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Tuesday 8 December 2009
Letters: NHS appointments
NHS needs to sort out muddle over appointments
My sympathy to Christina Patterson in her struggle to deal with the muddled appointment for her cancer diagnosis ("Is that what they mean by care in the NHS?", 5 December). Confusion about appointments is a major concern for NHS users. At its most trivial, it wastes time. At its most serious, it risks lives.
It is an issue which NHS managers need to take far more seriously.
I've been in the oncology system for a long time at another of the major London hospitals, so I can begin to appreciate how Christina Patterson feels and what an awful time this must be for her. However, I don't believe that that justifies her using her platform as a commentator in this way.
I've had days when things went wrong – and one case when I even made a formal complaint – but for me what is remarkable is how often the system gets things right, thanks to the small army of not-very-well-paid but dedicated people who make it work.
I don't think it is right for Christina Patterson to attack an individual nurse, or nurses in general, in this way. I think this gives a thoroughly unrepresentative picture of NHS care. All it will do is cause unnecessary worry to those going through similar tests or facing a cancer diagnosis.
My heart goes out to Christina Patterson. But my experience is, I think, worse.
I had surgery for prostate cancer six years ago. On 2 September this year, my GP told me my PSA had gone up and needed to be urgently investigated. It took four weeks for me to see a consultant, and a further three for scans he wanted to be carried out. Unbelievably, it took a further four weeks for anyone to look at them, and a further week for me to be called back and told that an abnormal gland had been found that needed further tests. Needless to say, these have yet to be arranged. A quarter of a year later, therefore, I have no diagnosis, let alone any treatment.
Outside the crumbling workhouse where this story has been so slowly unfolding, a new PFI building is nearing completion, at vast expense. What, I am wondering, is the point if the quality of service, so soon to be moved into it, is as bad as this.
Name and address supplied
Street crime and a debate on racism
Racism is foul and corrupting, and I certainly wouldn't want racists to take any comfort from the comments I made about crime figures and race ("Liddle under fire over 'racist' blog", 7 December).
But the massed ovine bleating of "racist", aimed at anyone who puts their head above the parapet on this issue, is pretty corrupting too. It stifles debate and leads to the sort of resentment upon which the BNP has recently gorged itself.
The statistics confirm my point that people who are young, black and male are hugely over-represented in the figures for street crime, knife crime and gun crime in London. Undoubtedly socio-economic factors are one reason for this – but another, I would suggest, is something to do with culture. Not race, but culture. This seems to me close to being incontestable.
It does not mean that white people do not commit crime or that all black people commit crime. It means exactly what it says. And if we can move from there to a discussion of how and why, and how we turn it around, then that's all to the good.
I suspect it may well be true that a disproportionate amount of violent crime is committed by young black men, so Rod Liddle may be wondering why he is being accused of racism when he is simply reporting what is true.
The racism, of course, lies in selecting and highlighting this variable ahead of all the other variables which apply to those engaged in crime of this sort. For example, they tend to be male and grossly under-educated; their fathers are generally absent or involved in violence; they are no longer involved in organised sport, or religion.
They have none of the skills necessary these days to get legitimate employment, which means they are more likely to derive feelings of belonging and security from gang membership; they are almost certainly not involved in any conventional creative or artistic activity; and, perhaps, most important of all, they will have internalised the market's message that, since you are what you own, you should go out and get it and not let anyone stand in your way.
If Liddle were able to think just a little more divergently, he would realise that the serious problem of violent crime has much more to do with gender, class, education and the pernicious effects of the market than with ethnicity. It is a symptom of political, cultural and moral malaise – just like our fascination for simplistic sound-bites.
The wrong kind of bankers
I agree with Bruce Anderson (7 December) that Britain needs bankers, but not the sort that he has in mind, the ones that will go to Geneva if they do not like doing business here.
Britain needs local branch managers that have the experience and are given the discretion to lend to local businesses and individuals based upon a first-hand assessment of their needs and ability to repay. These bankers do not need huge bonuses, but they do need to be brought back from extinction.
There are strong parallels between the current concerns over city pay and executive remuneration. Namely, ever-increasing levels of performance-based compensation that, in the interests of retaining vital talent, does not decrease when firms fail to perform.
Incentives and other forms of compensation contingent on performance are notoriously problematic. In times of good, the received wisdom holds that they are a force for good by permitting firms to attract and retain the best talent and align that talent to the achievement of stretching targets. In times of bad, however, incentives can be a liability which poses risks to both the short-term and long-term financial health of a firm.
The solution for both City directors and concerned plc shareholders is not straightforward. What is required is a climbdown from unrealistic expectations created by sensational payouts. City directors and plcs need to work hard to ensure thrift in compensation spend. They must effectively manage performance expectations through means other than financial reward. Finally, they must have the courage to lose "valued" staff in the short term in the interests of survival and success in the long term.
Dr Jonathan Trevor
Judge Business School
University of Cambridge
While I should be glad to see the back of the directors of RBS and many of their greedy investment bankers, I am concerned that their departure could destroy the value of the taxpayer's stake in the bank. I should prefer the banks to remain in public ownership, but the Government is determined to re-privatise them as soon as possible.
This does provide a possible solution to the dilemma over bonuses. The banks could be allowed to allocate the bonuses, but not to pay them until after they are refloated and then only to those still working for the bank at the time it is resold.
That might be an effective way of guaranteeing that taxpayers get their investment back, because the bankers would not get their bonuses if they fail to increase the banks' value sufficiently.
In virtually any other realm of properly regulated activity, those involved in the financial meltdown, whether directly or through lack of oversight and risk management, would have been summarily dismissed and prevented from operating in that field ever again.
Are we really supposed to believe that all those now grasping their way towards billions in bonuses are utterly blameless in respect of previous losses? "Everybody else was doing the same thing" is not a defence.
In US Knox could face execution
Attacks by Senator Cantwell and others in the US on the Italian justice system, including reference to improper processing of forensic evidence and ill-treatment of Amanda Knox during her detention, is remiss. These and other well-documented failings of the US system – including the role played by wealth and race in the ability to obtain proper legal representation and a fair trial – suggest that criticism should start closer to home.
The European Convention on Human Rights, to which Italy is a signatory, also ensures that systemic failings aren't a matter of life or death; Ms Knox should be thankful that her conviction wasn't secured in Florida or Texas.
Value of single-sex schooling for girls
What a pity that the author of "The perils of single-sex education" (1 December) concludes that a mixed sixth form would have been "more challenging in all sorts of ways". It depends on the individual school, of course, but our girls grow in independence, confidence and social skills precisely because we remain single sex in those crucial sixth-form years.
Socially, they have ample opportunity to mix with boys in our neighbouring schools; they debate, act and sing with them. Yet in the classroom and common room, they are free to grow, to support each other and send themselves up in a way that would be unthinkable if they were surrounded by boys they felt they had to impress.
Headmistress, Wimbledon High School, London SW19
The negative side of Stalin
So it seems that Vladimir Putin is finding it impossible to make a generalisation about whether Stalin "was a positive or negative figure" (report, 4 December). Perhaps I can help Vladimir out with this judgement.
Stalin was, in the century of some of the most successful mass murderers in human history, pretty much Top of the Pops with a score of around 30 million. He also presided over an appalling regime that kept Russia and half of Europe in such poverty and misery for most of the 20th century that they had to build a wall to keep them all in.
And finally, and I think this is the clincher, he sported, for his whole adult life, a very unfashionable moustache. Anything else I can help you with, Vladimir?
When I heard about the coming demise of the London Underground Circle Line in its present form, I thought it was a joke, but it wasn't. What on earth were the Transport for London planners thinking? I think a "memorial" for the current layout of the line is in order.
Terence Blacker (27 November) is wrong to suggest that protecting and keeping trees alive has been ignored by BBC Learning's Tree O'Clock campaign. Those given trees to plant will be advised how to ensure the tree's survival. Information will be available on the BBC website and from the BBC partners in this project. Speed planting is only taking place at supervised events.
Controller of BBC Learning
As a lifelong cyclist, I have read with interest the recent run of letters regarding cyclists riding on the pavement and the risk of death or serious injury while cycling in the UK relative to that in other European countries. While I agree whole-heartedly with those correspondents condemning cycling on the pavements, I am left thinking that if as much concern was raised regarding motorists parking on cycling lanes, then both cyclists and pedestrians would be better off.
A recently televised experiment showed a chicken being cooked in 90 minutes by the heat from two 60-watt incandescent light bulbs. In your report (7 December) of deteriorations to Tutankhamun's tomb we learn that the human body produces the heat equivalent of a 100 watt bulb. Could it be that if two of us packed ourselves and our raw chicken into a well insulated box – our heads outside presumably, which might reduce the heat output slightly –- we could cook our dinner without even the electricity needed to power up the bulbs?
Price of a typewriter
Guy Keleny points out that the $50 cost of an American typewriter in 1963 was then worth only £18, not an "extortionate" £30 (Errors & Omissions, 5 December). However, if you apply the Bank of England inflation calculator to £18 in 1963 and convert it to 2008 figures (latest available) you get £282, extortionate indeed for a used typewriter!
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