Having just survived a life-threatening medical experience I can only express my thanks to the NHS ("Is healthcare reform going to break the Obama presidency?", 5 March); from the National NHS helpline which determined that an ambulance was required, to the paramedics who were knocking on the door within five minutes, to the multitude of medical staff who struggled to find the cause of my condition. The latter used a variety of examination procedures including an ECG, X-ray and full body-scan to identify the problem and start the treatment that saved my life.
With nine stitches in my head and eight units of blood in my body, I spent the next five days as an in-patient under observation. This gave me a chance to observe the every-day provision of services in the hospital.
I was impressed by the war on the MRSA super-bug, the attention to general cleaning, and the nurses and doctors who were cheerful and polite. The food would win no stars, but was more than sufficient and I left the hospital a kilogram heavier than I went in. Having supervised the provision of hospital cleaning on various USAF bases in the UK, I feel qualified to make the above comments in regard to the cleanliness of the hospital.
The American critics of the NHS know nothing of which they speak. Being an American living in Britain, I prefer the money-losing socialist NHS which provides an adequate health service for 100 per cent of the population using 8 per cent of the GDP, to the American for-profit system which provides a more-than-adequate service for 80 per cent of the population costing 16 per cent of GDP.
The Obama health reforms currently being attempted do not address all of the problems, but would be a start. If the opposition, who are a minority of Americans, fail to respect the wishes of the majority and succeed in stopping the reforms, it will be a tragedy.
George D Lewis
Deep-seated flaws in asylum system
Mary Dejevsky's suggestion that "all who claim asylum should be detained until their case is resolved" with a "target deadline of a month" is totally impractical and misses the point about claiming asylum (Opinion, 9 March).
The Detained Fast Track (DFT), to which nearly all new asylum claims are subjected, is a national scandal. It is far more difficult to succeed in an asylum claim which is dealt with in the DFT. It is virtually impossible for detained asylum seekers to get any evidence to support their claims, or to get good legal advice while in detention, both of which are fundamental to their success.
Moreover, any attempt to narrow the definition of a refugee, namely a person with a "well-founded fear of persecution" in the country from which he/she fled for one of the five reasons listed in the 1951 Geneva Convention, will lead to further arbitrary rejection of genuine asylum claims.
Dejevsky is also wrong to suggest the cause of the problem is that legal advisers are encouraging "eternal taxpayer-funded appeals". The requirement to show a previous material error of law is rigidly applied, while the Tribunal's decision-making procedure has speeded up immeasurably. Further restrictions on appeals to the Court of Appeal have also recently been put in place.
If we offer people the opportunity to claim asylum at all under the terms of the Refugee Convention, it should be possible for them to present their cases properly and not to have every possible obstacle put in their way.
What is really clogging up the system are the fresh claims made by a great many "failed" asylum seekers, who strongly feel that their cases were not presented properly in the first place and that the original decisions made in the DFT were wrong.
Chief executive, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, London EC1
The most disappointing thing about the confirmation of reports of abuse of asylum-seekers by guards working for private security companies employed by the Government, is that we appear to have a Government whose instinct is to deny first and investigate afterwards (report, 12 March).
Whether it is denying complicity by MI5 personnel in torture, or the abuse of asylum seekers, it seems to deny human-rights abuses until incontrovertible evidence forces it to acknowledge the truth. This sends a message to the guards, security services etc that the Government is as keen as they are to cover up the truth about any abuses, and this encourages them to continue.
The most effective way to limit such abuse by employees of private security companies would be to make the managers of those companies personally and criminally liable for any injuries or other unlawful offences inflicted by their employees on detainees.
What is the point of this ID card?
As the north-west of England is one of the Government's pilot areas for their ID cards, I recently received a flyer from the Identity and Passport Service inviting me to apply, pointing out that the card can be used as a passport in Europe (letters, 10 March).
However, in a footnote it is pointed out that you have to have a passport to get an ID card; they don't accept birth certificates.
Moreover, it has to be a passport issued since 1 January 2009. Given that the government website direct.gov.uk says that the information on an ID card will be similar to that on a passport, I rang the ID card helpline to inquire why anyone would want an ID card as well. The only reason they could give me was that some people might not want to take their passport with them on every trip.
I can't help feeling that somebody somewhere wants this project to fail. Well, that's fine with me – but I wonder why we have spent so much money on it.
Public-sector pension myths
We must stop this race to the bottom, pitting public sector against private, with pay and pension myths ("Public-sector pension costs may reach £79bn a year", 12 March). It is wrong to say that all public-sector workers enjoy gold-plated pensions – the real apartheid is between boardroom fat-cats and low-paid workers.
The National Audit Office report says that the average pension paid to a retired public-sector worker is £7,388, but we know that for many workers it is far less. Women workers in the Local Government Pension Scheme receive just £2,800 a year and over half the women pensioners in the NHS Pension Scheme get less than £3,500. Last year alone, NHS employer and employee contributions also exceeded the cost of paying pensions by over £2bn.
The Conservatives also fail to consider that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to rise, with the economy growing about 2 per cent a year. And if public-sector workers didn't save for their pensions, they'd be forced on to means-tested state benefits.
Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary
Sean O'Grady's solution to the problem of burgeoning public-sector pensions is to "find some way" to tax them. Writing as a retired teacher I can assure him that a way has been found. My teacher's pension, together with my state pension, is neatly taxed under the PAYE system. I am required to submit annual tax returns like most current employees.
Please do not forget either, Mr O'Grady, that I have paid 6 per cent of my salary to the teachers' pension fund from the first day of teaching, my employers have contributed even more to that pot and we have both paid National Insurance contributions. The terminal payment of a lump sum, I agree, is tax-free; the rest does not escape the scrutiny of the taxman.
Could a plea be made to avoid the misleading use of words "the taxpayer" and "taxpayers" when referring to public-sector pay and pensions?
In your report you note that almost a quarter of this year's contributions come from public-sector staff themselves and the balance "falls directly on taxpayers". This suggests that "taxpayers" are somehow a separate part of society.
Public-sector staff pay tax, too, and make up a pretty substantial group of taxpayers. So not only do they pay directly towards their pension but also pay a share of the costs through taxation.
As a result of your report on the likely increase in direct (unsolicited) mail due to the resolution of the postal dispute (report, 10 March) I requested by email an opt-out form from the Mail Preference Service (a creature of the Direct Marketing Association). I was surprised to receive the answer that: "Due to environmental reasons MPS no longer produces registration forms" and that I should go to their website or call them by telephone.
Perhaps their environmental concerns could encompass the idea of not sending out the stuff in the first place?
D J Walker
Pink Floyd's musical legacy
The "dinosaurs" Pink Floyd continue to bestride modern music across the generations, with an effect any extinct species would envy (David Stubbs, Comment, 12 March). For "ageing pomp rockers" who eschewed the "banal hit parade", they had several successful singles and the surviving band members can still fill O2 and a large swathe of Hyde Park, both of which they did in recent years. I was delighted to see them do both in the company of my 27-year-old son who thought they were brilliant. My 12-year-old son enjoys all of The Wall and especially "Another Brick in the Wall", which was also a successful single.
The Sex Pistols may have given them "a severe mocking", but I imagine Johnny Rotten et al would give several butter-advert fees for a sliver of the respect in which Floyd are held, and a tenth of their royalties.
I am delighted that Pink Floyd have won their case for the integrity of their albums. Could someone now please tell the producers at Classic FM and of "classical" compilation CDs that most composers wrote their symphonies and other works in the same spirit.
Is Alan Johnson's proposed dog legislation just the postman's revenge? ("Dog owners facing tough new insurance regulations", 9 March.)
It would be easier to accept the howls of outrage from ex-military chiefs if a single one of them (with the honourable exception of Sir Richard Dannatt) had openly complained or even resigned in protest at the lack of equipment, or had proposed the axing of white-elephant vanity projects like Trident to free up the cash needed. Instead, these armchair warriors have connived to cover up shortages until safely pensioned off, at which point they are somehow stung into action. Good to see that the tradition of "Lions led by donkeys" still seems to hold true.
Exiled sports stars
Your Formula One 2010 supplement (12 March) refers to "Button and Hamilton's battle for Britain." If it is the case that both these young men live abroad to avoid paying UK tax, as I have heard it said, that puts them in my mind as battling for their pockets, not for Britain. A slogan inspired by the Ashcroft saga is "No representation without taxation". I would stretch it further: "No habitation without taxation".
W B McBride
Roots of 'sharmuta'
I believe that Robert Fisk may be mistaken in tracing the root of the word "sharmuta" when referring to a prostitute to the French "charmante". The word is too widespread across Arabic-speaking lands to have originated with French-educated Lebanese. I believe the root may lie in the Arabic expression "sharama l tawq" when describing a wild horse which breaks away from the circling pack as they are being broken by their trainer. Similarly the "sharmuta" is considered as having broken away from the pack of supposedly civil society.
Ghias El Yafi
A big thank you to Mark Hix (Food and drink, 13 March) for the best cookery tip I've had in ages: "If you can't find cassareep, use pomegranate molasses." I'm off to the local Co-op now.
Dalton in Furness, Cumbria
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