Judging the police will not improve their performance
Sir: It is crucial to learn as soon as possible what criteria David Cameron intends to apply for police officers who are deemed "non-performing" ("Sack bad police, 17 January). I don't understand why extending the principle of job insecurity to the police force will help them to do a better job of catching serious crooks.
Will their performance be judged on the number of arrests an officer makes, now all offences are deemed arrestable? Will it be judged on the number of convictions secured, now virtually anything can lead to an arrest under Prevention of Terrorism and which may lead to suspects being held for up to 28 days?
We've seen public and political hysteria push the police into constructing gross miscarriages of justice - from the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six to the execution of Juan Charles de Menezes last year. Putting chief constables' jobs on the line will immeasurably increase the pressure to bust someone - anyone.
With Westminster's thirst for on-the-spot fines replacing due process and being applicable to ever more "crimes", Cameron's idea will undoubtedly prove an incentive for the police to become the Government's justice-tax collectors, but will distract them from other tasks. Worse, no one will be arrested without harbouring the suspicion that the arresting officer is trying to reach some target or quota.
Health care can never be 'efficient'
Sir: In your editorial (18 January) you make the sweeping statement that the NHS is a "monolithic inefficient health provider". Compared to what?
Which other National Health Service has taken the lead in the world to show us how it should be done? Much of the "inefficiency" is because NHS hospitals have to treat "inefficient" patients. Those who have severe injuries, multiple medical problems, chronic untreatable conditions, the very young and the very old. Funnily enough, exactly the same patients that the cost-efficient private sector has no desire to treat under any circumstances.
Do you really believe competing for all the "good" patients in the private sector is the way forward? At least the NHS is non-profit making, unlike the hospitals being built and run by private foreign companies interested in treating easy NHS patients on the basis that they will make a good profit for their directors, executives and shareholders.
DR JOHN HARRIS
CONSULTANT ANAESTHETIST NOTTINGHAM
Sir: Your prescription for solving the NHS crisis is wrong. It is precisely because of the misguided market reforms initiated by the Conservatives and continued by New Labour that necessary increases in public investment in health services have achieved such poor results. Free market health care systems are inequitable, inefficient and massively expensive because of wasteful over-provision and dysfunctional competition.
Look at the United States. Look at Germany, where better off citizens pay mortgage-sized premiums for health insurance over and above their high taxes. The tragedy is that New Labour's generosity with taxpayers' money has not been matched by wisdom in its use.
If we were channelling the current spending on a health service organised as the NHS was prior to the Thatcherite market reforms of the last 15 years we really would have the best health service in the world. The NHS is being destroyed by a reform process primarily aimed at increasing opportunities for generating profit from health care. We will miss it when it has gone.
DR DUNCAN KEELEY
GENERAL PRACTITIONER THAME, OXFORDSHIRE
Sir: Jeremy Laurance reports on a Commons committee finding that the NHS is still failing too many cancer patients (12 January). I am one of them.
I was diagnosed with skin cancer in May 2004 after a 4 mm-deep malignant melanoma had been removed from my arm. I was told that my chances of surviving the next five years would be less than 50 per cent. A subsequent sentinel lymph node biopsy failed as the lymph node could not be found. All I was then offered by the NHS was a three-monthly visual check-up of my arm, examination of the underarm lymph nodes and a lesson in how to detect any lymph node enlargement myself. A request for any additional investigative tests was turned down on the grounds that this would not change the prognosis. I seemed to be written off .
In June 2005 I moved to Germany. I have since undergone a CT scan, sonography and radiography in addition to a blood test to detect any cancer markers and a thorough visual examination of every mole on my body. Thankfully no further signs of cancer/metastases have been found so far. The body examination and blood test will be repeated every three months for the foreseeable future, all other tests annually.
This is standard procedure and paid for by my German health insurance, which will recover the costs from the NHS under EU rules. In addition I am also entitled to free psychological assistance, if required, and other benefits. It may not improve my prognosis, but certainly helps to deal with it.
Sir: You state that the NHS crisis is partly a result of doctors' pay rises of up to 50 per cent without a corresponding increase in productivity (leading article, 18 January). Concerning NHS consultants the pay increase has been high. But that is a simple reflection of the fact that we until recently had a contract that paid us a basic salary regardless of the number of hours, nights, week-ends worked.
The Government (in its usual arrogant way) decided that we should only get paid for the time we actually worked, expecting to get more hours for the same pay. Great was its surprise when it realised that a large proportion of us had been working 30 per cent or more hours than we had been paid for.
The outcome was therefore that most of us do exactly what we have been doing all the time - but now we are actually being paid for the time spent at work. And if we are paid more than colleagues elsewhere may I suggest that you compare like with like - the UK has never been known for having a low patient/doctor ratio, nor for promoting low working hours.
S U SJOLIN FRCS
BURY ST EDMUNDS, SUFFOLK
Shameful idea of a National Day
Sir: I find the idea of a "National Day", as suggested by Gordon Brown, whereon we are expected to celebrate some famous British achievement, rather sad. Such self-glorifying national days may be all right for second-rate, new nations; but please, not for us. How much more mature and perceptive to have a "National Day of Shame" whereon great crowds, conscious of collective guilt and impending doom, march slowly and solemnly through the streets, flagellating themselves to the beat of drums. I have seen such processions (of a religious nature) marching through Tehran and been much impressed.
But what day shall we choose for our National Day of Shame? I have three candidates in mind. First, 13 April, the anniversary of an event in 1919 in Amritsar where the feast day of Baisakhi was being celebrated. A British army officer marched in with troops and (to teach the natives a lesson?) ordered firing to begin. Final score in casualties: our gallant lads, nil; Indian civilians, about 400 dead and 1,200 injured.
Or we could have 29 December to mark the day in 1170 when four knights judged it appropriate to curry favour with the king by murdering that meddlesome priest, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Or perhaps even 18 March, to mark the day in 2003 when more than 400 MPs judged it appropriate to curry favour with their party leaders (who were currying favour with an American president) by voting for a war against a country of that president's choosing?
Sir: It is astonishing that so senior a member of Her Majesty's Government as Gordon Brown is unaware that we already have a National Day, namely, the Queen's Official Birthday. This is solemnly celebrated by our Missions abroad, and is still noticed by the BBC. That the occasion is greeted with indifference by the populace at large is an indication that, even among those who support the monarchy, the institution is not taken all that seriously.
Sir: Magna Carta Day, whatever its merits as an English occasion, does not lend itself as an event to unify Britain (letter, 17 January), as the statute was enacted before the English conquests of Wales (actual) and Scotland (attempted), later in the same century.
Sir: Given his recent pronouncements on "Britishness", perhaps the Chancellor and Mrs Brown may like to consider naming their second child, if a daughter, Britannia.
Burdens the planet cannot bear
Sir: James Lovelock thinks the planet is already in grave danger (16 January), Tony Juniper (17 January) thinks there is time to avoid catastrophe by reining back climate change. I'm with James Lovelock.
The planet is over-populated, perhaps by a multiple of three, certainly by a multiple of two. By 2050 the population will be half as large again; we are a plague species consuming the planet's resources like locusts in a field.
We are at the beginning of the end of the oil age. An annual reduction in supply as low as 1 per cent year on year would pitch us into a dark hole very soon. Worse, trance-like, we believe a substitute for oil will soon be found. Not a chance: like fossil fuels nuclear energy is finite, hydrogen needs an energy source to make, bio-fuel is a joke with so many mouths to feed, renewables need massive energy conservation to go hand in hand. In the necessary timescale nuclear fusion is a sometime-never possibility.
And working away in the background is climate chaos: changing climates, increasing weather damage, raising sea levels, acidifying seas, reducing food production, and almost at the point when it becomes self-perpetuating. The real problems are denial and inaction. The UK fiddles while Rome burns, China and India are unlikely to cut back in time, the US will wait until the country becomes unmanageable.
Several small, relatively local societies have collapsed in the past. The symptoms of decline were horrific. Will the UK suffer warlords and civil war? Will London suffer cannibalism? At 68 I think there is a reasonable chance I will die warm in bed, but will my grandsons? All my adult life I have thought that I was living at the best of times.
Now I'm glad I'm old.
Sir: Thank goodness for James Lovelock. His prophetic words may be just the wake-up call the world needs. At Trees for Cities we are, like Professor Lovelock, cheerful sods and we believe mankind can rise to the challenges posed by climate change, but only if action is taken decisively and immediately.
Whilst we are working to reforest land in and around cities across the world, we recognise as a tree charity that the real issue is consumption and we urge the immediate introduction of carbon rationing. Economic progress may have been the driving force of the last millennium but the ground rules are about to change fundamentally, with survival once again becoming the driving force. The sooner we get into survival mode the easier it is going to be for us, our children and our grandchildren.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE TREES FOR CITIES LONDON SE11
Sir: Seth Mortimer claims that a Muslim woman wearing the traditional veil in public is "anti-social" (Letters, 18 January). How exactly is that? Can he cite a single incident in which the wearing of the veil is associated with any criminal activity?
If anything, women exercising their right to choose to wear it in public are often the subject of physical and verbal abuse, not the object. Such women need protection from discrimination themselves.
DR RASHED AKHTAR
Doting older dads
Sir: I have a photo of my dad aged 55 holding me (a few weeks old) in his arms in 1949. According to Janet Street-Porter (19 January) this is "faintly disgusting". But far from being "wrinkly", "grey" and "washed-out" my father looks happy, tanned and healthy. Nor does our mother have "bags under her eyes" and a "fixed grin on her face". My younger (!) sister and I had a wonderful childhood and our parents were happily married for over 40 years. And this was a working-class Yorkshire village in the 1950s.
Sir: To blame Saudi Arabia for the Haj tragedy (Letters, 14 and 16 January) is utterly outrageous. What could Saudi Arabia possibly do to educate millions of old men and women coming from the four corners of the world who fail to heed the rules and regulations: not to carry baggage or sit on the ground during the symbolic casting of the devil, which is the major cause of the tragedy. The onus is on their countries and heads of Haj missions to educate their pilgrims and make sure they follow the rules and regulations.
PROFESSOR OF BIOLOGY, KING SAUD UNIVERSITY, RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA
Sir: British taxes should be used for the benefit of British people. Proposed state funding of political parties ("Parties may get more state funding to combat 'sleaze' ", 18 January) fails to qualify. The parties are only private clubs with no legal duties to serve or represent the public. In practice, everyone knows they serve their own interests first. It is no more reasonable to use our taxes to pay the bills of the Labour-Tory accretion than it would be to fund Leeds United or Grimsby Town that way.
Sir: The analysis of George Galloway's antics in the Big Brother house is well up to Mark Steel's usual standards (18 January). But he has under-egged the pudding when he talks about the consequences of Lord Melbourne's hypothetical "clambering under a commode with Jane Austen" in 1841. While doubtless the Whig Party would have suffered terminal damage, it also seems highly likely that Melbourne would have been deprived of his liberty under the Lunacy Acts of the time, bearing in mind that Austen's untimely death occurred in 1817.