Letters: Migrants and the NHS

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The Independent Online

NHS depends on migrants but denies them treatment

Sir: The enforced removal of the renal cancer patient, Ama Sumani, from her hospital bed, and her deportation to what appears to be an inevitable death in Ghana (report, 16 January), appals me.

In our local acute hospital, it has been reported that one official checks wards for sick "failed" asylum-seekers (including those whose appeals process is not complete) to terminate their treatment and have them removed. We know many refugees who "fail" to get their asylum claims recognised are, in fact, genuinely fleeing persecution, and have been threatened, tortured or raped in their countries of origin. Our government operates what amounts to a quota system so has a vested interest in denying genuine claims.

Many nurses are horrified by this inhumanity, but NHS managers are not bound by the codes of ethics that govern the actions of nurses, midwives and medical staff. This is a weakness in the health service. Until 20 years ago, the nurses' professional code also required us to do our utmost to rectify any circumstance that prevented us from fulfilling our obligations to provide the best possible care. Sadly, the code was weakened, requiring us merely to notify our line-manager of any situation which, in our judgement, operated to the detriment of patient care.

Line-managers frequently ignore such information, or if we persist in pointing out unwelcome truths, penalise us. Conformism, rather than a passion for professional standards of care and treatment, is incentivised in today's NHS.

In the past decade, our local health service has relied hugely on the professional input of nurses from South Africa, the Philippines and Zimbabwe. Without these women and men working alongside us, our health service would have all but collapsed. Not enough indigenous British recruits are prepared to tolerate the poor working conditions that often prevail on the front line of patient care. We are ready enough to disregard country of origin and nationality when we want to benefit from the skill and effort of overseas colleagues; yet it seems our government is only too quick to slam the door when it comes to giving back to those in need.

Sally Griffin

Brighton, East Sussex

Creative approach to school 'apartheid'

Sir: We are very interested to see the attack by Dr Anthony Seldon, the headmaster of Wellington, on "educational apartheid" (15 January), and most in the independent day sector would sympathise with some of his views, particularly that "the ending of the direct grant system was one of many fatal errors".

Many independent schools are urban day-schools, with strong roots in their communities and still doing all they can to play a full part in those communities, not just through communication but also through active involvement in partnership projects to spread the benefits they offer. Some are seeking to raise funds for bursaries, others may find a way forward through the academies programme (though academies are not necessarily appropriate ways ahead for all schools). Often, the educational and political establishments have cut off these routes to social mobility and educational attainment.

If we are going to have a truly creative approach to break up the "apartheid", it should go both ways. Let independent schools serve their communities as best they can with their own resources, but why not really open them up and allow them to expand through state involvement?

For example, why not offer an academic stream at the start of GCSE for non-fee-paying children supported by the state at the same rate it costs to educate a child in a state school in that area? That would be real mutual co-operation and the end of "apartheid".

Sarah Evans

Head, King Edward VI High School for Girls, BirminghamMike GibbonsHead, Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, WakefieldStephen SmithHead, Bedford Modern School, On behalf of the Forum of Independent Day Schools

Sir: I had the good fortune to be educated at Gordonstoun during Kurt Hahn's headship. He was well ahead of his time in terms of the public schools "paying their way" in a democratic society. In those days, parents were means-tested in relation to the fees they paid, on the basis that the more wealthy should pay for the less well off. There were five houses of about 50 to 60 boys in each, and one house was almost entirely given over to the local fishermen's sons, whose education was paid for by those who could afford it.

Hahn was a great believer in the private school being part of the local community, so he had a system of "services," including a coastguard and fire service, manned by the boys and playing an active part in the life of the surrounding area of Morayshire. The services continue to flourish, but the means-testing has long gone.


London SE5

Sir: Dr Seldon's aspiration to bring all schools up to the level of the independent sector is highly laudable, but he misses the point in his analysis of independent and grammar schools "creaming off the best pupils, the best teachers, the best facilities".

This is not the fault of the independent. After years of mediocrity, a critical mass of parents have lost confidence in many state schools to cherish and support their individual child. This is compounded by endless meddling from Whitehall which promotes process above practice.

No wonder demand for places in independent schools from every section of society far outstrips provision, despite the huge costs involved.

Matthew Patten

Manningtree, Essex

Sir: Money is important in the education debate, not least because of the line often promoted by parents of private-school pupils: that they pay twice, once to educate their own children via school fees, and again to educate state school children via taxation. But this proposition can be reversed: parents of state pupils (93 per cent of all pupils) pay fees in the form of taxation as well as subsidising the £100m in tax relief enjoyed by the charitable status of private schools.

The bottom line is this: the state educates the overwhelming majority of children because the private sector cannot. So, let's start thinking a little more about our children and the purpose of education.


Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex

Local democracy must be revived

Sir: Steve Richards (Comment, 15 January) rightly says that before we can sensibly discuss "visions of local genius flourishing across the country", we need a debate on the role of the state. It's not just education and health; it's about all the public services and the future of local communities everywhere.

The Government in its NewLabourSpeak talks of "citizen engagement" and "community empowerment". Their sentiments are as good as their language is atrocious, but ask them how it will work and they haven't much clue.

As for the "big state"; do its critics dislike the amount it spends or just the way it operates (large top-down and complex organisations)? And if raising most of the funds centrally and handing it down the line is the problem, why is it not possible to raise much more locally without increasing the total amount raised?

But the key must be the revival and re-establishment of local democracy. The Victorians invented multi-purpose local authorities, elected democratically and accountable to local people, because that is the best way to organise services at a local level, provide a strategic vision for local communities and represent their needs to government. Unless we achieve a massive renaissance of local democracy, dismantling national bureaucracies and sweeping away the confusion of quangos, all the rest is pie in the sky.

Lord Greaves

Liberal Democrat, House of Lords, London SW

The terrorism inthe Gaza Strip

Sir: Alan Halibard (letter, 17 January) is right that "Arab anti-Jewish terrorism predates ... Israel". After the First World War, the British government gave Palestine to the Zionist Jews without consulting the 700,000 indigenous inhabitants who had been promised self-determination. They protested violently.

The infamous Irgun (IZL) was founded in 1931 and helped the British suppress the 1938 Palestinian Rebellion, and was the driving force behind the 1947-48 massacres, and the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians. Most Gazans form part of these refugees from "Israel proper".

Certainly, 8,500 settlers were removed from Gaza in 2005, but 15,000 new ones were moved to the West Bank, Israel retaining full control of Gaza's borders, shoreline and airspace, and daily dispatching its "Defence Force" on killing sprees. Let us not talk of "Islamist terrorism" in Palestine.

C Cameron

Ipswich, Suffolk

Humble fly teaches us to save energy

Sir: Artificial photosynthesis certainly is an attractive solution to dwindling energy resources (letter, 12 January). In the early 1980s, I did my PhD in the lab of Professor David Hall (King's College, University of London) on how to use photosynthesis to produce hydrogen gas from water using sunlight.

Photosynthesis is an astonishing process, using relatively low-energy red light to split water molecules to produce, with the addition of the right catalysts, combustible hydrogen. But a striking difference between natural and man-made systems is the density of energy generation, storage and use.

Daylight is a diffuse, low-density energy, and even when it is harvested by photosynthesis the concentration of energy stored in the plants and animals that go on to utilise that energy is still low compared with fossil or nuclear fuels. Biological systems are able to use tiny amounts of energy to drive highly complex actions. A common housefly has the information-processing power of a small computer and is able to fly, yet consumes infinitesimal amounts of energy.

Renewable energy sources are probably the only long-term solution, but as we try to copy the awe-inspiring elegance of nature's ability to capture energy, we must also find ways to mirror her frugality in using that energy.

Dr Paul Gisby

Macclesfield, Cheshire

Nano points the way for green transport

Sir: The Tata Nano marks a fresh start in low-power car transport and, as your writer Hamish McRae points out (Analysis, 11 January), we should not regard it with arrogance. Faced with growing fuel shortage, rising costs and global warming, we in the West could be crying out for a low-power green car giving, say, 100mpg within 20 years.

The Nano-type car is at the beginning of its development and improvements could produce a greener version. There seems to be a case for international co-operation to find the minimum power necessary for personal transportation in a "green" society.

Surely three to four horse power per person should be enough to move us about, and this points to a car requiring about 20HP. Such an approach would mean continuing research and development into the engine, gearbox, power unit, or engine generation unit, transmission friction and aerodynamics.

Near the end of the century, people could possibly look back at our present cars as desirable antiques needing a crazy 100HP to 400HP. Beautiful, sleek and powerful but, sadly, like Concorde, no longer viable in a green society.

Stanley Warner

Cockermouth, Cumbria


Crash warning

Sir: The huge disruption caused by one thankfully "safe" crash-landing at Heathrow shows the absolute folly of the Government's plan to expand Heathrow again and further increase BAA's monopoly on flying around London.

Kiron Reid


The cost of banks

Sir: Banks are again threatening to start charging us for current accounts if they are prevented from levying inflated penalties (report, 18 January). May I be the first to welcome such a policy? The payers of these penalties are usually the poor, people with temporary financial problems and those who find it difficult to manage their account due to disability. It would be a lot fairer if we paid for our own bank service rather than allowing the weakest and most vulnerable to foot the bill.

Ben gardner

Reading, Berkshire

Rugby disunited

Sir: In "The springbok vs the protea" (report, 16 January), Ian Evans wrote that the rugby teams of South Africa have, until now, been united under the emblem of the springbok. This is not so. The national rugby league team, not wishing to associate itself with the apartheid regime closely linked to rugby union, has always called itself the Rhinos. Evans also writes of the "predominantly white sport of rugby". He means rugby union. It is vital to be specific about what code is being discussed.

Michael O'Hare

Northwood, Middlesex

Park that sledge

Sir: Surely, the answer to cricket's sledging problem is not to fit a batsman's helmet with headphones (letter, 16 January) but with a microphone. Then teams would know that any puerile and unsportsmanlike comments directed at the batsman could be broadcast to the crowd and television audience. Sledging would end overnight.

Gary James


Roots of exploration

Sir: At some point, the arrant nonsense that plants and animals known to some people for perhaps millions of years are not "discovered" until some safari cap-wearing European explorer or scientist says so, must stop. The only suicidal thing about the so-called suicidal tree story (15 January) is the belief that a tree in an open clearing in a small Madagascar settlement is not "discovered" until a Frenchman says so. What buries me entirely is the disguised attempt of the Frenchman to name the tree after his daughter.

Dr Gbenga Oduntan

Lecturer in International Commercial Law, University of Kent, Canterbury

Hunt for organs

Sir: Contrary to what Thomas Sutcliffe says (Opinion, 15 January), if "presumed consent" becomes the law I foresee target-driven, bonus-incentivised "organ transplant facilitators" worrying the hell out of the recently bereaved.

Roger Norris