Letters: Legal heroin

Free NHS heroin for addicts is wrong, impractical and dangerous
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Sir: The proposal by Howard Roberts, the deputy chief constable of Nottingham for heroin to be prescribed to drug addicts is flawed, impractical and dangerous (article, 23 November). As a police officer, he approaches the problem of drug addiction through crime statistics, rather than considering what is necessarily best for vulnerable drug-users.

For most heroin addicts, they can never have access to too much of the drug, and even if prescribed a minimal dose, will still continue to commit low-level crime to buy "that little bit more".

If the Government really wants to solve the drug problems, perhaps this money would be better spent elsewhere. We have direct experience in providing support for drug-users, their families and friends. We understand the importance of outreach education as a preventative solution.

But programmes such as ours remain massively under-resourced, leaving us desperately looking for funding to survive. The Government should be investing money in counselling and education to ensure those with addictions receive the extended and monitored support needed to help combat their addictions.



Sir: Rewarding heroin addicts with free NHS drugs will encourage their continuance, as well as embolden the young to experiment with cash- and risk-free usage. It will also promote dealing by them, and older dealers will be able to assure customers they can rely eventually on the legitimated soft-cushion care of the NHS.

The estimated £12m needed to resource heroin addicts would be better spent by our impoverished NHS on the treatment and care of disabled children and the severely ill old people whose earnings and savings have helped to finance it.



Mother humiliated in a mixed ward

Sir: Over the past week I've read with mounting anger the accounts of patients, often not only very sick but also emotionally vulnerable, being subjected to the humiliation and insensitivity of mixed-sex wards.

I am haunted still by my mother's dreadful experience. Two years ago, then 87 and suffering chronic emphysema, she was admitted to Stoke Mandeville hospital with a suspected heart attack.

After treatment in casualty, she was transferred overnight to the mixed emergency medical unit. When I arrived to visit her the next morning I was shocked to find her unconscious as a result of sedation but also extremely agitated and naked from the waist down in full view of the man in the bed opposite who was himself embarrassed.

She persistently thrashed around and kicked away the sheets when I tried to cover her; because she was allegedly under observation I was not allowed to draw the curtains round her bed. Only through making myself a nuisance did I manage to see any member of the medical staff, and no one seemed to think it inappropriate for my mother to be in this state on a mixed ward.

My mother was a private person and she would have been mortified to realise she was on full view. When she regained consciousness, she couldn't wait to get away from the place.

With a week she was readmitted, this time to a women's ward where, amid kindness and care from the staff, she died peacefully in a room of her own with us at her side. The contrast between two wards in the same hospital was shocking and I am still angry at the way she was dealt with on the mixed ward. These places should be done away with.



Sir: In response to Janet Street-Porter's articles on the care her sister, Patricia Balsom received at the last stages of her life, I have the deepest sympathy for her and her family.

End-of-life care is a seriously neglected area. Not only is there a need to provide patients with more information about their options, but there is also a duty to provide co-ordinated care. We need a second Cancer Plan so every cancer patient has a link nurse to co-ordinate their care.



Sir: Of course it is right that all patients should expect privacy and dignity in hospital, and NHS trusts are expected to protect that, but an important distinction must be made in this debate between patients who are admitted to hospital for longer periods of time and those who are only in hospital for a short time in an observation unit or A&E.

Our latest figures show that 99 per cent of NHS trusts provide single-sex sleeping accommodation in the wards where patients are admitted for longer periods. Where public expectations differs from what trusts are expected to provide is when patients are admitted as an emergency or for other complex care. In these situations, the need to provide urgent treatment is the over-riding consideration.

Hospitals will not turn patients away because they cannot provide a bed alongside other patients of the same gender. That would effectively be creating separate waiting-lists for men and women. It is in patients' best interests that hospitals continue to give top priority to clinical care in these areas.



Sir: David McVittie, the chief executive of Hillingdon Hospital, refers to a "few issues" about his hospital's treatment of Patricia Balsom (Letters, 23 November). Similarly, Donald Rumsfeld used the word "issue" when he first told President George Bush about Abu Ghraib. In both cases, the more honest phrase would have been "unacceptable and degrading treatment".

I notice that when a bureaucrat or politician uses the mealy-mouthed and cowardly i-word, he is defending the indefensible, particularly if he says he is about to "address the issue".



Sir: Mixed-sex wards are an anathema, but with the present state of affairs in the NHS, I do not believe they will vanish soon.

In Leicester, the health authority has used emotional blackmail to persuade the hospital admin staff to "volunteer" to feed elderly patients their lunches from now until the end of March, including patients with interesting infections.

The staff are under the impression that if they do not do this either the old folk will be left to starve or the NHS will close down. As a result, they have so little time for their own lunches they are eating at their desks.

I wonder where this leaves employment law. It surely impacts on health and safety in a multitude of ways, most of which do not bear thinking about. It also affects unemployed nurses, and would-be volunteers who are being turned away in their hundreds by the local volunteer centre.

What on earth is going on? Leicester is Patricia Hewitt's patch, better funded than some; if she is allowing this to happen here what is happening in the rest of the country? Christmas Day is nearly here. Will the admin staff be asked to "volunteer" again or will the old folk be left to starve while the rest of us celebrate?



South Ossetia cannot separate

Sir: You report that in the call for a referendum in South Ossetia on the question of rejoining Russia, the pro-Russian Ossetian separatists were relying on the precedent set by the UN in allowing Kosovo to break away from Serbia (13 November).

Unlike Yugoslavia, which broke up as a result of internal armed conflict, Georgia seceded from the USSR peacefully in agreement with President Boris Yeltsin of Russia. Now that 15 years have passed, for South Ossetia to separate from Georgia and become part of Russia would call into serious question any existing agreements with Russia. It would send a message that it is legitimate to extend one's borders into neighbouring countries. Russia is itself a federation of different states. South Ossetia seceding from Georgia and joining Russia would escalate the call for independence by indigenous states in Russia, such as Chechnya, and would call into question any justification Russia may have for refusing their request for independence.



We cyclists are always in it

Sir: Along some roads, there are strips of green concrete extending a metre out from the kerb. There is also a sign stating it is a cycle-path. Next to it is another stating, "Kerb your dog, penalty for fouling the footpath £50".

Threatened with death on one side under a car, and on the other by pedestrians wielding leather-bound presentation copies of the local by-laws, we cyclists take refuge on the green concrete dog latrine. We cyclists know our place.



Only a few students prefer US campuses

Sir: The news that the number of British students applying to study at Princeton University this year is up by 39 - to an impressive 100 - is clearly good news for that eminent institution ("Top-up fees force Britons to study at US universities", 10 November).

But how one can conclude from this that Britons are now being "forced" to study at US universities is less clear.

The number of British students studying at US universities has remained reasonably constant at about 8,000 students over the past few years. This continues to represent a tiny fraction (0.4 per cent) of the almost two million British students at UK universities. Studying in the US will always be appealing to a small number of British students. And here in the UK we welcome almost 15,000 students from the US each year.

It is misleading to suggest that we are about to see large numbers of British students boycotting UK higher education and jumping on planes to the US. The latest Ucas figures show this is not the case.

And while you pointed out the many scholarships available at US universities, you failed to mention the £350m of non-repayable cash to support students from low-income backgrounds at English universities.



Northern Alliance beat the Taliban

Sir: The article "Five years after 'victory', violence and corruption dog Afghanistan" (21 November) refers to "the American-led invasion" of Afghanistan. There was no invasion of Afghanistan.

Before the fall of Kabul, and of most of the rest of Afghanistan, to the insurgent Afghan Northern Alliance in November 2001, and the consequent collapse of the Taliban regime, there were no foreign regular combat formations in Afghanistan.

The Northern Alliance had air support and assistance from special forces (US and British). Substantial foreign ground combat forces - including Canadian - entered the country only after the Taliban had been deposed by Afghan forces, and those foreign troops entered with the agreement of the Northern Alliance.

Describing what the US and other coalition members did in Afghanistan as an "invasion" tends to equate those actions in people's minds with the real invasion of Iraq. That equation implicitly and wrongly calls into question the legitimacy of present Nato and coalition actions in Afghanistan, which have been authorised unanimously by the UN Security Council.



Note of warning

Sir: I have just received my first invitation to a carol concert in which "songs of a religious nature may be sung". Can't say I wasn't warned.



Vital to mankind

Sir: The only intellectually sustainable position that Kathy Archibald [or any other opponent of controlled and regulated animal experimentation] can take is to forego every benefit of medical science that has come from animal experimentation (Letters, 18 November). The list will be very long and, sadly, the chances of Ms Archibald recovering from any serious illness would be slim. The rest of us, I suspect, will be happy to continue to benefit from biomedical research that, in all its guises, has so helped mankind, and veterinary medicine.



Welcome in the castle

Sir: I am pleased that the Prince of Wales finally has a house in Wales (article, 23 November). But now that the Queen is to have a direct role in Welsh government following the Government of Wales Act 2006, it is time for a proper royal residence in Wales. There, the Queen could appoint and meet the First Minister of Wales, host investitures and foreign dignitaries. Cardiff Castle would seem a good choice.



Poor Beth

Sir: You've got to feel sorry for Beth Ditto (Extra, 23 November). She assiduously gets herself to the heady height of coolest person in pop only to have it cruelly snatched away by virtue of a multi-page spread in a national daily. Now that a life of sharing canapes with Sting, Elton and Rod beckons for poor Beth, no doubt her place at number one in the cool list has already been taken by someone who, hopefully, no Independent reader has ever heard of.



Handy pragmatism

Sir: The Church Commissioners justify their investment policy on the basis of their fiduciary duty to maximise returns on behalf of their beneficiaries, even if this offends the deeply held beliefs of their congregations (Letters, 22 November). It seems anomalous that the same Church, again seeking exemptions from equality legislation that would otherwise require Christians not to discriminate against gays and lesbians to protect the religious sensibilities of many of its followers, should adopt such a pragmatic attitude when it comes to financial self-interest.



Air of disbelief

Sir: If an astronaut attempts to hit a golf ball in space and misses (Letters, 23 November), it can't really be be called an air shot, can it?