Letters: Disabled patients

NHS must listen to the families of disabled patients
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The Independent Online

Thank you for giving due emphasis to Sir Jonathan Michael's report which reveals the neglect of patients with learning disabilities across the NHS (report, 30 July). In your leading article you rightly draw attention to the recommendation that families should routinely be involved as partners in delivery of their relatives' health treatment.

Parents like myself, who have tried over decades to work in partnership with both social and medical services (under current policies expected to work together anyway) know only too well the discrimination with which we ourselves are treated. Amanda Healy's Opinion article draws attention to this discrimination against both her daughter who died, and herself.

As one senior person in social services told me recently at a conference, and only half jokingly, "Traditionally, families are the enemy". We are the perfect scapegoat. When things go badly wrong, blaming Mum is the easiest course. Either she is responsible for the condition in the first place or she is making a fuss about nothing. In either case the relative can be sent home to Mum because Mum will cope.

In addition to their frustrations over not being listened to, family carers are treated with muddled thinking about rights, intolerable ignorance about their relative's condition and contradictory bureaucracy, which they deal with on top of their chronic tiredness.

We are unimpressed by denial, by obfuscation, by pages of jargon words and the few examples of good practice behind which the many failures are hidden. Until families are listened to directly and their deep knowledge of their relatives is treated with the respect it deserves, and which Sir Jonathan recognises, nothing will really change. It is not just attitudes to our relatives' disabilities that need changing. It is attitudes to their families as well.

Mary Harris

London W11

Labour needs to go back to the doorstep

Labour needs to examine reasons for the loss of the Glasgow East constituency at the recent by-election. While there will be many reasons nationally, one factor that can be addressed by Labour Party members is the absence in a safe Labour seat of any organisation worthy of the name.

It was revealed that, when the by-election was called, the records of people's voting intentions held by the local party were non-existent. This was despite the former Labour MP serving for nearly 30 years. Making contact with electors and listening to their concerns is a fundamental duty for Labour. Only by doing this can we hope to be a successful campaigning body.

I believe that the Labour Party, as a matter of urgency, should examine the contact rates in all constituency Labour parties. Where the constituency is represented by a sitting Labour MP and the contact rate – the proportion of electors who have been visited by party workers to determine their voting intentions – is not over 15 per cent by the time of the next general election, that MP should be excluded from standing again.

I think such a decision by Labour's NEC would motivate some less active MPs to start knocking on doors and re-connecting with their electors. This was clearly not the case with the former MP for Glasgow East, and as I understand from Labour organisers would also cover current members of the Cabinet.

The aim in the longer term would be that by the general election after next that contact rate should be in excess of 30 per cent if the sitting member wishes to stand for re-election.

Peter Walker

Vice-Chair, Wimbledon Constituency Labour Party, London SW19

The Glasgow East election result has been misinterpreted south of the border. Politics in Scotland is now vastly different from the rest of the UK.

Alex Salmond campaigned on 11 days in Glasgow East, his relaxed style being perfectly at ease with the "wifies" at the bus stop or with royalty. This has endeared him to the man in the street as "our man", contrasting strongly with Brown's dour, aloof image.

One of the fundamental mistakes made by Brown on becoming Prime Minister was to wrap himself in the Union Jack and proclaim his "Britishness". While this may have persuaded some voters in Middle England, north of the border it went down like a lead balloon, as Scots regard themselves first and foremost as Scottish, with British very much on the back burner.

John S Jappy

Muir-of-Ord, Inverness

It matters not a jot who leads the Labour Party, so why the obsession over who should replace Gordon Brown? Labour is a hollowed-out apple.

It has abandoned all it once stood for and now faces meltdown. The great Attlee government elected in 1945 rescued a Britain ravaged by war. Those at the helm were proud democratic socialists. Their successors mouth platitudes about making life better for citizens patronisingly categorised as "ordinary people".

Try not to retch when, after 11 years of New Labour, the gap dividing rich and poor widens. Cuddle up to those means-tested benefits. Live on the state retirement pension of £90 and a few pence a week. Applaud the brass neck of engaging in an illegal war cooked up on dodgy evidence. What a shameful record. Clem must be turning in his grave.

Tony Heath

Hay-on-Wye, Powys

The citizens of England and Wales may consider the Tories ready for government ("Tories ready to rule, say voters", 28 July), but judging by the recent by-election in Glasgow, in which their share of the poll actually fell slightly, a result which, if reflected in a general election, would leave them still with only one MP in Scotland, that is certainly not true of voters in that enlightened country.

Bob Heys

Ripponden, West Yorkshire

The laws of physics back speed cameras

Eric Bridgstock's comments about speed cameras (letter, 21 July) are a rehash of the fatuous and convoluted arguments emanating from the Association of British Drivers. No one has ever said that driving within the speed limit is safe, but rather that it is safer than exceeding the speed limit.

There are many ways of making a road safer after an accident – signage, re-configuration – but enforcing reduced speed limits will also contribute to a fall in the severity of accidents. Speed does not cause every accident, but impact speed does usually determine the extent of injuries; these are the laws of momentum and kinetic energy that the anti-speed camera brigade routinely gloss over.

Steven McBride


I'm grateful to Eric Bridgstock for explaining in his diatribe against speed cameras that a speed limit as "an arbiter of what is safe or not is ludicrous"; thus the safety of a given speed should be dictated solely by the driver's own judgment. This helpfully jackboots into touch my misapprehension that all road users – including those pesky peds and cyclists – had an equal right to use the roads without intimidation or injury.

I had also worried that the UK's record of having the lowest levels of physically "active transport" in the EU, married to the highest levels of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes, and almost the worst rates of direct injury to those few peds and cyclists who still insist on travelling about, might be a source of national shame. I now realise that this sacrifice of rights and health is a small price to pay if it allows Mr Bridgstock and his fellow knights of the road to dash about unhindered.

Denis Murphy


Darfur: send in a stronger UN force

Steve Bloomfield was right to sound the alarm about the parlous state of the UN peacekeeping forces in Darfur ("UN peacekeepers 'at breaking point' ", 28 July), but the need is too great to be written off as hopeless.

Violence has displaced an average of 1,000 people each day in Darfur and over two million people are currently seeking refuge in sprawling camps. Their situation is perilous. Women are attacked when they visit markets, and gunshots ring out nightly. The humanitarian aid that helps keep these people alive is under increasing threat. There have been more hijackings of aid vehicles in the first half of 2008 than during the whole of 2007.

While peacekeepers alone cannot bring peace, Oxfam believes that a properly funded and equipped protection force could make a real difference to people's lives. The force could protect women as they collect firewood, and deter attacks on humanitarian vehicles by patrolling the main roads. The force needs to be backed up by the international community – who need to deliver on their promises of troops, helicopters and armoured vehicles.

UNAMID is not a panacea for Darfur – all parties must come to the table to negotiate peace. But until that happens, the force can at least make the beleaguered lives of Darfuris more bearable.

Auriol Miller

Sudan Country Director, Oxfam, Oxford

Fashionable in sunlight or shade

In her letter of 28 July, Janette Davies praises the headmistress who asked her girls not to wear false tans, for "taking a stance against our singularly obsessive culture of thin, brown girls".

For centuries women who worked did so in the fields and acquired weather-tanned complexions, while ladies of leisure could idle indoors and protect theirs, so pale was the desirable colour.

All that changed with the industrial revolution, when large numbers of women went to work in factories and acquired a natural pallor. In Mary Barton (1848), Elizabeth Gaskell says of a Manchester mill-girl: "She was like a lady with her smooth, colourless complexion".

By the 20th century, most women worked in shops, offices or factories and for them pale was the norm, but ladies of leisure could do their idling on the beaches of the Caribbean and acquire a tan, which then became the desirable complexion. Now that everyone can acquire a tan, real or false, what next?

Phyllis Nye


Take power from the political class

As the Rev Bob Bamberg points out, it is important that MPs should have knowledge of many walks of life (letter, 30 July). That is impossible under our party-based version of democracy, which produces a class of career politicians with ever less experience of the real world.

We should forget about a second elected chamber and instead replace the House of Lords with a Citizens' Assembly, chosen by lot from all members of the public willing to serve for one fixed term. As well as bringing diverse experience to its proceedings, a Citizens' Assembly would have nothing to hope or fear from any special interests.

Charles Scanlan

London NW8

Classical music on television

I'm surprised that Professor David Head believes that apart from the Proms, BBC Television gives classical music "a wide berth". (letter, 28 July).

Recently, BBC One's Imagine focused on Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, and BBC Two broadcast the The Minotaur, Harrison Birtwistle's new opera, in primetime on a Saturday night. BBC Four showed Sacred Music, four films which spanned the birth of polyphony to J S Bach, as well as a major on Vaughan Williams. BBC Young Musician of the Year was covered with four films on BBC Four and an introductory documentary and the final on BBC Two.

Peter Maniura

Head of BBC Classical Music TV, London W12


Religious symbols

You report that the High Court has backed a Sikh girl who was barred from wearing a bangle at school (30 July). Does this mean that followers of the Jedi religion will now be able to carry their light sabres in school?

James C Lange

London W14

Fortunate islands

Les Abbie (letter, 30 July) comments on the social problems of West Indian islands that rely on tourist revenue. The former British islands were used and abused and Britain quickly shook them off when they were no longer needed. The contrast with the French-speaking isles of Martinique and Guadeloupe is striking. They remain part of France, their citizens are French and their standard of living is mostly equivalent to their mother country.

Cyril Mitchell


Medical retraining

Terence Blacker (25 July) is quite correct; GPs and hospital doctors should approach re-licensing and recertification positively. Like airline pilots, retraining and recertification should be built into a doctor's annual programme, with time blocked off to attend a retraining and recertification session away from their place of work. As a retired surgeon and now a patient, I welcome the idea that my medical attendants will be given the opportunity to keep up to date in a structured way; not haphazardly attending meetings for a couple of days every few years.

Andrew Johnson

Haskayne, Lancashire

Normal service

In your article on tipping (28 July) you report that the chef Alo Zilli supports the campaign but would like to see a service charge on the bill and a tip on top of that. I think he needs to get out of London and into the real world, as I always thought that the service charge was the tip.

Bill Stephens


Optical delusion

Your report on the Weston-Super-Mare fire (29 July) stated that "the smoke could be seen 60 miles away over the Bristol Channel in Cardiff". Does this mean that the light conveying the image travelled by road over the M4 Severn Bridge, rather than 10 miles directly across the water?

Geoff Evans

Newcastle upon Tyne