Letters: Doctors defend principle, not greed



We could discuss ad nauseam the public support or otherwise for Thursday's action by the British Medical Association, of which I am a yes-voting member (Dominic Lawson, 19 June). The fact is, the Government has made a unilateral U-turn on a pensions deal designed to sweeten a less attractive 2008 contract.

The doctors' stance has been taken not through greed but through principle. You can't sell a house, exchange contracts, then tell the buyer you've removed the windows, doors and conservatory.

Many of today's younger doctors paid for tuition fees and living expenses, accruing up to £75,000 in debt before they even set foot on the wards as qualified doctors. Quite often, medical students desperate to pursue their ambition – helping people and saving lives – relied on trainee professional loans to fund their university careers. High-street banks fell over each other to bid for the business, in the certainty that their clients would, in a few years, be sure bets to make the repayments. Using the word "greed" to describe the overwhelming number of the decent professionals in this country is offensive.

I don't know where Mr Lawson reads that the average GP's salary is £110,000 a year. Given recent practice income drops it is significantly lower than that. Yes, compared with the national average, GPs are well paid. Wouldn't you pay someone well who had worked through medical school for five years, undertaken five further years of intensive postgraduate training, works from 8am until often 8pm, delivers good quality medical care to the 50-plus patients they deal with every day, and work in the knowledge that their actions or non-actions may cost patients their health or even their lives? We have insurance, of course, but this sets us back over £5,000 a year, wiping a large chunk from any salary figure conjured up by Mr Lawson.

Dr Thomas Gillham
Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire


How bankers must welcome the greed-inspired doctors' strike. It will transfer public loathing from them to the medical profession. Just what the doctor ordered.

Mike Park
London SE9

Population is only half the battle to save the planet

You are right to highlight that global population and climate change are two of the biggest challenges we currently face ("Can the world be saved?", 15 June). However, as explained in the Royal Society's People and the Planet report in April, population cannot be considered on its own, but must be considered alongside consumption. These two factors together are responsible not only for climate change, but also for habitat degradation, over-fishing and a vast range of other significant issues being discussed at Rio over the next week.

Tackling over-consumption is essential if we are to lift the world's most deprived out of poverty and ensure that there are still resources available for future generations. Similarly, providing reproductive healthcare and family planning to women across the world will allow women to choose to have smaller families (which research has shown that they do when given access to family planning) and better decide their own futures, resulting in fewer mouths to feed and facilitating greater equality. Only by taking action on both issues will we be able to be confident of a sustainable future.

In his opinion piece, Jonathan Porritt asked where the energy to keep fighting for the planet is. The answer, at least in part, is in the scientific community. On Thursday, 105 of the world's science academies, including the Royal Society, called on policymakers at Rio to listen to the evidence-based advice of the scientific community and take coordinated action on population and consumption. We now watch and wait, hoping that they will choose to listen.

Professor Sir John Sulston FRS
Chair of the Royal Society working group on population, London SW1


Honours for the community

The honours system is an opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of individuals in all walks of life and from all corners of the UK – people making a real contribution to their communities being recognised ("So who'll get a knighthood? I can tell you that now," 14 June). The feedback we consistently receive from recipients of honours is that they are overwhelmed and immensely proud to be recognised by the honours system.

Seventy-two per cent of recipients in the Queen's Birthday honours list this year have been engaged in charitable and community work. Furthermore, this year we have reintroduced the British Empire Medal (BEM) to help us to extend the reach of the honours system by rewarding hands-on service to local communities. Nearly 300 people have had their contributions to society rewarded by the return of the BEM and they remind us that anyone can nominate anyone for an honour.

The process for honours selection is transparent and robust; nominations are considered by one of nine expert Honours Committees, each chaired by a non-Civil Service chair and comprising a majority of non-Civil Service members, all selected after open advertisement.

The recommendations that came forward from the independent committees were submitted, unaltered, to the Queen by the Prime Minister for Her Majesty's approval.

Sir Bob Kerslake
Head of the UK Civil Service
Cabinet Office, London SW1


Reading your headline "Honour for man who died saving girl from sea" (19 June) I thought the Birthday Honours list had most fittingly included the brave and selfless electrician Plamen Petkov.

Then I read that the honour was being given by the government of his home country, Bulgaria. Turns out giving your life to save a (presumably) British child from drowning on a British beach is only worthy of public honour in Bulgaria.

Meanwhile, over here, the honours list features the usual crowd of business executives and politicians given high recognition for Services to Themselves. Shameful.

Ellen Purton
Twickenham, Middlesex


Changeable marriage

The Rev David Perry (letter, 18 June) is wrong to say that "civil partnership has no table of kindred and affinity comparable to marriage". Such a table, for England and Wales, is found in the very first schedule of the 2004 Civil Partnership Act.

The commonly heard argument that marriage is innately and immutably only between a man and a woman is fatally circuitous. It also overlooks our long history of discarding outdated restrictions. Marriage is no longer, thank goodness, a legal "union", is no longer "to the exclusion of all others", and is no longer "for life".

The voice of the churches has been too loud in this debate. In some cases, their interest in families would be better concentrated on undoing the world-wide damage caused by their conniving at, covering up and lying about the disgusting abuse of children by their shamans and in their institutions.

Professor Chris Barton
Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire


L J Atterbury (letter, 13 June) talks about a sense of commitment and social cohesion as the reason for marriage. Unfortunately these qualities appear only when tested with time, and are not created by signing a piece of paper, making vows which a minority are able to keep, archaic ceremonies in nice old buildings, and crushingly expensive parties.

In the past, and sadly in some societies still, we were advised by our religions or tradition that nice couples must not experience sex, or cohabit, until married, with billions of disastrous results.

There is nothing to bar commitment or social cohesion between any two people whenever they wish, with legal contracts to underpin the arrangement and the exchange of rings over a quiet dinner together or with friends if they so choose. Only time, and quite a lot of it, can verify the trustworthy or otherwise nature of the partnership.

Time to say goodbye to rip-off marriage.

Dr John Kilby
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire


Harvesting the wind

R W Chaplin asks why groups of wind turbines are referred to as "wind farms" not "wind factories" (letter, 15 June), the sub-text to the question being that a linguistic slight of hand is being used to deceive us into accepting the industrialisation of the landscape as if it were a bucolic scene from Last of the Summer Wine.

However, the answer is straightforward. If they were called "wind factories" that would imply that they were manufacturing the wind. That they harvest the wind is why they are called "wind farms".

R W Chaplin disapproves of working with nature to harness the power of the wind, but sentimentalises "landscapes made by man working in harmony with nature". Which presumably includes the mass de-forestation, habitat destruction, eradication of indigenous animals and introduction of invasive species that humans on this island have engaged in throughout the centuries.

Barry Richards

Olympic fears and hopes

I'd expect the cost of medical treatment for Olympic athletes to be in the Games budget, entirely funded by the London Games organisers. Instead you report that the NHS will be paying £17m towards it (19 June).

It has also been disclosed that non-urgent operations, such as cataracts and joint replacements, are routinely postponed by every health authority in the country – £17m would pay for a lot of cataract operations and transform a lot of lives.

John Bradshaw
Southam, Warwickshire


Last week I had the privilege of a visit to Ukraine for England's Euro 2012 match with Sweden. Ukraine has received a lot of adverse media coverage in recent weeks. The over-riding memories of the visit were experiencing the joy of the Ukrainian people in welcoming visitors to their country and the quality of their hospitality. I hope visitors to London for the Olympic Games have such favourable impressions of the UK. Am I too optimistic?

Roger Pinchbeck


Billions and billions

Peter Ward Jones suggests The Independent begin printing the figure £10bn out in full to reinforce the sheer magnitude of the figures being bandied about (letter, 19 June). This is an excellent idea. But these days we use the American definition of one billion: one thousand million. Imagine if we still used the British definition of one million million; £10,000,000,000,000 really does look impressive!

Peter Henderson
Worthing, West Sussex


Learn to count

I think John Halfpenny (letter, 16 June) is missing the point of children learning their times tables, and as a former teacher he should know better. I also left school long before decimalisation of the coinage, and at primary school was taught my tables not just up to 12, but up to 13. Since when was maths simply about counting money?

Edmund McKinley


Can't they see?

I am at present holding a major 40-year retrospective of my art at the Hayward Gallery. It's on the third blank wall on the left, but so far not a single critic has even commented on it. Where have I gone wrong?

Charles Freeman
Brandeston, Suffolk

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