October 2007
Letters: Brown's political crime
Brown's political crime? He wasn't clever enough at deceiving us
Sir: Our nation's political sophistication and capacity for rigorous, meaningful debate must be the envy of the world.
First we have distilled the long and honourable tradition of profound liberal thought to a single definitive proposition: "Ming Campbell is 64."
Our capacity to analyse the nuances of right-wing political philosophy is no less acute: a man who has spent most of his life debating and making speeches (and little else) actually rehearsed enough to deliver a whole speech without an autocue. Where's my ballot paper – such a superhuman feat deserves my vote immediately. Give the guy the launch codes.
And in the face of the onanistic obsession of the popular media that the date of an election is more important than its outcome, our new PM committed the only cardinal and mortal sin of our political age – he mismanaged the media. And 60 million people were totally unaffected, completely unharmed, catatonic with excitement as a result.
Not a mistake the Machiavellian mountebank who preceded him would have made. Can't possibly vote for a guy who lacked sufficient deceit, deviousness and secretiveness to hide the fact that he was doing what every prime minister in history has done – tried to time an election to his political advantage. Are we actually questioning Mr Brown's competence to run the country on the basis of his failure to deceive us well enough?
We get the politicians we deserve.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
NHS monopoly not to blame for decay
Sir: While Dominic Lawson (11 October) is right to look for parallels between monolithic organisations such as the Post Office and the NHS he does reach some most unreasonable conclusions with respect to the NHS and his local hospital .
I was a member of the consultant staff of the Kent & Sussex in Tunbridge Wells for nearly 30 years from the early 1970s. I joined a self-confident establishment with a cheerful staff working in a somewhat dated, but immaculate environment, with spotless paintwork and floors polished to a shine. Patients complained about waiting lists and appointment times but these were always flexible. They were almost all happy with the treatment they received, in single sex wards, governed by a ward sister with cleaning staff employed by the hospital and consequently under her control.
By the time I retired, things had changed. The place exuded decay. The overall mood of the senior medical staff was one of looking forward to retirement and a resigned acceptance of internal deterioration of standards, softened by a vastly increased turnover in the private sector.
The deterioration cannot have been simply the consequence of monopoly provision, which was in force both before and after; many more subtle effects were at work, such as the repeated reports and restructurings, frequently ill-thought-out and prematurely introduced. These were brought in by successive waves of management, responding to governmental policy change and climaxing with the obsessive pursuit of targets, which resulted in medieval mixed-sex wards, fewer in number but with jam-packed beds, contract cleaners, and of course the inevitable MRSA & C. difficile.
The decay of the NHS is not the inevitable result of monopoly provision, but results from the way in which forced change is introduced, heralded by triumphant political declarations rather than allowing the system to evolve independently in response to changes in medical technique and public expectancy.
There are huge questions to be answered (such as relations with the pharmaceutical industry and how to care for the expanding population of the elderly) but to look across the Atlantic for a competition-based privatised alternative is surely bizarre.
Dr Angus Macdonald
MAYFIELD, East Sussex
Sir: Dominic Lawson and others are missing a vital point, which is that it's up to all of us as patients, hospital visitors and staff to help rid the system of bugs such as MRSA and C. difficile.
As someone who has been immuno-suppressed for some years and has had to take great care to avoid infection, it has been quite a revelation to me to note the high percentage of people who rarely if ever wash their hands after using public toilets. Indeed during several stays in hospital this was equally evident among patients and visitors alike, more particularly the latter, the majority of whom made no effort to locate visitor toilets and used the patient facilities instead.
While the Department of Health has a significant role to play in ensuring that the measurement systems it imposes are not distorted by hospital management zeal, the NHS and its staff must ensure that the welfare of the patient remains paramount. However it is those served by the NHS themselves who through their own actions have the greatest role to play in maintaining the cleanliness of their surroundings and at the same time ensuring that not only staff but also their visitors abide by hospital rules and regulations.
Nevertheless it would appear that until a culture of simple hand-washing and hygiene becomes endemic it is unlikely we shall see an end to the scourge of MRSA and other similar infections in our hospitals.
'Friendly' dolphins are in danger
Sir: I agree with David Day (letters, 8 October) that wild dolphins in general do not constitute any threat and also that the dolphin that killed a man in Brazil was very severely provoked. However, I cannot agree with the premise that there is no danger from the special case of solitary sociable dolphins either to people or the animals themselves. The article in The Independent ("Man's mysterious new best friend", 25 September) was very helpful in highlighting these risks.
Dolphins are remarkable because of the benign way that they typically interact with us. However, many studies of solitary whales and dolphins around the world make it clear that "solitary sociable" dolphins are considerably at risk from our attentions and that there is risk to the inexperienced people who interact with them.
It is the unusual behaviour of these animals and especially their persistent proximity to swimmers and boats that makes them so vulnerable. For example, "Jet", a bottlenose dolphin living around the Solent, and "Luna", the young solitary orca from British Columbia, were both killed by propeller strikes last year.
Dolphins can be forceful in their interactions with us. "Marra", the Cumbrian solitary dolphin, started to try to prevent people leaving the water on some occasions. "Dave" in Kent has now been seen to be doing the same kinds of things, including recently jumping on top of swimmers.
"Friendly" dolphins are created when humans persistently interact with solitary animals. There are plenty of reports that sometimes this involves food and that dolphins learn to beg. Initially, solitary dolphins are typically "standoffish" but then they tend to go through a number of stages of habituation, culminating in many of them actively seeking human company. From this stage on, they tend to get into trouble.
The very real risks to both the dolphins and their admirers is why we, along with other marine animal rescue groups, continue to advise people to view them from the shore.
International Director of Science, The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Chippenham, Wiltshire
Our children's mental health
Sir: The interim report from Cambridge University's review of primary education confirms what we already knew – children and young people's mental health needs to be made a national priority. The last few decades have seen a 70 per cent increase in anxiety and depression among children. Around one in 15 young people currently self-harm.
We need to find better ways of helping children to deal with the stresses of modern life. The good news is that there is plenty schools can do, given the right support. In particular, whole-school mental health promotion programmes that emphasise good mental wellbeing, rather than just preventing mental illness, have been shown to work. Anti-bullying strategies, applied correctly, are also effective and need to be extended to cover all schools and the communities in which they work.
Deborah Orr (12 October) is right to say that schools can't tackle these problems alone. Parents have a vital role in talking to their children and helping them work through their anxieties. Outside the home, primary care needs to become more young-person friendly and provide services where children feel comfortable and listened to.
There are positive signs that the government is engaging with these issues. The Comprehensive Spending Review has allocated substantial sums to providing personalised services for children in schools and targeted mental health work.
This will be money well spent. A child with a conduct disorder, for example, will generate ten times the costs of a child with no significant problems by the time they're 28 – a tragedy for the individual concerned and a burden for the nation that could quite possibly have been avoided by earlier intervention.
Dr Andrew McCulloch
Chief Executive, The Mental Health Foundation, London SE1
'Guru of greed' at the Rotary Club
Sir: As one who read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged at university, and then moved on, I gave five minutes of my time to read 12 October's article about Ayn Rand. I was surprised to read that "the book made Rand the toast of every Rotary Club in the land". Rotarians I've known in the USA and UK are mostly altruistic and selfless, and her message would have not been well received.
Rotarians contribute time, energy and money towards projects that matter, whether it's providing free school supplies for local teachers or pouring vast amounts of resource towards the eradication of polio. Some of them may not agree with increasing the role of government as a way of improving people's lives, but they're more than doing their part in helping to carry the collective burden of helping those less fortunate.
Inheritance tax after a divorce
Sir: Mr East disputes Dr Meads' point about the inheritance tax reform being unfair to children of divorced parents (letters 11, 13 October). Yes, of course the reform would be fair if the parents divorced late in life and their estates were roughly the same size. But this is not the usual scenario. Many parents divorce decades before they die.
After that they take different paths. One may end up with a modest family house worth, say, £500,000, which they would like to leave to their children, while the other may have been on benefits, become a compulsive gambler, had five more children or gone to Honolulu. Unsurprisingly, it is often the "steady" parent who took responsibility for the children who ends up with a house (but probably not much more) to their name. So it does seem grossly unfair that this parent will be penalised for their sense of responsibility by not being allowed to leave as much to their children as a couple can.
An inconvenient legal ruling
Sir: Mr Justice Burton has ruled that Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth can only be shown in schools if balancing views are presented. It was said that the film was based on insufficient scientific evidence. What implications does this legal precedent have for faith schools?
Sir: Incredible. It's only the beginning of October and I've just heard the first person moaning about all the Christmas stuff in the shops.
Sir: Jenny Tillyard (letter, 13 October) is being disingenuous when she suggests that the only cause of flooding is climate change. What the insurance companies appear to be saying is, "If you continue building in areas that traditionally and naturally flood, we're not paying for the damage that will be regularly caused, because it places an unfair burden on the rest of our premium payers." A fair view in my opinion
Thames Ditton, Surrey
A shock for Blair
Sir: Your headline "Blair admits he is shocked by discrimination on the West Bank" (13 October) leads me to conclude that either he is lying yet again or that he is criminally ignorant. During his many years as Prime Minister, did the Foreign Office never brief him?
The light of science
Sir: Alex Johnson (letter, 13 October) is of course correct that the early universe was bathed in radiation. But religious fundamentalists should not get too excited about an apparent confirmation of the biblical account according to which the creation of light preceded that of sun and moon. It should be pointed out that this was high-energy gamma radiation, not visible to the human eye, and vastly more energetic than visible light. In any case, the rest of the Genesis creation myth is scientifically hopelessly inaccurate.
Sir: I agree with Anne Starrs, who said: "You cannot give a woman a pill to prevent an obstetric death" ("World failing mothers in childbirth" 12 October). But you can improve her ability to take advantage of health care services by giving her a basic education. Educated women have fewer children and are more likely get them vaccinated. Just one additional year of schooling for girls reduces the under-five mortality rate by 8 per cent. Yes, we need fully functioning health systems, but they must go hand in hand with fully functioning education systems.
Amis vs Eagleton
Sir: Does Manchester University give its professors enough work to do?
Professor Chris Barton
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