Letters: The victims of superbugs

Sad casualties of the superbug battle

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The Independent Online

I read with interest the article about antibiotic-resistant infections gathering force across the world (18 November). At the time, I was returning to the Isle of Man having been to visit my 88-year-old mother in hospital with C.difficile, her sixth bout of this infection since August.

At the end of June, she underwent surgery to unblock a kidney and within a few weeks had her first attack of C.difficile diagnosed eventually by the local hospital.

My Dad, at 88, is her carer, and, along with my sister, nursed her through, no mean feat because she weighs less than six stone, has mobility problems and dementia. The strong antibiotic prescribed clears the symptoms quite quickly but we are talking about bouts of severe diarrhoea lasting 10 hours at a time.

Obviously, my father has tried and failed to prevent reinfection. No guidance or help was offered by the hospital. Four months later, my mother is still suffering.

Her GP had her admitted last week and we were promised a colonoscopy to try to establish the cause of the reinfection. This procedure was cancelled and my mother released back into my father's care yet again with no answer to the problem and no guidance offered.

He feels like a leper, cast aside by the health professionals.

Judy Lockyer

Port St Mary, Isle of Man

Antibiotics have been taken for granted for far too long, and resistance of many common pathogens to this class of drugs, exemplified by MRSA and mycobacterium tuberculosis, is now a worsening challenge.

One of the major problems has been indiscriminate and inappropriate use of antibiotics in the clinical setting. Rational and targeted use of antibiotics is one of the most important parts of medical practice, and there is growing awareness of how vital it is to ensure high standards of antibiotic use.

Antibiotic use guidelines are now used in hospital settings. They include restricting use of certain antibiotics for defined clinical infections and, in some cases, allowing only experienced consultants to prescribe. There is accumulating evidence of increased mortality among older people receiving antibiotics in care homes, resulting from C.difficile-associated colitis. Robust antibiotic policy is crucial in ensuring this problem does not escalate and is, indeed, reduced.

Research into new classes of antibiotics is essential to keep one step ahead of antimicrobial resistance.

But such research requires major financial investment, and few major pharmaceutical companies are involved.

George Griffin

Professor of Infectious Diseases, St George's, University of London

Your coverage of antibiotic resistance omits mention of factory farms, where the use of drugs, including antibiotics, is lavish. It has to be, to keep a good proportion of the animals alive until slaughter. Stressed animals crowded together constitute ideal conditions for disease, and ideal conditions for pathogens to develop drug-resistance.

Mike Maas


Since when did the Tories care about the jobless?

The Con-Dem discomfort as next week's three million-strong public-sector strike comes ever closer is delicious. Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander – who can look forward to an annual pension of £26,404 from a pension pot of £440,942 – predicts the strike will cost something called the "British economy" £500m.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude – who will receive an annual pension of £43,825 from a pension pot of £731,883 – argues: "If you lose a big chunk of output, it's hard to see how that doesn't translate into lost jobs."

Since when did the Tories give a hang about unemployment? Former Tory chancellor Norman Lamont insisted that "rising unemployment and recession" was a "price well worth paying" to get inflation down (Hansard, 16 May 1991).

Hopefully, the strikes will result in lost jobs, Maude's job, Alexander's job, and the obscenely well-pensioned job of every other member of the Con-Dem government.

Sasha Simic

London E9

I am a recently retired public-sector worker on a pension that, although small, allows me to live with something approaching dignity. My pension lump sum allowed me to settle the mortgage on my modest two-up, two-down, Band A, terraced house. What I live on every month equates to less than the national minimum wage.

For this, I spent more than 30 years as a staff nurse in the NHS. I dealt with kids with cancer, the elderly, violent drunks, drug addicts, HIV patients, mental illness, severe trauma, burns and all the other stuff. There is no bodily fluid that I have not mopped up again and again and I have dealt with the most emotionally draining cases that still cause my eyes to water years later.

I believe that all people who work should be able to retire on a pension that allows them dignity in old age. Instead of demonising public-sector workers for wanting to retain their pension schemes, there should be legislation passed to force private employers to provide similar schemes. Then perhaps their own employees too can face retirement without fear.

Having retired, I cannot strike but I will be standing with my former colleagues on 30 November. We are doing it because we believe that the government proposals on pensions are unfair and will mean that many of our colleagues will have to work longer, pay more in and get less out of it at the end.

In the public sector, among many other things, we deliver your babies, teach your children, lock up your criminals, empty your bins, wade through your raw sewage, put out your fires, keep your streets safe, look after you when you are ill or dying and bury or cremate you at the end.

All we want is a contributory pension scheme that allows us to live with dignity and respect. It's really not a lot to ask, is it?

Pete Hinchliffe

Rossendale, Lancashire

In your leading article, "The wrong time for mass industrial action", 25 November, you are ignoring facts. The Local Government Pension Scheme, of which I am a member, is self-funded and gets no top-up from the taxpayer.

The fund invests more than £33bn a year in the British economy. Yet we are being asked to pay 3.2 per cent extra, all of which will go into Treasury coffers to pay debts precipitated by bankers and incompetent politicians. So why should I pay an extra 3.2 per cent tax? Does this make it clear why I and others are exceedingly angry about this stealth tax? That is why we are taking action.

Jeremy McNeill

University of the West of England, Bristol

Your leading article on public service industrial action is disingenuous and wrong-headed. As a public servant with 29 years' service, I wonder how I am supposed to react when the terms and conditions of employment I signed up to on appointment have been ripped up by the Government. Nobody would tolerate such a flagrant breach of trust that should, by any sensible judgement, be illegal.

Public servants have enjoyed none of the perks that have gone with private-sector employment during boom times and are now facing draconian cuts that will only help ensure that the economy continues to contract and the country dives deeper into recession.

Public servants are also taxpayers and consumers and play a vital role in the nation's future prosperity.

Tim Matthews

Luton, Bedfordshire

Foxes not guilty of infecting pets

Your assertion that "uncontrolled urban fox populations can lead to fleas, ringworm, fungal diseases and tapeworm in domestic pets" is unfounded and misleading ("Infestation nation", 21 November).

At Little Foxes, we deal with many foxes and fox cubs. Incidence of fleas in foxes is low, with most having no fleas. We have never seen a case of ringworm or fungal disease in foxes. In 14 years, we have had only one case of a fox with tapeworm. We take in a roughly equal balance of urban and rural fox casualties.

Most foxes needing help have been hit by cars, tangled in barbed wire or other farm hazards, or are affected by mange (easily cured), or they are cubs, left malnourished and in misery, most often by the killing of their parents by humans.

Penny Little

Founder, Little Foxes Wildlife Sanctuary, Great Haseley, Oxfordshire

A smokescreen is cleared away

The Government highlights more training schemes, more interviews at job centres, more temporary payments to employers, more classes on how to fill in job application forms and so forth (report, 25 November).

Yet those waves of governmental publicity over the months are but a grotesque smokescreen covering a simple truth, that there are about 2.5 million unemployed looking for work and only about 500,000 vacancies.

Peter Cave

London W1

In brief...

No rewards for failures

Fred Crook (letters, 23 November) misses the point about executive pay levels. The rewards for success and for risks taken with your own time and money are, by and large, not at issue. What bothers fair-minded citizens is the unseemly combination of losses and bonuses appearing on the same balance sheet in the same year. The hypocrisy of accepting a government handout then criticising that government for its overspend, and the insanity of bailing out a foreign government while insisting they privatise the assets that might get them out of trouble are other arguments. For now, can we simply accept that failure gets you a pink slip, not an £8m pension pot?

Lawrence Norman

London SW19

10 ways to cut inequalities

Limiting the pay of public-sector CEOs to a maximum of 10 times that of the lowest-paid employee in their organisation would have several beneficial effects. It would demonstrate the Government's commitment to reducing inequality; it would contribute to a reduction in public expenditure, and, given the proportion of people employed in the public sector there would probably be a knock-on effect on pay in the private sector. The impact of this measure could be magnified by insisting that the public sector, when commissioning services from private companies, should give preference to those that operate this pay policy.

Barbara Ghodse

Kingston Upon Thames

Payback time

Dr Helen Wright, president of the Girls' School Association, wonders why private schools should be expected to "prop up" those failing in the state sector. Perhaps the words "tax-free", "public benefit" and "charitable status"might give her a clue.

Chrissie Tiller

London N1

Tinny tastes

Your reporter, commenting on a study by the Harvard School of Public Health (24 November), stated, "Eating canned soup", which was the heading, then, ... "eating tinned soup". What with, a knife and fork?

P J Hill