I wish to highlight the appalling state of affairs in the hospitals in England with car parking. My mother was taken into Good Hope Hospital in the West Midlands on 27 December and, despite the best efforts of the medical staff, sadly passed away on 16 January.
She received the highest standard of care from dedicated doctors and nurses in the intensive therapy unit, and her final 24 hours were handled with the utmost care; I have nothing but admiration for the staff. My father, brother and I were able to remain with her throughout this period and take some comfort from our last day with her. But during this distressing period, one of us was obliged to occasionally leave my dying mother's side to go and feed the car-parking meter, under the eye of the wardens (employed by an outside contractor). The comparison between the professionalism and compassion of the medical staff and the money-grabbing attitude with regard to car parking is almost beyond belief.
Having spent the best part of three weeks in and out of the ITU, we got to know several nurses, and I was disgusted when told they also have to pay £7 a day to park. One told me she had been fined £30 for over-staying when she volunteered to work longer to help another patient. This disgraceful state of affairs exists only in England, not Scotland or Wales, and raised a total of only £116m for hospitals. Given that the total budget for the NHS is £110bn, parking is raising a mere 0.1 per cent of that.
Set against the carefree way the government is now spending billions of taxpayers' money in an attempt to prop up the financial system, hospital car-parking charges are exposed as a mean-spirited, mendacious method of fleecing vulnerable people and dedicated medical professionals.
Harsh treatment of asylum-seekers
Asylum-seekers are among the most vulnerable people in Britain. Many are the survivors of war, torture and rape. I have met many asylum-seekers in the course of my work for Medical Justice. I go into immigration detention centres (IRCs) to assess if their scars are consistent with the accounts of their torture.
The stories are distressing. To add to their distress, they tell me how they are racially abused and sometimes assaulted by guards in the IRCs and the escorts who are trying to remove them back to their own country. Indeed, 12 cases I have seen were documented in the dossier Outsourcing Abuse and are part of Dame Nuala O'Loan's investigations as described in The Independent (14 February).
I didn't want to believe that such things could happen here. But the descriptions that unfolded were so similar, the beating when they are being moved between IRCs and at the airports which often seem to involve several escorts; the asylum-seekers in handcuffs, legs tied together, heads forced down before the seat in front with a strong grip around the neck.
Some thought they were going to die. Those I see have been returned to the IRC because the pilot has refused to carry them. One young man told me eight men were trying to force him on to the plane, and as he hung desperately on to the fuselage a policeman beat his fingers with a hammer.
Men and women tell me of being subjected repeatedly to abusive racist language. The guards, escorts and police who behave in abusive, racist and sometimes violent ways towards such vulnerable people seem rarely to be held to account. Part of the training of IRC guards and escorts should be recognition of detainees' distress and how to treat them with the dignity and compassion they deserve.
Dr Charmian Goldwyn
Volunteer Doctor, The Medical Justice Network, London SW13
Robert Verkaik's article suggesting a partial remedy to the problems in the detention centre sector was timely, and echoed recent experiences. Over the past year, I have been in close touch with several people enduring detention as well as having been a regular visitor to Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre.
The general air is one of seediness among the officers, with a few honourable exceptions, a patronising, if not downright hostile attitude to the detainees, who are inevitably regarded as criminals, imprisoned as they are and often on the verge of deportation. Many have already been imprisoned elsewhere as a result of arriving with false documents. And each month they are issued with a report couched in language that reinforces the idea of criminality.
I have come across a spectrum of cruelty, ranging from physical violence to petty needling. I have seen no sign that staff have been given proper training about the treatment of people who have suffered torture, maybe because in theory such people are not supposed to be imprisoned.
If a detainee asks for the police to be called, nothing happens, yet the threat of a police investigation is used to withhold bail. CCTV footage is not provided to solicitors when they ask for it. Access for solicitors is made difficult: they are often made to wait for unreasonable periods. We had to pay for an hour and a half of wasted waiting-time for a friend not on legal aid. I presume that the legal aid budget for each client will be quickly eaten up if this is what solicitors have to face.
Each detention centre sets its own rules, which adds to the lack of clarity. If we can't do away with the need for detention centres then let us at least have them in the public sector and run in a far more accountable and transparent way.
Goathland, North Yorkshire The reasons forour recession
The reasons for our recession
The financial crisis was caused by predominately global savings imbalances. The large current account deficits of nations such as the US lured savings from developing nations such as China and some parts of the Arab world.
China having fixed its exchange rate artificially low, and thus incurring increased savings via households and firms hoarding profits of their trade, was in a position to lend money to the US, the very nation buying most of its goods, increasing the global savings-deficit gap. The Arab world had the advantage of high oil prices for the previous five years to allow it to save the incredible windfalls.
America's low savings and the over-abundance of savings in developing markets provided a situation where incentive for foreign capital investment existed. Also, being the world largest economy, there was an added incentive.
Just before the Asian financial crisis, emerging, developing and newly industrialising nations had an aggregate deficit of $78bn; after the crisis, this turned into a massive, multi-billion surplus post-haste, with the incentive to stave off a crisis. But they caused another crisis, of a greater magnitude than before.
If the US did save a bit more and the Chinese did not have their exchange rate so artificially low, we would not be in such a predicament.
Sydney, New South Wales
Now we should hear about Mendelssohn
It is astonishing that the Mendelssohn Foundation should still be keeping its archive under embargo ("Conspiracy of silence: Could the release of secret documents shatter Felix Mendels-sohn's reputation?", 12 January). But it's hard to see how an affidavit of 1896 about the contents of a letter written 50 years earlier, and later destroyed, could radically affect our sense of the composer's life and work.
The two greatest artists of their time made music together in public and in private; they travelled together and exchanged ideas about art and life. It was inevitable that admiration should deepen into love. Mendelssohn wrote for Jenny Lind's voice; he struggled to write an opera for her.
But the tragedy which changed his life was the sudden death of his sister Fanny. Had he not died a few months later, his tormented opus 80 quartet (in F minor for Fanny) could have been the first work in a "late" style, breaking entirely new ground.
The bicentenary provides a perfect excuse to reassess Mendelssohn's entire body of work. A comprehensive series would strip away Victorian pieties about the music, and also about the man, far more effectively than gossip about adultery and suicide. I hope that one of our major art centres will rise to the challenge.
Obama must bring Middle East peace
In three weeks of death and destruction meted out to the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, Israel has traumatised and terrorised a new generation of Palestinian children to add to the previous generations it had crushed through dispossession and occupation ("Welcome but fragile, this ceasefire must be only a start", 19 January).
In 2006, Israel's devastating assaults on Lebanon and Gaza only helped Hamas to take control of the territory of Gaza, and propelled Hizbollah into the Lebanese cabinet while weakening those willing to negotiate with Israel and promote peace. The peace process, such as it was, is as every bit as destroyed as the latest 4,000 Gazan homes to lie in ruins.
This ceasefire will be temporary unless the international community, led by President Barack Obama, takes firm and decisive action to end this conflict. We have to move from a mere ceasefire to a full cessation of hostilities.
This means insisting that Israel permanently lifts the blockade of Gaza, one of the most brutal of modern times, freezes settlement activity and ends the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights that has lasted unbroken since 1967. For four million Palestinians, living under occupation is a daily aggression. A final deal should be based on the Arab peace initiative, on the principle of full recognition for full withdrawal.
Director, Council for Arab-British Understanding, London, EC4
The supporters of the Hoping Foundation, who conspicuously omit to call for an end to Hamas rocketing, would do well to analyse the "root causes" of the seemingly intractable Palestinian refugee problem. They should start with the label itself, uniquely applied in this case to the grandchildren of the original refugees. On that basis, I, and most of the Jews in the UK, should attract the same moniker.
Of course, the Palestinian leadership and surrounding Arab governments have a vested interest in deliberately maintaining the status quo; the festering sore diverts attention from their own sclerotic and repressive regimes, and provides a ready stick with which to beat Israel.
Giving additional sums to people who have received more per capita than any other (the equivalent of 50 Marshall Plans) is unlikely to achieve Hope's laudable aims as long as the Palestinians are indoctrinated with poisonous Hamas rhetoric while aid is diverted to fund a murderous campaign against Israeli citizens.
Dr Danny Pine
Losing the plot
Tom Cruise, star of Valkyrie, says he hated Hitler and could not understand why no one tried to kill him (report, 19 January). I shook my head in disbelief. If one has studied the Second World War in any detail, the plot of 20 July 1944 is an integral part of the course, I thought. Then I saw in my 2009 House of Commons diary, the entry for 20 May, "Assassination attempt on Hitler by army officers 1944".
Bring them to book
As someone trying to save a much-loved branch library in Swindon's historic Old Town, I have discovered a great network of people working to keep libraries throughout the country. I am horrified that Wirral Council plans to close half its libraries. But it is heartening that many people are writing to Andy Burnham to call in that decision, thanks to the Libraries Act, which enables the Secretary of State to intervene when a local authority fails to provide a comprehensive and efficient service.
BBC backs partners
Your report ("Channel 4 link with BBC backed by Culture Minister", 20 January) claims that the BBC has performed "a U-turn" in relation to the proposed partnership with Channel 4. The opposite is the truth. The BBC has been enthusiastically promoting partnerships, including with Channel 4, for some time. The BBC Trust sees such partnerships as holding the best chance for a sustainable and value-creating solution to the problems facing the wider PSB sector in the UK.
Director, BBC Trust, London W1
Army seen as racist
I was astounded by the reaction of British soldiers to treatment of enemy combatants in the same hospital (report, 23 January). Racism is alive and well in the British Armed Forces. It equates, in principle, to the use of the P word and description of the enemy as "ragheads". If our Armed Forces want to demonstrate the highest regard for themselves and other human beings, then the enemy's human rights are as important as anyone else's, and this includes entitlement to life-saving medical treatment.
Thomas Sutcliffe (Comment, 20 January) should remember that pilots are always the first to arrive at the scene of an air accident.
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