Letters: Media and aid in quake zone

How do the media reach the quake zone first?
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The Independent Online

In the face of the fiasco that is the international aid effort in Haiti, the less said by American leaders, past and present, the better.

This could easily become President Obama's Hurricane Katrina, and Hillary Clinton's pronouncements must ring particularly hollow to those who are suffering from hunger and thirst, dying of their injuries or still trapped in the rubble as she speaks.

What seems astonishing is the speed and ease with which a disaster area is accessed by droves of the world's media, while the appointed relief organisations remain conspicuous by their absence days after their help would have been most effective.

If the combined resources, experience and expertise of the world's relief agencies have so spectacularly failed to deliver results, there is plainly something wrong with the system. No doubt we will soon hear that "lessons must be learnt" – again.

If President Obama wants to lend credibility to his Nobel Prize, he could look to setting up strategically placed permanent rapid reaction forces, a competent overall leader with a full-time team, designated resources, and powers to co-ordinate the arrival of international relief efforts in an appropriate sequence anywhere in the world. This should not be called the UN.

Sierra Hutton-Wilson

Evercreech, Somerset

Blair's breach of trust over Iraq

I await Tony Blair's appearance before the Chilcot inquiry with interest and not a little trepidation. If, as many suspect, it becomes clear that he misled Parliament, the impact on the country will be huge.

Without a codified constitution that sets out the powers of Parliament and the Prime Minister, there must be a high level of trust between the two that their respective powers will not be abused. By telling Parliament that the information at his disposal, which he could not reveal, proved the threat was immediate and grave, Blair took advantage of this trust.

With any luck the damage will be limited to Blair alone, and, with some work, the relationship between Prime Minister and Parliament can be restored. However, I fear that the office will be tarnished for many years to come, and that Blair's folly will hamper the work of future prime ministers, placing us all in danger.

When there is a genuinely immediate and grave threat, will Parliament be able to believe a Prime Minister who says, "Trust me"?

Andrew T Barnes

Blagdon, North Somerset

A ballot has been held to allocate seats to hear Tony Blair give evidence to the Iraq inquiry. Apparently, in other circumstances, appearances by Blair can command ticket prices of £500. Why not auction the inquiry tickets and give the proceeds to the charities in Iraq that are dealing with the human aftermath of this unforgivable blunder?

Nigel Scott

London N22

May one assume that the next scandal will be the sale of tickets for Tony Blair at the Chilcot inquiry on eBay? Watch this space for further details.

Jim Petts

Steventon, Oxfordshire

Christopher Hutchison asks what moderate Christians were doing to restrain Bush and Blair (letter, 16 January). They were marching, they were pleading for lawful and Christian behaviour, they were resigning from New Labour and, like all reasonable people, they were ignored.

Jane Reddish

London W5

No going back to 24-hour GPs

Like everyone I have great sympathy for all those involved in the Ubani case, and I agree with Mary Dejevsky that the current out-of-hours service for patients is nowhere near what it should be, but I am afraid she misses a vital point when she compares GPs to other professionals ("Note to GPs: some jobs have to be 24/7", 15 January). As this case highlights, when doctors make mistakes the consequences can be tragic, and a tired doctor is a dangerous doctor.

The out-of-hours system desperately needs improving, but we can't go back to where we were before 2004 where doctors were on call 24 hours a day, meaning many were operating in a constantly sleep-deprived state. Ms Dejevsky's suggestion that we work shifts is not an unreasonable one, but it would make it very difficult for our regular patients, such as the elderly and those with chronic conditions, to see the same GP twice. They tell us, time and again, that they value continuity of care.

I have to take issue with Ms Dejevsky's unfair generalisation that all GPs work 9am to 5pm. I have never worked a nine-to-five day and I don't know any other doctor who has. All surgeries are open from 8am till 6.30pm, as a minimum, and I (like most GPs) am there from eight to eight doing things for patients.

We are where we are now with out-of-hours because right from the start of the new contract many primary care trusts were more concerned with cutting costs than ensuring patients got the best quality care. The BMA wants to see primary care trusts commission out-of-hours care with the involvement of local GPs. There also needs to be better investment and more rigorous monitoring, but there must not be a return to the system we had before the new contract. That would just mean replacing the current, poor system with a potentially dangerous one.

Dr Laurence Buckman

Chairman of GPs' Committee, British Medical Association, London WC1

The ending of 24-hour responsibility was not universally welcomed and is now seen by many as the beginning of the end for independent contractor status. (My practice did not flee from out-of-hours cover; we hung on as long as possible.) This point will penetrate the public consciousness in due course when local "uneconomic" small practices undergo the same sort of attrition that has affected small shops everywhere.

As big providers take over, services will retreat to the big urban centres and become McHealth outlets. "Choice", the much-vaunted theme of the "reforms", will be between a handful of mega-providers who are entirely beyond the influence of all – even governments and especially patients.

At that point a huge pay gulf will open up between the managerial class of GP, some of whom will acquire "compensation" packages to rival any in big business, whereas those who actually do the work, through rigid protocols that take no account of patients' personal factors, will be paid like checkout staff.

Steven Ford

Haydon Bridge, Northumberland

Just fill in this form for me . . .

I visited a school yesterday by appointment with a teacher and was greeted in the entrance hall by that teacher. Before we could get down to business, however, I had to sign in.

This consisted of supplying my full name in block capitals, my signature, car registration number, home address, date of birth, proof of identity, national insurance number, and the name and telephone number of an emergency contact. This occupied five minutes of my time and that of the secretary to equip me with a visitor's badge to which (with double-sided sticky tape) was appended a copy of the information I had just supplied.

When I expressed surprise that my fingerprints hadn't been taken along with a DNA swab and a photograph, the secretary said, "Ah well, you can see we've just been Ofstedded." Put Ofsted in charge of airport security, I say.

John Polley


I had cause to visit my nearest Land Registry Customer Services office. After helpful advice from an official I was asked to complete a feedback form, since the offices are under threat. Economies are to be made. Finally I was asked to complete a "diversity questionnaire". I was asked details of my ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.

Could someone explain what possible bearing these could have on my use of the Land Registry – and how much money is being wasted in collecting irrelevant information to satisfy some target? My family's origins, my beliefs and my sexual preferences are no one else's business. Such intrusive questions merely promote racist, religious and sexual stereotypes. Can we not get on with living our lives and economise on questionnaires?

Diana O'Bryen

London SW17

Bank rescue cash is gone for ever

President Obama says: "My commitment is to recover every single dime the American people are owed", and he plans a huge tax on finance industry profits to return the money to the exchequer. But the only people who can contribute to the profits (and therefore the taxes) of the finance industry are its customers. So the American people will recover their money mainly from . . . the American people.

We shouldn't be fooled into thinking that we can ever get our money back. It's gone. Do you think that any politician in the US or UK would be talking about the inevitable personal tax rises and dramatic cuts in services if the money really was going to be recovered, as President Obama claims?

David Williams


So the chairman of RBS gets paid £10m and his Mum and Dad think it's too much (report, 13 January), but our earnest economists hasten to point out the huge amount that goes into the tax pot from such earners. What I want to know is why, in the days when groups of organised workers were – allegedly – paid too much, no mention was made of the tax taken from them.

When these sums were earned by the workforce the money was spent, by that workforce, on goods that created a virtuous circle of consumption and job creation. Now that the funds are allocated to so few people the money leaves the spending cycle to find a new home in various tax havens.

Every day, the system that pays them is made to work by the millions of bin men, telephone engineers, fire-fighters, street cleaners, wages clerks and all the rest of us that make the country tick. This bunch of besuited and hyper-smug gamblers are simply in the right pace to garner the crop.

His Mum and Dad are right. History shows that when groups get hold of too much to the detriment of the many, the many have frequently gone and taken it back by force.

Vaughan Thomas

Usk, Gwent

Without taxpayers' money, the market would have been flat as a pancake and not a few banks would have collapsed. So it is only right that bonuses should be mirrored by an equivalent sum paid to the Exchequer.

Other than that, the failure of a supertax to curb bankers' bonuses is an opportunity to curb executive pay in all sectors through higher rates of income tax. The temperature, in the nation's climate of greed, has to be brought down before repair can be made to society and to the economy.

Dr Yen-Chung Chong


Fundamental issue

Alan Golding writes: "In the 1950 general election, 84 per cent of the electorate voted because there were fundamental issues to vote about. Now there aren't" (Letter, 13 January). Er, what about the future of life on our planet? This strikes me as being just about as fundamental as you could get.

Keith O'Neill


Schools for citizens

Yet another spate of letters ("Ways to heal the education rift", 18 January) assuming that independent schooling is indeed the best. I have yet to see any evidence that it is the best at what this poor country of ours so desperately needs – the best at turning out good, responsible, compassionate citizens throughout a just society.

Alison Sutherland

St Ola, Orkney

Keynes by halves

According to Keynes, governments should accumulate a surplus during good economic times to have the wherewithal to mitigate the adverse effects of bad economic times. Johann Hari (15 January) praises the Government for adopting the Keynesian approach in the current economic crisis. However, he fails to mention the Government's abysmal failure to adopt the Keynesian approach during the good economic years. This failure is greatly increasing our economic woes.

Michael W Eysenck

Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey

Drivers on the phone

It seems that the threat of a £60 fixed penalty fine and three points on a driving licence is insufficient to deter many people from the dangerous practice of using their mobile phones while driving. I wonder if giving the police a power to seize the phone, and a court the power to confiscate the phone, accompanied by a required personal appearance at the court hearing, rather than a fixed penalty, might prove the necessary deterrent.

Malcolm Wild

North Shields, Tyne & Wear

Foreign films

Mandarin may be an advantage in the future (letter, 16 January) but I need something now. Understanding the current crop of American films would help. How about a course in Mumblin?

Robert Vincent

Wildhern, Hampshire