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Friday 9 December 2011
Letters: Cameron will make lab rats of us all
It has been announced that David Cameron is to boost the profits of the private sector by relaxing rules so that NHS patient records will be shared with private health-care companies, including firms that test on animals. How is this possible when medical records are supposed to be confidential?
A government spokesman keen to promote the life-science firms tells us that if the rules are relaxed, all efforts would be made to protect the privacy of patients. As their efforts have been next to useless on everything else, if this insanity goes ahead, I can look forward to reading about my neighbours' medical condition in some glossy brochure or magazine.
There is something very disturbing about the way David Cameron is determined to turn the NHS into a business. Allowing private healthcare companies to profit from our personal data is another step towards privatisation.
If the British economy is to be used by the Coalition as an excuse to make lab rats out of us all then I really do despair.
So the Government thinks that "opening up" the health service, by providing private companies with patients' data, would make it a "huge magnet" for innovation and would boost economic growth (report, 5 December).
As a clinician looking after cancer patients, I would welcome a modest increase in national resource to give me regular, accurate outcome data for the patients treated in our centre, to allow me to know the efficacy of my therapies. Current focus on waiting times has taken much of the available resource, driving the need to turn to private companies to provide data-management systems that allow us to know how well our patients fare.
But what happens when we have sold all the clinical data to these companies and we have to buy it back? How much more will this cost be in the medium term compared with setting up similar systems in the NHS? Remember the bright new hope called PFI?
Dr Douglas Adamson
Why the lobbyists simply can't lose
You report (7 December) "the trade body which represents the UK's public relations and lobbying industry is to investigate Bell Pottinger".
A rival lobbyist, Mark Adams, has made a complaint to the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), one of three trade bodies running the industry's system of self-regulation, stating: "I am a strong proponent of self-regulation for the lobbying industry... Ideally Bell Pottinger will clear their name and demonstrate they have done nothing wrong. But if they have behaved in an unethical manner, then the appropriate sanctions should be taken against them."
The toughest sanction available to the PRCA is that they terminate Bell Pottinger's membership. That's it. The result would be that they would no longer be required to declare their lobbyists and clients on a voluntary register. They would join the scores of other agencies who choose to stand outside the system.
This is a test of the system of self-regulation. If the PRCA refuse to act, and Bell Pottinger is let off the hook, self-regulation will be seen for what it is. The system was designed by lobbyists as a way to head off statutory regulation.
But if the PRCA comes down hard on Bell Pottinger, the firm will be free to operate outside the system, without any public scrutiny at all. If anything underlines the need for a statutory register of lobbyists, which would compel lobbyists to operate in the open, it's this.
Alliance for Lobbying Transparency
South Brent, Devon
I cannot agree with MP Jesse Norman that lobbying is a "canker in the body politic". Lobbying is a part of democracy; lobbyists are found where there is a long democratic tradition and is a sign of maturity. However, it is true that current lobbyists are going beyond ethical limits. It is not tolerable that they play with politicians as a child plays with a toy.
There have been scandals before: the lobbyist Jack Abramoff in Washington, MEPs Zoran Thaler and Ernst Strasser in Brussels. Yet no major changes have been made in the legislation. The UK has the opportunity to become the first to really make a difference; lobbying should not be removed from British political life, but it must be ethical and transparent.
You have to admire the way professional lobbyists recycle the history of 19th-century abuse of English children in cotton mills as a way of excusing 21st-century child abuse in carpet factories, kitchens or, in the case of Uzbekistan, cotton fields.
They see any objection to vile behaviour by governments in "emerging" countries as "colonial", precisely the mantra of all of the remaining tyrannical dictators of the world.
They are so skilled at making their amorality look worthy that it is hard to see how they can be controlled, but as they sound so deliciously absurd in their little-boy boasting one can only hope that they will be laughed off the stage.
Dastardly plot to undermine euro?
Not so many years ago the US dollar seemed unassailable; then over the past decade it declined so dramatically against the euro that the latter became the preferred currency for many international workers. Seamen, oilfield workers and so forth who had hitherto insisted on being paid in dollars demanded euros, believing it to be the reserve currency of the future.
Then came the credit crunch, which had been rumbling away in the background for years but had seemingly gone undetected by the credit-ratings agencies. Now these very same agencies ostensibly have the power to ruin entire economies with the stroke of a pen.
I don't see that the eurozone countries – with the possible exception of Greece – have been any more profligate than others around the world. Most countries, including Britain and especially the US, are up to their eyeballs in debt, so why single out the eurozone?
I've long suspected that the credit-ratings agencies, along with the major American financial institutions and with the tacit compliance of US Treasury officials, are attempting to destabilise and ultimately destroy the euro, thus guaranteeing the continued dominance of the US dollar as the world's preferred reserve currency. Too fanciful for words?
Terence Roy Smith
Britain wants the euro bloc to be a strong trading partner, buying our goods and services, and believes they should collectively run their affairs prudently, borrowing what they can afford to repay and supporting each other. Britain also wants to be prudent but does not want the indignity of agreeing to be and therefore will forgo the potential support that would come from being part of the euro.
The euro bloc must be delighted that they are not going to be asked to support one of the larger EU economies with a particularly intractable deficit. Does the UK Government really believe that it will not need the support of international lenders when the spotlight turns to sterling?
Or is it hoping a decline in sterling, and accompanying inflation will reduce its debt burden in real terms, bringing a repeat of the transfer in wealth from prudent savers to improvident borrowers that happened in the 1970s and 1980s?
France and Germany expect their fellow eurozone members to agree to greater central control of their budgets. For such control to be exercised some sort of accountability will clearly be expected. Would France and Germany intend this accountability to match the European Union's accountability for its wider spending?
In recent times we have heard a deal about the failure to sign off the Union's accounts. Is this not the area where the British government should expect to exercise its influence as treaty modifications come under the spotlight?
If we are to have a referendum on the EU, why not referendums on bankers' bonuses, executive pay and lobbying as well?
Keith R Wark
Wakefield, West Yorkshire
The evolution of the school day
Garry Humphreys (letter, 2 December) asks why secondary school children are out of school by 3pm. The answer is simple. In my day, as in Garry's, school finished at 4pm, but rather than the 45 minutes or less that modern schools have for lunch, school lunchtime in the 1960 lasted an hour and a half.
Once we had finished eating we were made to "play" outside, no matter how cold it was. We started at the day at 9am, and had eight half-hour lessons per day – hardly time to settle down before the bell went and everyone had to move around for the next one.
I now teach at a school in which students start at 8.45am with 15 minutes of directed tutor time, followed by five one-hour lessons, including a 20-minute morning break, and finish at 3.10pm. More of our day is used for actual teaching than was the case in the 1960s.
Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire
'Pay-day loan' perils ahead
Your "red alert on pay-day loans" (8 December) is timely. Under the Welfare Reform Bill it is proposed that claimants will be paid the new universal credit monthly. This will mean a move from fortnightly payments for many low-income families.
The result is likely to be increased budgeting difficulties for many, with women, as the main managers of poverty, bearing the brunt. It has been predicted that one result will be even greater reliance on pay-day loans.
The House of Lords will have the opportunity to ensure claimants can choose more frequent payments when it debates the Bill in Report on Monday.
Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Labour), House of Lords
The Prime Minister has magically found an extra £40m or so for Olympic ceremonies. Paula Radcliffe has, rightly in my opinion, suggested that the money would be better spent elsewhere for sporting benefit. In these times of austerity, it would surely be more appropriate to have an opening ceremony consisting of a parade of athletes and national officials, followed by speeches from essential personnel and the lighting of the flame. I remember such ceremonies years ago, before the vogue for huge, expensive spectacles which have little or nothing to do with sport.
Notwithstanding the controversy over the shortlist for the Sports Personality of the Year, it is interesting to see the tradition of awards being given some "interesting" people upheld with your reporting of the Bulgarian Prime Minister being named that country's footballer of the year (report, 7 December). Some years ago, an American women's sports magazine blithely ignored the claims of various world and Olympic champions to give its own sportswoman of the year award, supposedly on the grounds of her reputedly fearsome fitness regime, to Madonna.
With the announcement of the result of the Turner Prize for contemporary art (6 December), Marshall McLuhan's prophecy of the 1960s that "art is anything that you can get with away" has been fulfilled.
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