Letters: Realities of today's NHS

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The Independent Online

Sir: I write on the eve of the official opening of the Highgate Mental Health Centre, north London, by Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt. As a member of the junior medical staff I have spent the last week aghast and angry as contractors moved in to re-paint corridor walls too new to be marked.

As I walked to my team secretary's office I crossed newly laid lawns and watched as gardeners rounded privet hedges to perfection. In comparison, I was struck once again how her office relies on wonky cardboard shelving. There are no funds to pay for the shelves she already has to be mounted on the walls.

I certainly had no complaints about the building. I am delighted to be working in such an environment. However, I do have concerns regarding our service funding and resource allocation. In an often overlooked specialty caring for some of the most vulnerable people, reductions in medical and nursing staff are disturbing. I cannot help but wonder would those wasted pounds not have been better spent elsewhere?

Would it also not be better if we presented Ms Hewitt with the reality of the mental health services in the 21st century, rather than some glossy veneer which prevents the depth of these issues being recognised. Perhaps then the smooth-talking Mr Blair would realise that his government has undermined everything the NHS stood for.



The British Army's Iraq achievements

Sir: I am writing in response to your article on the crisis of morale in the British army ("Are British troops at breaking point in Iraq?", 18 October). As a former TA soldier, I served as an infantryman on Operation Telic from May to November of last year. I do not claim to speak for all Iraq veterans, but I can suggest some reasons why morale is an issue.

British servicemen and women on Telic do long tours in tough conditions, and despite the intractable difficulties of post-Baathist Iraq they have a lot of achievements to their credit. They have contributed much to the reconstruction of the country's infrastructure and the welfare of its people. As examples, I can point to the rebuilding of medical services which Saddam neglected, the reflooding of the Marsh Arabs' habitat, and the constant mediation to prevent tribal disputes from getting out of hand.

And yet very little of this effort will ever get reported to the public back home. We saw journalists using reportage as a means of pushing an anti-war agenda, rather than dispassionately presenting an objective picture of events on the ground. We saw lawyers touting for business for spurious victims of abuse by the British military. We saw charlatans and carpet-baggers publicly praise terrorists who were trying to kill us. In short, we saw what looked like a concerted effort to denigrate and undermine the efforts of those working to give ordinary Iraqis the better future that they deserve.

In recent years, the British armed forces have been involved in a series of interventions overseas, aimed either at ending humanitarian catastrophes or to punish those responsible for perpetrating them. In the process, we have been fulfilling a liberal, progressive agenda, aimed at ending civil wars, promoting human rights and defending democratic norms - which your paper will espouse one day (as you did in Bosnia), and denounce when it is convenient (as with Iraq).

I can only remind your readers that the next time they start demanding action over Darfur or such cases, it is servicemen who actually put their ideals into practice, paying the price with their lives, limbs, or even their psychological well-being in the process.



Sir: The highly respected Chinese book written two thousand five hundred years ago, The Art of War, advises : "In peace, prepare for war and in war prepare for peace." But that did not happen in Iraq. There were many shortages when the troops went to Iraq and body armour was one of them; and when the war "ended" we were not prepared for it. It was chaos.

Neither our soldiers nor their commanders are fools and they know the war was ruled illegal by the United Nations. When will it end? Carl von Clausewitz says in On War : "For the conqueror the combat can never be finished too quickly, for the vanquished it can never last too long." Maybe our troops and their leaders have suffered long enough.

At my 75 years of age and a one-time soldier and Territorial Army man I never thought my country would stoop so low as to do what it has done to the innocent people of Iraq, at the bidding of another nation.



Remedies for the global arms trade

Sir: Johann Hari bravely diagnoses government collusion and taxpayer-funded subsidies as the engines that sustain the global arms trade (Opinion, 18 October). But the second part of his prescription to remedy this deadly trade - the proposed international arms trade treaty proudly backed by the UK government - merits some caution.

An international instrument that genuinely stopped arms exports to human rights abusers would be a great step forward. To be effective, though, such a treaty must not only prevent the circulation of Kalashnikov rifles amongst African conflict zones. It must stop the massive arms sales currently made to human rights abusers by Western nations including the UK, highlighted by Hari's own list of UK arms customers (Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Indonesia).

The Government has yet to demonstrate that the treaty would do this. The Foreign Office has been unable to provide us with any assurances that the proposed treaty would, for instance, have prohibited the UK's export of tank parts to Indonesia, or would stop the vast flow of military equipment to the tyranny of Saudi Arabia. Tellingly, they do not anticipate that the treaty would alter the UK's existing pattern of arms exports.

If the proposed treaty is to have any teeth, the Government - and the public - must ask these tough questions, and be prepared to see a fundamental change to the UK's current role in the global arms trade.



BBC's new World Service schedules

Sir: I fear your readers may have been misled by the article on the changes to the English schedules of the BBC World Service ("The needless destruction of a cultural treasure", 14 October). It is true that the new schedule will have a stronger focus on news and information but it will not be providing "22 hours" of news each weekday.

We will continue to offer our listeners a rich mix of programmes about a broad range of subjects including business, science and technology, health, literature, entertainment, religion, music, social issues and sport. We will continue to offer documentaries on a wide range of topics. There will also be a new daily arts programme dealing with a different aspect of the arts each day, including music of all types from classical to pop.

At weekends, we will continue our current hour-long arts magazine and our world music programme and we will enhance the drama budget to allow for more original writing. We will continue to broadcast major British cultural and musical events ranging from the BBC Proms to Glastonbury. Next year we will broadcast Daniel Barenboim's Reith lectures.

Michael Church is right that the World Service is a unique British institution. But it has only kept that place in the world by changing to keep pace with its audiences. That is what we are doing now.



Sir: I was very angry and concerned to read about the cuts to cultural programming planned at the BBC World Service. I am a new listener to the World Service and to a great programme called Everywoman.

When listening to Everywoman I learn about the issues other women around the world have to face. You get to know about people in other lands before it becomes news due to some awful crisis. To turn the World Service into a predominantly news channel would be a mistake. I would urge the BBC to reconsider before they destroy something beautiful and irreplaceable.



Where immigrants want to live

Sir: In calling for immigration limits, Eric McGraw (letter, 14 October) has carefully selected his comparisons of population growth.

Population densities are only a rough guide to any kind of pressure or dangers of over-urbanisation. Whether an area is overpopulated is a function of the standard of living and not the size of the population involved. Basically a country is overpopulated when a reduction in the population will bring about a rise in the standard of living, e g Niger at the moment. An area is under-populated when an increase in the population will bring about a rise in the standard of living, e g many parts of Britain at the moment.

A continuous influx of immigrants will increase the already high standard of living in this country. They will not go to the Highlands of Scotland, where there is beautiful land to spare. They will congregate in the big cities where employment and opportunities are much more plentiful.



New Labour's Thatcherite legacy

Sir: Francis Beswick's claim (letter, 17 October) that Labour has a totalitarian tradition from Rousseau and Marx would not stand up to any ideological history of the party, let alone of Tony Blair.

For much of the post-war period the democratic left has had a presumption in favour of more rather than less freedom in all areas of public life except the market. New Labour is more accurately interpreted as continuing the Thatcherite approach of reversing that presumption.



Nuclear weapons and US policy

Sir: You report that the Prime Minister believes he owes it to the US that Britain remains part of the nuclear club ("Blair's nuclear bombshell", 17 October).

Are we to accede to every American foreign policy preference, regardless of the cost? A nuclear attack is now a much lesser threat than it once was. A safer world would stem not from a new generation of nuclear weapons, but from nuclear disarmament as required by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to which Britain is a signatory.

Blair's motives appear consistent with his following the US lead in invading Iraq. He wants the UK to continue strut around the world stage as if it were a global power, while remaining entirely dependent on US preferences, technology and intelligence. Does anyone seriously believe the UK is an "independent" nuclear power?

This nonsense began with Blair's predecessor, the darling of the Labour left Clement Attlee, who chose to arm the UK with nuclear weapons while eschewing the invitation to join the great project of European integration. We have remained locked in the same absurd mindset ever since.



Sir: In 1987 I became famous for 15 minutes when I was dismissed as political adviser to Gerald Kaufman for opposing Labour's then policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. I write now to oppose its current policy of unilateral nuclear rearmament.

I can foresee no scenario in which Britain would wish to start a nuclear exchange without the support of the United States. Nor can I foresee any American government which would allow Britain to start a nuclear war on its own initiative. It would be wrong for Britain to purchase the illusion of future nuclear independence at the expense of resources which are and will be needed for priorities such as terrorism, peacekeeping, disease control and civil emergencies.



The case for flawed truths that work

Sir: In reply to Danny Wright (letter, 17 October): a lie is both untrue and known by the teller to be untrue. A flawed truth is true as far as it goes, but may be incomplete, or is partially true but contains some inadvertent error(s).

All religious believers accept that their grasp of truth is necessarily incomplete. Most accept that some of their beliefs may be mistaken. However, if a religious (or other ideologically-based) lifestyle is found in practice to work, it is not irrational to be pragmatic.



One Blair too many

Sir: Given that so many people seem to think one Tony Blair is too many, why are Conservatives advised to seek another?



Porn health warning

Sir: The remarkable fact about porn videos is not that women are enjoying some of it (Catherine Townsend: "A porn classic is just made for sharing", 18 October), but that in this wealthy sex industry porn actors could, but rarely do, promote contraceptives, which might ease the startling rise in STDs.



Waist of space

Sir: Your article "A figure to die for" (18 October) claims that waist sizes are getting bigger. In the insert on how to measure one's waist, you state: "Place a tape measure around the waist at a point 1cm below the navel." Given the waist of most women is above the navel, it's not surprising that most women are getting bigger.



Enemies of debate

Sir: Dr Mark Corner asks a pertinent question: "Will Britain ever have a serious political debate again?" (letter, 18 October). The answer is, not if the politicians have their way. Getting involved in debates about policies is not the way to advance a career in a party.



Night to remember

Sir: If, as David Hasell suggests (letter, 17 October), Bonfire Night should now be referred to as 5/11, surely 9/11 should henceforth be called 11/9.



Sir: Your correspondent suggests bonfire night be renamed 5/11 (or maybe 11/5). No thanks. I'm still trying to work out what happened on 24 July.