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, 27 February 2013

Italian Elections

The media report that
"We now have a country where the balance of power is held by a party headed by a comedian"

Until I read further, I thought that they were referring to this country and Nick Clegg !

But seriously, I can fully understand why they voted as they did. They are fed up with politicians whose personal and party interests come first with their country coming a distant second. Just as here, where the Labour and Tory parties pretend to be different, when in fact there is little to choose between them, so it is in Italy, where they invariably end up with a coalition whose main interest is in self-preservation.

Which of course brings one to the interesting speculation, if there was to be a party in this country run by a comedian, whom should it be?  I don't like any of the modern so-called comedians who confuse nastiness with humour, and my thoughts go back to Tony Hancock, or even further to people like Jimmy Edwards, Max Miller, Arthur Askey or Tommy Handley. However, after careful thought, I've decided that the best choice would be Ken Dodd, largely because none of the others are still with us.
So I look forward to a party led by Ken having as its symbol the famous "tickling stick" and being told "How tickled I am!" when we vote for him.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Horse meat in Scottish Beefburgers

The Scottish Government is enquiring as to how horse meat got into beefburgers supplied for school meals.
In view of the fact that Scotland is said to have the highest child obesity rate in the UK, surely the wrong question is being asked. Logically the more important question is
"Why are beefburgers being served in schools?"
Governments pontificate about obesity, want to ban fast food shops from the vicinity of schools, and then set about serving the very same food as that they are complaining about.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Another Hospital "Targets" Death

Almost every day, the media reports on preventable hospital deaths, usually brought about by staff mismanagement and targets.
Today, it is Colchester General Hospital that is in the news. As a result of the need to meet targets, there was confusion over who was responsible for a particular male patient who was found dead in a toilet cubicle. But to make matters worse, his widow has had to fight for two years to bring the matter to an inquest.
Giving evidence at the inquest, Professor Roger Motson, then head of the clinical team treating him, blamed NHS targets for the confusion over who was accountable for the patient.

No, it is not targets which caused this death, they are merely an excuse, not the reason. The reason is the actions of those in charge who were trying to meet targets rather than meet the needs of the patients.

If this had been a mother who allowed her baby to die from lack of care at home, it would warrant a police investigation, so why not a police investigation into the death of a helpless patient due to neglect at a hospital?
See The Daily Telegraph

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Unemployment Figures

According to the published figures, there are now 580,000 additional people in work compared to twelve months ago. The jobless total fell by 14,000 in the last three months for which we have figures, which if repeated in other quarters, means that the jobless fell by 56,000 in a year. Even if we assume that the figure was larger in the other quarters, I would suggest that a fall of 80,000 in a year would be generous in the extreme.
So where did the other 500,000 workers come from? They might be school or university leavers who had never been registered as jobless, but in broad terms, one would expect them to be matiched by retirements at the other end of the age spectrum. I can't imagine that they came from unemployed who were not registered as jobless and claiming benefits (do such people exist) or were women suddenly deciding to go out to work.
So where did the other 500,000 workers come from?
I'll let you have one guess!

Friday, 15 February 2013

John Major - Do he know what he is talking about?

According to today's Daily Mail,
"Sir John Major warns Conservative Eurosceptics to keep quiet or Britain could end up leaving EU"
Doesn't he see the total lack of logic in his remark?  In case he hasn't yet realised, the Eurosceptics want to leave the EU, and on the basis of what he says, they should make as much noise as possible!

He continues by saying that
"they are undermining David Cameron’s attempts to claw back powers from Brussels" 
Surely the situation is the exact opposite. If our EU partners know that we are likely to pull out, and that we are not bluffing, one imagines that they are more likely to make concessions to keep us in. After all, we all know that, in broad terms, they need us more than we need them, and that if we leave certain aspiring members might be less interested in joining.

Let's hope that the Conservative Eurosceptics keep up the pressure.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Horsemeat is more important than Patients' Lives

The Horse Meat Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is due to meet food industry representatives for the second time in a week to discuss the horse meat crisis. Clearly a matter of serious concern, but as far as we know, no consumers' lives have been put at risk.

Meanwhile, there have been something like 1200 unnecessary deaths at Stafford Hospital and  another dozen Health Trusts are being investigated in a rather dilatory manner as it is believed that they, too, have death rates well above the statistical norm.

Can someone please explain why the Health Secretary hasn't held similar "summits" with the heads of the NHS Trusts concerned?  Why is there not the same public outrage about what is happening in the NHS as there is about the food industry?

I must admit personal concern as my local NHS trust is now one of those under investigation and frankly I'm not surprised. The husband of an acquaintance died in a local hospital last year following his having a fall and broken his leg. The death certificate recorded something like "Complications arising from surgery on a broken limb". The complication? According to his widow he caught MRSA in the hospital.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Traceability - Horse or Beef?

"Traceability" is the word of the moment.
The EU demands that almost anything that is manufactured, particularly food products, must be traceable, a process which demands a paper trail from the manufacturer to the retailer. Bureaucrats love this process as it produces paperwork and where would they be if they didn't have paperwork to manage. I'm sure it has existed ever since papyrus was invented, and one can envisage the site engineer at the pyramids receiving an appropriate certificate for every stone block that was brought to the site.

Unfortunately, that is all it is, bits of paper, often adorned with the rubber stamps of the people through whose hands they have passed. Frequently they are not even read and one suspects that little attempt is made to validate their authenticity. And of course, the system relies on everybody in the chain telling the truth, which is a very rash assumption indeed. Even without any real fraud, it is quite easy to imagine a meat processing plant with a batch of perfectly good traceable beef about to leave for the burger manufacturers, when it is discovered to be a few pounds underweight. So easy to add a bit from the another batch which might be beef, but equally might be horse.  In general terms, such a system will work within the UK where the majority of those involved are basically honest, but who is going to trust a piece of paper issued by a Romanian abattoir to a French processor? Obviously Findus did, but you and I certainly wouldn't!

I first met this problem when I was a junior engineer in the civil service and was sent to inspect some radio equipment at a well known manufacturer's premises. The Chief Inspector met me and led me to an office and presented me with the documentation, which it was assumed that I would examine. There were documents certifying the origin of the components from approved suppliers, test and inspection certificates produced during the manufacturing process, you name it, there was an appropriate piece of paper; the only incomplete document being the certificate of satisfaction that I would sign in due course. To the considerable consternation of the company's chief inspector, I announced that I would first examine the equipment, that I would pick out one and have it on the test bench. There was even greater consternation when it was discovered that it had all been crated ready for shipment!

And this is what I suspect happens with most of these paper "traceability" systems, as long as the paper is correct nobody even bothers to look at the actual product. As long as the paper is correct all must be well!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Stafford Hospital - A Police Investigation?

I was going to keep off this subject as I have not had the opportunity to read any detail of the report. However, according to today's Daily Mail, the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has come round to my way of thinking in that he has called for a police investigation into the Stafford Hospital scandal which led to the deaths of up to 1,200 people. And that is as it should be.
Can you imagine any activity other than the NHS where a business could be suspected of causing that many deaths and not subjected to a rigorous police investigation? Whether it is a factory suspected of causing deaths due to pollution,  a train crashing for any reason or a drug company whose product had an unforeseen side effect, the police would be involved in the investigation right from the start to ensure that the incident was not a result of criminal negligence. At the least there would be a public clamour for corporate manslaughter charges against those at the top of the businesses concerned.

So why no Police investigation so far? Why didn't they ask any questions when the relatives started their campaign to draw public attention to the situation. I appreciate that there would be difficulties as the evidence is partly statistically based and it is hard to use such data to make a case.  But I'm convinced that a police investigation, with witnesses being interviewed under caution, would not only bring out more information than the official report, but would stand a good chance of identifying those with the primary responsibility for these deaths.

And a further thought. Perhaps there is a case for the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) asking why the local force didn't carry out any enquiries when it became apparent that something was wrong. For all that was known at the time, there could have been another Dr Shipman working in the hospital, but seemingly the police didn't care. We should be told exactly what the police, and indeed the local coroner, did or did not do as a result of the public disquiet.
Without such enquiries, all those with major responsibilities, including Sir David Nicholson, now chief executive of the NHS, will get off Scott free.

Friday, 8 February 2013

If you die in jail, few will shed a tear

At last a Judge has handed out a sensible and fully justified sentence for murder, and in his summing up said:
"The starting point is 40 years. If you die in jail, few will shed a tear and many will say it will be more than deserved."
The case at Swansea Crown Court concerned two drug addicts who were paid as hit-men by a so-called "businessman" to kill a "customer" who owed him money. But, filled with drugs, they went to the wrong house and killed the wrong person, a 17 year old boy.

Judge Justice Royce should be congratulated on passing the 40 year sentence, although something inside me tells me that it will probably be overturned on appeal and reduced on the grounds that it is against the criminals' human rights to imprison them for such a period without hope of release.
As they are both drug addicts, I would like to think that they have no access to drugs, but again I seem to remember that in another case, this was ruled to be against a criminal's human rights.

Nevertheless, short of bringing back an earlier Welsh judge, Judge Jeffreys, from his grave, we now have a judge who is prepared to hand out sentences which are real punishment and which will also prevent re-offending. Hopefully, as the judge suggests, they will die in jail, although why we should keep them there at public expense until they die, rather than hanging them, is beyond my comprehension.
The case is reported here in the Daily Mail.

The report tells us that the "businessman" who employed the killers cannot be named "for legal reasons".  Presumably he is awaiting trial on an appropriate charge, and one can but hope he gets a similar sentence.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Our Grandson

Our grandson has just had his fourth birthday, and last weekend we were on babysitting duty.
Trying to persuade junior that it was time to go to bed, Grandma said
"The sun went to sleep over an hour ago, it's time for you to go as well"
Junior just looked her straight in the face and said in his most serious voice,
"Grandma, didn't anyone ever tell you that the sun doesn't go to sleep, it's dark because the sun has gone to Australia for the night".

That puts us oldies in our place!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Our Hospitals

I don't propose to comment on the events at Stafford, but I suspect that much of what happened there is common, to a greater or lesser degree, at many hospitals. Indeed, it has been announced that five other hospitals are now under investigation.

I would just draw attention to the experience of a close friend, like myself in her late seventies, who went into her local hospital for a relatively minor operation. The difference here was that she had been a Ward Sister in the very same hospital for a good many years before her retirement, and she was totally disgusted at the way standards had slipped, and was adamant that none of the nurses would have remained on the ward if she had still been in charge!
When she came out, she wrote a carefully considered letter to the hospital chief executive, pointing out the various shortcomings, mainly in respect of hygiene and general cleanliness. Nurses failing to wash their hands and with dirty uniforms, poor cleaning of the ward, dirty toilets and washing facilities and a general lack of interest by the nurses in their patients, including their watching television and chattering at the nursing station during the night. She pointed out that in her time, the last thing that she would do before the lights were dimmed was to go round all the patients on the ward and do her best to ensure that they were comfortable for the night, something that was seemingly no longer general practice.. She detailed how things should, in her opinion, be done.
The letter was replied to by some underling, just a few lines acknowledging its receipt and saying, in effect "we don't do things that way these days".

There is absolutely no need for lack of cleanliness  and basic hygiene in our hospitals, particularly with the increase in antibiotic resistant "super-bugs", and with statistics appearing to indicate that hospital acquired infections are on the increase in the UK. The need for hygiene has been known since the days of Florence Nightingale, but presumably now is considered to be "something we don't do these days"!

It is interesting to note that such infections in the US are now generally on the decrease and for a very good reason, they can cost the hospitals big money. Not from patients suing for damages, but simply because the main insurance companies announced that they would not pay any medical costs in respect of hospital acquired infections, with the result that suddenly the hospitals realised that the cost of cleanliness and hygiene was far less than having to carry the costs resulting from lack of them.

Friday, 1 February 2013

"Plebgate" - A waste of time and money

The "Plebgate" affair rumbles on and on. I suppose the only thing about it is that the name is appropriate as it involves plebs at the gates!
To me it is a total waste of time, money and resources - just look at what is involved
  1. A team of 30 Scotland Yard officers is investigating whether there was a conspiracy against Mr Mitchell
  2. All 800 members of the DPG (Diplomatic Protection Group) have been told to submit sworn statements
  3. So far four serving police officers have been arrested and charged with various offences such as misconduct in public office.
The investigation, code named  Operation Alice (in Wonderland ?) had cost £82,500 in staffing costs alone as at 16th January, but estimates suggest that it will be at least double that figure by the time that it is passed to the CPS. I know the police are supposed to be whiter than white, but then so are our "Honourable Members", and whilst the exact words used are not known, Mr Mitchell has admitted that he swore at the police officers on duty at Downing Street. The fact that an unimportant spat was allowed to escalate to the extent that it did is beyond belief. Certainly it reflects no credit on the senior police officer on duty or the prime minister's office.

Also in the news today is the sentencing of a female Detective Chief Inspector for having offered information to the News of the World concerning the phone hacking enquiry. Her defence was that she wanted to draw attention to the way that the resources had been removed from the anti-terrorist branch to staff the phone hacking enquiry. As she was nearing retirement and there was no evidence that she needed money, I must admit that I'm inclined to accept what she said. Whilst there are only 40 officers looking into plebgate, there were hundreds involved in the phone hacking enquiries, and there is no doubt that other departments will have suffered as a result of staff being seconded to these enquiries. If I had been a senior officer in the anti-terrorist branch, I'm sure that I would have been very concerned, but hopefully would have found a better way of expressing those concerns.

Let Alice in Wonderland continue!