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Showing posts from June, 2013

Hilary and Steven Rose lift the lid on modern biomedical science.

Science is neither politically nor ethically neutral. Science as a social activity runs on priorities and interpretation, each of which has political and ethical significance; priorities set by governments and funding agencies. Modern science is big business. Science is a competitive enterprise. Big groups compete for funding and they compete for a platform to push their pitch. It is the story of science that is rarely told.

Science I hear you say is surely 'objective'. It sets about measuring things and testing ideas. But scientists do not work in a vacuum. Scientists are positioned, culturally at least to view the world in the way we do. What we measure and how we interpret the findings has as much significance as the measure itself. What we measure has as much to do with funding as it does with 'pure scientific endeavour'. Promotion within modern academic institutions has more to do with the size of the pot of funding a scientist can bring than on intellectual merit…

The disgraceful falsehood of Mr Osborne's spending review

Mr Osborne's spending cuts are based on a falsehood. He says the cuts in welfare spending are necessary to "end the something-for-nothing culture."  As the government has repeatedly done, they seek to portray those in receipt of benefits as 'scroungers'. It is of course an electoral ploy. Mr Osborne knows that he is on a winner with that kind of stereotype. It feeds the public mythology. But it is dishonest and unethical.

Mr Osborne knows that the majority of those receiving benefits are in work. He knows also that, far from receiving something-for-nothing, most of them are receiving below subsistence wages. It is not those on benefits who have become 'welfare dependent'; it is the companies who pay such derisory wages who have become dependent on a low pay workforce subsidised by welfare.

The Office for National Statistics data on employment reveals the problem. More and more people are having to work part time for low wages, and where many of them would…

The Nuffield Trust warn of increased pressure on NHS following spending review.

The independent health care think tank has warned that notwithstanding the Chancellor’s announcement that NHS spending remains relatively protected into the financial year 2015/16, the financial outlook for the health service is set to worsen in the longer term if its leaders and staff fail to deliver much needed change.

Commenting, Nuffield Trust Chief Economist Anita Charlesworth said:

“Next month’s projections from the Office of Budget Responsibility are likely to conclude that the pressure on services such as health, pensions and long-term care will continue to rise faster than tax receipts, even after the economy has recovered.

“Against this background the Government faces choices at the next spending review in 2015 that are even tougher than those at present. By that point departmental spending on non-ring fenced areas such as policing and local government would have fallen by a third.

“In the absence of major tax rises or a relaxation of the Government’s borrowing targets it is dif…

BMA concern that cuts will seriously affect social care

Responding to the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, Dr Mark Porter, Chair of the BMA Council, said:

“Although the NHS budget in England has been protected this does not allow for keeping pace with new treatments, an ageing population and rising demand. All too often short term cuts are being made to meet soaring financial pressures often without the involvement of clinicians. Only by putting resources in the right place and working with doctors can the Government strive to meet the challenges the NHS faces.

“We support the Government’s commitment to the care of older people and we hope that the allocated funding is indeed used to genuinely meet the needs of patients and help alleviate the current pressures on emergency departments. However, we are concerned that the Chancellor’s decision to cut the local government budget by 10 per cent will seriously undermine the Government’s commitment to vulnerable people because of the impact on social care, and wider public health needs.…

Breastfeeding boosts ability to climb social ladder

A growing body of evidence now suggests that early life events influence cognitive ability and later life trajectories. Now a new study published today demonstrates that breastfeeding boosts social mobility.

Breastfeeding not only boosts  chances of climbing the social ladder, but it also reduces the chances of downwards mobility, suggests the large study published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

The findings are based on changes in the social class of two groups of individuals born in 1958 (17,419 people) and in 1970 (16,771 people).

The researchers asked each of the children’s mums, when their child was five or seven years old, whether they had breastfed him/her as a baby.

They then compared people’s social class as children - based on the social class of their father when they were 10 or 11 - with their social class as adults, measured later when they were 33 or 34.

Social class was categorised on a four-point scale ranging from unskilled/semi-skilled manual to prof…

"NHS on the edge of failure"

The NHS will fail unless doctors, other health care staff, patients and their families are listened to, the BMA’s Chair of Council warns today (24/6/13), as he addresses an audience of over 500 doctors on the opening day of the BMA’s annual conference in Edinburgh.

In his first speech as Chair of the BMA’s UK Council, Dr Mark Porter warns government that medicine is becoming a profession “on the edge” as doctors try desperately to deal with the “sheer, unparalleled scale of demand”.

He says: “As doctors we have one of the most privileged jobs in the world - helping patients and improving the health of the nation. It’s what we do and it is often wonderful, inspiring and life affirming. But it’s easy to forget that as the NHS struggles to cope with the double whammy of cuts and structural change. I feel as if we’re becoming a profession on the edge. And a medical profession on the edge, means a National Health Service on the edge.

“Doctors are desperately trying to just deal with the …

Red tape and lack of capacity prevent NHS improvements, reveals new BMA survey

Readers of this blog will know that I have written recently from my own experience of  a deep malaise at the heart of the NHS The problems are not the result of a lack of compassion. They don't stem from inefficiency of staff per se. The problem is systemic. There is indeed a deep malaise at the heart of the NHS. It results from underfunding and a reorganisation that has produce chaos and a lack of joined up care. It results in large part from savage cuts that have impacted dramatically on front line care and the capacity of doctors to make a difference.

Now a new BMA survey, published today at the BMA's annual representative meeting (ARM) in Edinburgh, has revealed that red tape and a lack of capacity are preventing NHS improvements. Furthermore, the BMA warns, the NHS is at breaking point.

Two thirds of doctors (67%) say they wanted to make changes or improvements in the past year but were hindered by excessive red tape and lack of capacity or support.

Almost 1,000 doctors r…

Stardust in Oxford

It is often said we are all made from stardust. Meteorites, such as those in the museum in Oxford, contain a remarkable ‘fingerprint’. The imprint of a time before our solar system was formed. Grains of stardust you can look at under a microscope; micron-sized grains of silicon carbide a billion years older than our solar system, spewed out from supernovae and giant stars, now trapped in the meteorites that were formed by the accretion of debris in the early development of our solar system.

But how can we be so certain of the origin and formation of these grains of dust? This is just one of the exciting questions discussed with Professor Alex Halliday when interviewed by Denis Noble for Voices from Oxford. Alex Halliday specializes in the chemistry of the planets, and is also the head of one the largest Divisions at the University of Oxford: Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences. He studies the isotope nature of the composition of the earth and its evolution.

The unique propertie…

Care Quality Commission whistleblower receives international whistleblowing award

Mid Staffs whistleblower Amanda Pollard will be recognised today (June 20) at an international whistleblowing conference, receiving an award for her part in exposing negligent inspection methods within the Care Quality Commission.
The former Care Quality Commission inspector will pick up the ‘Middlesex University Whistleblowing Award’, at the International Whistleblowing Research Network Conference today (20 June) at Middlesex University’s Hendon campus in north London. It is awarded in recognition of an outstanding achievement in making a disclosure of information in the public interest.
Pollard was one of the key figures in exposing the severe wrongdoings within the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – the national healthcare inspector – and the NHS, particularly in relation to the poor level of patient care at Mid Staffordshire Hospital. She later gave evidence to the Francis Inquiry into the serious problems at Mid Staffordshire between January 2005 and March 2009.
She tried to alert…

Peter Singer and the ethics of food

In the 1970s Peter Singer challenged thinking about animals in his seminal book ‘Animal Liberation’. It changed the debate about the use of animals from an emotional issue to one of practical and reasoned ethics. Peter Singer is a utilitarian philosopher and the use of animals had usually been justified on utilitarian grounds. But Peter Singer threw out a challenge. He pointed out that for a utilitarian justification an equal consideration of interest had to be given to all parties involved in the utilitarian balance. It was clearly not in the interest of animals to be harmed. In the first chapter of his book he argued that ‘All animals are equal’. His second challenge was to ask the question on what grounds we could make a moral distinction between species in the ethical balance.

In a discussion with Sung Hee Kim for Voices from Oxford, Peter Singer reveals what he calls the ‘decisive formative experience of my life’ at a lunch with a fellow student at Balliol College, an experienc…

A philosopher’s role in biomedical ethics.

Can there be objective and correct answers to bioethical problems? This was the central question put to the philosopher Peter Singer when interviewed by Denis Noble for Voices from Oxford.

As a utilitarian philosopher Professor Singer is preeminent in his contribution to developing a practical and systematic approach to medical ethics. In the early days of medical ethics eminent doctors would make somewhat naive judgements but without much depth or clarity of thought. There was little philosophical rigour. Medicine was paternalistic in its approach with the assumption that doctors would ‘know best what was in the patient’s interest’.

When new developments in medicine such as assisted conception through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) presented new challenges, the media would most likely turn to theologians for a moral perspective. But, as Peter Singer puts it, ‘we are not a confessional society’ and it is important that there is a ‘non religious voice’ in ethical discourse. Medicine …

Electronic cigarettes to be regulated as medicines

All nicotine-containing products (NCPs), such as electronic cigarettes, are to be regulated as medicines in a move to make these products safer and more effective to reduce the harms of smoking.

The UK Government has decided that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will regulate all NCPs as medicines so that people using these products have the confidence that they are safe, are of the right quality and work.

Smoking is the biggest single cause of avoidable death - killing 80,000 people in England each year. Making safe and effective products available for people who smoke can help them cut down or quit.

Jeremy Mean, the MHRA’s Group Manager of Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicines, said:

"Reducing the harms of smoking to smokers and those around them is a key Government health priority. Our research has shown that existing electronic cigarettes and other nicotine containing products on the market are not good enough to meet this public health priori…

Failure to act on corporate tax avoidance is a disgrace.

There is a direct political link between the tax avoidance of major companies operating in the UK and cuts in welfare spending. That link is the budget deficit, a major cause of which is falling tax revenue. Long gone are the days when Cameron and Clegg declared we were all in this together. The truth is that it is the poorest in our society who are being hurt the most. Whilst falling tax revenue is the major problem, Osborne sets his sights on indiscriminately cutting welfare spending. Unfortunately Labour have now adopted the same approach.

Yet whilst the poorest are being made to pay the biggest cost of 'cutting the deficit', major corporations with billions of turnover in the UK are avoiding tax. Apple, for example, avoided over £550m in tax on more than £2bn worth of underlying profits in Britain by channelling business through Ireland.

Of course there is the ethical issue involved here; big companies avoid paying tax, yet the government attacks 'welfare scroungers&#…

Questions raised about safety of new diabetes drugs: regulators failing to act on warning signs

New forms of diabetes drugs, known as GLP-1 based drugs, and promoted as “the new darlings of diabetes treatment” - make the pharmaceutical industry billions. But are they associated with an increased risk of cancer and do we know everything we should about these new treatments?

The BMJ and Channel 4 Dispatches have investigated and found that evidence suggesting potential harm from the drugs in industry studies has not been published.

Furthermore, other independent studies challenge the conclusions of the drugs manufacturers' own research. Now some medical experts and patient groups are calling on the pharmaceutical companies to be more transparent in reporting of study data and to enter into dialogue about safety concerns.

As a result, millions of patients around the world have not been fully informed about some of the possible risks.

Some critics say the drug regulators in Europe and the US have been slow to pursue concerns about the potential adverse effects of these new di…

Labour disappoint on welfare. It is time to speak up for the poor.

Recent pronouncements on welfare by Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are disconcerting and disappointing. It is time the truth was put to the public on benefits. The government has been allowed to 'win' the presentation just as they fail to win the argument. They have succeeded in selling the image of 'scroungers', of 'shirkers versus strivers'. Sadly now Labour appears with the same message. 

There was a moment when Labour spoke up and Miliband put the case that the majority of those receiving benefits work, and work hard for too little reward. Now they appear to have abandoned that case. For the truth is that it isn't hard working people who have become 'welfare dependent'. The truth of it is that it is businesses, many of which pay insufficient taxes in the UK, who have become dependent on subsidised low pay. 

A 'living wage' must be at the heart of the alternative to the government's attack on the poorest. Labour should be putting that case. I…

BMA launches new initiative to give patients the real story behind NHS change and pressures

The BMA has today (Friday, 7 June 2013) launched an initiative to help GPs in England explain to their patients and the public what’s happening in the NHS and what it could mean for them.

The activities are the first phase of a longer term programme to engage with the public on the future of general practice and include:

A new changingnhs.com web portal setting out the key changes and pressures affecting patients. This includes information about NHS reforms in England, including competition and patient choice, NHS funding, the GP contract and out-of-hours services. It also offers doctors’ views and explains how patients can have their say. 
A poster for GPs to display in their practices directing patients to changingnhs.com. This is being sent out to GPs in England in the BMJ this week. The web portal will also be promoted through online search ads and web links. 
An MP-GP visit scheme which invites MPs to spend time in a practice in their constituency to see what’s happening on the g…

Mr Miliband makes a Balls up on benefits.

I am sorry Mr Miliband but you concede too much and too easily. You accept the false government logic about 'fairness'. You should have stood your ground about the value of universality in benefits. Why? Because, as you know, it is often the best way to ensure that those who DO deserve and need benefits get them, and the wealthiest pay back in taxes.

This is particularly true for the elderly. Why on earth are you getting so concerned about wealthier pensioners also receiving winter fuel allowance?You have chosen the soft option, the easy politically expedient option; but it is an unjust option. For the sake of saving the tax payers a measly, piddlingly ridiculous amount, you introduce a threshold around which their will be injustice. It is known that the elderly are reluctant to apply for means tested benefits.

Your position becomes corrosive. You should have been willing to argue the unfairness of the governments case on benefits. Now you have made that argument all the more …