Letters: the Home Secretary and the canon

Confrontation at the cathedral: the Home Secretary and the canon
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The Independent Online

Sir: To the best of my recollection I have never met or otherwise come across your columnist Matthew Norman who wrote about me in such a personally vituperative way (24 March). Not only are the details of his account of my exchange with Canon McFadyen incorrect in almost every particular but he also recycles an untrue, spiteful and very old diary story to reinforce his assertion that I am some kind of monster. And his statement that I attended a "Lake Geneva finishing school" is truly bizarre!

The exchange which forms the basis of Mr Norman's column took place at the end of an event at Norwich Cathedral two weeks ago. I had spoken about the role of faith today and as anyone who knows me will tell you I am always happy to answer questions on such occasions. An open Q&A was not part of the format laid down by the organisers, however.

The Canon stopped me at the end of the event and demanded to know why I had stifled questions that morning and why I would not countenance a public inquiry into the events of 7/7. He was clearly distressed and understandably so after the experience of his daughter, who survived the bombings and is now campaigning for an inquiry.

I was ready to answer questions on the spot but he was talking over the top of me and would not allow me to impart even basic information such as how to arrange a longer meeting. Eventually I said I did not appreciate being hectored and insulted and moved on. I did not behave in a "very nasty way", nor did I use the words that Matthew Norman ascribes to me.

Later that day I sent Mr McFadyen a handwritten letter offering to meet him, and his daughter if he wished. I have never received the correspondence he says he had sent me previously and have subsequently asked him for a copy.

I never refuse to see constituents and am glad to say that a meeting has now been arranged at which I shall of course listen with interest to what he has to say.

It is perhaps worth adding in the context of Matthew Norman's article and its widely flung bile that my relationship with the Chancellor is extremely cordial.

It is a comment on the current state of relations between politicians and the media that you published such an odious and deceptive opinion piece by a journalist about a politician, without pausing to check the basic "facts", whereas I doubt that you would publish such a gratuitously offensive piece by a politician about a journalist.



Reform of care for old people

Sir: The Healthcare Commission's progress report on the National Service Framework (NSF) for Older People rightly calls attention to the endemic problem of age discrimination in UK health services (27 March). As the report identifies, tackling ageist attitudes in the healthcare workforce is fundamental to adapting healthcare to the pressures imposed by our ageing population.

Reform must look to the long-term if it is to be effective. All healthcare professionals must be trained to address the needs of older people, the largest and fastest growing user group. The British Geriatric Society has highlighted that it is still possible for medical students to reach professional practice in the UK without studying geriatric medicine. Indeed, academic departments in this field have recently been closed.

As the NSF recognises, public services must be co-ordinated around the needs of the older person, and it is not just in health that we need to see change. Some issues critical to health and social care provision continue to fall between the cracks of local services for older people. For example, only one quarter of local authorities either have or are developing an older person's strategy, linking health and social care to the crucial issue of unsuitable housing. Up to 20 per cent of older people in the community are malnourished, but where is the co-ordinated strategy for tackling this widespread problem?

The NSF report is a welcome milestone but we must recognise that real progress is dependent on commitment and a change in attitudes across public services and society.



Sir: I am a retired nurse, trained in the "good old days" of poor pay and strict matrons and ward sisters. I fail to see why it takes a report by three government inspectorates to point out what visitors and patients in wards where the elderly are "nursed" have observed for years.

Many relatives visit at meal times in order to ensure that not only is their relation fed but also to help others in the ward. Do nurses no longer see or don't they even look? What happened to the principle "A nurse is the patient's advocate"?



Sir: Experience demonstrates the powerful role that dedicated volunteer citizens can contribute to the health and social care of older people .

Research shows that 11 million people are waiting to be asked to volunteer to help. There is no reason why Britain's elderly face neglect, poor treatment or marginalisation when volunteers are standing by. Teams of volunteers, trained and properly supervised, should work alongside professionals to ensure the needs of society's most vulnerable people are properly met. A corps of local volunteers, likely to have direct experience of the needs in their hospitals, will have the luxury of focus and time to work alongside professional staff to ensure the well-being of patients and reduce the isolation that too many face.



Sir: Lack of training and supervision at the sharp end in hospital wards is a major cause for the NHS's failure to care for the elderly. The following is an extract from my diary at the time my late wife was dying in hospital.

"My daughter and I came away with the impression that the standard of care in the ward was not good - caused no doubt by shortage of staff but also by absence of detailed guidance. Incidents noted today:

1. At 6.05pm [my wife] rang for a nurse to change her but was not changed until 6.45pm.

2. She was asked "do you want tea or coffee?" when she could only nod or shake her head in response to "yes and no" situations.

3. Her pills were placed in a small plastic container: she attempted to pour water into it. She would need guidance or help over taking them.

4. A patient in the next bed with only one useful arm could not open her cream cheese in a plastic container.

5. There was nobody in the ward who could give us information about my wife's condition - in fact there were few staff about. The relatives and friends of patients are much concerned about progress and there should be a responsible member of the ward staff who can tell them the current situation.

When my daughter and I got home we had a good cry, feeling that my wife was not being cared for."



Our country is run by the rich

Sir: Your correspondent D J A Matthew defends the offer of peerages to party donors and asks, "Would the country not be better off listening for a change to those who know how to make money?" (Letters, 24 March). I wonder where he or she has been living for the last 27 years.

Since 1979, the values and practices of successive Conservative and Labour administrations have been increasingly governed by "those who know how to make money". Large corporations and super-rich business people have access to and influence in the Cabinet, government departments, quangos and even Commons select committees to an extent that most other interested groups can only dream of.

Politicians seem to have convinced themselves that so-called "good practice" is achieved only when people are driven by the desire to maximise profit. This, in large part, is why we've seen the privatisation of formerly state-owned industries, the funding of public services through Private Finance Initiatives and the "marketisation" of the NHS. What a wonderful success those initiatives haven't been.

Not content with making enormous amounts of money, business leaders in the UK have campaigned against efforts to improve the lives of ordinary people. Proposals to increase the minimum wage, tighten pollution controls and make company pension schemes more secure are seen as "red tape".

The problem with many of "those who know how to make money" is that they seem to know little - and care even less - about anything else, such as human rights, the needs of families, and environmental sustainability.

Please, let's listen a little less to "those who know how to make money". We would all be so much better off.



Courage or folly?

Sir: A profound sense of nausea, brought on by reading Dominic Shelmerdine's extraordinarily graceless letter (27 March) which began "Why rescue Norman Kember? He knew the risks, and Allied forces should not have been imperilled ... " was easily lifted, by substituting the words "Blair and his cronies" for "Norman Kember". This worked particularly well with the letter's ending: " ... who in most cases, were warned not to go, and also, surely knew the potential consequence of their folly."



Sir: I love the idea put forward by some of your correspondents that the actions of Norman Kember were "brave" and "courageous". As a committed environmentalist I intend to oppose car use by standing in the middle of the M1, knowing that my actions will be seen as brave and courageous.



Only problem

Sir: You might get away with saying, quickly, "One of the only ..." but when you write it, particularly in a headline (The Monday Interview, Mark Warner: "One of the only Democrats who could take on Hillary Clinton", 27 March), it does show the phrase up as a meaningless apology for not knowing the number you are talking about.



European dream

Sir: Re your headline "EU may abandon Strasbourg Parliament" (27 March), the small mindedness of offering to buy off the French with a new technical institute seems a long way from the great European dream. A much more inspiring headline would be "EU invites UN to relocate to Strasbourg", now that would be something we could all get behind. Where are the inspirational leaders we need?



Artist's sister

Sir: I bet Gwen John would have been delighted to have been referred to as "the artist Augustus John's sister" ("Rodin in Britain: France sends rare pieces for show", 22 March). What hope is there for female artists if even now they are being ignored?



Belarus protest

Sir: The role of EU ambassadors in Belarus should not be one of joining opposition demonstrators. Rather the EU, together with Russia, should encourage dialogue between the government and the opposition. After all, even the opposition admits that at least 50 per cent of the public support President Lukashenko. What the EU (and the US) are doing amounts to political interference.



Crime and punishment

Sir: Unlike your correspondent Michael Cule (27 March) I had no problem in distinguishing between the bully who punched us and the Head who gave the cane to us for bad behaviour.