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PFIs bleeding NHS - time to buy them out

The independent Centre for Health and the Public Interest (CHPI) has today released a devastating analysis of accounts showing how PFIs are bleeding money from the NHS, and calls for public sector loans to be used to buy-out PFI contracts.
Staggering pre-tax profits Over the past 6 years, companies which run PFI contracts to build and run NHS hospitals and other facilities have made staggering pre-tax profits of £831m – money which has thereby not been available for patient care over this period.

The findings show that If the NHS had not been paying profits on PFI schemes, deficits in NHS hospitals would have been reduced by a quarter over this 6 year period.

Over the next 5 years, almost £1bn of taxpayer funds (£973m) will go to PFI companies in the form of pre-tax profits – equivalent to a quarter (22%) of the additional amount of money (£4.5bn) that the government has promised the NHS over this period.

A number of PFI schemes are generating particularly high pre-tax profits for the…

A revolution in speech animation?

I have always been fascinated by animated characters.  We know there is more to speech than simply words.  Facial expression adds significantly to our understanding.  As a deaf person I also know too well how precise movement of the lips and face help in my understanding of the spoken word. 
Forming speech is complex. About a hundred different muscles in the chest, neck, jaw, tongue, and lips must work together in forming speech. Every word or short phrase that is physically spoken is followed by its own unique arrangement of muscle movements.   No wonder then that animations can often appear flat and characterless. 
New research from the University of East Anglia (UK) could revolutionise the way that animated characters deliver their lines.

Animating the speech of characters such as Elsa and Mowgli has been both time-consuming and costly. But now computer programmers have identified a way of creating natural-looking animated speech that can be generated in real-time as voice actors de…

Could disability awareness end supernatural myth-making in Africa?

Many people in rural African communities still believe that disability is caused by supernatural forces, curses and as ‘punishment’ for wrongdoings – according to University of East Anglia research (UEA, UK). 


The resultant stigma leaves disabled people vulnerable to neglect and abuse - with sexual abuse reported by 90 per cent of people with learning difficulties.

Many disabled children are kept ‘locked up’ at home – often for their own safety. But the more that communities come into contact with disability, the more awareness and understanding grows.

Meanwhile medical explanations for disability are beginning to emerge, with increasing numbers of families seeking medical advice for children with disabilities rather than consulting a witchdoctor.

The ‘Preparation of Communities: Using personal narratives to affect attitudes to disability in Kilifi, Kenya (Pre-Call)’ project was set up to promote disability awareness in small communities in a rural part of Kenya, by encouraging a process …

Devestating NHS cuts 'shrouded in secrecy'

Doctors warn new plans for severe NHS cuts are 'shrouded in secrecy' and will ‘cause uproar’

Health service leaders have refused to publish details of plans for severe cuts that could extend waiting times, reduce access to services, cut down on prescriptions and treatments, and even merge or close hospitals and facilities.

The Capped Expenditure Process (CEP) was introduced in April 2017 and instructs NHS commissioners and providers in 13 areas across England with the largest budget deficits to make considerable cuts in order to achieve financial balance by next April1.

The areas affected by the CEP are under intense pressure to drastically reduce spending by around £500m, and health leaders have been told to ‘think the unthinkable’ with regards to cuts.

The 13 areas involved have submitted plans and NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has now told commissioners and managers to get on with delivering the proposals – warning that more ‘difficult choices’ are on the way.

Will farm animal welfare be sacrificed post Brexit?

Are UK farm animal welfare standards at risk in post Brexit trade deals?



A parliamentary sub-committee warns of the potential fall in standards unless farm animal welfare is a key part of any post Brexit trade deals, particularly because many other countries have lower standards than in the UK, and in the rush for trade deals these may be sacrificed.    
The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee today publishes its report on Brexit: farm animal welfare.  High standards of welfare The UK currently has some of the highest farm animal welfare standards in the world and there is cross-sector support for maintaining those high standards after Brexit.

The greatest threat to farm animal welfare standards post-Brexit would come from UK farmers competing against cheap, imported food from countries that produce with lower standards than in the  the UK. 
The sub-Committee warns that the Government's wish for the UK to become a global leader in free trade is not necessarily compatible with …

Keep walking the Dog

Dog walking could be key to ensuring activity in later life



A new study has shown that regularly walking a dog boosts levels of physical activity in older people, especially during the winter.
Published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the study used data from the EPIC Norfolk cohort study, which is tracking the health and wellbeing of thousands of residents of the English county of Norfolk. 

The researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) at the University of Cambridge found that owning or walking a dog was one of the most effective ways to beat the usual decline in later-life activity, even combatting the effects of bad weather.

Dog owners were sedentary for 30 minutes less per day, on average.

More than 3000 older-adults participating in the study were asked if they owned a dog and if they walked one. They also wore an accelerometer, a small electronic device that constantly measured their physical activity l…

Time to act on price of alcohol?

Is it time to enforce minimum unit pricing for alcohol in the United Kingdom? The latest evidence provides further impetus to those campaigning to limit the sale of alcoholic drinks.

Alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year-olds in the UK, and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages, and alcohol related problems are estimated to cost the NHS around £3.5 billion annually. In 2015, there were over 8,000 casualties of drink driving accidents in the UK including 220 fatalities and 1,160 serious injuries. Alcohol kills. So does price matter?

Alcohol is now 60% more affordable than it was in the 1980s, particularly because of big discounting of price in the major supermarkets.

Responding to the latest findings that almost 63,000 people in England will die over the next five years due to alcohol misuse, Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, BMA board of science chair, said:

“The BMA has repeatedly called for the introduction of minimum…

Difficult ethical issues in Charlie Gard case

The news of death threats sent to staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital is disturbing. Whatever the opinion held on the issues surrounding the care of baby Charlie Gard, it has to be acknowledged that these are complex.

It would be easy enough to adopt the position that it should always be the parents choice to decide on the best treatment for their child, but this cannot always trump the legitimate concerns and responsibilities of doctors and nursing staff. It would of course be ideal if all choices on treatment, or of withdrawal of treatment and life support, could be made with agreement of both parents and doctors. But this cannot always be the case.

In the most difficult cases where there is disagreement about life support it will inevitably be decided by judges and through the legal process.

When the case was first heard I was asked as a medical ethicist to make a comment to the media. I chose not to do so because I could not know the full details of the case. This is tru…

Over 200 general practices closed or merged in England last year

As the population increases we would expect a concomitant rise in demand for health and social services. Good government would seek to meet that rising need, yet NHS funding has been essentially frozen over the last six years as part of austerity. This is despite the Tory claim in 2010 that they would 'ring fence' funding for the NHS.


The latest data from NHS Digital reveal there were 58,492,541 patients registered at GP practices in England on 1 July 2017. There were 2,427,526 more registered patients on 1 July 2017 compared to (56,065,015 ) 1 July 2013. Yet, there has been an insufficient increase in funding for the NHS to cope with this increased demand.


But the government not only denies cuts in funding, it says funding for the NHS has increased. It is a disingenuous defence. Of course funding for the NHS has risen, and funding is continuing to grow but at historically low rates and it is insufficient for services to meet increasing needs, and the rate of grow…

Government 'in the dark' on migration

Brexit, we were told, was about 'taking back control'.  What that meant specifically was taking back control of our borders and immigration.  This was probably the biggest issue swaying voters in the referendum.  It masked all other arguments. 
Now a parliamentary committee warns that the government has no clear data on migration and the government is working 'in the dark'. 
The Government will struggle to take control of immigration post-Brexit unless major improvements are made to the quality of migration data upon which it currently relies, the Economic Affairs Committee says  in its report into Brexit and the Labour Market.
Commenting on the report, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Economic Affairs Committee Chairman, said:

"The Government must have reliable statistics on migration before it formulates new policy, otherwise it will be making crucial decisions - of vital importance to the country's businesses - in the dark.

"It will take companies time to adapt…

Rationing is fragmenting the NHS.

With rationing in the National Health Service there is a post-code lottery in treatment. An investigation by the British Medical Journal shows treatments available just a few months ago are no longer provided in some areas. This post-code lottery in available treatments is a shocking state of affairs, and is further evidence of a fragmenting health service.

There is no doubt the NHS is now struggling to cope with increased demand with limited resources. Commissioners and providers have had to face difficult decisions about how to prioritise limited funding and to balance their budgets.

Funding requests are a key marker of treatment rationing. An individual funding request can be made by clinician if they believe that a particular treatment or service that is not routinely offered by the NHS is the best treatment for their patient. As treatments become rationed or unavailable there is a concomitant increase in the number of funding requests.

Normally, the vast majority of treatm…

Soil carbon release accelerating global warming.

Could the release of carbon from the soil be  accelerating global warming and climate change?  The answer from the latest research published in Nature appears to be a resounding 'yes'.  This is perhaps not surprising given that the soil acts as a major store of global carbon.  It isn't simply locked in place. Organic processes release it to the atmosphere. 
Carbon is a vital ingredient of our living planet and plays a major role in the balance of our ecosystem.

All life on earth is 'made' of carbon and, simply put, carbon circulates. Carbon enters the atmosphere as carbon dioxide from respiration and combustion. It is absorbed by plants to make carbohydrates in photosynthesis using energy from the sun.

Animals feed on the plants passing the carbon compounds along the food chain. Most of the carbon they consume is exhaled back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. The animals and plants eventually die and these dead organisms are eaten by decomposers (microbes a…

Record Breaking Heat Wave Due to Man-Made Climate Change

Phew! June was a scorcher. The month of June 2017 was marked by high temperatures across Western Europe with heat waves triggering national heat-health plans and wildfires requiring evacuation in Portugal and Spain.
Record breaking heat gripped most of western Europe with mean temperatures 3 degrees above ‘normal’. England experienced the hottest June day since 1975. Belgium imposed water rationing because of record temperatures. In Switzerland a heat wave warning was issued, and in France and the Netherlands heat action plans were triggered.

France experienced the hottest June night ever recorded as the average nighttime temperature reached ​26.4 degrees Celsius on June 21st. Switzerland saw the second hottest day on record since records began in 1864. In England temperatures recorded at Heathrow reached 34.4 degrees Celsuis.

These high temperatures are no longer rare in the current climate, occurring roughly every 10 to 30 years.

So, was this heat wave a result of man-made glo…

Cry of the wolf - Apes, wolves, culture and intentions

Melvin Burgess' children story, Cry of the wolf, tells the tale of a man whose quest is to kill the last wolf alive in England.  One female survives, wounded by The Hunter, but she survives long enough to teach her sole surviving cub a few skills before she then is killed by the man. The cub is raised by a human family, but being a social animal he waits in vain for the scent of another wolf. 

When I consider how badly we treat other intelligent beings here on earth I am rather pleased that Extraterrestrial Intelligence continues to  elude us.  It would be better if we were at peace with ourselves, and that we care for our living planet before we blunder about in the nether reaches of the universe.

Tragically, when we have found other intelligent life here on our planet, we have tended to do it harm rather than give it respect.  Nonetheless we have a notion and a sense of fairness and justice, else we would not agonise over the problems this presents.  We have an increasing unde…

Imagine Brexit doesn't mean Brexit

Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. Do you remember when it all appeared so simple? Just a few weeks ago Mrs May was still delivering the mantra 'Brexit means Brexit'. That was before the general election. Now it doesn't appear so simple, and Brexit gets softer, and softer and....why?

Reality awakens. The truth is understood. Brexit isn't good. It isn't good for the economy, for jobs, for health and social care, for research, for fighting climate change, and so the negotiations now turn on how to ameliorate the harm it will do.

When these harmful effects were outlined in the EU referendum, they were dismissed as 'scare tactics' by the Leave campaign. But they are real. The government will try to negotiate some sort of access to the single market. It will do so because much of our economy depends on it. That access will come with a cost, and we will wonder what is better about it. "What's it all about Alfie? The question will be repeatedly asked. Why l…

Impact on Health and Social Care should be centre-stage in Brexit negotiations.

With Brexit negotiations now underway this week the potential adverse impact on health and social care needs to be considered. The  British Medical Association, the voice of doctors in the UK, is calling on the government to protect future patient care by putting healthcare "front and centre" of its plans.

There can be little doubt that unless staffing issues are resolved the potential harm of Brexit to  health and social care is considerable.  The government should act speedily to resolve the uncertainty. 
Many health and social care professionals currently working in the UK have come from other EU countries, including 55,000 of the NHS’s 1.3 million workforce and 80,000 of the 1.3 million workers in the adult social care sector.   The NHS is currently struggling to recruit and retain staff.  Unless the future of NHS  and social care staff can be settled, then this problem is set to get worse with a deepening NHS and social care crisis.  

Since the vote to leave the EU, t…