Letters: NHS and privacy

NHS records scheme is an attack on our privacy
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The NHS Summary Care Records (SCR) scheme is a further bureaucratic attack on our entitlement to privacy. A careful reading of the booklet "Changes to Your Health Records" reveals how threadbare are the arguments in favour of globalising individuals' health information and how heavily stacked the scheme is against opting out.

The main reason for this massive scheme is, on its own admission, a scenario where a person with a condition critically contraindicating certain treatments is rendered unconscious away from his/her home area at a time when his/her GP practice is closed. It is not unreasonable to ask how often this scenario occurs.

The scheme assumes consent on the part of the patient unless one acts to opt out before a none-too-distant cut-off date. This is a classic bureaucratic practice. Fair play would require at the very least that an opt-out form and pre-paid envelope be sent with the booklet, but instead it directs us to various websites (none of which offer the form) or to our GP practice. Either way, it is up to the patient to make the running. Add to these considerations the fact that no IT database, no matter how stringent its security measures, can be open to tens of thousands of people without being accessible to incompetent users and competent criminals.

The BMA's concern about patients whose records are already on SCR without consent is but the tip of a very dangerous iceberg.

Colin V Smith

St Helens, Merseyside

What happens in a hung parliament

Andy McSmith notes that, if the forthcoming general election produces a "hung parliament" and Gordon Brown is forced to resign as Prime Minister, "In theory ... any politician'", not necessarily the leader of the largest opposition party, could be asked to form a government ("Are we heading towards a hung parliament, and how would it work?", 11 March).

While this is a correct interpretation of the present constitutional understanding, it is one that was only clearly established as recently as last month, when the Cabinet Office issued a draft chapter of a manual it is currently producing.

In making this stipulation, the Cabinet Office rejected the alternative view that there are clear precedents from 1923, 1929 and 1974 that, if the incumbent Prime Minister resigns following an inconclusive general election, the leader of the largest opposition party should be automatically the next person in line.

Moreover, whether or not it is based on a correct interpretation of the precedents, it is not entirely clear that the approach favoured by the Cabinet Office will achieve its objective of preventing the monarch – who formally appoints prime ministers – from becoming involved in political controversy. This circumstance would in turn undermine the democratic legitimacy of the UK constitution.

Given the importance of the issues at stake, it would surely have been better to have drafted the rules over hung parliaments on a basis of wide, open consultation, rather than the closed process that was employed.

Dr Andrew Blick

Senior Research Fellow, Democratic Audit


In the 1970s we had a "who governs Britain" election and we are about to have another one. The threat then was from the unions which were demolishing the economy; the threat now is from the banks. The unions had their wings clipped and the same needs to happen to the banks. Having realised that they can bully democratically elected governments simply by being "too big to fail" they are swaggering about like highway robbers.

Whoever is elected in May will need re-assert their political power and curb gigantism among financial institutions. The restrictions which were applied after the 1929 crash and carelessly lifted in the 1980s will need to be re-applied. The only thing that will focus the minds of bankers is being small enough to fail.

Martin Kennedy

London W1

The economics of climate change

I welcome the decision of the United Nations (report, 11 March) to ask the InterAcademy Panel to review the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ahead of its next report in 2014.

It is important that not only the science but the long-term projections of economic activity and energy use be included in the review. There is considerable disquiet among economists that the data on which the projections used by the IPCC have been based are not "state of the art".

The IPCC has used estimates of economic activity based on market exchange rates rather than purchasing-power parities. These overstate both significantly and systematically the gap in wealth between rich and poor countries, and thus the amount of economic growth required to achieve convergence over the current century (a wholly laudable aim which I endorse).

Since 2007, good-quality benchmark estimates of economic activity measured at purchasing-power parity have been available for the vast majority of countries (including China for the first time) in the 2005 round of the International Comparison Programme. These would form a much sounder basis for economic projections into the very long term.

The review should be seen as an opportunity to develop a much sounder case for action on climate change than appears at present, not as an excuse to delay precautionary measures.

Donald Roy

London SW15

Genocide: myths and realities

John Mortl (letter, 10 March) dismisses the Armenian genocide as an "emotive label". Would he also regard the Holocaust as an emotive label, and an inconvenient obstruction to better relations with Germany?

It is not, as he implies, an "emotive" irrelevance to distinguish between casualties of war consequent upon disputes between nations, and wholesale programmes of racial and religious extermination conducted under cover of attendant domestic and national dislocation. It is a question of historical and moral accuracy.

Armenia, the Kulaks, Cambodia, Rwanda, Srebrenica, Darfur: the list goes on. It is emotive because we are emotional beings, but ones gifted with reason. It is in balancing these twin poles that we achieve our humanity. Deny this, and we surrender to the bleak moral bankruptcy of realpolitik and a world of meaningless persecution, pogrom and death.

Genocide as a label has meaning, and now more than ever it requires our recognition, however and whenever it occurs.

Christopher Dawes

London W11

It shows a lack of understanding of international politics and of history to suggest that Israel is "the gem that was born out of the ashes of the Holocaust" (letter, 9 March).

With the exception of Stalin's Soviet Union, all the major powers that supported the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine after the Second World War already supported it by the end of the First World War, and neither the Zionists themselves nor their allies in western governments predicted the Holocaust. Stalin's Soviet Union was the only power to invoke the Holocaust as grounds for supporting the establishment of the State of Israel. Does anyone seriously entertain the idea that Stalin felt sorry for Jews?

The tragedy of the Holocaust has been used as an effective propaganda tool by Israel and its apologists for several decades now.

Mark Elf

Dagenham, Essex

Trouble with a tiny attack-dog

J H Moffatt should be careful with Charlie the chihauhua (letter, 12 March). As a councillor for over 20 years and a former parliamentary candidate I have had many encounters with canines, but have only actually been bitten once.

It was during the parliamentary campaign of 1997. I was heading towards the garden gate in a sleepy Lincolnshire village, having failed to get a response at the door, when from around the side of the house came a chihauhua which, despite my fleetness of foot, managed to leave two very small and very neat puncture wounds in the lower calf of my left leg, which I discovered that evening when removing my trousers. The "wounds" healed quickly – which is more than I can say for my pride.

Cllr John Marriott


Learning in giant 'factory schools'

The ever-increasing size of schools must be another factor influencing "the factory model of education" identified by Professor James Tooley (report, 10 March).

A few years ago, as a secondary school careers co-ordinator, I was at an armed forces training centre. I asked about the calibre of the recruits and was told too many of them arrived with low self-confidence, which it was suggested was a result of their experience in large, impersonal educational establishments. After a few weeks' training they generally began to experience the feeling of achievement which allowed them to progress and succeed.

So why have schools increased in size? The usual answer is that they allow for a greater range of subjects. But as Professor Tooley suggests, excellent curriculum material is available via the internet.

But another consequence of the creation of larger educational establishments is that head teachers are often rebranded, with fancy titles, higher salaries and increased numbers of well-paid deputies. Is this an example of "citizenship" that we should be giving to the students? One can understand why Professor Tooley is concerned that pupils are being turned into "a seething mass of bored, frustrated, alienated children".

Dr David Bartlett

Ilkley, West Yorkshire

Prudery and piano legs

Hazel P Lord is correct in pointing out that the reasons for the Victorians covering the legs of furniture had nothing to do with prudery (letter, 11 March).

A few years ago The Cabinet Maker, a trade magazine, published an early photograph of the Duke of Devonshire's household at Chatsworth. The family were off-duty, receiving no one, and all the wooden furniture had closely fitted covers of chintz, as it normally had when not on show.

They really did cover the legs of pianos, but to protect them. How do you think so much old furniture has survived ?

Kyle McKibben


New identities

The case of Jon Venables has surely made it obvious that to publish any speculation about anyone who has been given a new identity should be made a criminal offence.

Robert Edwards


Get the children out

Martin Priestley is right about schools suffering when children do not go on trips (Letters, 8 March). The Government espouses the idea that Every Child Matters and promotes education outside the classroom, yet then spends a fraction on it compared to music. This sends out a very confused and potentially negative signal of seeming not to care about children and nature: let's keep them inside, warm and dry and uninspired.

Henricus Peters

Co-chair, National Association for Environmental Education UK


Paying the auditors

Auditing may not be very riveting but Stephen Foley's article concerning the auditors' apparent role in the collapse of Lehman Brothers (13 March) shows how deadly serious it is. It is high time closer attention was given to auditors' independence. In my view, where public protection is involved, auditors should be hired, fired and paid by an indepenedent body, such as the Stock Exchange, or the Financial Services Authority, to which they owe their duty of care, rather than by the very persons on whom they are meant to be checking.

Christopher Yaxley


BBC for all

Your leading article (4 March) says it is hard to argue that the BBC should both support new artists and serve the mainstream. Really? It is surely much harder to justify a universal licence fee by arguing either/or. It has to be a question of balancing the two. If 6Music closes, my licence fee won't be reduced, but I will be getting virtually nothing for it apart from overpaid bureaucrats. Contrary to your view, Mark Thompson will find it increasingly hard to justify this Moyles and Evans (and Thompson) tax.

David Woods


Dyson's move

I note that a Sir James Dyson is now the Tory champion of the UK's manufacturing industries. Is this man related to the Mr James Dyson who took the manufacture of his quirky vacuum cleaners to the Far East so as to maximise his profits?

Tim Brook