Five of the top fifty Labour achievements since 1997 – VI

  • The UK is now smoke-free, with no smoking in most enclosed public places
  • The UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are now 21% below 1990 levels, beating our Kyoto target
  • Over £20 billion invested in bringing social housing to decent standards
  • Rough sleeping has dropped by two-thirds and homelessness is at its lowest level since the early 1980s
  • Free off-peak travel on buses anywhere in England for over-60s and disabled people

Five of the top fifty Labour achievements since 1997 – II

  • Over three quarters of GP practices now offer extended opening hours for at least one evening or weekend session a week
  • All prescriptions are now free for people being treated for cancer or the effects of cancer, and teenage girls are offered a vaccination against cervical cancer
  • The NHS can now guarantee that you will see a cancer specialist within two weeks if your GP suspects you may have cancer.
  • 22 million people are benefiting from real tax cuts to boost their income this year
  • 12 million pensioners benefiting from increased WinterFuel Payments

Five of the top fifty Labour achievements since 1997 – I

  • The National Minimum Wage – uprated annually – brenefiting at least a million people per year
  • The shortest waiting times since NHS records began; whatever your condition, you will not have to wait more than 18 weeks from GP referral to the start of hospital treatment
  • Three million more operations carried out each year than in 1997, with more than double the number of heart operations
  • Over 44,000 more doctors
  • Over 89,000 more nurses

Yet more “deniability” in the Tory campaign

The Guardian this morning produces new evidence of the Conservative Party organisation using surrogates and deniability.  Apparently, a shadowy organisation, called the Young Britons’ Foundation has trained 2,500 Conservative activists including eleven Parliamentary candidates.  The “training” has involved exercises with assault rifles on a shooting range in Virginia and the organisation’s leader has called for the NHS to be scrapped, environmental protestors to be shot and for US-style laws on firearms.  He has also defended waterboarding techniques in interrogation.

Naturally, despite the group’s close links to leading Conservatives, like Daniel Hannan, Eric Pickles, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Ed Vaizey, David Davis and John Redwood, Conservative Central Office denies that it has official links with the YBF, even though it strongly recommends activists attend Blaney’s courses.

There they go again …..

General Medical Council suspends George Osborne’s brother from practicing medicine

The General Medical Council has tonight suspended Adam Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor’s brother, from practicing medicine for six months.  The GMC has taken this action “to protect public interest”.

The Chair of the Panel who made the decision said that Osborne “seemed unable to grasp that an act of dishonesty remained an act of dishonesty”.

The incidents that led to the suspension apparently arose from a meeting between Osborne and an escort girl in a hospital car park.  According to the BBC:

“On 12 May 2008, the escort girl named as “Miss B” in court met Dr Osborne in the hospital car park.

She had earlier discharged herself from another hospital and was suffering from hallucinations as the result of heavy cocaine use.

Dr Osborne wrote out a prescription for anti-psychotic drugs haloperidol and lorazepam and falsified parts of the form because he only knew her first name.

He was denied the drugs when hospital staff could not match the patient’s name, so Dr Osborne drove to a pharmacy for the drugs.”


“He had earlier admitted acting inappropriately in relation to the private prescription and one for his then-girlfriend and a family member.”

Baroness Glenys Thornton is made a Health Minister – at last

The House of Lords has been without a Minister at the Department of Health since Lord Ara Darzi stood down last July to resume his role as a full-time surgeon at Imperial College.  In the intervening time, all health matters in the Lords (and apart from a substantial legislative load there are a huge number of health related questions) have been dealt with by Baroness Glenys Thornton, in addition to her role as a Government Whip.  Finally, after seven months, the position has been rectified with Glenys being appointed as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health.

This is being widely welcomed in the Labour Peers’ Group where her hard work – hitherto unrecognised – leading on Department of Health issues has been much praised.

And it is good to see a former Chair of the Greater London Labour Party being properly rewarded.

LibDem Equalities spokesperson, Lynne Featherstone, put on the spot over Baroness Jenny Tonge

My local MP, Lynne Featherstone, who is the LibDems spokesperson for Youth (she describes her age as 58) and Equality, has been put on the spot by the distinguished obstetrician and gynaecologist, Nick Morris.  He has asked her to intervene in the row over Jenny Tonge and to call on Nick Clegg to withdraw the Liberal Democrat Whip from the noble baroness.

New readers start here: Baroness Jenny Tonge, who was Liberal Democrat spokesperson on health in the House of Lords made a public call for the Government of Israel to investigate allegations that Israeli Defence Force medical teams providing humanitarian assistance in Haiti had “harvested” organs from the injured.  This bizarre repetition of the historic blood libel against the Jews provoked widespread condemnation.

Initially, Liberal Democrat Leader, Nick Clegg, stood by her.  But then, as the row went on, showing the consistency and principle for which he is well-known, he sacked her as a Lords’ spokesperson.  However, he did not remove the Liberal Democrat Whip from her, despite her having been sacked before as a LibDem front-bencher for expressing her empathy with Palestinian suicide bombers.

So what stance will the Party’s spokesperson on Equality (who also is an MP with a sizeable Jewish population in her marginal constituency) take on the issue?

Nick Morris starts his letter by pointing out:

“I have voted Lib Dem all my life.” (I suppose somebody has to.)

And goes on:

“My late father Professor Norman Morris was one of the original signatories of the SDP in 1981, but after Baroness Tonge’s most recent outburst I will not be able to vote for your party while Jenny Tonge holds the whip.

The reasons for this are both personal and professional.  My brother David, who is a physician in Montreal was seconded to the IDF hospital in Haiti, along with Canadian Nationals and Columbian Health care workers.  He wrote to me about the great pride he felt in working alongside the Israelis.

He too is a Liberal but lives in Canada – a country where outrageous comments such as those made by the Baroness would be taken much more seriously.  She has slurred not only Israel but also all the health care professionals who went for humanitarian reasons from Canada and Columbia.”

His brother’s account is here.

Nick Morris calls for the Liberal Democrats to remove the Whip from Baroness Jenny Tonge and he urges Lynne Featherstone to take the issue to Nick Clegg for action.

I hope he is not holding his breath waiting for a positive response …..

Parliamentary scrutiny of the National Security Strategy

There is to be a new Joint Committee to consider the National Security Strategy.

The first National Security Strategy was published in March 2008 and looks beyond the traditional areas of foreign, defence and security policies to include transnational crime, pandemics and flooding.

The Strategy was updated in June 2009 with further updates to be produced every year.  It has always been the intention that there would be a Joint Parliamentary Committee with members drawn from both Houses to help monitor the implementation and development of the Strategy.

The Committee is to consist of twelve Commons members, including the Chairmen of the Departmental Select Committees on Foreign Affairs, Defence, Home Affairs, International Development, Business and Enterprise, Energy and Climate Change, and Justice, and also the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and ten Lords members (and I have been asked to be one of these).

Astrology, alternative medicine, quackery and psychotherapy – Librans confer at House of Lords Question Time

The third question this morning in the House of Lords Question Time managed to cover astrology, alternative medicine, the views of Prince Charles, mumbo jumbo and quackery, provoked an intervention from the Astronomer Royal and from myself on psychotherapists and so-called “Schools” of psychotherapy and other therapies.

The question and the subsequent supplementaries demonstrated concerns from all parts of the House that alternative therapists need to be regulated in order to protect the public from unscrupulous practitioners and highlighted the importance of better understanding of real (as opposed to pseudo) science by the public and young people in particular.

The full exchanges were as follows:

“Alternative Medicine: Astrologers


11.21 am

Asked By Lord Taverne

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, following their proposals to regulate practitioners of alternative medicine, they plan to regulate astrologers.

Baroness Thornton: No, my Lords, the Government have no plans to regulate astrologers.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the charity Sense About Science. The forms of alternative medicine which the Government propose to regulate have as much scientific basis as astrology. As official regulation is likely to give such practices a spurious scientific reliability and respectability, is it not unfair to leave out astrologers? More seriously, will the Government note that august bodies of proper scientists—the Medical Research Council, the Royal College of Pathologists, the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges and other eminent professional bodies—strongly oppose the proposed regulation? Will the Government ignore the assiduous lobbying for pseudoscience from Clarence House?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I am aware that the noble Lord is making a wider and serious point about alternative therapies. At present there is no statutory regulatory system in the United Kingdom to govern the practice of complementary and alternative medicine, with the exception of chiropractitioners and osteopaths who are regulated by statute. We are undertaking a consultation exercise to determine whether and, if so, how to regulate the practitioners of acupuncture, herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. The Science and Technology Committee of this House suggested that we should address that issue. No other complementary therapies, including medical astrology, are within the scope of this consultation and we have no proposals to regulate in any of these other groups.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence. I remind the House and the noble Lord who asked the Question that the purpose of regulation is to protect the public, and that is what we try to do. However, in order to help me do my job better, can my noble friend give me a definition of medical astrology?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, medical astrology is traditionally known as iatromathematics and is an ancient medical system associated with various parts of the body, diseases and drugs and the influence of the sun, moon, planets and the 12 astrological signs. For example—I did the research on this issue myself—the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, and I share the same birth sign, Libra, which apparently rules excretory functions through the kidneys and skin. I could go on about lumbar regions but noble Lords will get the picture. I am happy to say that the underlying basis for medical astrology is considered to be a pseudoscience and superstition as there is no scientific basis for its core beliefs. The Government remain neutral on this issue.

Earl Howe: My Lords, does the Minister share my view that this is an uncharacteristically flippant Question from the noble Lord, Lord Taverne? Does she accept that statutory regulation is not a badge of rank but exists, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, has just said, to safeguard the public? The key regulatory bodies—the Health Professions Council and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency—have both concluded that acupuncture and herbal medicine practitioners should be subject to statutory regulation.

Baroness Thornton: The noble Earl is quite correct and I concur with him that this is a very serious matter. Although we do not specifically promote or endorse the use of complementary or alternative medicine, we have to appreciate that a high proportion of the population actually uses these medicines, and our concern, as my noble friend said, is to protect patients. Responsible complementary practitioners adhere to codes of ethics, know the limits of their competence and make appropriate referral of patients to orthodox practitioners where there is potential risk to their health and well-being. However, the noble Earl is completely correct—we have to look to how best to safeguard patients in respect of those complementary medicines such as acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicines that have the potential to cause harm. Therefore we need to take serious action to make sure they are regulated in the correct fashion.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I confess to being an Aquarian, and share my birth date with Copernicus and my Auntie Ivy, although I have to say that my Auntie Ivy had much more influence on me than my birth sign. However, on a more serious note, does the Minister agree that the popularity of mumbo-jumbo such as astrology and many forms of alternative medicine is due to the fact that people have very little scientific education at school? Will she say what this Government, in their 10 years in power, have done to further education in science and mathematics?

Baroness Thornton: We have done a great deal for further education in science and mathematics, although that is not exactly what this Question was about. I agree with the noble Baroness that of course people often turn to things like medical astrology because they do not understand the basis of whatever ailment it is they are looking at, and that can be a risky thing to do. However, I simply do not accept this Government have not put a significant amount of investment into mathematics and science in our schools.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords—

Lord Rees of Ludlow: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, we have not heard from the Cross Benches yet.

Lord Rees of Ludlow: My Lords, I declare an interest as Astronomer Royal, and therefore as someone who could enhance his income hugely by becoming an astrologer and offering horoscopes. Does the Minister agree that, even though were we in India it might be appropriate to regulate astrology because government ministers there, one is told, are heavily guided by it, in this country to do so might imply that the problem has rather more seriousness that it really deserves?

Baroness Thornton: The noble Lord is completely correct.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that we should indeed have no truck with pseudoscience? As it happens, I have some sympathy with the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, raised about the teaching of science and mathematics. None the less, there are, as Hamlet observed,

“more things in heaven and earth … than are dreamt of in your philosophy”,

and some very respectable branches of medicine were once alternative in their day. Therefore, it is important that we keep an eye on the things in which people invest confidence, and make sure, as my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley observed, that they do not cause harm.

Baroness Thornton: My noble friend is right. Complementary and alternative medicine therapies have proven to be effective, cost-effective and safe. Decisions about which treatments to commission and fund, for example, are the responsibility of the NHS locally, and indeed primary care trusts often have their own policies about funding complementary medicine such as osteopathy or chiropractic. Indeed, we are funding research into complementary therapies, for example in the care of cancer patients.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I speak to the Minister as a fellow Libran. Is she satisfied with the quality of regulation of therapies such as psychotherapy? Is it still the case that anyone can set themselves up as a college of psychotherapy or any other therapy, and offer diplomas and apparent validation to practitioners whose skills may be negligible?

Baroness Thornton: My noble friend raises an important point, which the House has discussed in the past year. I had a huge postbag about that; I was inundated by suggestions from psychotherapists of all different kinds on this issue. My noble friend is quite right that there is an issue, and the department is looking at it.”

More news of David Cameron’s “Modern Conservatism”

I did enjoy the Riddell cartoon in today’s Observer:

Back in the saddle

Chris Riddell 03.01.10

© Chris Riddell 2010

I had just read the front-page lead, “David Cameron to pledge NHS cash boost for most deprived areas“.  This reports that David Cameron is going to announce tomorrow that in the (unlikely) event that he wins this year’s General Election billions of pounds of NHS resources will be diverted to the most deprived parts of the country- apparently in an attempt to defuse the “class war” attacks on his Party.

Interesting, if true.

So where would this money come from?  Even bigger cuts elsewhere in the public sector?  The King’s Fund has demonstrated that even maintaining current cash spending on the NHS would lead to devastating reductions elsewhere.  So what will suffer?  Defence?  Police??  International Development???

Or is it going to come from elsewhere in the NHS?  So does this mean that middle-class areas will have their NHS resources cut?  Will Tory candidates in those areas come clean with their electorates??  And is the plan that the middle classes are to be forced into private health insurance???

So is this the vision for “Modern Conservatism”?

I think Tom Harris (no relation – he’s Scottish) seems to have got it right.