As critics point out, the "friends and family" test, in which patients will be asked if they would recommend an NHS service to a loved one, is a hollow questionnaire originally developed for the retail industry ("Health experts reject 'friends and family' test", 7 January). But unlike different brands of baked beans on the shelves in a supermarket, where I can easily try different brands, it is not as though GPs or hospitals are all lined up for me to choose one when I am ill.
When I am ill I want to see "my" GP, who knows about my previous illnesses and my personal foibles. And even here, within 15 miles of Oxford, I don't have a choice of hospitals. If I need to go to the eye hospital (as I shall this Friday), only the eye hospital in Oxford is suitable.
"Posh boys with no idea of the price of milk" can choose to go private. They are playing politics. The idea is a complete waste of time and money.
David Cameron's latest idea for improving care standards in NHS hospital wards, dubbed "friends and family", is yet another symptom of this government's failure to face up to its responsibilities.
That there is something inherently wrong with the culture of care within our hospitals is undeniable. Usually it is the elderly who suffer most from lack of compassion and respect from nursing staff. Whether this is due to nurse training, lack of funding (nurses always are "busy") or bad management, needs to be thoroughly addressed. Asking people whether they would "recommend" a particular hospital is an insult to us all. We are talking about people who are ill, not giving tips on which hotel to book.
Alison Sutherland (letter, 4 January) condemns nurses' alleged lack of compassion by claiming that, "Like so many other professionals, they feel so important and safe sitting safely at a desk ticking boxes and filling in forms."
It is not a question of feeling important or sitting comfortably; it is the sad result of 30 years of rampant "managerialism" in the public sector. Successive governments, in their ideological war against professionals, have buried nurses, police officers, probation offers, teachers, social workers and university lecturers under impenetrable layers of management, and mountains of paperwork and red tape. Professionals in the public sector are now subject to a soul-destroying Soviet-style bureaucracy, complete with state-imposed targets and five-year plans.
Professionals want to do their jobs to the best of their ability, but are prevented from doing so because they are compelled to spend so much of their time attending meetings or "away-days" to be told about the latest "strategic review" or "institutional business plan", ticking boxes to provide "evidence" that bureaucratic procedures have been followed, or preparing the documentation for yet another external audit or inspection to measure efficiency or value-for-money.
When professionals point out just how idiotic this regime is, they are patronisingly told that they are merely a "self-serving producer interest" who are afraid of accountability or hard work, so the situation never improves.
Just what is Suarez supposed to be guilty of?
Luis Suarez handled the ball in the act of scoring for Liverpool against Mansfield. The goal stands because the officials didn't see the infringement. Suarez is subsequently castigated by many, including James Lawton, the most venerable sports writer of my lifetime, who described the handball as "the makeshift squalor of Suarez's decisive intervention" (7 January).
We don't know if, in that split second, the contact with the hand could have been avoided. In any case what was James Lawton's expectation? Does he believe that Suarez should have insisted that the goal be struck off?
Surely the principal discipline of sport is to play to the whistle. Since time immemorial we have been imploring footballers to do this. Indeed, Suarez did exactly this in his last game against Sunderland. By staying on his feet despite an illegal challenge, he had the opportunity to continue on and score, which he duly did. In the game against Mansfield he once again played to the whistle. Where is the offence?
Sidlesham, West Sussex
Universities lead the world
Along with those in the United States, our universities dominate global rankings, the international student market and the creation of world-leading research. Moreover, the annual survey of student satisfaction shows that 85 per cent of our undergraduate students are satisfied with their experience, and this proportion is rising.
It therefore saddened me to read the ill-informed comments by Ian Ray-Todd ("Sort out the lazy academics", Letters, 7 January). Please let me assure your readers: universities do offer remedial support and are certainly not resting on their laurels; unlike most countries, we have agreed standards for higher education backed by a regulator, and the caricature of a "lazy" university lecturer is not only offensive but is not one I recognise.
Professor Paul Curran
City University, London
Ian Ray-Todd suggests changes necessary in our university system. One of the most important aspects is contact time –the hours a student spends being taught.
A quick review of the experience of the families I know suggests that a standard degree could easily be delivered in a two-year period, reducing the costs both to the university and the student. This would make it easier for any student to take a master's degree or a vocational qualification in the third year.
Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire
The fine art of the blue plaque
Sad, but in the circumstances understandable, that English Heritage has to trim its blue plaque scheme from its outlay (report, 7 January).
For London, surely the answer is for the Greater London Authority to take over the job? It used to be done by the London County Council until its demise in 1965. Then the Greater London Council took over, till 1986, and it has only been for the past 27 years that English Heritage has been responsible.
The London County Council had the scheme off to a fine art. From 1958 to 1965 I was employed by them to (among other things) research proposals for new plaques. The process was rigorous, and the council had strict selection criteria. The glory of the scheme was that it was democratic, in that most of the proposals came from ordinary members of the public. A few came from councillors (usually for the commemoration of politicians of their own particular persuasion). Others were the fruit of research undertaken for the council's own Survey of London, now also undertaken by English Heritage.
Outside London many local authorities and civic societies install plaques, and doubtless their good work will continue, subject to the prevailing severe financial constraints. All the schemes deserve support, because in bringing history to life they benefit education and the nation's tourist trade.
Risible row over gay bishops
Whose business is it what consenting adults get up to in private? For goodness' sake let's disestablish the Church of England and let it become the risible sect that it increasingly resembles.
The gay dating agency Gaydar lists "Types I like" from "bears, farmers, leather men" through "policemen ... married men ... builders ..." to "muscle men, rugby players, truck drivers". May the outstanding omission, "bishops", soon be rectified?
Perhaps The Independent could dispense with Mark Steel and Deborah Ross, and hand a weekly column to the Church of England?
Misguided tax on banks
The failure once again of the bank levy to raise its £2.5bn target (report, 3 January) underlines the fundamentally flawed nature of this tax, which is misguided in purpose and has been mishandled in practice.
Bank balance sheets, on which the tax is levied, need to be rebuilt, rather than raided. This process of refinancing has undoubtedly been hampered by the eurozone crisis, as governments are being forced to face up to the consequences of their own financial mismanagement, but extracting more tax will further hinder that recovery rather than reduce risk in the banking system.
The UK's stable and proportionate tax regime was one of the factors that helped it become the world's leading financial centre. The one-off bank payroll tax of the last government undermined that, and this government's bank levy, with its constantly shifting structure, has compounded the damage.
Banks should pay their fair share of tax, as should any business, but this punitive and pointless levy should be shelved.
Baroness Jo Valentine
Chief Executive, London First, London WC2,
Is it possible, asks Kerry Renshaw (letter, 7 January), for an individual without qualifications to rise to a position of prominence in the media these days? Well, I'm sure I remember reading recently of a young woman who joined a major news organisation as a humble secretary, yet rose to the most elevated positions in its editorial ranks, consorting with kings and even sharing horse rides with prime ministers. Truly a tale to warm the heart in these straitened times. Whatever happened to her, I wonder ?
Generically, the New York shooting victim was neither a 911 dispatcher nor a 999 dispatcher, but an emergency service dispatcher (letter, 5 January). That applied in whichever country he was murdered.
No bones about it
Recent reports that forensic scientists are short of human bones to train with, and that there is a global shortage of helium, tell me we should be looking for a body-snatcher with a squeaky voice.