Letters: You can't buy compassion for the old

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There is something wrong with the debate about the care of the elderly ("Call to assess nurses for compassion", 29 February). When we entrust care homes with the long-term care of our elderly, the last thing that we are doing is buying compassion. Service can be bought, but not compassion. Carers may put on their best smile, show their best manners and be courteous, but they may not have compassion. Yet they may have done their job perfectly decently.

Compassion does not come naturally to people unless they are caring for a relative or a person they have known for a long time. For professional carers, it may be possible to show compassion to one or two charges, but not to all of them. While one can be given guidelines on standards of care and decency, one cannot be trained to have compassion.

We can and should expect is a certain standard of care for an adequate remuneration. Real compassion can only be expected when we voluntarily take care of our own elders in our own homes.

Dr Mehmood H Mir


If you believed the media, you would think every single care home is on the brink of financial collapse and full of staff who are at best indifferent and at worst downright abusive. This simply is not the case. There are more than 21,000 care homes in the UK, the vast majority of them staffed by caring individuals who work incredibly hard in very demanding circumstances.

Yes, there have been scandals. Yes, we are facing unprecedented financial pressures. There are many homes that could be improved, and there is an urgent need for reform, both financial and regulatory. But to tar all care homes with the same brush does society a massive disservice, by striking fear into the hearts of the many older people who would benefit from residential care. It also serves to demotivate the thousands of care-home workers who do a fantastic job, and to make recruitment of good staff even more difficult.

Leon Smith

Chief Executive, Nightingale Care Home, London SW12

It seems to me it is the NHS trusts that are the "old dears" in this debate. I have been trying for the past five months to volunteer at my local hospital on a geriatric ward as a "befriender". That's right – I want to spend some of my free time every week on those wards helping the elderly, be it making them a cup of tea, having a chat or running an errand. And I want to be there for the right reason – because I care.

But for the past five months, I have spent ridiculous amounts of time wading through layers of bureaucracy, lost correspondence and slow-witted office staff who have turned a gesture of goodwill into a depressing battle against incompetence.

With the purse-strings tighter than ever, you'd think the lumbering trusts would jump at the chance to bring on board those who want to offer their time for free; but instead, five months down the line, I am still waiting.

Come on, you old dears.

Jenna Jovi

London N6

Enough delays, it's time to silence Murdoch

While it's nice that James Murdoch is no longer thumbing his nose at the British public by continuing in his job here, I find it disappointing that he is still at large at all. The actual legal repercussions from the News International scandal seem never to come. We have heard endless reports of the investigations, the hearings, the arrests, but where are the trials and convictions?

Furthermore, as the evidence of News International's disregard for the law has mounted to staggering proportions, why is it still being allowed to print newspapers in this country? It is past time for all News International titles to be shut down, if necessary by Parliament itself, pending the outcome of the various inquiries. It should be welcome to sell off its titles, or suspend operations and wait to see if it is cleared of wrongdoing.

A newspaper is a powerful instrument of influence, and News International should not be allowed to wield one while it is so deservedly under public scrutiny.

Ellen Purton

Twickenham, Middlesex

Rupert Murdoch and his brand of yellow journalism have destroyed what should be a fine profession. His papers pretend to "expose" the crimes of the rich and powerful but in reality the Murdoch empire simply parrots establishment lies, from his support for the Iraq invasion to the "Gotcha" headline and The Sun's allegations about Hillsborough. Murdoch pretends to be a populist but is as much a part of the ruling elite as any member of the aristocracy.

The moral of the Murdoch story is that one man should not be allowed to own 40 per cent of the UK media.

Alan Hinnrichs


Now that Murdoch Jr has fled to the States, can we assume that we will get him extradited with the same alacrity with which we feed our students and pensioners into the American machine?

David Newman


Lost chance to save circus animals

Despite the overwhelming public desire for a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in England; despite a highly charged debate and unanimous support in the Commons for a ban; despite the opinion of the British Veterinary Association, the Born Free Foundation, Captive Animals' Protection Society, RSPCA and others; despite recent bans in Austria and Greece; despite claims of being "minded to ban" as expressed by the Prime Minister, the Government intends to licence rather than ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses.

While the licensing regime is being presented as an interim measure, it seems clear that this is unlikely to be the case and we will have missed the chance of a lifetime to end this unpopular and inhumane practice. A truly compassionate government that respects the will of the people and Parliament would find a way to implement a ban.

Virginia McKenna

Joanna Lumley

Jenny Seagrove

Helen Worth

Born Free Foundation

Horsham, West Sussex

Up to us to back good banking

Whatever happened to the Chancellor's "march of the makers", to rebalance the economy? Abandoned after the false start of Operational Merlin.

The Coalition Agreement was clear: "We want the banking system to serve business, not the other way round. We will foster diversity in financial services, promote mutuals and create a more competitive banking industry." The Coalition Government had an open goal to deliver this promise, by returning Northern Rock to the mutual sector. Instead, they scored an own goal, making the financial services sector even less diverse, by selling Northern Rock cut-price to Richard Branson.

With the Coalition Government having reneged on its commitment, it is left to customers to foster diversity by moving their money – to credit unions, mutual building societies, and the Co-operative Bank. For decades, consumer surveys have demonstrated this to be in the best interests of customers. The Coalition Agreement was right that it would also be in the best interests of the country. But its implementation has fallen to the "Move Your Money" campaign – already successful in the US, where customers are doing it for themselves.

Professor Jonathan Michie

President, Kellogg College

University of Oxford

English, Scotsand British

Philip Hensher's article "Of Blackadder and white women of a certain age" (24 February) is very much to the point, but why does he write of "familiarising England with new ways of being and looking English"?

I live in Britain, I am half Scots, half English, as my parents were before me; I was brought up largely in Scotland, though I now live in England, and I am so tired of hearing the English, particularly the southern English referring to Britain and the British as being English.

I sincerely hope Scotland does not separate itself from the Union, but I do understand why it is possible to feel unwanted and misunderstood as a Scot. Perhaps it is time the English should also understand they are part of a Union?

Sarianne Durie

Bampton, Oxfordshire

David Cameron's view that the Union is good for both England and Scotland has been echoed in your leading articles.

Recent history has brought Scots the Thatcher years, with the poll tax and the ruthless dismantling of manufacturing, followed by New Labour, whose great achievement was to facilitate the swallowing up and spitting out of two of Scotland's proud and ancient national banks by their business associates from south of the border.

And now the Scots are lumbered with the Coalition and its dogma of austerity, despite having voted overwhelmingly for an alternative approach at the last general election.

Dr Dominic Horne

Ledbury, Herefordshire

Business demonised

The "cleansing of the temple" by Jesus Christ (letter, 1 March) was no more a pious act than the recent "cleansing" of St Paul's: the merchants in the temple forecourt who changed money for pilgrims and supplied animals needed for ritual performed functions essential to ancient Jewish religious practice.

It appears to be this that the gospel writers had Jesus take up his whip against, as a prelude to prophesying the destruction of the temple. The intemperate expulsion of money-changers has been used ever since to demonise the business activity of "the Jews". Jesus was more bailiff than protester when he "cleansed" the temple.

Peter McKenna


Our duties to dolphins

Dr Shand (letter, 23 February) misses the point of non-human rights, which is to highlight and protect the sensibilities other animals share with us. But it is implausible for Max Gauna to imply (letter, 24 February) that in the case of dolphins, as with "a newly discovered human tribe", we have an unqualified duty of non-interference. What if the tribe ate monkeys, engaged in human sacrifice, slavery or even dolphin-hunting?

The problem here results from failure to recognise that habitats are shared and duties disputed – save perhaps, at least among Independent readers, the duty to strive to reach practicable compromises between competing claims in the light of the best evidence available.

Richard Bryden

Llandudno, Gwynedd

Final demand

It is gratifying that HMRC are pursuing tax-avoidance scams so vigorously. On the very same day that we hear the news of Barclays being required to pay back £500m in tax, I received a letter from HMRC addressed to my long-departed mother. It begins, "Dear Mrs Rhodes, We believe you are currently between jobs."

Adrian M Rhodes


'Meh' can be fun

"Meh", the interjection meaning mediocre or boring, may yet have lexicographical mileage ("The moment meh became too boring for words", 29 February). From 1 January 2012 "meh" is one of the 19 new three-letter words in the Collins official scrabble word lists.

Nicholas E Gough

Swindon, Wiltshire