Sir: Let me reassure Dr Naeem Toosy (Letters, 25 January) that while no patient is denied NHS treatment, there are some for whom that treatment under certain circumstances is not free at the point of delivery.
I admire Dr Toosy's "ethical principles" and indeed, as a registered nurse, share them, but healthcare professionals also owe a duty of care to others, including the taxpayer – without whom there would be no welfare state. An NHS doctor or a nurse who treats a person who is not entitled to such NHS treatment is guilty of conspiring to defraud the NHS. The onus is upon the patient to prove their entitlement and the healthcare professional to ask for the evidence of that entitlement and document it accordingly.
The majority of patients who attend A&E are not suffering from a life-threatening condition. Indeed many go to A&E in order to circumvent the primary-care system because they know that evidence of entitlement will be required or they will have to pay up front (usually about £25). Such people depend upon the naivety of NHS staff in order to defraud the system.
I do not advocate that we search the unconscious patient for his credit card prior to resuscitation, and migrants who have the legal right to NHS treatment are very welcome to that treatment. But with rights come responsibilities: prove that entitlement or pay up. It is unjustifiable that in illegally providing for one human's "rights" one deprives another of their legal right to finite resources. Contrary to popular belief (even among its staff) the NHS is not, in fact, a charity.
Maria Gough RGN, BSc (Hons)
Senior Nurse Practitioner, Harlow, Essex
Open best schools to all children
Sir: Following Alan Bennett's plea to abolish independent schools on the grounds that not all parents can afford them (report, 25 January), can I ask him to lead a campaign to encourage the state to pay for poor families to attend independent schools, so that parents merely pay what they can afford?
This would solve his problem, and also solve the problem of a country whose university departments in maths, sciences and modern languages would collapse were it not for the input of the schools that many recognise to be the best in the world. Or perhaps we should abolish Oxford and Cambridge because not everybody can go there?
Dr Martin Stephen
High Master, St Paul's SchoolLondon SW13
Sir: Alan Bennett is wrong to say that in France state education is best. I have friends in Tours, small business owners, socially liberal, secular, broadly representative of a late-30s to early-40s French self-made middle-class. They send their children to private schools (which are predominantly Catholic) because they are frantically worried about standards not just of academic attainment but of behaviour and what they describe as "moral structure" in the state sector.
Increasingly French concerns mirror our own. Standards in state schools appear to be slipping and problems such as antisocial behaviour particularly associated with drink are a growing worry.
I share Alan Bennett's belief that privately educated students are generally more confident, articulate and better equipped for challenges like entrance to Oxbridge. Unlike him, I was educated in a bog-standard Birmingham secondary school and I don't share his views about the abolition of public schools. We need the state sector to aspire to the private sector, not the other way round, although both have things to learn from each other. And one often finds that the most passionate advocates for "equality" are those who've had a very privileged education.
Haywards Heath, West Sussex.
Sir: Alan Bennett wants public schools to be abolished and for state schools to be so good, you have "to compete to get into them". This is a vision of an education system where parents encourage their children to do well so that they can get into good schools. I am sure parents who currently pay for their children's education would be very familiar with such an ethos and would welcome this change in the state sector. The lack of it is why so many choose private education.
Sir: The closure of private education or its integration into the mainstream system will not improve standards. Neither will the pouring of money into low-achieving schools: and for one reason, the lack of parenting and parental interest.
During my teaching career, I have known children as young as eight who have watched adult movies until late into the night, got up at 5am for more DVDs and television and then gone to school with a Coke and a packet of crisps for their breakfast. They are then expected to knuckle down to the National Curriculum and interact appropriately with their peers. These children come from across the social spectrum and are in our classrooms across the country.
We all supported women's liberation and single and working parents, but by doing so have devalued motherhood and ultimately parenthood to such an extent that children have no idea of their position in society. They have lost their innocence and hunger to learn because they have been given everything yet nothing.
Before any child can benefit from a state or private education, they need to be happy, secure, well-nourished and thirsty for knowledge. To achieve this now, we need parents to take an interest in what their children do in and out of school. If we continue down the path of "pass the buck" parenting, this nation is going to be in deep trouble.
Sir: Dudley Dean points out that the European declaration of human rights enshrines the right of parents to have children educated in accordance with their religious and philosophical views, and suggests that this renders closing of private schools impossible (Letters, 25 January).
As a humanist living in England I am unable to do this for my children: even non-faith schools have a daily act of Christian worship and church services on special occasions. Surely humanists must also have a place in the queue when it comes to human rights?
Sir: Perhaps Dudley Dean could also indicate where in any declaration of human rights it states that such rights are only available to those able to pay for them.
Dr Gerard Duveen
Corpus Christi Collegecambridge
How the Church banned Galileo
Sir: The Revd David Munchin (letter, 21 January) cannot be allowed to get away with rewriting the history of the dispute between Galileo and the Church.
First, consider the significance of the telescopic discoveries made by Galileo in 1609 and 1610. He found that, just like the Moon, Venus has phases. This would not be possible if Venus orbited the Earth, but would be a natural consequence of orbiting the Sun. He also discovered the four large moons of Jupiter, the first discovery of bodies that demonstrably did not orbit the Earth.
It is true that no stellar parallaxes (the ultimate proof of the Earth's motion) had been discovered, but scientists accepted the Earth's motion round the Sun for nearly 200 years before tiny stellar parallaxes were finally found in the 19th century. Before this, the absence of stellar parallax was easily explained by assuming (correctly) that the stars were at huge distances from the Earth.
So the Church did not ban the view that the Earth moves round the Sun for scientific reasons – the very idea is absurd. After Galileo's telescopic discoveries, the science was moving very much in the direction of a Sun-centred universe. The Church banned this view because it was contrary to the teachings of Holy Scripture.
Galileo was a forceful man who made enemies, and made mistakes. But the bottom line is that in 1633 the Church threatened the father of modern science with torture, forced him to recant his views publicly, banned his book and kept him under house arrest for the remaining eight years of his life.
Instead of trying to rewrite history, the Revd David Munchin should be hanging his head in shame.
Who is to blame for the tragedy of Gaza?
Sir: Your front page headline "Freedom for Gaza" (24 January) might have raised hopes that at last the people of Gaza were to be able to leave the squalid area to which they have been confined for an obscenely long time. Can they possibly still love, and feel respectful ownership of, that small area of land which many of us see as a hateful prison? Do all of them wish to remain there, whatever the conditions?
Your reporter's description of a closed and guarded border raises questions. This is not the border between Israel and Hamas-held territory; it is a border between fellow Arabs, the majority of them co-religionists, and it is patrolled by armed guards.
Whatever burden of blame may be carried by Israel for the plight of these people, what help are they receiving from neighbouring Arab countries, some with limitless funds, and almost all with vast areas of potentially productive land? Has Egypt, or Saudi Arabia, ever offered an assisted resettlement programme to those Palestinians wishing find freedom from the Gaza strip?
Or is it convenient, even for fellow Arabs, to leave those people rotting where they are, a highly visible pretext for blaming all ills on Israel?
Where Arts Council cuts hit hardest
Sir: I am taken aback by the dismissive nature of the remarks in the third leader of 19 January, referring to the Arts Council cuts to small theatres. Here in Devon it means we will have no theatre at all from Barnstaple to Plymouth, with the resulting loss of enjoyment, opportunity and education. The Exeter Northcott Theatre is threatened with a cut of their £547,000 grant meaning probable closure later in the year. Why do "bums on seats" "really matter" only in London?
We need an Arts Council grant probably more than other areas, being on the whole a region with lower earnings and the difficulties with transport usual in rural areas. Is not the Arts Council supposed to keep the arts alive, not kill them off?
Sir: The breathtaking arrogance of the leading article "Take a bow" serves to underline the problems caused by the Arts Council's cuts in funding to smaller theatres. The auditoria of central London are not "where it matters". Out here in the rest of the country there are people who go regularly to the theatre, often to see excellent productions which then make their way to London to great acclaim. We are fortunate to be able to travel to Leeds, Scarborough, Newcastle and to the beautiful Georgian theatre in Richmond. We may no longer have the delights of open-air theatres and smaller productions when the cuts bite. This may not matter to you – it does to us.
Guisborough, North Yorkshire
Pension puts MPs among the fat cats
Sir: Julian Knight writes that MPs are entitled to pensions equivalent to one fortieth of final salary for each year they serve (Money, 20 January). If this is the case, they will be far better off not just than private-sector employees, but those in the public sector too.
The major civil-service pension schemes operate on the basis of one eightieth of final salary for each year of service, with a maximum eligibility of 40 years; the largest possible pension thus equals one half of final salary. Not surprisingly, very few qualify for that maximum; the actual average pension paid out is around £4,000 per year. A few public-sector schemes (the Post Office among them) work on the basis of one sixtieth of final salary.
There is a disturbing similarity between the MPs, who have the luxury of fixing their own pensions, and the directors of private-sector companies who similarly decide to retain final salary pension schemes for themselves while denying them to their employees. Whether in the public or private sector, power will often corrupt.
I'll drink to that
Sir: Thank you for your item about the correlation between success and alcohol consumption (report, 23 January). It seems I may be more successful than I thought.
Gay blood donors
Sir: The National Blood Service should break free from its archaic generalisations and start accepting blood from gay men. I have O rhesus negative blood, yet cannot donate due to my sexuality, when blood will be eagerly received from a promiscuous heterosexual man. Other countries understand that not all gay men are "high risk" when it comes to HIV infection, so why can't the UK?
Sir: The news of Starbucks' woes (report, 24 January) is music to my ears. Lately I've been conducting pilgrimages to scenes of 1970s rose-tinted recollections including two favourite pubs, one in London's Leicester Square, another on Sydney's Collier Quay and an excellent old Chinese eating-house near Bugis Street in Singapore, only to find that all three establishments had succumbed to what can only be described as the "Starbucks epidemic". It's too late now for the current victims, but there is hope for the future should this particular virus be somehow eradicated.
Peter Hain's honour
Sir: A succession of senior Labour figures repeatedly stated that Mr Hain's resignation was "the honourable thing to do". Had he resigned when his serious and self-admitted breach of funding rules came to light, that would have been honourable. But to resign now, when a police inquiry into his offence might tarnish Labour, is pure pragmatism. What faith can the electorate have in politicians who confuse honour with self-interest?
Let me eat cake
Sir: So the Government is considering awarding £7 to all obese people for every 1 per cent reduction of body weight (report, 24 January) At just over eight stone, I suddenly feel the need for a daily dose of several large portions of chips and mayonnaise, coffee cake and a dozen doughnuts – in addition to my normal diet (of course). How much will the Government pay me to keep the weight off?
Dr Eccy de Jonge