Letters: Don't sneer at passion in defence of the NHS

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Andy McSmith, in his sneering dismissal of pensioner June Hautot ("She screamed and ranted – and let Lansley off the hook", 21 February) unwittingly shows what is wrong with politics.

True, June Hautot is not the polished, middle-class, polite, media-savvy talking head seen in television's usual political fare. I do not know the lady, but she has obviously campaigned for many years for what she passionately believes in. At 75 is she is clearly still going strong.

Passion and emotion are what is needed to defend the NHS from the heartless cold clutches of privatisation and exploitation of healthcare needs which Lansley is foisting on it. If the Labour Party had leadership as passionate as this, the Bill would never have got as far as it has.

Paul Miller

Barnstaple, Devon

In the midst of economic turmoil, the NHS is to be revamped again. Every new government has been obsessed with reorganisation, from John Major's Patients' Charter to Labour's Darzi review, and now Lansley's stealth plan. Doctors and staff are suffering from change fatigue.

Much of the massive health budget is spent trying to add a few extra years to life, without necessarily improving quality. Ageing has been redefined as a disease. And patients expect miracles, demanding scans and pills for every ill.

Successive governments have blamed a range of problems. But none will confront the central problem: we can no longer afford it. To admit it would be political suicide. Lansley's plan is a shrewd political manoeuvre. GPs will now take the blame for rationing.

We are not alone with the huge financial problems of health care. It will probably determine the outcome of the forthcoming US election.

Professor Sidney Lowry

Bangor, Co Down

Health is a priceless commodity, which is why financial imperatives for the NHS are so uncomfortable. GPs are "private" independent contractors who have always worked without adequate understanding of the cost of our referring and prescribing decisions. The core principle of the current reforms is the devolution of both power and responsibility to the GPs on the front line.

Over this past induction year, we have become increasingly aware of cost and are finding that we can make savings without compromising care. We often find that we can improve quality for less cost, so this is not about rationing but about being rational. Change is a bitter pill to swallow and GPs are suffering from change fatigue, which might at least partially explain why more than 90 per cent voted against the legislation, although only a modest 2,600 voted.

I certainly do not want "creeping privatisation" of the NHS, but I do know that a little competition keeps us all on our toes for the broader benefit of patients.

Dr John Havard

Saxmundham, Suffolk

David Cameron is clutching very tightly a hot-air balloon marked "The NHS Bill". The longer he holds on to it the greater the distance to fall when he does eventually let go. If he refuses to release his grasp, it will, in time, whisk him away to oblivion.

Mark Robertson

East Boldon, Tyne & Wear

'Slavery' or not, it's still free labour

Christina Patterson misses the point in her article about supermarkets providing unpaid work through the Government's back-to-work scheme. ("If you want a job, 'slave labour' at Tesco isn't a bad place to start", 22 February).

It is true that the word "slave" has been used emotively by some protesters, but this in no way justifies the morality of a scheme that enables companies that make multi-million pound profits to exploit the poor and have them work free of charge for up to four weeks, usually without a job afterwards. Jobs are in short supply anyway, without encouraging companies who can afford to pay a living wage to exploit the desperate.

Christina Patterson goes on to suggest that objections to the scheme are based on snobbery towards supermarket work. I have no idea where she gets this idea. The principle involved is that work of all sorts should be properly rewarded.

Thankfully, on the day Ms Patterson has expressed her defence of this scheme, Tesco has backed away from the unpaid element of its conditions. It seems that they are now willing to give people the choice of a wage or retaining their jobseeker's allowance. The campaigners against the scheme are therefore to be congratulated for forcing this change of heart.

Tim Matthews

Luton, Bedfordshire

The publicised theory behind the Government's "workfare" scheme is to enable unemployed people to get some proper work experience on their CVs to help them back into work. It also satisfies some critics of the benefit system by ensuring that people receiving benefits are committed to working in order to receive them.

There is some anecdotal evidence of the scheme proving successful, although there is no published data to support the Government's assertion that of the 34,200 individuals who took part in the scheme in 2011 half have since obtained jobs.

While the scheme is voluntary, once an individual has opted to join it, they are committed to seeing it through, as they risk losing their benefits if they drop out. This is where a lot of the criticism arises, as there is the perception that some retailers are using these individuals as "free labour".

Few would dispute that having some practical experience and demonstrable skills makes someone more employable. However, there are massive opportunities for people to undertake voluntary work and gain skills and experience in the not-for-profit sector, rather than operating the scheme to provide cheap labour for major commercial players. The "Big Society" that the Government is keen to develop would be enhanced greatly if people on benefits used their time to support community projects, charities or care providers rather than boosted the profits of retailers by minimising their payrolls.

Esther Smith

Employment Partner, Thomas Eggar LLP, London EC4

Drug laws thatwould work

Your article "Not everything is safe just because it's not illegal" (13 February) is right that new psychoactive drugs – "legal highs" – are making a mockery of attempts to control their supply. But it is a mistake to expect this to be resolved with analogue controls that would automatically ban any drug that is thought to be substantially similar to an existing controlled substance.

Evidence suggests that controlling drugs that are already available can reduce demand or availability somewhat, but fails to make a great impact on levels of use. This is particularly the case when police and forensic science resources are being reduced, making it harder for enforcement agencies to control a growing list of nearly indistinguishable drugs. An unintended consequence of introducing controls is that the drug becomes sold with less predictable purity levels and more potentially dangerous contaminants, increasing risks to users.

The US experience of analogue controls also shows that the concept of "substantially similar" relies on individual opinions and is not strictly amenable to scientific evaluation. It does little to reduce demand or availability but keeps the lawyers and courts occupied.

For politicians, analogue controls provide an opportunity to look decisive. But we should focus shrinking enforcement resources where they can make a difference. For some new drugs, this could include using trading standards powers as a first line of defence. This would allow stricter controls and oversight of dosage and strength, packaging information, and minimum ages of purchase, none of which are feasible under existing or analogue controls.

Roger Howard

Chief Executive, UK Drug Policy Commission, London N1

Police chiefs no one can control

I recently attended a District Safety Action Panel meeting at which the changes to police command structures were revealed. There will be elections in November to choose a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) who will take over the responsibility for the Avon and Somerset Constabulary (this will be the same for every police authority).

He or she will be elected in all probability by a very small number of people for four years and from then on will not be responsible to anyone and cannot be removed. They will appoint the Chief Constable.

They will be able to appoint advisers paid out of the police budget and will have complete control of that budget. The PCC will also have authority over how police resources are used. There will be new local committees with a remit to scrutinise, but only in an advisory role. I fear all this could lead to the police becoming politicised or coming under control of a well-financed cabal.

Anyone can apply to be considered as a PCC, all you need is £6,000; no experience necessary. How did this irresponsible and potentially dangerous legislation ever get to see the light of day?

David Winter

Yeovil, Somerset

The duties of dolphins

One would be more convinced of the seriousness of the claim that animals such as dolphins should be treated as non-human persons, and given rights, were it also said that they should be held responsible for their actions – if perhaps they caused a ship to founder, or assaulted another dolphin – and punished accordingly, as is the case with human persons. It's hard to see how one may have it both ways.

Dr John Shand

Associate Lecturer in Philosophy, The Open University, Manchester

Antibiotics and chickens

Your editorial on the use of antibiotics (20 February) is right to voice concern at increasing antibiotic resistance. However, when mentioning chickens, it should have been made clear that antibiotic growth promoters have been banned in the EU for more than 10 years.

The UK industry is at the forefront of education in responsible use of antimicrobials including voluntarily stopping the use of certain categories of antibiotics important to human medicine.

Peter Bradnock

Chief Executive, British Poultry Council, London WC1

A lesson for US voters

The American Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum advocates parental home tuition for his seven children.("Educate your children at home like me, Santorum tells America's parents", 20 February) One wonders what they will have learnt from their father.

First, anyone who advocates birth control (like Obama) is "not a proper Christian". Second that he, Santorum should win the Republican nomination because he was "the first to see through the hoax of climate change". And third: "The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical."

Robin Russell-Jones

Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

Bordering on the absurd

Can one assume that "Free Entry Fridays"' and "Take It Easy Tuesdays" at the UK Border Agency were not a success?

Alan Gregory

Bredbury, Greater Manchester

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