Unregulated doctors allowed baby to die, Brown must now challenge Blair and others


These negligent, unregulated doctors allowed my baby to die

These negligent, unregulated doctors allowed my baby to die

Sir: I have been moved after 10 silent years to comment on Jeremy Laurance's excellent article about the regulation of doctors ("Shipman hasn't ended the betrayal of patients", 10 January).

Ten years ago I found I was six weeks pregnant. I rushed to the doctor and told him, three weeks previously, I had had German measles. He told me not to worry. Nine months later our son was born. The same doctor checked him and gave the all clear. When he was 10 weeks old we took him for a weekend visit to a GP friend. We queried our baby's health and got the message not to worry but to contact our GP when we got home if we were really concerned.

The next day our son started having trouble breathing. We rushed him to a new GP, who sounded the alarm. Twenty-four hours later at Great Ormond Street our son had major heart surgery, because he had a major heart defect. The doctors were surprised no one noticed his pallor or hole in the heart.

Of course by this stage he had no long-term prospects and died some months later. But if the local doctors had acted differently our tale might have been different.

The doctors who betrayed and misdiagnosed Laurie are still earning £70,000 per year and we are left with the loss and a great mistrust of doctors. We can only hope that no one else suffers like us. Regulation would ensure this doesn't happen again.
Name and address supplied

Sir: Jeremy Laurance makes a bizarre connection between Harold Shipman and Sir Donald Irwin's estimate that 5 per cent of GPs are "risky". Irwin meant that the clinical performance of 5 per cent of GPs may not be of an acceptable standard, not that they were murderers.

This reminds me of the unfair way the Shipman case was initially seen as an indictment of single-handed practice. The offices of the Small Practices Association came under immediate press siege and Tony Blair chose to raise his concerns about the matter in the House. Dame Janet Smith's report of July 2002 subsequently revealed that Shipman had committed his first 72 known murders whilst he was a partner in a large group practice. If he had been apprehended when he ought to have been it would have been large group practices, if any, which came under particular scrutiny.

False connections like this contribute nothing to the important debate about whether the apparently endless escalation of complex and intrusive regulation of professionals is doing more good than harm. This is what Laurance's article was actually about; Shipman had nothing to do with it. By deliberately confusing the issues he manages to make the BMA's reservations seem irresponsible and self-interested.

On the contrary the BMA's reservations are wise and principled and I share them just as much as a retired GP and potential patient as I did when I was in practice.

retired GP
Alton, Hampshire

Brown must now challenge Blair

Sir: It has long been evident, and is now supported by your poll (11 January), that Tony Blair has become a serious liability to the Labour Party; one can only marvel at the hubris which impels him to put his own vanity before the good of the party, let alone of the country. I most emphatically do not agree that a false "united front" should be presented to the electorate, and it's patronising to act as though the voters were children who should be deceived for their own good.

Politicians, once in power, immediately forget that they are elected and employed by the people to run the country, not simply to hang onto their own seats at the next election.

Judging by opinions I have come across, your poll results are very accurate - a great number of former Labour supporters will not vote to keep Tony Blair in power, and bitterly resent the fact that there is no longer a socialist party to vote for. We have a choice between Old Conservative, New Conservative and the Liberal Democrats, so Lib Dem we shall vote.

What on earth has kept Gordon Brown from mounting a leadership challenge? Most of us believe him to be, at the very least, a man of integrity, and integrity has become a rare pearl of great price.

Totnes, Devon

Sir: The findings of your NOP Blair versus Brown poll (11 January) are very surprising. Yes, some Old Labour voters who have failed to turn out at the past two elections would no doubt be drawn back by the possibility of a Brown premiership. But surely, key to the massive New Labour victories were the many newly floating voters of the middle ground. Broadly liberal and market-oriented, they included many former One Nation Tories. They voted for the New Labour project both out of despair at the squabbling, sleaze-ridden Tories, and because Blair seemed a pragmatic social democratic who showed little truck with Old Labour ideology.

Those people may be in a quandary now because of disillusionment with Blair and despair at the floundering Tories, but whatever they told NOP they are not going to vote for a Brown Labour Party which would be perceived as having its roots further to the left and with a much more traditional tax-and-spend socialist agenda.

Hanworth, Norfolk

Sir: Peter Gershon is not investigating Tony Blair's use of the Queen's Flight for his Christmas holiday, as The Independent has reported ("PM's use of RAF jet for Egypt holiday to be investigated", 11 January).

It would be surprising if he were. Mr Blair, after all, is the first prime minister of recent times to make use of commercial airlines for his family holidays. His predecessors John Major and Margaret Thatcher, quite legitimately, used the Queen's Flight for all their family holidays abroad between 1979 and 1997.

The Prime Minister and his family had, in fact, booked to travel to Egypt on a commercial flight this Christmas, as they have done for the last three years. But in December, months after their tickets were arranged, the Royal Family and Ministerial Visits Committee strongly advised against this decision on security grounds. Mr Blair obviously accepted their advice.

Mr Gershon is reviewing the Queen's Flight because of the increasing age of its aircraft and the consequences for reliability, safety, cost and security. As he was asked to do so a month before the decision was taken to switch the Blair family away from a commercial flight, it is difficult to see how the two matters are linked.

Director of Communications
Prime Minister's Office
London SW1

Green solutions

Sir: Andrew Warren himself assumes (letter, 7 January) that the answer to global warming is to be found in one untried technology, namely, to persuade the whole population of the planet to re-examine every energy-consuming aspect of their lives. This, like all the other pet panaceas put forward, will take a great deal of research, in this case on human behaviour and economics, before it can even be started.

There are many different methods being studied of reducing CO 2 emissions, but in practice these are well in the future. In reality, we are about to experience a considerable increase in emissions. China and India are increasing their energy requirements and have no shortage of coal or the means of building fossil-fuelled power stations. Should they be expected to make the decision to stop the growth of their economies by not building them?

The only proved and adequate clean technology available to us now is nuclear energy. It is already widely used and in the short term, until other means are developed, it is the only answer.

Great Bookham, Surrey

Sir: The UK lags significantly behind most of Europe in its use of biomass for heating. The benefits are poorly understood in this country and Professor Solt's letter (7 January) did nothing to alleviate that situation.

We can no more in practice generate all of our heat requirement from biomass combustion than we can all of our electricity from solar and wind - that does not mean, of course, that these renewable energies cannot make a useful contribution to reducing both greenhouse emissions and our reliance on dwindling fossil fuels. Purpose-grown biomass has the additional potential advantages of providing rural employment, income for farmers and benefiting biodiversity.

Your correspondent suggests that if you allow purpose-grown crops to rot, there is not a CO 2 emissions benefit. Well, if you allow wind turbines to fall down you don't get any benefit from them either. I suggest Professor Solt visits some of the biomass village heating projects in Denmark, Austria or Sweden to get a fuller view of the benefits of integrated biomass schemes.

Buxted, Sussex

Tilting trains

Sir: Your article "Branson's tilting trains are the least reliable on network" (7 January) gives a highly misleading impression about the Pendolino fleet of 125mph tilting trains.

The only way to find the minor glitches on trains is to run them in "real" conditions, with passengers using the service. This is established practice across the world and is in addition to the rigorous safety testing that takes place before trains enter service.

Many of the "breakdowns" that your article highlights are actually defects that are so minor that they do not disrupt the service. However, when even the smallest fault is detected, it is reported as a "casualty" and work is done overnight to rectify the problem. When Sir Richard Branson launched these trains in September 2004, he made it very clear that these teething issues would take several months to iron out.

It is unreasonable to compare highly complex new trains operating under this level of scrutiny with established trains that have been running for decades and on which faults have been resolved.

Virgin Trains has been the boldest train company in ordering the most advanced trains ever seen in this country. We have introduced two entirely new fleets of trains, at a cost of £2bn, making them among the youngest and most sophisticated in Europe. Passengers are already seeing the huge benefits of these faster trains.

Chief Executive
Virgin Trains
London NW1

Sir: With the new Pendolinos it's not just about reliability but also poor design. Those of us on the west coast line who have waited with keen anticipation for these supposed trains of the future have been sorely disappointed.

Getting on a crowded train with a suitcase is now extremely problematic as the small areas for stowing luggage are halfway down each carriage. This means negotiating one's suitcase down a narrow aisle only to find that the luggage area is already a tottering pile of suitcases. Cases are lined along the aisles, making them even narrower, or piled outside the toilets.

Of course, the aim of the exercise is speed rather than space. But what do we passengers want from a modern train service? A tilting train that cuts half an hour off the journey time or a comfortable travelling experience with the train arriving when it is meant to arrive? On every journey I have made on a pendolino so far, the topic of conversation has been the poor design of the carriages, with harassed Virgin staff apologising and attempting to deal with the many suitcases and rucksacks scattered and wedged throughout the train.

Ambleside, Cumbria

Sir: I'm a commuter on the Uckfield to London Bridge line, now run by Southern. Since the beginning of December 2004 we have new, comfortable, fast trains and a more frequent through service - some things are getting better!

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Yorkshire pride

Sir: Your headline "After 30 years in a church hall, John Godber (and Hull) will have a theatre" (5 January) implies that Hull is without a theatre. In fact, the Hull New Theatre has been going strong for years and, although not large, is comfortable and well appointed with excellent shows from first-rate companies. The people of Hull are proud of the success of the Hull Truck Theatre Company, and wish them well in their new building - the second professional theatre in this city.

Cottingham, East Yorkshire

Safety in numbers

Sir: In Save & Spend (8 January) you show a photo of a PIN being keyed in at a checkout, apparently in full view of anyone who cares to look. Keyboards should surely be fitted with a hood, as I have seen in other countries? To use them in the way suggested by your picture negates much of the security value of the PIN.

Redditch, Worcestershire

Sussex stroll

Sir: If Alistair Darling goes for a walk at Arundel with Tex Pemberton, the pro-bypass spokesman for West Sussex County Council (letter, 11 January), I hope bodies concerned about the impact of a bypass will be invited too. The "environmentally acceptable" solution which WSCC seeks is a mirage. Darling recognised this when he cancelled the project in 2003 on the grounds that the watermeadows are outstandingly beautiful. Traffic will continue to get worse but the countryside will be more highly valued. This battle will run and run and is unlikely to be settled by a gentlemanly discussion on the banks of the Arun.

Binsted, West Sussex

Crossed words

Sir: In your 6 January crossword, the clue for 2 Down was "Australian (coll)". As a proud Australian, I thought "Aha, I know this one!" and promptly wrote AUSSIE. But it didn't fit, and BLOKE wasn't correct either. With shame that I didn't know the answer, I looked in Friday's edition and to my disgust the word given was OSSIE. Aren't there enough of us here to at least get that one right?!

London W9

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