Suicide bombing, NHS and others

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Stop the cynical use of children in Palestinian terror bombing

Sir: The ongoing and cynical use of children by Palestinian groups in armed conflict is a flagrant breach of international law and it must stop. With the news that the Israeli authorities discovered two more Palestinian children who were believed to be preparing to carry out a suicide bombing in Israel (report, 17 June), we say enough is enough.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits children under the age of 18 from taking part in armed hostilities yet Palestinian terrorist groups continue to prey on children as young as 10 to act as couriers for their explosives. In 2001, Islamic Jihad ran a children's summer school that taught children the benefits of becoming a suicide bomber. Mohammed el Hattab, a teacher at the summer school, said "We are teaching children that suicide bombing is the only thing that makes the Israeli people very frightened. Furthermore we are teaching them that we have the right to do it."

Such indoctrination continues to this day. Why has the Arab League not made a single statement demanding that this practice end?

Children of the Middle East are the future. The key to a true lasting peace in the region is in the education of the next generation in the values of co-existence and understanding. The international community's ongoing silence on this issue continues to leave both Palestinian and Israeli children defenceless.

House of Lords

NHS cannnot make us a healthy nation

Sir: Anna Coote has the right diagnosis, but the wrong prescription for our health ("The NHS could do more than patch us up", 28 June). The Government does need to focus on health, rather than health care, but the NHS is unlikely to deliver the improvements in health that she is seeking.

Like it or not, the NHS is a national sickness service. Doctors in particular are good at keeping sick people alive, but not very good at stopping them getting sick in the first place. Changing the NHS into a health promotion service would involve massive reorganisation, at a huge cost, with precious little evidence that it would be effective. And do people really want this? Personally, if I'm well I have better things to do than go to the doctor's.

If we want to improve our health then it must be put at the heart of all government policy. Health impact should be a key consideration in planning economic, environmental and transport policies, as well as food production, housing and many other areas. Leaving health to the National Health Service is a recipe for failure.

Senior Lecturer
Medical Care Research Unit
University of Sheffield

Sir: John Reid has a nerve in claiming that his government is committed to more choice in finding hospital treatment.

Some years ago I learnt that I needed orthopaedic surgery on a hand but discovered that my local unit at St Mary's had closed its waiting list to all but the most serious of non-emergency cases. My then fundholding GPs were able, with the minimum of fuss, to arrange for it to be done within three months in another unit.

Shortly after they came to power New Labour abolished fundholding so that it would now be extremely difficult, if not actually impossible, to do the same thing and it would certainly involve at least two sets of bureaucracy. One could, of course, make a formal protest about this through the Community Health Councils had the Government not gone ahead and abolished these as well.

London W11

Sir: The politicians and commentators indulging in the health service debate betray an ignorance of the profound interdependence of the NHS and private health sectors. Rather than being antagonistic rivals locked in conflict and competition, they are intimately related and mutually beneficial. The private sector relies on the NHS for its supply of trained staff. In turn it relieves the NHS of a very significant workload. Damaging such a symbiotic relationship would be to the detriment of the NHS, the private sector and health care provision as a whole.

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

Sir: If, under Michael Howard's plan to pay 50 per cent of the cost of a private operation, a patient scrapes together the money to take up this offer and is then unfortunate enough for post-operative complications to set in, will the plan then allow for these unexpected costs to be financed also, or will he or she be then shipped back to the good old NHS? Mr Howard must answer this and many other questions on the detail of all the conditions applicable to this proposal.

Mansfield, Nottinghamshire

Film archive

Sir: No one has more passion or commitment to the British Film Institute (bfi) National Film and Television Archive (letter, 23 June) than the bfi itself.

Last year's National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee reports highlighted long-term issues at the archive, which everyone recognised needed addressing. The bfi has spent the past year consumed with carefully assessing how to achieve a deliverable long-term plan, which both secures and allows us to develop the archive in order to achieve an ambitious vision for its future.

We are making an immediate initial increased investment focused on stabilising the collection, improving storage, and increasing our knowledge of its contents. This capital investment will be supported, by investment in the staff, broadening and developing their skills, while also recruiting new technical and curatorial talent.

Having a forward plan allows us to make informed decisions on preservation priorities, which also contribute to our national and international cultural programmes. For example, following its sell-out screenings in London and New York, we are about to release the restored 1929 classic Piccadilly on DVD, a bfi film opened the Classic Cannes festival, and this autumn we unveil an extraordinary restored collection of films revealing regional life across early Edwardian Britain.

The complexities and challenges of nurturing one of the world's oldest and greatest film archives should not be underestimated, and we are taking prudent steps which are critical to its future.

Director, British Film Institute
London W1

Nazis and smoking

Sir: Although in the circumstances, explained below, it does not detract from the value of Sir Richard Doll's work or from his deservedly high reputation, the widely held view expressed by your correspondent Maxine Frith ("Half of all smokers will die because of their habit", 23 June), that it was "Sir Richard Doll ... who first established a link between tobacco and lung cancer", is erroneous, assuming that the information in a three-part documentary Ärzte unter dem Hakenkreuz ("Doctors under the Swastika"), broadcast a couple of months ago on the German public service television channel ZDF, is correct.

In Nazi Germany citizens were considered to have a responsibility to the state to keep themselves in good health; correspondingly, the state saw it as its role to monitor health at an individual, not just collective, level. According to the information in the documentary, doctors in Germany established the link between smoking and lung cancer in 1943, resulting from a systematic programme of X-raying.

The obvious question, not dealt with by the documentary, is why this information did not become common knowledge after the German defeat in 1945. Was it never recorded in the Nazi medical literature? Was it discovered, but its significance overlooked? Was Nazi medical practice, unsurprisingly, so discredited through its involvement in forced sterilisations, murder and gruesome, often intentionally fatal, experiments on non-consenting subjects that it never occurred to anyone to examine the Nazi medical literature to see whether it contained anything constructive?


Glastonbury spirit?

Sir: So Michael Eavis thinks it "fantastic" that he has seen no "hippie convoys" or "traveller convoys" at this year's Glastonbury Festival (report, 26 June). He would do well to remember that without such people, the festival would simply not exist today, and ironically, the very roots from which this festival came are under attack today like never before.

Under recent amendments to the Anti-Social Behaviour legislation, if more than 20 people were to gather today for a weekend's innocent revelry in an anonymous field, they would swiftly be moved on by local police, those refusing risking substantial prison sentences.

That Michael Eavis can indirectly countenance this marks a sad end to the original festival spirit.

Greater Manchester

Compensation claims

Sir: Colin Ettinger, President of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, says, "You can't be sued unless it is proved you have been negligent" (letter, 25 June).

Wrong. A few years ago my employer received a claim from an individual who had knowingly climbed over a safety barrier, slipped and sustained minor bruising to the ribs and leg. My employer's solicitor determined that, although the case was spurious, it was more cost effective to settle out of court than to fight the case, and, for an "injury" resulting in half a day off work, the litigant received compensation running into four figures.

Perhaps what Mr Ettinger meant to say was that you cannot be sued successfully unless it is proved you have been negligent. But you can have a case brought against you any time, regardless of negligence, by people whose apparent intention, in many cases, is simply to extort nuisance money - just pay up, give us a few grand or we'll put you through a protracted period of litigation with all the attendant expense, hassle, stress and personal humiliation.
Name and address supplied

Symbols of Croatia

Sir: The checked shirts of Croatian footballers do not resemble the fascist Ustashe uniforms of the Second World War ("Ten things you always wanted to know about Croatia", 21 June). This has been a historic Croatian symbol for hundreds of years and was used by Communist Yugoslavia to denote Croatia; former Yugoslavs were happy enough with it then.

You inappropriately mention the Nazi Croat puppet state of the 1940s but fail to mention Serbian collaborators such as the Chetniks or that the strongest anti-Nazi resistance in Yugoslavia came from Croat partisans.

As for Croatia's declaration of independence leading to war with the Serbs: Croatia declared independence after Serbian attacks and demands that Croatia become part of Greater Serbia. Serbia invaded Croatia and slaughtered over 15,000 Croats.

London W12

Global imports

Sir: Regarding products from afar (letters, 24, 25, 26 and 28 June), how about standard white A4 printer paper made in Australia?

London E1

Sir: Asparagus from China, at a time that the English crop is available, does seem insane globalisation. However, I can see nothing wrong with ANZAC biscuits from Australia (letter, 25 June). From where else, other than New Zealand, would you expect them? Incidentally, as well as supporting the Royal British Legion, they are good biscuits.

London SE18

More trains on time

Sir: Barrie Clement reports (26 June) that the number of trains running on time at South Eastern Trains declined from 82.4 per cent to 79.7 per cent between January-March 2003 and the same period this year. In fact, the exact reverse is true; timekeeping improved from 79.7 per cent to 82.4 per cent in this time. It would be good to get a little recognition when we actually improve a service for our passengers!

Managing Director
South Eastern Trains Ltd
London SE1

Ring in the old

Sir: Like Howard Jacobson (26 June), I sought a reassuringly old-fashioned ring tone when I recently bought a new mobile phone. It exists! Called "old phone", it makes the noise emitted by the sort of phone which was found in most households until the advent of the chirpy "trimphone" in the late 1970s. It is a "Brrring... brrring" noise, such as he seeks. Mine came from the selection offered by O2 but is no doubt also available on a download site somewhere. One word of warning - last time it rang I mistook it for a sound effect in the radio play I was listening to and failed to answer it.

Luton, Bedfordshire

Singular concern

Sir: Mr John Savage of Cranleigh is premature in reporting the demise of the plural verb (letter, 28 June): Her Majesty is often heard to announce "My Government are" - not to mention the humble BBC. My social circle are deeply concerned for the plight of the singular verb!

London E1

Take no notice

Sir: I have received a money-off coupon from a supermarket for "healthy living meat". Do you think that I should inform the RSPCA?

Maghull, Merseyside