Separated fathers, Health care 'choice' and others

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Separated fathers want to be caring dads, not walking wallets

Separated fathers want to be caring dads, not walking wallets

Sir: I found E Jane Dickson's article on Father's Day offensive (24 June). Her assertion that "We all know fathers have rights" is a fallacy. The fact is, fathers do not have rights to a relationship with their children after divorce in the UK. More importantly, children do not have a right of access to their parents.

Rights of fathers are not enshrined in law, but their obligations and responsibilities are - focusing solely on fathers' duty to support their children financially. These obligations are enforced through an elaborate, costly and ill-functioning Child Support Agency. Child support legislation has turned fathers into walking wallets, leaving out the more important aspects of fathering: love, care, nurturing, which shape the future and well-being of a child.

Ms Dickson is indeed right, few are the mothers who will slam the doors in the face of chequebook-waving fathers, but there still are many that will take the father's money and continue to deny their children a meaningful relationship with their fathers.

I, like most fathers denied access to their children, believe that fathers should be compelled to spend time with their children, just as they are compelled to pay for their children's financial support. This can be achieved through legislation, and appropriate post-divorce parenting courses. I agree with Ms Dickson that both parents bear equal responsibility to their children to maturity, not just in financial matters. This should be clearly be reflected in law, and in the judgements of the family courts.

ANDREI PETERSON
Elstree, Hertfordshire

Sir: E Jane Dickson's article makes the point that the Super Hero Dads are trying so hard themselves to make. We all believe that fathers have rights, until we look for them, or try and exercise them, when we find that, bizarrely, they don't.

It is hard to believe that children have no legal authority to have access to both their parents. It is difficult to conceive that 100 children a day lose contact with their dads, or that 40 per cent of divorced or separated fathers lose contact with their children within two years of separation.

Good parents, as she clearly endeavours to be, need something equally bizarre to bring this to their attention, so that the surreal position that we have allowed our children to be in can be understood and changed. When I donned a purple gown and purple wizard's hat to walk through the streets of London, shouting "Shame on you" at buildings (the Royal Courts of Justice amongst them), I was aware that my behaviour was as ludicrous as the position that I was trying to bring to the attention of the passer-by and the media. Silly man, get down off that building/crane/bridge/etc, what on earth are you wearing? And why are you behaving in such a bizarre way?

I'm glad they ask, and, having accepted that a six-foot purple wizard with a whistle and a few thousand purple friends is the only way to make sense of the position that we continue to place thousands of our children in, then maybe we can also consider changing the law.

MARTIN HARPER
Llantwit Major, Vale of Glamorgan

Health care 'choice' is here already

Sir: I am now experiencing the forerunner of Mr Howard's freedom of health care choice. I have the choice of having my pacemaker replaced under the NHS and waiting my turn, or I have the choice of paying about £4,000 and going privately and thus pushing myself to the front of the NHS waiting list to use the NHS-provided equipment.

How can there ever be a choice for us all until there are a high percentage of hospital beds waiting for patients, large numbers of consultants waiting in their consulting rooms for "customers", and operating theatres fully staffed and waiting for bodies?

Isn't it fair, ethical and Christian for any person living in this country to expect, and receive, the same high quality of medical treatment regardless of their financial status? Or are we to remain a two-class society, those with a lot of money and those without?

DEREK EVANS
Chippenham, Wiltshire

Sir: I am somewhat confounded by the Conservatives' plan to ease waiting lists and provide choice within the NHS by utilising private hospitals.

In my experience private hospitals are staffed by consultants and specialists moonlighting from their NHS jobs, and serviced by local NHS departments such as pharmacies and haematology. So how does seeing NHS patients amid the carpets and flowers of the private sector help anything?

Indeed, part of the problem the NHS faces in coping is the burden private hospitals place upon NHS technical personnel who, unlike consultants and specialists, reap no financial benefit from the enforced "private" work.

Whatever grand plans and ideals we are about to be sold the ordinary NHS worker knows that the only answer to its difficulties is more staff, better pay to attract and keep that staff, and, perhaps most important of all, the insistence that to be termed private hospitals, these bed-hotels be made to provide their own technical units.

P F MORRIS
Walton on the Naze,
Essex

Sir: Freedom of choice of referral is not a new idea in the National Health Service. In the 1970s and '80s GPs like me were free to refer patients anywhere they were prepared to travel.

I used to send difficult orthopaedic cases to the Nuffield Centre at Oxford, for example, rheumatological cases to Professor Barbara Ansell at Wexham Park, others to a variety of specialist units in London, and so on. Every case was decided on its merits, and the preference of the patient was the overriding consideration. It was an important part of our expertise as GPs to provide good advice.

In practice the vast majority of patients preferred to use the facilities provided locally. I expect this will turn out to be the case again should the new proposals be implemented.

JAMES A R WILLIS
Provost, Wessex Faculty, Royal College of General Practitioners
Alton, Hampshire

Retirement ages

Sir: Jeremy Warner writes a fine polemic against TUC policy on retirement. (Outlook, 23 June). The only problem is that he gets our policy wrong, and may be surprised to learn that we are much more in agreement than he suspects.

We are against a statutory retirement age, whether 65 or 70. We believe people should be given more choice about when, and how, they retire. If they want to work past their 65th birthday that is fine by us. If they want to retire as at present that should also be their choice. And even better would be an extra option that ends the rigid division between work and retirement, so that it becomes a transition, not an overnight shock.

What we oppose is using the removal of employers' mandatory retirement ages to pressure people into working for longer against their will by reducing their pension rights. Not everyone can expect to live until they are 70. There are many manual and other stressful jobs where working longer definitely reduces life expectancy. Securing our pensions future should not depend on working some people until they drop to provide more for the rest.

BRENDAN BARBER
General Secretary
Trades Union Congress
London WC1

Blair did not lie

Sir: Well done Melvyn Bragg (Opinion, 21 June) for suggesting something that has appeared to be unthinkable in the editorial towers of The Independent (and most other organs). Tony Blair did not lie to us when he told us of the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The whole world were convinced that WMD were there. The UN did not authorise its weapons inspectors to search for something they did not expect to find. The hindrance and obfuscation of the Iraqi officials was hardly intended to convince the UN that there was nothing to hide.

And all of this merely backed up the intelligence gathered by the US, UK and other secret services. Just because Tony Blair believed the reports given to him and interpreted the circumstantial evidence in the same way as did practically everyone else does not make him a liar when those reports turn out to be wrong and the evidence misleading.

PHIL JANES
Coulsdon, Surrey

Sir: Before reminding us on 30 June that, though chaos reigns in Iraq, the people are nevertheless "free", Tony Blair might read Bertrand Russell's Roads to Freedom (1918), pondering this passage: ". . . the ultimate goal of any reformer who aims at liberty can only be reached through persuasion. The attempt to thrust liberty by force upon those who do not desire what we consider liberty must always prove a failure."

STEPHEN PIMENOFF
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Compensation claims

Sir: In a report that examined Britain's so-called compensation culture, the Better Regulation Task Force said it would be helpful if senior commentators and those in positions of influence could resist talking about what is in effect a myth.

So it is disappointing that the Master of the Rolls, in his interview with The Independent (21 June), says Britain is "edging closer" to the compensation culture of the United States. This is absolutely not the case. Independent advice has found that accident claims have decreased by almost 10 per cent in the last year.

The well-publicised fear of litigation among schools and other public bodies is usually irrational and groundless, and is increasingly fuelled by careless comments which, on closer analysis, rarely stand up to scrutiny.

Of course, reasonable steps must be taken by such bodies to ensure health and safety guidelines are in place. But this does not mean that activities have to be curbed. It is a lack of understanding about the legal process - the fact that you can't be sued unless it is proved that you have been negligent - which leads schools to cancel trips. Hysterical claims about a compensation culture only exacerbate the situation.

COLIN ETTINGER
President, Association of Personal Injury Lawyers
Nottingham

Blunkett knows best

Sir: Johann Hari's attack on David Blunkett (Opinion, 23 June) is the usual one-sided tirade from a liberal enjoying the benefits of his safe and comfortable existence because of the hard decisions government ministers have to take every day.

He fails to explain that these 12 foreign individuals in Belmarsh prison he harps on about are free to leave their darkened cells whenever they wish as long as they agree to leave this country. Conditions cannot be so bad in HM prisons these days if these gentlemen voluntarily agree to remain behind bars for two years.

I am sure the majority in this country want a Home Secretary who understands his prime responsibility, to take whatever legal measures are required to protect them.

RON DARE
Upminster, Essex

Fans for all season

Sir: So Brian Viner will be cheering on Henman at Wimbledon, along with the face-painted loons who inhabit Centre Court at this time of year ("Hope, anticipation and Henmania", 22 June)?

I, for one, do not regard the Henmaniacs as lovable patriots. Their jingoistic, often unsporting behaviour (who else cheers double faults?) does no service to British tennis. To make a comparison with the England football fans "throwing bricks at Portugese police" is to decry all genuine football supporters and lovers of tennis. How many of the flag-waving masses on Centre Court follow Henman's career at any other time of year (unlike the majority of England fans who support their team in the football season)?

LEIGH CHAMBERS
London E17

Flaunting religion

Sir: I cannot refrain any longer from pointing out a stupid mistranslation of a French word. In your report "School ban on Islamic gown" (16 June) there is mention of a French law banning the wearing of "ostensible religious symbols". The word "ostensible" is a mistranslation of the French ostensible, which means not "ostensible" but "ostentatious".

C J WOODS
Celbridge, Co Kildare, Ireland

Valuable support

Sir: Dr Raj Persaud writes in his article "An entire nation at fever pitch" (23 June) "psychologists have found that [football] fans ... believe they can influence a team's performance by providing strong support and so bolstering the morale and motivation of the professionals". Why, then, do they only seem to cheer when their team is playing well, and often leave the scene when the players need them most? Roars of approval when you're winning are not nearly as valuable as roars of encouragement when things get tough.

R GIBBS
Leeds

Long-distance asparagus

Sir: Can anyone match asparagus from China as an example of insane globalisation (letter, 24 June)? How about ANZAC biscuits baked in Australia on sale at the local Sainsbury's?

Dr ROBERT RALPH
Aberdeen

Sir: Aylsham in Norfolk is surrounded by asparagus growers and anyone can currently buy the result of their labour from any greengrocer's in the town. One is right next door to Budgens, which in the last few days had Peruvian-produced spears on the shelves. Unfortunately, neither local nor other produce was organic.

PETER PINK
Aylsham, Norfolk

Take no notice

Sir: Two notices: the first on a pub wall in the West Country, with the brewer's name on the board, read: "The Bull bed and breakfast take Courage". The second, mind boggling, one was on a main road in Tasmania and informed the motorist "Roadside slashing ahead".

LEN WARNE
Sevenoaks, Kent

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