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Friday 31 October 2008
Letters: Self-centred fell-runners
These self-centred fell-runners put others at risk
While acknowledging your writer's comments regarding the love of testing himself and the adrenalin drives of his fellow fell-runners in last weekend's race in Borrowdale (Life, 28 October), I would point out that although the fells are exhilarating they can be very dangerous places, especially in the type of conditions seen on Saturday. These weather extremes can lead the most experienced and prepared people to have accidents. And some did.
But who did those who required emergency assistance expect to get them off the fells and out of trouble? The mountain rescue teams had to risk their own well-being to get casualties out of a pickle, effectively of their own making. And what outcry would they or their family have made had the rescue services said, "You chose to get into the mess, now get out of it", and refused to go to the assistance of those in trouble because of the conditions, especially if they had resulted in the preventable death of a competitor.
The emergency services utilised valuable resources which may have reduced their capacity to respond to incidents involving others who live and visit this area and who may have had need of these services while not taking such outlandish risks. How would they have felt had they been unable to get an ambulance to respond to their heart attack or a policeman to answer their 999 call?
This group acted selfishly and irresponsibly to satisfy their own adrenalin rush. In taking their pleasures, they risked other people's lives and well-being, not only of those who had to rescue them from their own stupidity, but also those who may have been at risk because of the inevitable reduction in the emergency services these emergencies created.
Voicemail drivel is storm in a teacup
The news has been dominated by a stream of publicity-hungry media junkies voicing vacuous and predictable statements expressing every emotion from abject misery to shrill indignation at the mistakes the BBC has made concerning the messages left on Andrew Sachs's answering machine.
With world finances in meltdown and horrific wars being played out in the four corners of the globe we had to endure the unedifying spectacle of "Dave" scuttling before a television camera to offer us his tenpenn'orth.
The voicemail drivel is a storm in a teacup and not something the nation's leaders should concern themselves with. David Cameron has wasted an opportunity to say something worthwhile and instead chose to express utter outrage at the mindless antics of a pair of hapless entertainers drunk on their own self-importance. Tomorrow, another caravan will roll into town, the dogs will bark, and the caravan moves on.
Messrs Brand and Ross are responsible for the messages but the editorial staff should carry the can. If the BBC apologised, it shows the material should not have been broadcast. That it was pre-recorded shows just how bad the decision was.
Re: "Manuel's revenge" (30 October): so, apparently getting a cheap laugh from being personally offensive to two people via a few phone-calls causes public outrage and heads to roll, while playing a racist stereotype ("Is a hamster!") of an entire country makes you a national treasure. I'm not sure I want to see the values of 1970s television return, where people campaigned hard to limit swearing on screen, but casual sexism, homophobia and racism were routine prime-time entertainment.
The bigger picture here, that knee-jerk complaints about the BBC miss, is the huge pressure from within the industry, from OfCom, and from the Tories, to get rid of public service broadcasting altogether. In 10 years, when Cameron's government has given into Murdoch's siren songs, and we find Jeremy Kyle has replaced Jeremy Paxman, and Jon Gaunt has replaced Jon Snow, and every channel is full of US imports and decades-old repeats, policymakers' defence will be that the public wanted it.
Why didn't 30,000 people complain to OfCom about a real issue, such as ITV plans to get rid of regional news, as if people hate the BBC so much you'd think they be worried about the BBC being the only broadcaster left to provide regional television news amongst the hundreds of channels of "choice"?
Dr Vincent Campbell
Lecturer, Department of Media and Communication, University of Leicester
Historic reforms for the disabled
Your article ("Strict new benefit rules 'will drive mentally-ill people into poverty'", 27 October) failed to include a response from my department. The Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and the new medical assessment (the WCA) will offer the support disabled people want. It focuses on what people can do, not what they can't.
The WCA is designed to help people with mental health conditions. We are also looking at ways of providing better support while they're in work. People in the "support group" of ESA will get a higher rate of benefit and will not face sanctions.
For everyone else on ESA, it is reasonable to expect claimants to engage with our work programmes. If they don't, they could lose some of their benefits, but not all. There are safeguards in place and no one will be forced to take up work which isn't suitable for them. These historic reforms are about ensuring another generation of disabled people is not abandoned, as they were in the early 1990s.
Jonathan Shaw MP
Minister for Disabled People, Department for Work and Pensions, London WC2
Urgent call toact in Congo
Your piece on the Congo conflict (29 October) correctly highlights the linkage between the unrest in Kivu and the continuing attacks on Rwanda and Tutsi communities by former Hutu genocidaires linked to the Interahamwe and its reincarnation in the FDLR.
What is less clear is that the Tutsi comunity (known as Banyamulenge) have been systematically alienated within the DRC and across the regimes of Mobutu and Kabilas, despite having brought Kabila to power in the first place. Laurent Nkunda has gained a degree of legitimacy, not just from being a regional warlord but also from defending the homeland of the Banyamulenge from a despotic state with an inefficient army. The UN-Monuc faces similar challenges of legitimacy from its apparent arms dealings with the FDLR and accusations of sexual attacks on the vulnerable local population. Rwanda's accusations that the Congolese army colludes with the FDLR, notably over control of North Kivu's lucrative mineral trade, are supported by credible reports.
Nkunda should not be demonised but the international community should address the marginalisation of the Ban-yamulenge in the Congolese state, as well as fielding a UN military mission with obvious impartiality and integrity.
Dr Joseph Mullen
Senior Fellow (Hon), University of Manchester
Britain may need to join eurozone
Steve Richards (Opinion, 28 October) is right; the question of euro membership is likely to become a live issue again. The problem is that, in these volatile financial times, the desirability of joining may become evident very suddenly, and we are quite unprepared.
Joining the euro would give the UK a major say in the ECB's policy, including the interest rate. It would not mean handing over economic policy to somebody else, because fiscal policy can be just as effective as interest-rate policy in achieving a particular economic objective.
Months ago, informed voices in Iceland who could see what was coming urged that (non-EU) country to adopt the euro. They were ignored, and look what happened. Is there any leading UK politician, from any party, with the courage to say that this may soon become a matter of urgency?
The true cost of a GP consultation
Patricia Wilkie asks if £25 is the true cost of a GP consultation, taking into account the taxation spent on the service (letters, 30 October). I can speak only for my own small practice but here are figures to illuminate the debate.
My practice receives just under £125 gross per patient per year to pay for the surgery rent, staff costs, ancillary costs, pension costs and to produce the profit that pays the GP partners. Our patients, on average, consult a GP three or four times a year and a practice nurse two or three times a year. We also cover home visits, which number approximately 630 per year.
This equates to a cost of less than £20 per consultation with a health professional at our surgery. If you weight a GP's cost as higher than that of a nurse, then £20 to £25 per consultation would seem about right; less than my wife pays to visit the hairdresser.
My dentist, who left the NHS because of the contract brought in three years ago, charges me, via a dental insurance plan, £113 per year for two routine check-ups and any emergency consultations. Any fillings or other work is charged separately, unlike the minor operations performed at our surgery, which are included in the above costs.
Medical care is expensive, but GPs perform almost 90 per cent of the healthcare in this country for 10 per cent of the NHS budget, excluding drug costs which account for about another 10 per cent. Many commentators suggest increased competition from large commercial providers could provide equal care at lower cost for the taxpayer. I have yet to see anyone provide evidence that they can do this for less than £2.40 per person per week.
Dr David Spiers
It was a jungle, up North
Johann Hari's excellent article on global warming (Comment, 20 October) was enlivened for me by his hilarious Freudian misprint of "Ecocene" for Eocene. People who wish to find out what the last comparable global-warming episode did to the UK can seek a few small corners in Scotland where they can unearth fossil scraps of the sub-tropical forests that covered the land at that time.
Alternatively, give Scottish politicians, among many others, a reality check by asking them how soon a successor to Alex Salmond will be forced to authorise private ownership of mach-etes for those struggling to penetrate the Lothian jungles.
Richmond, North Yorkshire
No lad Adam
The author of "TakeItFrom-Me" (Life, 29 October) wrote, "This, despite the fact that 'children as young as five' have been propagating misinformation about sex since Adam was a lad". How unfortunate that she should have chosen the only man to whom her comment could not apply.
IMF coffers must be boosted to prevent the financial crisis spreading to eastern European economies, so the Prime Minister turns to China and the Gulf states, with their massive trade surpluses (report, 29 October). Perhaps the Arab countries will be impressed with Mr Brown's concern for economies such as that of Latvia, which might otherwise find it hard to finance its contribution to the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq.
Dr Hugh Goodacre
Teaching Fellow, University College London WC1
Pick on MPs
Could those angry about public-sector pensions target MPs first? Nurses, doctors, police officers, and teachers are on final-salary pension schemes valued at 1/80th to 1/60th of their averaged last few years' pay. An MP has a 1/40th scheme on just their final-year pay. So if an MP was paid the same as a nurse, the nurse would have to work one-and-a-half times longer than the MP (who has a starting salary of £61,000 pa) to get a similar pension.
Wadham College, Oxford
A child's view
By saying "five-year-olds are not going to be taught about condoms or homosexuality", Liz Swinden (letters, 29 October) says homosexuality is only about sex. At that age, they can understand mummies and daddies, mummies and mummies, and daddies and daddies. That is homosexuality for five-year-olds.
Dr Jonathan Cutbill
Bruce Anderson (Opinion, 27 October) tells us George Osborne was "acting his age" and was "guilty of insufficient pomposity". Maybe. But Alex Salmond put it better: "When you are going on board not to have financial discussions, you don't bring your treasurer."
Let's keep a sense of proportion (report, 28 October): how many of us can say, hand on heart, that we have never met a Russian oligarch on his yacht five times and not once tried to scrounge a few roubles?
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
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