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- Arts + Ents
Friday 2 November 2007
India's tigers and India's poor in a grim contest for living space
Sir: The poor of India and the Indian tiger ("The face of a doomed species", 31 October) have much in common in their lack of habitat and conditions to make life tolerable, and a sometimes monumental indifference to the efforts drawing attention to their plight.
The poor have recently been able to mobilise and march on Delhi in numbers and make the government sit up and take notice. The tiger can neither speak nor march anywhere, except on the path to extinction – and there are no votes attached to it.
Often the tiger and poor have to compete for habitat, giving the tiger a bad name when domestic livestock replace the tiger's natural food. The recent Recognition of Forest Rights Act, which grants some of India's most impoverished communities the right to own and live in the forests, further marginalises tiger populations. "If you are not going to set aside habitats where there are no humans then you cannot have tigers," according to Mr Valmik Thapar, a tiger expert.
And to make the plight of the tiger grimmer, poaching to meet the illegal demand for tiger pelts and body parts, seen as valuable not only outside the Indian sub-continent but also by an expanding indigenous middle class, ensure that the tiger has a bigger price on its head dead than alive.
The lack of will of governments to deal with both the plight of the poor and the tiger is disgraceful, but while their actions are unlikely to see the extinction but rather expand the numbers of the poor, they will certainly lead to the demise of a magnificent species which is mocked as a national emblem symbolising India's strength and natural beauty. God protect the tiger from the human race.
Sir: Your report on the crisis facing the tiger makes me very sad. It is always regrettable when a species becomes extinct, but even more so when it is so beautiful and talismatic. If room for this species cannot be found on our planet then the future does not look bright for any other species, and that includes our own.
While it is true that habitat is becoming scarce for a creature of this size to prosper, it is also a fact that without the trade in skins and body parts the tiger would be in a far better state. The main culprit is China, which continuously flouts laws and spreads myths concerning tiger parts. Pressure must be brought to bear on the Chinese government as well as the Indian government to protect this rare animal.
GPs offer good value for money
Sir: Jeremy Laurance (1 November) asks GPs to justify their recent pay increases.
My practice has seen an increase in patient consultations from 26,000 per year in 2003/4 to 32,000 in the past 12 months. Much of this increase has been due to increased preventative work and care for patients with life-threatening chronic diseases.
But it's not just the quantity of work that has increased, quality has improved. We now have twice as many well-controlled diabetics and 30 per cent more patients whose blood pressure is under control than prior to the new contract. We have invested in new clinical and administrative staff, a new telephone system and an automated check-in to reduce queues. In addition we have introduced a greater range of appointment times to improve access for those in work.
Is that enough?
Dr Julian Spinks
Sir: Jeremy Laurance paints a very partial picture of general practice. GPs are senior professionals, and only reach the levels of pay quoted after at least 10 years of training. In my case I only reached the average level quoted more than 20 years after qualification.
The new contract boosted earnings, but it had to as recruitment and retention was threatening a scarcity of GPs akin to NHS dentistry as GP pay had fallen behind comparable professions and out of hours demand was exploding.
For most GPs profit amounts to around £50 an hour, whereas my solicitor recently charged me £150 an hour. Per consultation profit amounts to about £13, which I would argue represents good value for the NHS to obtain a skilled and efficient assessment, and avoid unnecessary and expensive hospital care.
Dr Mark Oliver
Sir: The present contract was based on performance-related pay, which all parties signed up to with the full knowledge of its cost implications if the GPs overperformed. The then government negotiators were so confident that it would be unachievable that they signed it off. Now that performance is measurable and rewarded why are big noises being made?
Dr Ravi Mene
Sir: The cost to the NHS every time a patient sees a GP is about £24. This compares with nearly £30 for any contact with NHS-Direct, and over £37 for those other favourites of the current government, walk-in centres. If GPs earn more than £100,000, it is because they do huge amounts of work, at a lower cost than any of the various "solutions" that have been created as substitutes for them. They have also delivered huge improvements in the care of patients with long-term conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, resulting in several thousand patients avoiding strokes and heart attacks every year.
British general practice remains the one part of the health service in Britain that is constantly regarded with admiration and envy by other healthcare systems around the world. It is also the one part of British healthcare that consistently achieves high approval ratings from patients. Your unbalanced attacks on general practice betray a disappointing lack of knowledge about the true costs of healthcare.
Dr P S Buttar
Sir: We are very fortunate in our part of the country that provided we get to the surgery by 10am any day of the week we will be seen by a doctor. If we wish to see a doctor for a longer consultation we can make a specific appointment. We don't have to wait an inordinate time to see a consultant or to have an operation.
I am very happy if GPs earn £110,000 per year, and ours do earn their money. The sick joke is footballers' pay – up to £100,000 per week for kicking a ball around for 90 minutes. What a twisted set of values to cavil at doctors' pay.
The few who joined the train at Ashford
Sir: I have read with interest the complaints in this column from Eurostar passengers about the reduction of services at Ashford International station. As someone who watched it take shape, and has used it since the services began, I consider it to be at least a grey if not a white elephant.
Wander round the spacious passenger terminal at any time except within 20 minutes of the arrival or departure of a train and it is virtually deserted. Drive into the dedicated multi-storey car park and you can choose your space. It is usually three-parts empty. Take the train and find yourself in quite select company – there are rarely more than 100 people waiting with you.
I understand why people living outside the M25 in Kent or Sussex resent the loss of the services but the truth is they are in a small minority and speak only for themselves. The vast majority of Eurostar's passengers join and leave in London, and always will. Join the train with the faithful band at Ashford and you will find the train largely full already.
The argument is exactly the same as with wayside stations on our domestic network. When closure or the reduction of a service is proposed there is an outcry, but these measures are only proposed because the existing traffic doesn't justify the service.
And why is it wrong for Eurostar to say it needs to make a profit for its shareholders? Would the objectors prefer that it made a loss and was subsidised by higher taxes ? Or would your correspondents be willing to pay a supplement on their ticket prices to be able to join the train at Ashford ?
East Marton, North Yorkshire (formerly of Kent)
Sir: That Eurostar fares from Ashford have always been the same as those from London is not the fault of the company. When the service was being developed, the British government insisted that frontier formalities should be conducted at the station of departure.
The result was that outbound Eurostar trains must run "sealed" through Britain and the company has never been allowed to fill seats empty from Waterloo with domestic passengers for Ashford to offset the otherwise lost revenue. Consequently passengers have been required to pay the full London fare irrespective of where they join the train.
It was the same restriction that put paid to regional Eurostar services – the option of offsetting relatively low levels of international traffic from provincial British cities by carrying domestic passengers for London or Ashford was also disallowed. The result was that we lost all the potential benefits of the service, even while French passengers were allowed, at least in theory, to use Eurostars domestically between Paris and Lille or Calais.
As usual, British administrative intransigence is denying us the freedom enjoyed by other Europeans. Why?
I J Stock
Why not ask the English?
Sir: With Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Charles Kennedy entering the fray, we now have representatives of all three main parties squabbling about how to deal with the troublesome English who are demanding an end to Celtic rule. We cannot, however, expect unbiased opinion from the protagonists involved as they are almost all of the tartan persuasion.
When last given an opportunity to express an opinion, more than 60 per cent of the English said that they wanted their own parliament. We hear a great deal about what Scotland wants so why are the people of England denied a say in how they are governed? Sorry, Sir Malcolm, a nice try but it's back to the drawing board: an English Parliament is the only equitable and workable solution.
Stapleford Tawney, Essex
Sir: To me it was always obvious that devolving power to Scotland and Wales would lead to an eventual English regional parliament, and that means a permanent Tory administration. Who were the brilliant Labour analytical minds that dreamt up this potential disaster? Probably the same ones that failed to foresee the aftermath of invading Iraq.
Horsham, West Sussex
The moral values of Jeremy Kyle
Sir: I read with horror Johann Hari's praise for the revolting Jeremy Kyle show (1 November). Hari argues that because the person humiliated by the audience has done something bad the show is promoting moral values. Presumably he believes in bringing back the stocks because they promoted moral values.
The fact that the guests each day are pond life promotes the idea that their behaviour is normal. What must a foreigner who watches this show think about the British as a people?
The Jeremy Kyle show and all programmes like it debase and degrade all those involved.
Sir: Johann Hari entirely misses the point of Brief Encounter, where the characters make the choice to return to their responsibilities and not to destroy the lives of their families.
This may seem odd to Hari, as a member of the "me" generation, but there was a time when it was considered reasonable to consider the needs of others before one's own desires.
Tingo in Peru
Sir: Further to Cahal Milmo's article "In a word . . ." (30 October) I would like to point out that tingo also means "confluence" in Quechua. In central Peru, for example, the town of Tingo Maria is so called because it is at the confluence of the rivers Huallaga and Pafe y Rondos.
Sir: Pandora (31 October) fails to mention that I won my High Court appeal because the judge found that I had not brought the office of Mayor into disrepute and the decision to suspend me was wrong. Mr Justice Collins found that the Adjudication Panel for England had misdirected itself. The sole reason therefore that there is now a cost to the public purse is that the Adjudication Panel launched an action against me that was proved totally without merit. Your complaint about cost should therefore be directed against the Adjudication Panel.
Mayor of London, London SE1
Sir: Why has Harper Lee not published a book since her award-winning To Kill a Mockingbird? Your correspondent (report, 31 October) suggests that alcohol might be to blame, but a love of golf and the realisation that she had no hope of competing with her own best-seller is a more likely – and sympathetic – explanation.
Wagner at the movies
Sir: I'm surprised that Geoffrey Macnab ("Unlikely hero", 31 October) did not recall the use of Wagner's music in Luis Bunuel's 1929 masterpiece Un Chien Andalou. As the film was silent, Bunuel arranged for the "Liebestod" from Tristan and Isolde to be played in conjunction with two Argentine tangos. Bunuel himself played the recordings live at the premiere of the film, armed with rocks in anticipation of a riotous reaction from the outraged audience. The pomposity of Wagner's music has never been put to more subversive use.
Whitby, North Yorkshire
Sir: If the Pope advises pharmacists not to dispense emergency contraception and some Muslim doctors are refusing to treat patients for alcohol-related conditions, will creationist doctors stop treating patients for MRSA infections, as it has evolved to its present-day form?
Dr Chris Marshall
Hillsborough, Co Down
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