Thoughts from an active pensioner who is now somewhat past his Biblical "Use-by date"

"Why just be difficult, when with a little more effort you can be bloody impossible?"

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The "Liverpool Care Pathway" (Continued)

Today's Telegraph continues the saga of the so-called "Liverpool Care Pathway".
This time it was in Birmingham where they call it the "Supportive Care Pathway (SCP)", another example of Doublespeak which means the exact opposite of what it says.
The doctors at Birmingham City Hospital decided that an elderly lady who had been admitted suffering heart and kidney failure would not be expected to live for more than 48 hours, and put her on the SCP.  Following intervention by her daughter, the lady was given treatment and discharged from hospital only six days later.

The Telegraph reports that
A spokeswoman for the trust said: “Mrs Edwards was very ill when she was admitted to our Medical Assessment Unit"
“We are sorry to hear that Mrs Edwards’ family were unhappy with aspects of her care. "

That last sentence is the most ridiculous of the lot!
"We are sorry to hear that the family were unhappy" How would they expect the family to feel? Perhaps the family should ask whether Birmingham City Hospital being paid on the basis of the number of patients that die they kill, in a similar manner to that being paid the Victoria Hospital in Blackpool? (See my previous blog)

Surely questions should be raised as to the competence of those who prescribed this course of action, and the family should be demanding a full enquiry.

Knowing my daughters, if that had happened to Mrs EP or myself, they would not be "unhappy", they would be bloody furious. Both have good connections through their work and other interests so I am quite sure that they would be  busy contacting everybody they know who might be able to help them to get an independent enquiry and demanding disciplinary action against the doctors involved.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

The "Liverpool Care Pathway"

I know that it's late in the day, but I've just got round to reading the daily newspapers!

As I'm getting on in years, I have some interest in the so-called "Liverpool Care Pathway", which seems to be a method that doctors have agreed to use for patients whom they decide are not going to live, and is said to give them a peaceful death.
As it involves the withdrawal of food and fluids as well as medical treatment, it does not seem to me to be particularly caring, and amounts to starvation and dehydration. Far from being a "Care Pathway" it seems to me more like "A Road to Death".
Now doctors admit that they can never be certain that a patient is dying, and this example from today's Mail shows that they can most certainly be wrong.

But what appalled me most was the statement in the article that
"The hospital concerned has been paid more than £600,000 in the last two years to hit targets for the number of patients who die on the Pathway, according to documents uncovered by the Mail".

So we now have a situation whereby a hospital is required to hit targets for the number of people who "die on the Pathway" that is meet a target for the number of patients who are deliberately killed by the hospital staff.

Surely this is incitement to murder and should be investigated by the police. 

We ought to know who authorised the payment of taxpayers' money to a hospital to kill people. Was it within the NHS or did the incentive come from elsewhere such as the Local Authority who didn't want to fund places in care homes, was it from the DHSS in an attempt to reduce the state pensions bill, or did it even come from the Treasury as part of cost cutting measures.

It's certainly time for some answers.

Friday, 26 October 2012

My Sphygmomanometer

 This is it !
I've been "under the weather" for quite a few weeks and Mrs EP decided that I should go and visit the doctor. I have a new GP, the previous one having decided to retire at 60 because under the new NHS he felt that he was doing more paperwork than doctoring. The new lady doctor is very young, and doesn't look old enough to have gone through university, let alone qualified as a GP.  Mrs EP's comment was "She's very sweet, but does she know what she's doing!".
Anyway, she went through all the usual tests, decided that I wasn't yet senile, and all that seemed wrong was that my blood pressure was a bit on the high side. Hence the machine above, which I have on loan with instructions to take my blood pressure two or three times a day for the next couple of weeks.
Now being a (retired) engineer, things like this device are interesting in the technical sense. When my old GP took my blood pressure he used the old fashioned method which balanced the pressure against a mercury column and listened my pulse with a stethoscope to determine the reading. All that has gone now in favour of this machine. What puzzles me is that there is no apparent way that it listens to my pulse, so how does it know when to record the values? Then the next questions, which any researcher asks about instrumentation is "How accurate is it?" and "Does it give reproducible results?"
Having found the specification on the web, the accuracy is quoted as + or - 3 mm Hg but I'm unable to confirm that without a "Standard arm" to check it against. I did some tests on reproducibility. My method was to put the cuff on my arm, sit in a comfortable chair and continue with a book I'm reading (not the newspaper, that would certainly raise my blood pressure). I took a reading every few minutes for twenty minutes or so and no two were the same varying from a high of 177/87 to a low of 143/73 which is considerably more variance than might be expected from the quoted accuracy figure. So did my blood pressure vary by + or - 10% from the centre value of 160/80 or is the meter faulty?
I will repeat my experiment sometime, taking care not to move between readings, but somehow I suspect that discussing instrumentation accuracy and reproducibility will not be within my lady doctor's abilities.
As most of the figures were on the high side, I suspect that I will be issued with some pills to get it down. Just as long as she doesn't expect me to give up my nightly tot, I'm not too concerned !

Thursday, 25 October 2012


The Telegraph reported yesterday that "Tough new mortgage lending rules to be announced tomorrow are expected to hit millions of prospective first-time buyers as well as those in their 50s
Looking at the new rules, they hardly seem tough compared with those that were in place when I took out my first mortgage in the early sixties. However, more recently, until the crunch came, most lenders were throwing money at borrowers, based on the assumption that in an era of rising house prices, they couldn't possibly loose out!

First in line to be hit are interest only mortgages, where lenders will require proof that the prospective borrower is making appropriate arrangements to repay the sum borrowed when the mortgage period expires. What's tough about that?  Surely that's quite reasonable for the borrower to explain how he expects to repay the money. The Mail today suggests that these represent a £100bn 'time bomb' where the home owners have no idea how they will pay off their mortgage when the time comes.

Next come the oldies,  where lenders will be told to make sure that a mortgage cannot be given out unless a homeowner will repay it before their 70th or 75th birthday.Well that lets me out!

As I said, rules like these were commonplace when I took out my first mortgage back in the sixties, so what is all the fuss about?
Common sense says that you don't lend anyone money unless you think they will be able to repay it. Not only did I have to find about 25% deposit for my first house, the maximum amount that they would lend me was limited to 2.5 times my annual salary with no consideration being given to my wife's earnings. As well as that, I also had to demonstrate that I would be able to repay it by having a savings account with my chosen Building Society and making regular savings similar to my potential mortgage payments for at least a year before they would even consider putting my name on the list for a mortgage. All this whilst I was paying rent at the same time.
I would add that in the sixties, interest rates were far higher than they are now, with the base rate varying between 6 and 8%. At one point, in 1976, the base rate reached a high of 15%  before falling back to 9-10% for a long period up to 1992. The all time high, in November 1979 was 17% ! Now the base rate is 05.% and it will probably be less by Christmas if the media is to be believed.

But it did teach us to save and set our priorities. No going out to buy the latest "must have" gadget! No expensive (or even cheap) package holidays.  My wife brought up two children without disposable nappies or a washing machine. Nappies had to be washed by hand and dried each day, if necessary in front of the fire. Anyone who has to do that now would consider themselves seriously deprived, but at least by the time I retired, we owned our house outright and had a bit of money in the bank.

If these new rules start to make people think about the real priorities in their lives, then they must be a good thing.

I've just received a letter from the Halifax telling me that the interest rates on my "Reward Savings Account" will fall from 2.5% to 0.5% on 8th November. Time to do some research into savings accounts elsewhere!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The BBC and Jimmy Savile

The questions about the Jimmy Savile affair seems to have changed from "How was he able to do it"  to "Why was a Newsnight Programme dropped". The Media Select committee yesterday seemed to concentrate all its efforts into finding out from George Entwistle who cancelled the Newsnight programme about Savile. The recent Panorama programme did exactly the same. Why? Whilst the cancellation of the programme is of interest, it seems to be diverting attention from the main issue, which is to find out how Savile was allowed to get away with his perverted behaviour for so long.

The main thing that has come to light in this new investigation is that the BBC seems to have a huge unwieldy, dysfunctional management structure with nobody having an overall picture of what was going on. The attitude that one mustn't ask questions because they could be construed as interfering with editorial independence is total rubbish. It is the job of the man at the top to have a very good idea of what is going on, even if he has no wish to interfere.
What has been revealed is the large number of layers in the BBC's management structure, seemingly with no clear-cut reporting arrangements. This, as anyone with even the most basic management experience will know, is a recipe for total disaster. Any business must be able to hold people to account and know who made what decisions and when they made them..

An MP, Sir Roger Gale, is reported in the Telegraph, to have said that Lord Patten, the chairman of the BBC Trust, and George Entwistle, the BBC director-general, may have to “fall on their swords.”
I would agree with this; In my view Entwistle may have been an effective "Head of Vision", but as DG, he has been promoted to his level of incompetence with no idea how to run a multi-faceted organisation. But then as Head of Vision, one might reasonably ask, why didn't he know what was going on with Savile over the years.

Yes, it is time for a huge shake up at the BBC so as to remove several tiers from the management structure and provide clear lines of responsibility.

Monday, 22 October 2012

EU Budget

According to the Daily Telegraph,
"The Prime Minister renewed a threat to veto any real increase in the EU budget, despite warnings that his approach is alienating Germany’s Angela Merkel."
It goes on to say that
"Reports from Berlin suggest Mrs Merkel, the Chancellor, is prepared to call off a planned EU summit to discuss the budget unless Mr Cameron changes his tone."

The picture that one gets from these exchanges (if they are correct) is that Germany, in the form of Angela Merkel, is running the EU. If we aren't prepared to do what she wants, she will call off the summit.  In fact the EU comprises 27 countries and I'd like to know what the other 25 think about the prospect of Germany calling off the summit. Surely, if anyone is to call it off, it should be the EU president.

I'm sure that we are not the only country who opposes an above inflation increase. Are the others too scared of Germany to object, or is it just that they want us to do the dirty work?

It will be interesting to watch what happens. However, the way things are at the moment, my money is on Cameron giving in, claiming, for example, the extra money is for some new purpose and that it is therefore justified. Personally, if I was in his position, I would call Germany's bluff, it would after all save the cost of the meeting which is probably totally unnecessary in these days of electronic communication.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The End of the Tories

Judging by the way that David Cameron is running this government, one begins to wonder if he is doing his best to ensure that the Tories are out of power for a long, long while after the next General Rlection. Almost everything that he or members of the cabinet do seems deliberately designed to reduce the party's standing in the opinion polls.  Why on earth should this be so? He has more Public Relations experts in the cabinet than any previous government yet all they are getting is bad publicity. There was no real reason for any of the recent fiascos, yet they just keep coming. Yesterday, Alex Salmond labelled UK politicians ‘incompetent Lord Snooties’ and it is hard not to agree with him in so far as the top Tories in government are concerned. 

In the Observer today, Lord Tebbit says broadly the same thing:
"This dog of a coalition government has let itself be given a bad name and now anybody can beat it. It has let itself be called a government of unfeeling toffs".
As he points out previous  Tory governments have had far more toffs, but they were real toffs not wannabe ones like the present lot.  He adds: "The abiding sin of the government is not that some ministers are rich, but that it seems unable to manage its affairs competently."
For what it is worth, my view is exactly the same, Whilst they may not actually call people outside their own circle "plebs", as Mitchell is alleged to have called the police, there seems no doubt in my mind that this is what they think.

If the Tories are to regain any standing in the polls, they need to come up with some carefully considered solid policies and put them into effect. Changing planning laws won't affect most of us, won't achieve much for the economy, but will attract a lot of flak from all directions, which is hardly good news. Nor will claims of more severe punishments for criminals, they are available already but rarely implemented. A new law to deal with the illegal supply of guns, it sounds good, but I'm quite certain the existing laws are more than adequate, Proposals to cut benefits for those who are not actively trying to get work again sound good, but will probably be squashed by human rights issues and of course concern about "the children". And as for "gay marriage", well this is hardly a vote winner with traditional Tories!

On Europe we are getting contradictory statements and all that does seem clear is that it is unlikely that we will be offered an IN/OUT referendum. With new terms of membership being discussed, it is more likely that we will be asked whether we accept the new terms or prefer the existing ones. At the same time we have UKIP steadily gaining ground, picking up, as they go, a number of traditional Tory policies which have been abandoned in the scramble for the centre ground. The European elections should give a good indication of things to come and I wouldn't be surprised if the Tories hit an all time low.

I am now convinced that this is the last Tory Government that I will see in my lifetime unless firm competent action is taken within the next few months. And I don't believe that this will happen whilst Cameron is at the helm.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The "Environmental Taliban"

Not that it is particularly hard to do, but George Osborne has upset a number of environmental groups in what might just possibly be the start of an outbreak of realism in the government.

It would seem that George Osborne has been describing the green lobby as the "Environmental Taliban" something with which I  would fully agree. A group comprising Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the RSPB and WWF-UK (the usual suspects) have written to him complaining that his remarks would be "deeply offensive" if true.
Oh dear!  How easy it is to cause "deep offence" these days !

Well what do we know about the Taliban.
Firstly, they believe deeply in their religion, Islam, which they interpret in the strictest way possible. They do not believe in progress and oppose change. They threaten any individuals who support any other religion. They censor any form of learning and books that do not meet with their beliefs and endeavour to destroy artefacts, monuments, etc which they deem as being offensive to their religion. Only their interpretation of Islam is allowed and anyone who thinks otherwise is branded an infidel and should not be allowed to live in their world. They do their best to avoid the publication of pictures of their prophet.

And the "Environmental Taliban"
They too believe deeply in their religion, Climate Change, which they interpret using the worst possible scenario. They do not believe in progress, on the basis that  anything new will destroy the earth. They deride any individuals who support any other viewpoint. They censor results of scientific studies and endeavour to prevent the publication of any that do not conform to their beliefs. They seek to destroy anything that does not agree with their beliefs (Power stations, GM crops),  Only their interpretation of data relating to Climate Change is allowed and anyone who thinks otherwise is branded a sceptic and should be banned from expressing his views. They do their best to prevent the publication of pictures of their idols, wind turbines.

George Osborne isn't far out.  
The Taliban and the Environmental Lobby have much in common, the main similarities being that they believe that their religion is paramount and wish to suppress any dissenting opinions. 
Surprisingly, for once I am in total agreement with him.

See The Daily Telegraph 
George Osborne 'describes green lobby as environmental Taliban' 
Environment groups challenge George Osborne over 'deeply offensive' Taliban slur claims

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Policeman uses Taser on Blind Man

This report in the Daily Mail, just one of numerous reports in the media, says it all.
I am normally a strong supporter of our police, whom I believe generally do a good job under difficult circumstances, but . . . . . .

This latest incident shows quite clearly why demands for the police to be routinely armed should be strongly resisted.

What sort of police officer is so stupid that he can't tell the difference between a blind man in his sixties feeling his way with a white stick and a man armed with a sword roaming around the town centre. The trigger happy policeman didn't even bother to confront him, his victim was shot in the back by a coward. Don't the police have to shout something like "Armed police, lay down your weapon" before shooting, or is that just something that happens on TV?

I hope the victim, Colin Farmer, makes a full recovery. It seems likely that he will be awarded damages as a result of the incident; What a pity that these will come out of the pocket of the long-suffering council-tax payer rather than from the pocket of this idiot policeman.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

My way of thinking

It's strange, but given time, those in the news frequently come round to my way of thinking!

There were two examples today
Firstly, I've been arguing for about a year that the best way to solve the Euro crisis would be for Germany along with perhaps Holland and Austria, to withdraw from the Euro, when it would become manageable by the southern European Countries in their traditional way by letting it slowly depreciate over the years.

Lo and behold! Today Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes in the Telegraph that George Soros has made exactly the same case at at the National Association for Business Economics in New York.

Then secondly, I've argued for many years that the United Kingdom should should have a federal system of four states with Westminster only being responsible for such things as foreign affairs, defence, immigration and our currency, .

Again, I find in the Telegraph today that a LibDem commission chaired by Sir Menzies Campbell, the former party leader, has come up with a radical proposal to scrap the Act of Union between England and Scotland and replace it with a “Declaration of Federal Union”

Two of my ideas in one day! For once in my life I find that I am agreeing with the LibDems, this has me seriously worried!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Ads that you won't see again!

I've just received an e-mail with a number of pictures attached under the above heading. This was the first one I looked at.

No further comment is necessary!

We're ready to walk out on Europe

The above headline in The Mail on Sunday cheered me up for a few minutes yesterday as the paper claimed that this was the view of Michael Gove, one of the few people in the present government that I have any time for.
But an hour or so later when I came to look for the report to link to this blog, it had mysteriously disappeared from the the "front page" of their web site. Nor did I find any reference to such a viewpoint in any other newspaper.
If you read the article, it could be considered to be a major break-through by those of us who who want to get out of the EU. Amongst the claims made were:
"The chances of Britain leaving the EU rose dramatically last night after it emerged that one of David Cameron’s closest Cabinet allies believes it is time to tell Brussels bluntly: ‘We are ready to quit.’ " and
"Mr Gove, one of the Prime Minister’s closest confidants, has discussed his views in detail with Mr Cameron."
If true, this is very important news, but its sudden relegation to a hard to find web page and the fact that it was not mentioned elsewhere seems to imply to me that it could be a figment of some journalist's imagination.

So, once again, it looks like all talk but no action.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Public Enquiries

We seem to love Enquiries in this country; looking back, I can't think of a time when one wasn't in progress. We love exploring the past and pinning blame on people for past events, even if those concerned are long dead. The current furore about Jimmy Savile is perhaps typical. Whilst I have very great sympathy for all the victims of his abuse, exactly what is the point of the police enquiries? We are told that they have something like 250 lines of enquiry and have identified some 50 or so victims. Following up all those lines of enquiry is going to cost substantial sums of money, many millions no doubt, and unless there is any prospect of other co-conspirators being charged with aiding and abetting, just what is the point? But the police enquiries aren't the end of the matter, the NHS is setting up an enquiry (or three) as is the BBC, which will involve the expenditure of more public money. The end result will no doubt be statements from all the organisations concerned that "Lessons will be learnt".  However, in this particular case, I don't think any new lessons will be learnt, not because I believe that it could happen again, but because attitudes have changed significantly over the past twenty or so years and it would be far more difficult someone to start to do what Savile is alleged to have done without attracting wider attention.
Of course, we mustn't confuse this enquiry with the "Saville Enquiry", into Bloody Sunday, which dragged on for years at horrendous cost and never really produced anything that satisfied the public at large, the majority of people that I know, generally seem to take the view that soldiers under pressure, being fired at, will quite reasonably fire back and, as far as they are concerned, that is the end of the matter. Surely more would have been achieved by paying the victims' dependants a generous ex-gratia sum of money than paying all those lawyers to talk for years.
The first enquiry that I can recall reading about was the Lynsky Tribunal, which was about allegations of corruption in the government and civil service. Nothing Changes!  Since then, there seem to have been at least one or more public enquiries every year, ranging from the Ground Nut Scheme to the Hutton and Iraq enquiries.  But the thing about all these enquiries is that by the time they take place, most people had already made up their minds about what had happened and that this is unlikely to change regardless of the enquiry outcome. I'm still happy to believe that Dr Kelly was murdered, regardless of what Hutton said!
We need some new way of investigating these matters, some short and sharp way which carries out the investigation at a sensible cost and comes to a conclusion in months rather than years, preferably without the involvement of so many (expensive) legal experts.
In the meanwhile, I am calling for a full public enquiry into the murder of the Princes in the Tower as I believe that Richard III has been unfairly accused of involvement in their deaths.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Cyber attacks

I was very interested in the comments on cyber attacks made by Leon Panetta, the US Defence Secretary and reported in yesterday's Daily Telegraph. It would seem that foreign hackers had the potential to take down the country’s power grid, financial networks and transport system.

In truth, I hadn't realised how much industry and our utilities relied upon the internet for the control of their systems. My first reaction was "Why on earth are they connected to the internet", as when I worked on computer systems for Air Traffic Control, it was absolutely forbidden for any operational system to be connected to the internet and the computers at various sites were connected by what at that time were described as "private circuits", although they were provided by BT.

I am out of touch with the current situation, but I would imagine that these days a so-called private circuit is now simply multiplexed onto one of the high speed broadband carriers, and the only private bits will be the connections at each end! Equally, where a circuit was only used rarely, say for the switching of remote equipment, the temptation to have a simple phone line and control the equipment via the internet in order to save cost would be overwhelming.

In the past few months we have seen the problems that can be caused by computer failure. Firstly there was the bank computer which prevented people from accessing their accounts or making payments, we are told this was the failure of a software update. Then yesterday we had the failure of the O2 mobile phone network, again apparently due to computer problems.

Being generous, I take the explanations at face value, but it does demonstrate in a very small way the damage that could be done by an enemy in a concerted attach on our computer systems.

I think that we should be very worried.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Political Speeches

I am not impressed by modern political speeches.

The media tell us that Cameron made a fine speech, that Obama is a great orator and so forth. But surely anyone, who doesn’t mind standing up in front of a crowd and speaking, could make a fine speech if they had some of the best speech writers in their countries at their disposal, along with expert coaches and studios where they can practice and view the results on a TV screen.

Anyway, who listens to these speeches other than the party faithful and the media? Snippets are shown on the TV news bulletins, but does any ordinary person actually listen to them? Surely no one is persuaded to vote for a party on the basis of set speeches at a party conference.

What we need to test our politicians are genuine debates or question and answer sessions, something that we are unlikely to get in this country.

 Meanwhile, our politicians should remember that “Actions speak louder than words”, and so far I’ve seen very little action from Cameron and Co. Plenty of fine words, yes, but no real action.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Party Conferences

I have been wondering about why the political parties have their conferences other than to get publicity for the leaders’ speeches, and surprisingly for a pensioner on the right of the political spectrum, I have reached the conclusion that as far as conferences are concerned, the Trade Unions are far more democratic.

Whilst I was working, I belonged to one of the Civil Service Trade Unions, which has since merged with one of the larger unions. At the time, we felt that our Branch was being ignored by the union’s officials as we were not mainstream Civil Service but a Government Authority or Quango. As a result, we put forward a motion which was critical of the executive and I was appointed as one of the Branch delegates to the annual conference.
Somewhat to my surprise, our motion was put on the order paper, to be taken with a number of similar motions from other small branches, and I had my couple of minutes to propose it, as did the delegates from the other branches with their similar motions.
Yes, we lost the motion, but at least we had a few minutes to air our views and it did lead to some changes which were being implemented when I retired.

So with this in mind, I asked a member of the local Conservative Party whether the local constituency party could  put motions to their conference that were critical of the leadership, and the answer was a definite “No”.
So what is the point in belonging to the Conservative party if you can have no influence over its policies? It seems the only time they have a say is when they vote for a leader, although once he is elected, there is no mechanism for the party members to fire him. He appoints all the Ministers, and all they do at conference is to give speeches saying how good they are. There is no discussion of their policies, all that members can do to signify their disapproval is to refuse to applaud, as happened in the case of Justine Greening.

If we don’t even have democracy within our political parties, what hope is there for real democracy in this country?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

I'm back - with some photos

I stopped blogging earlier in the year when I was very much "under the weather". Although all is now well, I was reluctant to start again as, not being an early riser, I found that by the time that I'd read the morning papers and other news, too many other bloggers had already beaten me to it with regards to current events.

But yesterday,  whilst out for my (doctor's orders) stroll, I came upon this sign which I managed to photograph with my newly acquired iPod Touch.

You will obviously ask "What is special about this sign?",  as there are, after all, many similar signs around just like it.

Just these two signs standing each side of the above

In the thirty or so years that I've lived in the area, the size of both schools has roughly doubled with extra classrooms being added. Now some of the land is to be used for building, apparently to fund additions to the schools.
So there is now less than half the amount of land available, per pupil, that the school founders considered necessary all those years ago.
So much for the Government's statement that they are to stop selling off school land and encouraging more sport as part of our Olympic legacy.