Letters: Hospital phones

Patients fleeced by the outrageous cost of hospital phones
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Sir: Professor Atiyah (letter, 13 May) is certainly not alone in thinking that the costs of bedside phones are outrageous and that the increased use of mobiles could counter this fleecing of patients and their relatives. I had very similar experiences to the professor when a close friend of mine was in hospital.

He may also be glad to know that these issues are being tackled by MPs. For example, I recently tabled a series of questions suggesting that the blanket ban on mobiles in hospitals be lifted. The answers revealed that this is up to local HNS trusts, which should conduct risk assessments. My Commons motion on the issue is picking up significant cross-party support.

The basic point is that mobiles should be banned where they can interfere with medical equipment and allowed elsewhere, day rooms for instance, where it is safe as long as privacy is protected and disturbance to others minimised.



Sir: Professor P S Atiyah asks what the telephone regulator is doing about telephone charges to hospital patients. Ofcom conducted an own-initiative investigation, but in January concluded, sadly, that it could take no action other than express its continuing concern and refer the matter to the Department of Health.



Sir: Exorbitant NHS phone charges were introduced at Carlisle, where Britain's first PFI hospital was opened by the Prime Minister. At the time, I was the chairman of the local telecomms advisory committee and I complained to the telecomms regulator. I was told that as it was private property they would not take action. I pointed out, to no avail, that the electricity supplier did enforce upon private property a maximum resale price for electricity.

Perhaps Professor Atiyah would like to examine the prices quoted for chatlines as advertised in The Information and try to compare the commercial morality of the NHS with the providers of those advertised services.



Chavez, saviour or bungler

Sir: I have just returned from a few weeks in Venezuela investigating the social and economic policies of the Chavez government and I found your reports and editorial (13 May) misleading. To characterise Chavez as populist or marxist on the basis of his rhetorical style does not accurately represent his relationship with the Latin American political traditions or with the social movements that support him.

Chavez took over from a failed regime and it will take decades to resolve the problems but to say little has changed for the people is a gross misrepresentation.

I had conversations in the barrios of Caracas but I also spent a long weekend over Easter in a small country town just over a hundred miles from the capital. I was finding out about a tourist co-operative linked with farming co-operatives on the edge of the Guatopo national park. These co-operatives are part of the government's strategy for tackling rural poverty and depopulation and for achieving long term sustainability for the economy.

Jaime and Loreida Romero, a couple in their 50s with a family of four, who were involved in setting up and running the co-operative, replied to my comments on the vitality of the community: "If you had visited five years ago it would not have been like this. We have changed things with the help of the government."

Press reports here that emphasise the controversial aspects of Chavez' public statements draw attention away from the fact that it is the people of Venezuela who are changing the country for the better. What they fear is not the power of Chavez but the corruption and machinations of the old political elite that supported neo-liberal policies, and who, I was often told, are trying to frustrate the efforts of the government on their behalf.



Sir: Boycotting events may be good for a headline, but it is just a stunt, so I am surprised at the Tories' decision to boycott Mayor Ken Livingstone's lunch for President Chavez of Venezuela (Pandora, 11 May). If it is Tory policy now not to confront tyrants and hypocrites head-on, then it will be left to others like our One London Group at the London Assembly. Even over lunch if that is the only way to get at them.

I am probably the only free-market campaigner invited to lunch with Chavez, now that the Tories have abandoned this ground. There are a lot of questions I want to ask him about the socialist paradise he is allegedly creating in Venezuela, which Ken Livingstone would no doubt like to replicate in London.

I'm sure Ken approves of Chavez's brand of democracy. He holds endless referendums and elections and always wins. True East European-style democracy. His next planned referendum is, apparently, to cancel presidential elections until 2031.

His running of the economy has been appalling. Venezuela is the fifth largest oil exporter in the world, but even with oil at record prices, Chavez presides over a shrinking economy.

There have been a series of attacks on press freedom and other forms of political repression and electoral fraud.

There is however one Chavez policy I would support Ken adopting here. Petrol in Venezuela costs 3 cents per gallon. Bring it on, Ken!



Logical Catholic stance on condoms

Sir: Gillian Ball (letter, 10 May) sees as "illogical" the stance that the Catholic Church takes on condoms. However she misunderstands the authentic Church position, by confusing natural family planning with contraception. The latter is the direct interference with the sex act, where there is a deliberate attempt to frustrate conception. Whilst natural family planning is not contraception as there is no sex act, and no attempt to frustrate the act of conception.

Furthermore the Catholic Church is not a "fertility cult", and all the couple have to be is open to the possible gift of life, which comes from God. Far from being illogical the Catholic position is totally logical.

On the day that Gillian Ball's letter was published, President Putin addressed the Russian nation as to the fact that due to widespread use of contraception and abortion, the Russian Federation is in demographic free fall. Sadly such is the case in most western nations (including nominally Catholic ones) where the contraceptive mentality has been accepted. In Britain only mass immigration is sustaining our population.



Lessons of history for Palestine

Sir: I have followed Paul Gross's kind advice (letter, 13 May) and consulted the history books. They confirm that about a million Palestinian Arabs occupied what is now Israel before 1948, and that only 150,000 remained after the creation of Israel. The other 800,000 did not leave their homeland as the result of a polite request. Mr Gross's point appears to be that this was acceptable because they were not a "sovereign state".

Regardless of what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or any other misguided fantasist says, Israel is not going to disappear off the map. Neither are the Palestinians and their inconvenient memories of a lost homeland going to simply melt away. Perhaps an abandonment of a "We are right because God and the USA are on our side" mindset, and recognition that Israel may, possibly, have treated the Palestinians unfairly, might help ease the consequent enforced co-existence.



Sir: Mr. Gross writes: "There was no sovereign state of Palestine to be wiped out."

In 1938 my grandfather went on holiday to Palestine. He visited villages which disappeared after 1948. There is just the memory of them now. I have photos he took at the time and a calendar he brought back issued by the Tourist Development Association of Palestine.

Since that time Palestine has been disappearing quite slowly, bit by bit and now I hear it was never there in the first place! I wonder where my grandfather went that year.



Targeting civilians is always wrong

Sir: In his review of A C Grayling's Among Dead Cities (Arts & Books, 12 May) David Cesarani seems to suggest that the killing of 800,000 Germans (primarily civilians) in air raids was defensible since it tied down deadly flak batteries and manpower which otherwise would have been used in fighting allied troops.

Cesarani charges Grayling with having a "shaky grasp of the wider military context" without being aware that he himself suffers from a bout of moral blindness. The killing of hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilians admits of no moral defence. To call it a necessary evil tars the villainy with the same brush of evil it seeks to destroy.



Best tactic for Blair

Sir: If Tony Blair wants his party to form the next government his best bet would be to delay his departure as long as possible. The electorate will feel more inclined to give his successor a fair chance if he or she is not given the opportunity to bed in.



Votes for women

Sir: It is correct to say that New Zealand was the first sovereign country to give women the vote (letter, 11 May). But the Welsh colony in Patagonia, Y Wladfa, had already done so. Since the colony had a block vote in the Argentinian parliament, Patagonian Welsh women were the first on earth to directly influence the democratic decision-making of a sovereign country.



Rich rewards

Sir: The proposal to raise the state retirement age to 68 ignores social issues. The Government is looking at people in terms of monetary values and not as human beings. Manual workers and those living in conditions of deprivation have a much lower life expectancy than professional and managerial groups who earn high salaries and live comfortably. The current proposal is clearly to the advantage of the latter group whose pensions will be paid for by the early deaths of those less fortunate.



Animal experiments

Sir: I learnt this week that a survey of the public showed 75 per cent in favour of animal experiments for medical purposes, but I missed the result of the survey of laboratory animals. Does anyone know the percentage in favour?



Sir: Could I just, briefly, register my thanks to Tony Blair for his latest public endorsement of the practice of vivisection. The anti-vivisection movement is grateful for all the help that it receives.



Lonely mouses

Sir: I note that the plural of "mouse" is now "mouses" (Ten Best, 11 May). As a computer mouse leads an entirely solitary life the need for a plural form only arises when The Independent chooses to rank the various breeds - so I suppose the neologism is acceptable.