Letters: Longer tours of duty could mean worse risks to troops' mental health

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You report that some British military units are likely to be required to serve tours in Afghanistan of 12 months rather than six (1 August).

Putative reasons for the high rates of mental disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder in US forces include tour lengths of 12 or more months and increased use of reservists. It would appear the Ministry of Defence are now to test this hypothesis out on Her Majesty's forces – although we already know UK reservists are at increased risk of mental health problems.

Ian Palmer

Lt Col (Retd), Professor of Military Psychiatry,

London N7

Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya - Syria? Isn't it time for us to be true to our free market capitalist principles and privatise war? Outsourcing will, as it does everywhere else in the economy, improve delivery and save shed-loads of money. Failure to achieve defined objectives within the contractual deadline will incur penal charges and lead to a loss of the business to a competitor. The infallible power of competition will mean that if one supplier fails we just go out to the market again.

The benefits would be legion. Massive saving in the public service wage bill from shedding top-heavy, overpaid senior management down through endless echelons of unproductive middle management to the lowliest of stakeholders – who actually do all the work and take all the risks, like getting killed. All liabilities for accidents at work, health and safety violations and of course gold-plated pensions, would be contracted out.

As a solution, handing war over to the private sector is elegant and economical and politically advantageous: a no-brainer in fact. We could also save the salary of Liam Fox and hand the war contract over to that lovely Mr Cable.

Keith Farman

St Albans, hertfordshire

Badgers join the hit-list

With Richard Ingrams's entry into the debate on the badger cull (30 July), it now becomes apparent that he actually hates all British wildlife. He definitely can't be accused of discrimination.

John Hall


I am unlikely ever to catch a sight of a live specimen of Richard Ingrams, and yet for some reason I would oppose his killing, even though he has been proved to be responsible for absurd and obnoxious opinions polluting my Saturday newspaper.

I fail to see why never seeing a badger precludes people from having an opinion on whether or not they should be culled.

Andrew Cosgrove

London SW11

I am grateful to Richard Ingrams for reminding me that the English countryside is inhabited by savage badgers, as well as the predatory red kites of which he has written previously. But one peril he seems to have overlooked.

He may have noticed fields with long-eared furry creatures, eating grass, which look completely harmless. Over 30 years ago, however, a documentary on medieval history happened to film one of these animals taking flight and inflicting serious injury on anyone who approached it. We should be warned.

Peter Smith

Halifax, West Yorkshire

What has been proposed at this stage is a trial of badger-shooting in carefully selected areas to see if this has any effects on bovine TB levels, and also if the shooting can be done humanely. Groups of farmers will employ marksmen, but it is difficult to see how a significant number of badgers can be killed "humanely" by the free-shooting method that will be used.

They are extremely shy creatures and retreat below ground at the merest scent or slightest sound of a human. Being low to the ground and mainly nocturnal too, it seems reasonable to believe they would be difficult to kill with one clean shot.

There will be checks on the humane aspect by independent vets. But this depends entirely on the shooters presenting the carcasses for post mortem examination. Any carcass showing signs of being killed by more than one shot (or perhaps also being interfered with by any dog finding it wounded), is highly likely to be disposed of in the wild – rather than being given up for post mortem with the possible loss of the shooter's licence.

A more transparent means of monitoring would be for an independent examiner to be present at a culling exercise, filming it all. I cannot see many culling licence holders subscribing to this though.

The wealth of information available about this whole issue suggests the answer to the TB problem lies in a combination of better animal husbandry, improved and increased testing in cattle, more rigorous control of cattle movements, better biosecurity measures on farms, and a vaccination programme for cattle and badgers.

Steve Hawkes

Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

If the badger cull does go ahead I will be very interested to see if there is a corresponding increase in hedgehogs in the cull areas.

In the four years I have lived in south-west Shropshire, I have seen one hedgehog, and that was nearly four years ago. I see badgers almost every time I drive at night. Badgers eat hedgehogs.

Even though I feel for my neighbours who have lost livestock to TB, the scientific case for culling does not seem to be especially strong. How interesting if there turns out to be a stronger case for controlling badger numbers in defence of the hedgehog than for reducing the incidence of bovine TB.

If hedgehog numbers do increase, I will also be very interested to see how the pro-badger and pro-hedgehog lobbies respond.

Patrick Cosgrove

Chapel Lawn, Shropshire

Wrong way to cut NHS costs

The new plans for rationing of the NHS (report, 28 July) are crude and thoughtless. The threshold for cataract surgery was raised on 1 June, and now excludes 80-90 per cent of patients who need cataract surgery, and would have had it in the recent past.

But will this reduce costs? Cataract surgery is one of the cheapest and most effective of medical procedures, and increasing the number of mainly elderly people with impaired sight will lead to more immobility, and, inevitably, more falls, fractures, and driving accidents.

Of course we need to save money, but this isn't the way to do it. Once again, Andrew Lansley has acted before thinking; will he ever learn?

Emeritus Professor Sam Shuster

Woodbridge, Suffolk

Your article on "rationing" NHS treatments highlights some of the tough decisions that the health service will have to make over the coming years.

With the NHS expected to save £20bn over the next four years, effective commissioning is more important now than ever before. Your leading article rightly points out that doing everything for everyone is not financially viable, and so commissioners must prioritise services based on the needs of their local community.

In some cases, commissioners may have to reduce access to treatments that offer limited clinical benefit to patients or put in place alternative options which are of high quality, but lower cost. But it is essential that such measures are taken on the basis of evidence, and the process to come to such decisions is fully transparent, and based on an examination of value it offers both patients and the health service.

David Stout

Director, Primary Care Trust Network, NHS Confederation

London SW1

Abusers still in holy orders

As the Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny reminds us yet again that the Vatican seems more concerned with defending the reputation of the Church than with the plight of those who have been sexually abused by Catholic priests, it is pertinent to ask some searching questions about the degree to which what we have been promised for almost a decade by the bishops in England and Wales, in this context, has actually been delivered.

In November 2001, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales committed the Church to implementing the recommendations of the Nolan Committee, including recommendation 78 that: "If a bishop, priest or deacon is convicted of a criminal offence against children and is sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment of 12 months or more, then it would normally be right to initiate the process of laicisation. Failure to do so would need to be justified. Initiation of the process of laicisation may also be appropriate in other circumstances."

However, it was clear by 2010 that almost two-thirds of priests relevantly convicted and sentenced had been allowed by the Church to retain their clerical status as priests. Thus third parties, including victims of abuse, were required by the Church to see these men as ongoing recipients of the sacred power which the Church teaches is communicated by the sacrament of Holy Orders; as alter Christus (another Christ).

Published church sources suggested that only six clergy had been laicised because of offences against children between 2001 and 2009, while, in September 2010, Channel 4 News reported that only eight (36 per cent) of 22 priests identified in England and Wales as having been convicted of sexual offences against children, sentenced to serve sentences of 12 months or more and as serving all or part of their prison sentences, since November 2001, had actually been laicised.

Why is this the case? Have the Catholic Bishops in England and Wales, actually, initiated the process of laicisation in relevant cases? Is the Vatican, in fact, processing the cases referred to them? The facts would suggest not.

Philip Gilligan

Littleborough, Greater Manchester

Refugees lose legal aid

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's complaints about the withdrawal of funds to support asylum seekers and refugees (25 July) are timely, but it is not only the Refugee Council which has suffered in this respect.

The ongoing decimation of legal aid means that it is increasingly difficult for recent arrivals in the UK, insecure and isolated as they are, to find the solicitors necessary to help them navigate the legal minefield which is the asylum process.

Furthermore, one of the few lifelines these people have is the support offered by community-based refugee organisations who can only in their wildest imaginings dream of the six-figure sums bestowed on the Refugee Council by central government. Such bodies have always struggled to survive from year to year on shoestring budgets. Now more than ever, with local council budgets slashed and other grants increasingly hard to come by, these organisations are facing an uphill battle to sustain services which are vital to this marginalised section of our society.

Peter Williams

London SW12

Media studies' time has come

If there's a crisis and outcry about the medical profession, the law, the economy, defence, nuclear power, climate change or whatever, in no time highly qualified academic professionals from the appropriate field of expertise will find their way into our radio and television studios, willingly to make their wisdom and insight, the result of years of experience backed by the latest research, available to the nation.

We are frequently reminded that our universities are running too many Mickey Mouse degrees in Media, but the professors and dons in these various media schools always claim that professional experience and ongoing research on media is essential in modern society.

We are now in the midst of Murdochgate, the greatest media crisis and scandal of modern times. Where are our academic media experts? Not a squeak.

Professor Robert Giddings


Dead? No, just passing

Amy Winehouse's death is constantly being referred to in the media as her "sad passing" (letter, 1 August)? Surely, we can resist this needless and coy Americanism? Or do we have to say people "passed" whenever they die in Britain now, as if they've just skipped past us on their way to an all-American evangelical heaven?

Amy Winehouse died; she is dead. And yes, as deaths tend to be, it was indeed rather sad.

Can't people speak good British English any more without sprinkling it with puritanical and psychobabbly Americanisms? Why? And don't get me started on the way everyone these days needs to find "closure" after somebody's "passing".

Eddie Webb

London SE10

The blame for terror

Ibrahim Hewitt uses the Norway massacre as an excuse to attack Israel (letter, 26 July). He would do better to focus on Palestinian extremism.

Hizbollah, Hamas, and even Fatah, declare suicide bombers as martyrs, routinely name squares and public buildings after murderers, indoctrinate their children with hatred in schools and youth groups. A recent poll showed that most Palestinians want children to sing songs of hatred for Jews in their schools and see the "two state" peace formula as merely as stepping stone for taking over Israel.

In contrast, all segments of the Israeli society were shocked by the Goldstein massacre in Hebron (although even one death is terrible, but typically Mr Hewitt inflates the number of deaths from 29 to 50), all Israeli politicians expressed outrage, the government took very prompt and appropriate action and a shrine that was erected by the minuscule group of admirers was removed by the Israeli army. The whole spectrum of Israeli society was shocked.

Mr Hewitt encourages the Palestinian extremism when he picks on the isolated case of Goldstein and ignores the hundreds of terrorist acts by the Palestinians.

Alan Halibard

Bet Shemesh, Israel

Cycle test

One of the respondents to a poll on whether cycle helmets should be mandatory (report, 29 July) offers the view that "evidence that cycling helmets work to reduce injury is not conclusive". I was wondering if you might arrange for me to hit him over the head with a plank of wood. I would offer him the choice of wearing a helmet or not. I believe that this exercise would surely concentrate his mind and reveal the degree of commitment he has to this opinion.

John Hade

Totnes, Devon

Feathered enemy

I fully agree with Pete Dorey (letter, 1 August) about gulls being a menace. Down here in St Ives, they shriek all night in the summer. What is there to shriek about at three in the morning, for Pete's sake? Are they changing shifts? No people around with food at that time – they just do it to annoy us.

John Richards

St Ives, Cornwall

Perspectives on the spirit of cricket

Another nail in the coffin of a morally bankrupt sport

Hurrah for James Lawton for speaking out against the farcical decision to overturn Ian Bell's dismissal in the Test match against India at Trent Bridge on Sunday ("Rule of law is trampled on to protect 'spirit of the game' ", 1 August).

Not only was it completely wrong for the captain and coach of the England team to pressure the Indian captain and for him and the umpires to capitulate to their demands, but Bell's comments at close of play showed a lack of grace and maturity. Such posturing is common among the current England team: if they behave offensively, or if they break the rules, it is always justified on the grounds of being competitive; if similar behaviour is shown towards them, it is against the spirit of the game.

It would have been better for cricket and certainly better for Bell's development as a player and a person if the decision had been accepted by him and the England team. What happened did accord with the spirit of the game, as the ECB suggested in their statement, but not in the way that they meant. It was, in fact, just another nail in the coffin of what is rapidly becoming the most morally bankrupt sport in the world.

Bob O'Dwyer

London SW4

Indian captain brought credit to the game

James Lawton is wrong to refer to the Spirit of Cricket as "uncharted philosophical country". In fact, the Spirit of Cricket was thoughtfully articulated in 2000 as the Preamble to the Laws of Cricket, stating: "Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself. The major responsibility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains."

There is no doubt that M S Dhoni would have been within his rights to insist on Bell's dismissal. It is to his – and the Indian team's – great credit that they recognised that this was one of those occasions when the tension between Laws and Spirit was best resolved in the latter's favour. The game is richer for his actions, and we are reminded once again why cricket – as should be the case with all sport – is about much more than winning or losing.

Gerard Bell