During the furore surrounding the Francis report on the hospital healthcare meted out by the Mid Staffordshire NHS, my father died in the University of Wales Hospital in Cardiff – yes, the very same one Anne Clwyd had attacked recently for the (mis) treatment of her husband. My father, Jim Hawkins, a committed socialist, trade unionist and fervently loyal supporter of the NHS, was treated with the utmost care, kindness and thoughtfulness by all the medical staff who came into contact with him during his very brief illness. At every stage we were consulted, and the primary concern was to make my father comfortable and pain free. He would have been so proud of them, and so grateful for their care and commitment... and I know that being a true egalitarian he would want this for all. We must try and make it so.
Whoever said that top-down targets produced accountability? Whoever believed that ticking boxes ensured compliance with quality? Targets arbitrarily state that some aspects are more important than others with dire results – as in the distortion of hospital waiting lists and schools moving good teachers to league table subjects.
Targets assembled by group agreement of the people who must deliver them can be a route to good practice. But mechanistic box ticking results in what can be measured being given priority – neglecting less measurable actions. Like patient care, for instance.
There is no doubt that the NHS in many places needed reform, but of course this is the opportunity for the Coalition to further its privatisation agenda.
The fault will never be admitted, because it was started in the Thatcher/Major era with the development of internal markets and tendering of essential services such as cleaning, and through the New Labour era with the abomination of PFI, development of the trusts and so on. The reality is that the NHS has not been safe in politicians' hands since the late 1970s.
What we had until recently was the framework still apparent of a world-class, efficient and largely universal health service. The steady erosion of this vital service, by those with their noses in the troughs and their bank balances expanding even as they lecture us about "efficiency" and "improvement", accelerates daily with the signing of private-sector contracts. It is theft and vandalism on a truly monumental scale.
There's no hope of policing the food chain
We can't police hospitals, mental institutes and old people's homes properly, where there are family, friends and staff who voice their concerns and are not listened to. So what hope is there that we can police the meat industry?
If horsemeat costs €900 a tonne and beef €3,500, then surely it's time that we started eating horses. In real terms this means that, if it were used legitimately, we could enjoy horsemeat products that were virtually 100 per cent meat instead of just 30 per cent meat and 70 per cent filler (ie rubbish to which nobody wants to put a name and which may well pose far more risks). And, even with their meat-content three times higher, horsemeat products would still be cheaper. There are a lot of people in Britain who would like to have that option.
I was shocked to hear Prime Minister David Cameron saying that horsemeat found in a variety of ready-made foods did not constitute a risk to humans. How can he possibly say this? He has no idea where the meat originated, the health of the animals concerned, or what breeding regime they were kept under, among a variety of other issues.
It may be reassuring to the UK public to mention that in Germany there are butcher's shops which sell only horse meat – Pferdmetzgerei. It is seen as a completely normal and legal activity.
For all those who are experiencing nausea and worse after finding out that their beef burgers had horse and pig meat, there is a simple solution. Go vegetarian and explore a whole world of gourmet food. Experience the freedom of eating food that does not involve the killing of sentient beings. You will be in good company. Mahatma Gandhi, George Bernard Shaw, Tony Benn, Bill Clinton, Joanne Lumley, Martin Shaw, the list goes on. Enjoy!
Croydon, Greater London
Having just finished reading Beastly Things by Donna Leon, first published in April 2012, I was amazed to find that the storyline mirrors almost exactly the current horsemeat scandal. Surely Ms Leon can't have been the only person to have known what was going on. What were the regulators doing?
Irrespective of what rules and regulations are in force, some food processors are always prepared to cut costs. There are already many serious concerns about processed food and the additives used in their preparation. As an ultimate precaution people should be advised to go back to basics in food preparation so that they know exactly what is in the food being prepared for the table.
Richard III was a nefarious schemer
One could add to Valerie Crews' letter (6 February) that Richard III was appointed Edward V's Lord Protector as the boy was aged 12 years. He did not carry out this function. He cancelled the coronation ceremony. He alleged that Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in 1464 was bigamous because he had married one Eleanor Talbot in 1461, so that the two princes were illegitimate.
Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells and ally of Richard III, alleged orally that he had conducted the 1461 ceremony. No document was ever produced to corroborate this fact. Crucially, Eleanor Talbot herself never asserted any such marriage. A pre-marriage contract existed between Edward IV and Lady Talbot but nothing more.
In any event Eleanor Talbot died in 1468 before either prince was born, so that any allegation of illegitimacy would have fallen by the wayside. The only tribunal which had jurisdiction to declare bigamous the Woodville marriage was an ecclesiastical court, not a parliament packed with Richard's cronies.
All this implicates Richard III as a deliberate schemer to get himself crowned king instead of Edward V. No wonder the two princes disappeared.
I back the idea of a plaque or statue to the memory of Pocahontas (letter, 6 February). Shakespeare wrote terrific lines for Richard III, but I haven't heard that Richard himself wrote anything as moving as did Captain John Smith, in a letter to a friend, about "an unbelievinge creature, namely Pokahuntas, to whom my harte and best thoughts are and have been a longe tyme so intangled and inthralled in soe intricate a laborinth that I was even a wearied to unwynde myself thereout."
Ashamed of my Catholic Church
After reading Peter Stanford's article about the Catholic Church (8 February) I have been struggling to find the right words for 24 hours. In the end simplest is best: Thank you.
My beliefs in the Catholic Church lead me to support asylum seekers, the downtrodden and oppressed. In so far as other people's personal lives have anything to do with me I support loving committed relationships of any type. I am embarrassed and ashamed by my beloved church campaigning vigorously against gay marriage and failing to show love to those who have not so long ago been shunned. Not in all our names indeed.
Dr Gemma Stockford
Burgess Hill, West Sussex
Workers priced out of London
I take the opposite view of the London housing market to James Payton (letter, 4 February). Higher interest rates are unlikely to cause a collapse in house prices, since it is investment money that is underpinning the London market, and not the availability of cheap mortgage funding. The surge in house prices is already having serious consequences for the capital's economy, with more and more of those who work in London finding it an impossible place in which to live. With even higher rents and/or longer commutes in prospect, businesses will find recruiting staff an increasing challenge.
Why mention the judge's gender?
What has the fact that Constance Briscoe is a woman and black got to do with your report? (9 February). Surely the first paragraph could have started "A high-profile barrister and part-time judge..." If it had been a white man it would have done.
Sarah Thursfield asserts that "the marriage service still asks 'Who gives this woman'" (letters, 8 February). This wording only remains in the Alternative Services, series one version of the marriage service. The current, more widely used, Common Worship service, does not contain any wording with such a meaning.
Revd Ian S Partridge
A pity that much of the media gleefully howled a derisive "U-turn", describing Gove's decision. Should we not be applauding a return to calm judgement and professional experience? Should not the headlines have read "Welcome return to common sense" or "Gove recovers sanity" or some such?
Force be with him
Your obituary of renowned film make-up artist Stuart Freeborn (9 February) rightly acknowledged him as the creator of Yoda. However the picture of Yoda that accompanied the obituary was the CGI version produced for the egregious Star Wars prequels, rather than the physical puppet Freeborn actually produced for The Empire Strikes Back. Disappointed I was.
Martyn P Jackson