Letters: I've watched empathy disappear from the NHS

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Like many others, I am horrified at the disintegration of the NHS. I trained as a doctor at the (Royal) London Hospital from 1945-50 and subsequently was a house physician there. In the last few years I have been an in-patient in three local hospitals. The contrast in patient care is unbelievable.

In 1950 the ward sister, having received the night report, walked round the ward and spoke to each patient in turn, inquiring about the night that had passed and if they had any problems or any concerns.

During my admissions no ward sister or nurse voluntarily spoke to me. On one occasion I required catheterisation. The house surgeon came, laid up the trolley and did what was necessary. As she finished her bleep sounded in an agitated manner. She looked at the screen, said "Sorry, crash-call" and hurried away.

The trolley was uncovered and adjacent to my bed, which was near the door into the ward. Visiting time was commencing. A nurse strayed into the ward and I called to her and asked if the trolley could be moved. Her response "I'll tell the doctor."

What is missing is a caring attitude and empathy. Caring is not a degree subject. It is learned by observing others. The role model is the sister or staff nurse in charge. Nowadays that individual is glued to a computer screen at the nurses' station.

David S H Cannon

Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria

The report on Mid Staffordshire health trust seems to have focused on the need to punish NHS staff and managers for the failings. This is understandable but ignores underlying factors.

Central to the breakdown in care is the tick-box mentality that has destroyed the caring ethos in our hospitals. Tick the boxes and cover your own backside has become the mantra for those working in the NHS. This mentality has developed from ministers handing down diktats based on management theories that view processes performed in the public sector akin to a factory conveyor belt.

The NHS needs to stop talking about patient-centred care and start making it happen. This should include having one person responsible for individual patients as they pass through the system, to ensure there is continuity of care and that all parties involved are kept fully informed.

Paul Donovan

London E11

While I am deeply shocked by the recent revelations regarding shortcomings in the NHS, nine out of 10 patients are not dissatisfied with it. A figure of 10 per cent shortcomings is still far too high and should be addressed, but we should not ignore all the good work that is being done.

Over the past six months I have been an in-patient twice, as well as attending many outpatient clinics, and have experienced excellent service at all times. While in the A&E ward I listened to nurses dealing with extremely difficult patients in an exemplary and patient manner and noticed similar caring treatment later in a normal ward where staff sometimes had to deal with highly dependent patients.

Christa Clemmetsen

Newcastle upon Tyne

Can we really be sure this is Richard III?

Swirling at the centre of the vortex of hype over the discovery of Richard III's remains in a car park in Leicester lies a scientific question. Does the DNA, extracted from his mitochondria and compared with known descendants, show with a high degree of confidence that that DNA and the descendants are maternally related?

It may do so, but there is nothing in the public domain, approved by peer review, which shows this, as the New Scientist has been arguing. For example, perhaps many – or all – the citizens of Leicester shared the same mitochondrial DNA sequence at that time.

In other words how many other corpses dating from that period in Leicester share that sequence and how many do not? Without more solid evidence about the underlying science, it would be wise of the proponents of the "King's" discovery to be more circumspect.

Mark S Bretscher FRS

Cambridge

If Ian Jenkins (letter, 7 February) wants to "get a few facts straight" about Richard III, fine.

It was Richard who as Protector, on 5 June 1483, set Prince Edward's coronation day as 22 June and ordered the boy's coronation robes to be prepared. It was Bishop Stillington who, on 8 June, confessed to having conducted the earlier secret marriage of Edward IV to Eleanor Butler, thereby rendering Edward IV's children by Elizabeth Woodville illegitimate. It was Parliament which, on 25 June, passed the Act Titulus Regius declaring the Princes and their siblings illegitimate and conferring the crown on Richard, the late king's brother.

All the other heirs of York lived free as air during Richard's brief reign, with Dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville and her daughters taking generous pensions from Richard and attending palace festivities. Would she have done so if she'd had the faintest suspicion that Richard had murdered her sons?

Once Parliament had declared the Princes illegitimate Richard had no reason to do away with them. It's an unhappy tribute to the poisonous virulence of Tudor propaganda that 500 years on people hate having the vilification of Richard III challenged.

Richard Humble

Exeter

I was brought up in Lancashire, but that isn't why I oppose the reburial of Richard III at York. I'm just as against reburial in London or Leicester.

I oppose the whole institution of monarchy. Too much public money is thrown at royal occasions now. In a recession, it is irresponsible to spend even more on a lavish funeral for a long-dead and particularly ruthless king. Put his bones back in Greyfriars Monastery, with a modest plaque in the car park there.

Quentin Deakin

Bingley, West Yorkshire

Gay marriage is equality for all

Jim McCluskey (Letters, 7 February) paints a rosy picture of "traditional" marriage. He omits to mention that since Adam and Eve's time there has been a great deal of polygamy, concubinage, marriage by rape, marriage of old men to young girls, and hopelessly unequal divorce laws.

Traditionally, Christian marriage has been primarily about the transfer of property between men: the marriage service still asks "Who gives this woman?"

That's one of the reasons we married in a registrar's office, 30-odd years ago. What the gay marriage Bill really means is the recognition that marriage is no longer about the possession of women by men, but the free commitment to a lifelong relationship by two equal partners.

Sarah Thursfield

Llanymynech, Powys

I asked a sixth-form class at my school for their reactions to the Commons vote in favour of gay marriage. Their responses included: "Why not? It doesn't harm anyone else", "It's only fair that there is equality", "I'm easy" etc. Everyone supported the move.

Some of those Tory MPs I heard speaking against the Bill would do well to step outside the Natural History Museum and listen to the younger generation.

John Boaler

Calne, Wiltshire

The lessons of Etch A Sketch

I wonder how many children growing up in today's hi-tech world will have played with the Etch A Sketch ("The man who shook the toy world", 4 February). I remember this toy as the subject of many hours of fun – and frustration. For who could ever really make a decent picture on it? And even if you did, a cruel cousin was bound to shake that masterpiece into oblivion.

It gave something that console games, with auto-save functions, don't give: the sense that all things end. Children now don't face losing what they have created, or finding the motivation to remake something lost, only better. The Etch A Sketch offered a learning curve: one might lose a great picture, but only by doing so can one "sketch" that same piece again, learning from previous mistakes. That's how children learn through play.

Jessica Wilde

London N6

Young Macbeths, we've had a few

Michael Coveney claims James McAvoy will be "the youngest Macbeth in living memory" when he plays the role at the Trafalgar studios this month (6 February). Clearly Coveney's living memory is not that good.

A young actor called John Gielgud played Macbeth at the Old Vic in 1930 at the age of 26 and seven years later a 30-year-old – Laurence Olivier, also at the Old Vic – played the part. In the 1933 season, once again at the Old Vic, a promising young performer, Charles Laughton, who was at the time just months younger than McAvoy, had a go at the role with Flora Robson as his wife. Their lack of middle-age did not specifically count against any of them – nor should it with McAvoy.

Nicholas de Jongh

London N1

Who gets to vote on Scotland?

Recent letters have discussed whether expatriate Scots should have a vote in the independence referendum. Eligibility to take part in the Commonwealth Games is, I believe, based on a mixture of the ius soli and the ius sanguis.

If you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, or were born there, or one of your grandparents was, you can be a member of the relevant team. I do not see why extending this system to the referendum should present insuperable problems, if the political will existed.

A Flores

London SW15

E-Bacc muddle

So the wheels have finally come off the Government's E-Bacc programme to focus on core academic subjects replacing GCSEs. That's what comes of educational reform led by an inexperienced, ideological minister, Michael Gove, and an inexperienced, ideological think tank, Reform, whose report, Core Business, in December 2009 kicked off this sorry saga.

Simon Boyd

Cambridge

Whisky business

I was, as always, interested to read Mark Hix's article in The Independent magazine about rhubarb (2 February). He suggested, although Burns Night had passed, a recipe for Haggis with bashed neeps and rhubarb. It was unfortunate that the recipe included "a good splash of whiskey" (Irish) rather than whisky (Scottish).

Alison Auld

Inverurie, Aberdeenshire

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