Joand cellar

Joans cellar 27th April 2013

I trot round the park today and listen to the Navy lark. I Oh dear, oh dear
Captain Povey is fed up with Pertwee and Taffy wants promotion and he has even brought his aunt along to persuade the Captain. The only thing to do is to hint that if Pertwee were to leave or get dismissed…. Priceless.
We have trip to see Joan and I do some shopping
Upstairs Downstairs Georgenia in engaged to a young man who is promptly sent off, alone, on a round the world voyage,
I win at Scrabble today and get just over 400, Mary might get her revenge tomorrow, I hope.


Martyl Langsdorf
Martyl Langsdorf, who has died aged 96, designed the “Doomsday Clock”, whose ominous minute hand is a dramatic indicator of the world’s proximity to atomic destruction.

Martyl Langsdorf 
5:49PM BST 24 Apr 2013
Her husband, Alexander Langsdorf, was a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, developing the first atom bombs that were dropped on Japan in August 1945. When he and his colleagues subsequently launched the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a magazine that served to warn the public of the danger of nuclear weapons, Martyl Langsdorf, an accomplished artist, became its art editor.
Her initial idea for the magazine’s cover was the chemical symbol for uranium. But she had been struck by her husband’s sense of urgency and that of other scientists who believed that the United States and the Soviet Union would soon develop an even more powerful nuclear arsenal. One night, at a concert, she sketched a clock on the back of a musical score. The finished design, in which the clock was fixed at seven minutes to midnight, appeared on the Bulletin cover for June 1947, symbolising how close the world was to apparent atomic Armageddon.
As the years passed, the clock’s minute hand was reset to reflect changing geopolitical events. First moved when the Soviets tested their atom bomb in 1949, it was closest to midnight – which represented global annihilation – in 1953, when scientists moved the minute hand to 11.58 after America developed the hydrogen bomb. Doom seemed furthest away in 1991, following the fall of the Soviet Union, when the hand was moved to 17 minutes to midnight.
While known principally for her clock, Martyl Langsdorf worked as an artist for more than 80 years, concentrating on landscapes and latterly on scenes of archaeological excavations. She was bemused that the “Doomsday Clock” — almost a footnote in her career — had come to define her to so many people.
Martyl Suzanne Schweig was born on March 16 1917 in St Louis, Missouri. Her father was a photographer, her mother an artist. After Mary Institute she studied the History of Art and Archaeology at Washington University.
She was still a teenager when she had her first art show in St Louis, which happened to be at the same time that George Gershwin was conducting a benefit concert for local musicians. The composer heard of her exhibition and telephoned her at her parents’ home. At first she could not believe it was him, but once convinced that it was, she took him on a private tour of the gallery. He chose one drawing and admired another, called Gershwin Chord in Trees, a group of trees that looked like a Gershwin chord on the piano. Although he was impressed and promised to help if she ever got to New York, by the time she did so, for the World’s Fair in 1939, Gershwin had died.
Martyl Langsdorf’s landscapes were inspired by America’s south-west and her travels to Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Japan, Turkey and Britain. She exhibited at museums and art institutes in several American cities including Washington, DC, and had nearly 100 solo exhibitions at galleries across the United States.
She met Alexander Langsdorf when he took up his first job, building a cyclotron at Washington University’s Mallinckrodt Institute. After their marriage in 1941 the couple moved to Chicago, where he worked on the Manhattan Project. He later pleaded with the American government not to use atomic weapons.
Although her husband’s work, and her links with other artists assumed to have Left-wing sympathies, brought Martyl Langsdorf to the attention of federal agencies such as the State Department, the CIA and the FBI, she remained defiant of authority and uncompromising in her work. Alexander Langsdorf died in 1996.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists still appears regularly, still with the clock on the cover, but with a wider remit, covering climate change as well as the continuing nuclear threat. In January — before the latest bellicose rhetoric from North Korea — the clock was set at five minutes to midnight.
Martyl Langsdorf is survived by two daughters.
Martyl Langsdorf, born March 16 1917, died March 26 2013


The debate on the NHS section 75 regulations in the Lords and the vote on Wednesday should have been reported. By what possible criterion is it not important news? You have good economics coverage, but you also need regular, comprehensive coverage of what is happening to the NHS. This is a big political issue and it is not over just because the government got its way over the legislation and regulations. It will figure in the next election. There will be local campaigns. Why should campaigners be starved of information, being served up with only what the government wishes them to know? Some suggestions for where to start: who voted how in the Lords? What has happened to Hinchingbrooke hospital since Ali Parsi left? Where will the first competitive tenders under the new regulations be and with what result? This should be in print, not just online.
Jeanne Warren

Your front-page headline speaks of “Cameron’s press dilemma” (26 April). There is no dilemma. Last month every single party in the Commons gave its approval to a royal charter that will provide effective, independent regulation of the press without impinging in any way upon freedom of expression. The charter faithfully reflects the recommendations of a judge-led public inquiry that spent a year hearing the views of every interested group – including at great length the views of the press. Now a group of national newspapers that has learned nothing from the experiences of the past few years is raising two fingers to all of that. If the prime minister has a dilemma it can only be this: should he be the one to tell them they are behaving like spoilt schoolchildren?
Professor Brian Cathcart
Director, Hacked Off 
• The press rejects the proposal that the royal charter could not be amended unless the changes had two-thirds backing from the Commons and the Lords. Their solution is “a triple-lock system which would require the unanimous permission of the newspaper industry, along with the watchdog and the recognition panel that would audit it before any change could take place”. It is outrageous that an outside body of private interests should be involved in law-making. I can think of no other similar constitutional arrangement. The press has engaged in criminal and corrupt behaviour, with little concern about freedom of speech and a pure concern for profit. We don’t let drug dealers set our drugs laws. We should not let the press have any further say over the royal charter.
David England
Formby, Lancashire
• The reports about the attempts by newspaper groups to subvert press regulation reminds me of the late 1960s/ 70s, when certain union leaders claimed that unions could not be regulated by legislation. Those newspapers now in the van of the opposition to regulation were those most insistent and, in the event, successful in insisting: oh yes they can! Cynical hypocrisy at its best.
Les Summers
Kidlington, Oxfordshire
• After the failure of Barbara Castle’s In Place of Strife, the press cheerfully took up Edward Heath’s cry of “Who runs Britain?” (answer, as it turned out, Margaret Thatcher et al).
Tim Shelton-Jones
Brighton, East Sussex
• Is it surprising the royal charter “has no support in the press”? Turkeys’ enthusiasm for Christmas is just as likely.
John Bailey
St Albans, Hertfordshire

Today sees Britain’s first national demonstration against unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, as they are commonly known. In the past RAF pilots have operated armed drones over Afghanistan from a US base just outside Las Vegas, but now the UK has started controlling its armed Reaper drones from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.
The protest at RAF Waddington comes amid British plans to double the number of remote-operated Reaper aircraft from five to 10, with the number of British drones strikes continuing to rise. The UK has launched at least 365 drone strikes in Afghanistan since 2008, but due to the secrecy surrounding Britain’s drone wars, we have no idea of the impact of these strikes on the ground.
The government is also funding the development of new drones at BAE Systems and leasing Israeli drones for use in Afghanistan, while awaiting the completion of a new British surveillance drone called Watchkeeper. The Watchkeeper contract was awarded to Israeli company Elbit and its partner company, Thales UK.
Drones make it easier for politicians to launch military strikes and order extra-judicial assassinations without democratic oversight or accountability, and already thousands of people, including many innocent civilians, have been killed. Now is the time to ground the drones before the UK ratchets up even further remote-controlled slaughter.
Kate Hudson
Chris Cole
Drone Campaign Network
Chris Nineham
Stop the War Coalition
Rafeef Ziadah
War on Want

Frances O’Grady could not be more right in her call for “inspirational language” (Labour needs Attlee’s spirit – but not his strategic blunder, 26 April). The language of politics, of hope and aspiration, has become degraded. I was unfortunate enough this week to be at a dinner addressed by a shadow minister. So turgid was his presentation, so boring, so stuffed with technical detail and manager-speak, that I was left wondering if I was at a particularly poor management seminar.
This was the antithesis of inspirational and we get far too much of it from our politicians, particularly those on the left who should be offering a radical alternative to the current rightwing inspiration of division, demonisation and victimisation. George and David may not be our cup of tea, but at least they know how to inspire the worst in people.
Roy Boffy
Walsall, West Midlands
• I’d rejoin Labour today if they took on board what Frances O’Grady wrote. The current leadership don’t understand the passion of hope. Chuck them in that dustbin (privatised) and restock with the spirit of Clement Attlee.
Terry Quinn
Preston, Lancashire
• Given that the Labour party relies heavily on the trade union movement for funding, it is outrageous that Ed Miliband should attack Unite’s Len McCluskey so viciously for daring to comment on the direction the party is heading (Miliband hits back after union leader’s ‘divisive’ attack, 25 April). With countless ordinary people suffering under austerity measures that stifle growth and punish the poorest, the climate is ideal to sell a radical socialist alternative in keeping with Labour’s traditional aims. That Miliband et al are choosing to pursue a diluted conservative vision for fear of upsetting traditional middle class voters is both tragic and potentially electorally disastrous. It is time that the union movement sought to get value for money from Labour. If this is not possible, they should explore alternative options.
Tim Matthews
Luton, Bedfordshire
• It is disappointing to read the Guardian reproducing the rightwing myth that “union leaders agreed” to back Ed Miliband’s leadership of the party contrary to popular will. It is the votes of individual political-levy paying members of Labour-affiliated unions, not the agreements of leaders, which are counted in Labour leadership elections. Despite outnumbering Labour MPs, MEPs and full Labour party members by approximately a couple of million, under the electoral college system individual political-levy paying members of Labour-affiliated unions have less say in leadership elections than either parliamentarians or full Labour members.
Matthew Evans
• The Guardian should give more coverage to the proposals which McCluskey and other trade union leaders are making to tax the rich in order to solve Britain’s economic problems. No doubt the Blairites would be horrified at policies to radically reduce the gap between the poor and people like themselves.
Bob Holman
• Perhaps it really is “time the Tories learned to love the unions” (Report, 24 April), but hopefully not in a love-triangle with Labour’s affiliates. When New Labour presented its manifesto in 1997, it made this unequivocal pledge: “We have rewritten our constitution, the new clause IV, to put a commitment to enterprise alongside the commitment to justice.” Yet 16 years on we still have a party rule book, rooted in a Bolshevik delegate system, giving unions (with other minor affiliates) 50% voting rights on party matters. We have permitted Unite to use its new membership endowment to inflate its status within Labour, including overtly influencing the selection of European parliament and Westminster candidates.
So, Labour’s clause IV settlement in 1995 is no longer a basis for future harmony. Should the 50% shareholding affiliates now be allowed to wear Labour’s trousers? Or is a divorce inevitable? And what future part for compassionate Conservatives?
Mike Allott
Eastleigh, Hampshire


The Public Accounts Committee’s report on tax avoidance focuses substantially on the “unhealthy relationship” between large accounting firms and HMRC (report, 26 April). 
As so often with select committees, the members have managed to miss the point entirely. The underlying problem is that the UK’s tax system is massively complex, unbalanced and – thereby – open to manipulation by experts on avoidance. HMRC accepts secondees from accounting firms willingly because the workload it has is beyond its capacity to manage.
The solution lies elsewhere; simplify the tax system, remove most or all allowances other than low-income thresholds and ensure that all those liable to UK tax pay a fair share without exception. That could mean 15-20 per cent if all the panoply of distorting allowances were removed. Avoidance would become an unprofitable activity, and the overall tax take would increase.
Barry Toogood, Epsom
The Liberal Democrats are supporting the reduction of the 50 per cent tax rate because these rich citizens avoid paying their tax if the rate is set this high. There is an outcry about companies not paying corporation tax. Why is there not an outcry about wealthy individuals not paying their income tax?
David Bell, Ware, Hertfordshire
The findings of the PAC will add fuel to the fire at a time when many already question the transparency and fairness of the UK tax system.
While there are measures being put in place to tackle tax avoidance, it is clear that improvements in tax legislation are essential. Questions over the integrity of the tax system will only further exasperate smaller businesses who already feel at a disadvantage to larger organisations that can access greater consultancy resources.
We cannot shut out the multinationals altogether, the UK must remain “open for business”, but more needs to be done to ensure there is a code of conduct so that all businesses play fair.
David Cameron has indicated that tax avoidance and evasion should and will be at the heart of the G8 Summit. Surely the Government has to take this opportunity to create a global system of cooperation and transparency and restore public trust in the UK?
Adam Harper, Director of Professional Development, Association of Accounting Technicians, London EC1
The greatest danger to our world is the growing use of tax havens which hold trillions of dollars thanks to blatant tax evasion, organised crime and avoidance schemes. Tax avoidance and evasion has allowed the rich and multinationals to exploit loopholes and transfer wealth offshore with impunity, so the privileged elite grow richer while the majority face austerity.
At the same time deregulation has led to the financial sector becoming an out-of-control Frankenstein’s monster. As millions have lost their jobs and homes, bankers and corporate bosses have been helping themselves to obscene earnings which have no economic or moral justification. It is a recipe for economic and social collapse. It will engulf us all unless there is a major redistribution of wealth to create a level tax playing field and a fairer society.
Peter Fieldman, Madrid 
The PAC is right to challenge the rapidly revolving door between HMRC and the lavishly resourced big four accountancy firms. These firms are helped mightily by British tax havens in the Channel Islands and Caribbean – the ones Angela Merkel quite rightly complained about last month. It’s not just a question of shutting the revolving door between HMRC and KPMG etc. Shut Britain’s tax havens as well.
Vaughan Grylls, London WC1
Necessity for food banks shames the UK
The latest figures released by the Trussell Trust, showing yet another dramatic rise in the number of people forced to rely on food banks in Britain, are both shameful and deeply concerning (report, 24 April).
What is most shocking is that the number of people fed by food banks has tripled even before the added pressure put on those already struggling to make ends meet by recent welfare cuts and changes. All emergency food aid charities contributing to a recent investigation I led for the London Assembly anticipate the welfare changes, which will affect 2.6 million families in the UK, will further increase demand on their services. The report outlining the findings of the investigation called for London to become a Zero Hunger City.
Given that Britain ranks as the seventh richest country in the world, it should be our aim to make the UK a Zero Hunger Country. The Government must change course and take urgent action for this to happen. To stand by and watch or deny there is a problem is not acceptable.
Fiona Twycross AM, (London Assembly, Labour), London SE1
With the news that the use of food-banks by those in dire straits has increased by a whopping 100 per cent in the past year, it seems that the gap between rich and poor in this country is widening every year. Meanwhile politicians seem to have no desire or inclination to tackle this disgraceful state in our so-called modern society.
Dennis Grattan, Aberdeen
All marriages should be civil
In your report of the French parliament’s vote to extend marriage to gay couples (24 April), you miss the key differentiation compared to the UK: French law only recognises civil marriage and religious ceremonies are optional with no legal status. Thus, the entire debate in the UK about gays being ineligible for marriage because it is ordained by God and can only be between a man and a woman is irrelevant. 
The sooner the UK moves to a similar position – that civil partnership/marriage is the only legally recognised form of marriage, the sooner we can get away from the current entirely artificial distinction and dispense with the concept of “civil partnership”. Religion should have no part to play in this civil legal contract between two humans – though religious institutions should of course be free to bless marriages, straight and gay, conduct ceremonies for their own groups or whatever their members want. 
Christening (or the equivalent ceremony in other religions) is not legal registration of birth and a funeral is not legal registration of death, so why should religious institutions of any sort continue to be allowed to conduct legally binding marriages?
Paul Ratcliffe, London W6
Until I read John Lichfield’s report, “Anti-gay marriage riot has awoken some of France’s old demons,” (25 April), I hadn’t seen the CRS riot police described as “angelic” before.
On arriving as a tourist in Paris on the morning after a riot, with burnt-out cars still stacked by the side of the road from the airport, however, I did feel reassured by the heavy police presence at tourist attractions.
Perhaps the time has come to resurrect that old poster from  May ’68 which shows a riot policeman with shield: only this time as a pin-up.
Richard Aelwyn Eames, Altrincham, Cheshire
Women beware golf-club bores
In criticising attempts by the R&A’s Peter Dawson to defuse the gender issues clouding the Open, Dr Michael Reynolds notes that many golf club are losing members (Letters, 26 April).
Well, this is certainly not true of the main single-sex clubs such as Muirfield, Troon, St George’s – or the R&A itself – so perhaps there is a message here. These venerable institutions are in reality gentleman’s clubs with a golf section attached and surely there are more pressing issues than geriatric male golfers meeting for lunch.
My wife and daughter belong to the two St Andrews all-women golf clubs and have no desire to join the R & A, eat nursery food and moan about the state of the nation.
Dr John Cameron, St Andrews
Invasion of Iraq was a war crime
John Strawson (22 April) claims, when referring to the Iraq war, it “might have been wrong but was not a crime”. At Nuremberg in 1945 the bill of indictment included in part 3: “War Crimes (g) Wanton destruction of cities, towns, villages and devastation not justified by military necessity.”
I fail to understand how our invasion of a sovereign state, which posed no threat to  Britain, does not fall within  the ruling at Nuremberg, or how our invasion can be justified by military necessity?
J Samuel, Reading, Berkshire
Fritillaries off  the beaten track
We live just north of Gretna in Scotland. We are neither in a hayfield nor a floodplain. About 12 years ago some snakeshead fritillaries appeared in our walled kitchen garden, either borne by  the wind or with bird assistance. They have continued to bloom each year slightly increasing in number. This year I have counted 19 blooms in spite of the late spring. A little later we also get  a few white ones as well.
Just thought Michael McCarthy (report, 24 April) might like to know there’s a 31st site of these lovely plants.
David Gould, Canonbie, Dumfries and Galloway
Did Wallis save the monarchy?
The more we learn about the uncrowned Edward VIII (“The King’s murderous mistress”, TV documentary about Maggie Meller this week) the more I feel that it is time we acknowledged the huge debt we owe to Wallis Simpson for bringing about his abdication.
It may have caused a huge constitutional crisis at the time, but as a result we ended up with George VI and the present Queen – far better monarchs than the morally weak, Nazi sympathiser Edward would have been. Wallis Simpson may well have actually saved the monarchy.
Robert Readman, Bournemouth
Lib-Dem woes
Tuition fees, a possible tax on pensioners’ benefits (report, 25 April). Has there ever been a political party so good at shooting itself in the foot as the Lib Dems?
Mike Conder, Southampton


Public investment in the arts stimulates tourism, attracts businesses and students as well as providing the talent for the creative economy
Sir, Anthony Everitt is right to say the Government invests in arts and culture because they are “a good in themselves” (letter, Apr 26). No one can deny their power and ability to shape us as individuals and nurture and inspire us. But he is wrong to argue that their economic impact is beside the point.
The argument now is not whether we should fund the arts, but, ahead of the forthcoming spending review, by how much it might be cut. This is when it is right to consider all the benefits of arts investment.
Ask Bristol, Nottingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham or Gateshead. They know that this public investment stimulates tourism, attracts businesses and students as well as providing the talent for the creative economy.
On a national scale it is worth noting that while funding of arts and culture is only 0.05 per cent of government spending, or 14p per week per head of population in England, the economic contribution of the music, visual and performing arts sectors alone exceeds £4 billion a year. Quality of life and firing our imaginations come first, but don’t forget the other benefits.
Sir Peter Bazalgette
Chair, Arts Council England
Sir, Some years ago the Chichester Festival Theatre, built by private funds, commissioned a report on the effect of the theatre on the economic life of its city.
At that time the local council was giving it about £200,000 to help with running costs. When the report estimated the uplift to the local economy was about £6 million, the council took note and raised its contribution to £600,000.
Susanna Kemp
Hurstpierpoint, W Sussex
Sir, Those engaged in the arts know all about the costs involved in their chosen art form.
Things like training, travelling and accommodation costs and long, underpaid years spent in trying to make a breakthrough are the lot of the aspiring actor. The visual artist has to supply a workplace and costly materials and presentation methods, none of which come free. Why then should it be expected that access to cultural treasures be free at the point of access as is the NHS?
The arts are not for the bored and restless looking for something to pass a few hours. They are to be engaged with and respected. Validation comes from commitment from a public which truly values all its art forms to the extent of paying for them at an appropriate market rate.
They might then no longer be regarded as the poor relation always asking for more. The arts are one of the UK’s strongest human activities in all genres and could be the goose that lays the golden egg.
Rosalie Bullock
High Wycombe, Bucks
Sir, Surely it is self-evident that arts organisations generate millions of pounds for the economy, attracting large numbers of visitors and employing many people, as Roger Gifford says (letter, Apr 25). What is less easy to do is to measure in any meaningful way the educational value, the contribution to cultural development and — not to be understated — the sheer pleasure and inspiration provided by the arts. These are incalculable.
At a time of great austerity, surely the arts should be commended and supported, allowing our citizens a brief respite from the financial doom and gloom into which this country has descended.
Lynne C. Potter
Hexham, Northumberland

Why should the rights of Abu Qatada be held to outweigh the danger to life and property he poses to British people?
Sir, The Home Secretary told the House of Commons that in relation to the deportation of Abu Qatada she is pursuing a twin track.
One line is to obtain leave to appeal to the Supreme Court against the ruling of the Court of Appeal that the Government’s argument that SIAC was wrong about Abu Qatada was “particularly difficult to sustain”. Ms May said that they will continue to argue on a point of law that they believe is arguable, notwithstanding the view taken by the Court of Appeal.
She added: “It is right that we continue to ask for leave to appeal directly to the Supreme Court so that, if the appeal is accepted, the case can be tested in the very highest court in the land.”
It might help Ms May if in asking for leave she pressed a point that she mentioned to the Commons: “We should be able to balance the rights of the individual against the wider rights of society.”
Why should the theoretical rights of the admittedly threatening Abu Qatada as regards the possible admission of evidence against him which was obtained by torture be held to outweigh the danger to life and property he poses to the British people generally?
Viewed objectively, this notion is surely preposterous. For the courts to hold it amounts to faulty judgment which needs to be urgently corrected.
Francis Bennion
Budleigh Salterton, Devon

‘Rising house prices produce a feel-good factor, which has proved very tempting for successive governments’
Sir, Ross Clark (“Houses and flats are for living in, not speculating on”, Thunderer, Apr 25) is quite correct but it goes much further, right to the root of our economic problems.
Rising house prices produce a feel-good factor, which has proved very tempting for successive governments, and in the US President Clinton kept interest rates artificially low, designed to encourage house ownership, but this in fact resulted in sub-prime mortgages, used for consumption rather than house purchases.
In the UK Gordon Brown freed the Bank of England to control inflation, but defined it as CPI, which does not include housing costs, rather than RPI which does, the result being run-away property inflation.
However, this was only one side of our problems as Thatcherism and Reaganomics relied above all on control of the money supply, but successive governments, which were basically Keynesian, lost control of the money supply, resulting in uncontrollable private and public debt.
Lord Digby
Minterne, Dorset

There is a distinction to be made between the Higgs boson and the Higgs mechanism, which was the really important thing
Sir, I did indeed say that it was silly to try to change the name of the Higgs particle (report, Apr 22). It is far too late — the name has been in common use for 40 years — and the alternatives suggested are excessively long-winded.
There is an important distinction to be made between the Higgs boson and the Higgs mechanism. It was the mechanism (to give masses to other particles) that was the really important thing initially and in my opinion it is important that all three of the papers on the subject published in Physical Review Letters in 1964 are recognised — and historically they mostly have been.
For the boson the attribution to Higgs alone is more justifiable. Everyone involved knew there would be such a particle, and no one then gave it much importance — it became important when it was the one remaining unverified piece of the standard model jigsaw — but Peter did mention it very specifically. Englert and Brout did not mention it at all, and although Guralnik, Hagen and I did, we omitted to mention what we all knew, namely that it would be massive.
Professor Tom Kibble
Imperial College, London

There are many good reasons for believing in God and there is an argument for saying that atheism itself is a faith
Sir, David Aaronovitch (Apr 25) seems to confuse reasonable faith with superstition. The latter is faith based on no reason. But we make acts of faith all the time. Catching a bus needs faith that the number on the front is correct, the driver competent and not a kidnapper, the vehicle safe etc. Before drinking it, I cannot prove that my wife has not poisoned my coffee, but I have reason to believe that she hasn’t.
Similarly, there are good reasons for believing in God. David Aaronovitch may consider these inadequate, but his atheism (that he will not be judged by an all-powerful Creator) is just as much a matter of faith as my Christianity.
Canon John Burrows

SIR – The truth of how the crisis in out-of-hours health care arose (report, April 25) has been comprehensively distorted by Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary.
The changes to the out-of-hours contract in 2004 were a surprise to many GPs. After that, most out-of-hours care continued to be provided by groups of GPs working in associations of one sort or another.
Initially, the only real change was that the responsibility for overseeing these organisations moved from the GPs to local primary care trusts (PCTs).
Things went downhill when the Government encouraged PCTs, against the advice of most GPs, to split up elements of the service by devolving telephone call-handling to services with no immediate involvement in the delivery of care to patients, such as NHS Direct. These organisations are complicated to contact, have ludicrous telephone protocols and are risk-averse, leading to many unnecessary referrals to A&E.
Patients with experience of trying to get help via such services soon learn their lesson and vote with their feet, by either going directly to A&E or calling an ambulance.
Related Articles
The loyalties of people to traditional counties have been sorely tried
26 Apr 2013
The GPs are still available to see patients but the interface that sits between the patient and the GP is defective.
Blaming them should be seen for what it is, a desperate attempt to find a scapegoat to hide the last two governments’ ineffectual meddling.
Dr Martin Shutkever
Pontefract, West Yorkshire
Abu Qatada’s awayday
SIR – Why do we need to leave the European Human Rights Convention for six months to deport Abu Qatada (report, April 25)? Surely 24 hours would cover it.
Barry Smith
Loughborough, Leicestershire
SIR – If one man, Abu Qatada, and his lawyers can outwit the Government almost daily, it bodes ill for any negotiations to repatriate powers from Brussels.
John Porter
Poole, Dorset
Shine on, Mrs Hodge
SIR – As members of the Public Accounts Committee, we were surprised at your criticism of it and its chairman, Margaret Hodge (Leading article, April 24).
The committee is apolitical. It works on facts produced by the National Audit Office or elicited from witnesses during public hearings. The chairman is not politically biased, as can be seen from the committee’s attacks on performance by the previous Labour government, including the Department for Work and Pensions, where Mrs Hodge was a minister.
It is not true to say that the Public Accounts Committee has taken no evidence from academies themselves.
We can understand why some current ministers are unhappy at having a light shone upon whether their policies are being implemented effectively. However, that has been the job of the Public Accounts Committee for 150 years, and will continue to be so.
As to your charge that Public Accounts Committee criticisms “dovetail” with the official Labour position on many issues, we are impressed that you have discerned the Labour Party’s policy on anything. No one else has.
Richard Bacon MP (Conservative)
Ian Swales MP (Liberal Democrat)
London SW1
Law with teeth
SIR – Professor David Whittaker (Letters, April 24) is right about courts regarding teeth as a weapon when used in assault.
While Branislav Ivanovic has said he does not want to initiate a prosecution against Luis Suarez, there is clear evidence, by way of television footage and indeed Suarez’s own admission, that an offence under Section 4 (1) of the Public Order Act 1986 (using unlawful violence) has been committed.
Lee Bowyer was charged for this offence after he started a fight with his own team mate while playing for Newcastle United.
The Suarez incident was seen by countless children and other impressionable individuals. It is in the public interest for Merseyside Police to take action with a view to deterring highly paid role models from engaging in such reprehensible behaviour.
Clive Booth
Partner, C W Booth & Co Solicitors
Bishop Auckland, Co Durham
Pop-up toast rack
SIR – I have found the solution to soggy toast – a credit card-sized expanding toast rack which can be slipped into one’s wallet and which, when taken out, springs into toast-rack mode automatically.
Mark Roberts
Hostert, Luxembourg
SIR – Richard Hoggart said in The Uses of Literacy (1964) that the working classes butter their toast hot. This is clearly superior to the cold, hard, dry and inedible contents of upper-class toast racks.
Rev Roger Holmes
Lopsided Proms
SIR – One would expect the BBC Promenade Concerts to acknowledge the Wagner/Verdi bicentenary, and so they have, but in a curiously lopsided manner.
Wagner is accorded the accolade of seven full-length operas, including the whole of The Ring, unprecedented in Proms history. Verdi is represented by a succession of what Sir Thomas Beecham would have called “lollipops”, plus the Four Sacred Pieces and the rarely played string quartet. The implication is clear: Wagner wrote operas for grown-ups and Verdi was that engaging chap who gave the plebs tunes they could whistle.
I find this extraordinarily patronising. For those who prefer the flesh and blood of Verdian drama to Wagner’s Teutonic myths, Don Carlo is as great an opera as Die Walküre or Siegfried, and Nabucco as fine as Tannhäuser.
Richard Last
Woking, Surrey
Ducks’ danger zone
SIR – At this time of the year we get ducks in our small garden pond (Letters, April 23). Every year I chase them away. I regard this as a kindness, having seen the local suburban fox take the ducklings for breakfast.
Herbert Potts
Bramhall, Cheshire
SIR – Foxes do not kill “for the sake of it”. Given an opportunity such as a henhouse, they will kill as many birds as possible and, over time, carry them off and bury them for later consumption.
Because humans tend to remove the birds before stage two, foxes are unfairly labelled as psychopaths. You might as well say that humans buying meat for the freezer are killing for the sake of it.
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Northwood, Middlesex
Red ink is too harsh a colour for marking
SIR – Anna Maxted’s article bemoaning the lack of correction in pupils’ exercise books (Features, April 24) took me back to my own teaching days in the Eighties.
I had heard of a teacher in France who marked pupils’ work in green, rather than red, and I decided to ask my classes how they would like their work corrected.
There was no contest: 100 per cent chose green. They felt that red was a harsh colour, whereas green was a complementary colour to their work in blue.
It was adieu to the red pen.
Noel Slaney
Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire
SIR – Anna Maxted was mystified by the black dots placed on her son’s schoolwork.
When on my first PGCE teaching placement in 1993, I too was told to mark with a dot rather than a cross, as, unlike a cross, a dot could later be turned into a tick, thus leaving no negative record.
The phrase “trial and error” was replaced with “trial and improvement” for mathematical investigations, lest there be an aura of negativity.
There was a ban on red ink, correcting spellings, and telling children that anything they suggested was incorrect.
I left teaching, dispirited, in 1999.
Frances Williams
Swindon, Wiltshire
SIR – My school did put red ink to good use. I do not think it harmed any of us, but it certainly made us more careful.
Once I wrote of a “typical type” of something – words that came back ringed in red, with “tautology” scrawled in the margin.
That was 70 years ago, but I can still picture today that vivid red ring.
Where tautology is concerned I hope I’ve been guiltless ever since.
Bob Jopling
St Bees, Cumberland

SIR – The Government stated in 1974: “The new county boundaries are for administrative areas and will not alter the traditional boundaries of counties, nor is it intended that the loyalties of people living in them will change.” (Letters, April 25.)
Yet the BBC now never mentions the counties that did not become administrative entities.
The Association of British Counties exists to ensure that geographical counties and their borders are not forgotten.
P W Flowerday
Barnehurst, Kent
SIR – Some time ago Count Nikolai Tolstoy (Letters, April 25) erected Berkshire signs on the historic boundary of the Thames. They were removed by Oxfordshire before the sun set.
Related Articles
Don’t blame GPs for overwhelming A&E units
26 Apr 2013
There remains the question of recognising the traditional divisions of counties. Putting a Yorkshire sign on the M1 will not do, only “West Riding” will suffice. The same applies to the Parts of Lincolnshire (Lindsey, Kesteven and Holland). And who could forget the Soke of Peterborough?
There is enough work to keep the sign painters going for years to come.
Paul Hornby
SIR – County boundary changes are not new. My birthplace, Todmorden, was divided between Lancashire and Yorkshire, but on becoming a borough in 1896 it became a Yorkshire town, while retaining the postal address “Todmorden, Lancashire”, and playing cricket in the Lancashire League.
Geoffrey Hodgson
Leeds, West Yorkshire
SIR – I am hoping against hope that the Yorkshire boundary will be moved back north to the River Tees, and that Middlesbrough will once again be in the North Riding of Yorkshire.
Allan J Eyre
SIR – Full marks to Eric Pickles for encouraging reversion to original county names.
Let us hope that breweries and landlords will also be persuaded to reverse a recent deplorable trend by changing the names of traditional pubs back to their originals.
David Richards
Surbiton, Surrey
SIR – If at last we get our old county names back, I might vote Conservative again.
Edward Devine
Seascale, Cumberland
SIR – With the resurrection of old county names, I look forward to a new series of The Only Way is Wessex.
Jack Mitchell
Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Irish Times

Sir, – I was not dismayed to read Ann Marie Hourihane’s description of the overwhelming sense of powerlessness, fear and responsibility felt when a family member is entrusted to hospital care within our existing medical system (Opinion, April 22nd).
A recent experience visiting a parent over a sustained period in the care of a major Dublin hospital, revealed fundamental flaws in basic hygiene standards, inadequate staff-patient ratios and distressing inconsistencies in communication, on a daily basis.
While the commitment, professionalism and compassion of many hospital staff requires acknowledgment, it is imperative that every individual working within a hospital, irrespective of their role and qualification, realises their obligation to remain vigilant on behalf of the patients entrusted to their care. Budgetary cutbacks, inhumane work schedules and the resultant low morale are endangering lives and it cannot be assumed that the patient is receiving the best care. Ask questions. Never assume.
A grieving family will not always have the emotional resources to engage with the medical teams and administration subsequent to a worst case scenario such as the unanticipated and premature loss of a family member. – Yours, etc,
Aberdeen Street, Dublin 7.
Sir, – I empathise with the points made by Ann Marie Hourihane (Opinion, April 22nd), and with the sense of helplessness that we all feel when a relative is admitted to hospital. However, I also feel she has played the man and not the ball.
I am familiar with the broken light bulbs: I have had to swap patients between trolleys just so I can examine them in adequate light. I have removed dirty sheets in order to make a cubicle presentable for my patient, only to find it occupied by someone else when I came back from the linen bin. When I finally get to see my patient, the consultation is punctuated by pager alerts as my referral list stacks up.
Unfortunately, Ms Hourihane is absolutely correct in saying these “minor matters” are sometimes overlooked because “we’ve got people dying in here”. Our health system is crumbling.
It is not good enough, and overstretched doctors, forced to work dangerous and illegal hours to try hold it together, are only too aware of this.
When Ms Hourihane’s relative is the sickest on the ward, I am sure she will appreciate us placing the light bulbs lower down our priority list. Her outrage is justified, but should be targeted higher than the frontline staff who work in these conditions every day. – Yours, etc,
O’Callaghan Court,
Erne Street, Dublin 2.
Sir, – Ann Marie Hourihane (Opinion, April 22nd) makes a number of broad statements based on her personal experiences of Irish healthcare.
While one could only empathise with anyone who feels let down by our hospitals, it seems tasteless and opportunistic in the extreme to attempt to harness the zeitgeist of Savita Halappanavar’s inquest by publishing this article at this specific time.
That aside, it is worth acknowledging that some of Ms Hourihane’s ire is justified, even if it is misdirected, and even if the conclusions made are backed up by anecdotes only. This Letters page was recently the site of a discussion regarding doctors’ working conditions and the patient safety issues arising from care being provided by overworked and overburdened staff. Our current system guarantees errors despite the best efforts of doctors who are prevented from providing the quality of care they envisage for their patients due to workloads that are unmanageable and shifts that are far too long.
If, as has been shown repeatedly, the majority of Irish people are satisfied with the healthcare they receive, it is because of the professional ethos of doctors and nurses battling against a system which seems not to value our time, values, expertise, training and compassion.
Those at the coalface are increasingly treated as a nuisance to the healthcare system rather than assets; there are not nearly enough of us at that coalface to shoulder the burden as it is.
Ms Hourihane’s experiences do not represent Irish healthcare fairly, but neither are they false and to be ignored. They should serve as a cautionary tale of what may yet come to represent the norm should the current assault on the coalface continue. – Yours, etc,
Mount Anville Wood,
Dublin 14.

Sir, – The acceptance of Serbia into an accession process towards EU membership, (Suzanne Lynch, World News, April 23rd) is remarkable and is a credit to the work of the Serbian government during its stabilisation and association process. The entry of Kosovo into negotiations on a stabilisation and association agreement is also to the great credit of the government of Kosovo. Despite a war 14 years ago, Prishtina and Belgrade have made great steps towards the development of multi-ethnic societies with a full voice for all the citizens of each country, helped by the efforts of the UN and its agencies, the Commission, KFor and bilateral donor countries.
While tensions admittedly still exist, this is an example of how the Commission and potential EU membership can be major movers and players in conflict resolution in the Balkans. (It is a pity that the same resolve is not being applied by the Commission to radically dealing with our debt burden that was partly imposed by it).
I have worked in both countries and I have met many remarkable people in both who get on with their vibrant and interesting lives and just want prosperity, full employment and peace. This is hopefully what will be achieved in the coming years. – Yours, etc,
Scanderbeg Square,

Sir, – I believe your article about the increase of hepatitis C via health tourism represents an unbalanced view (Paul Cullen, Home News, April 24th). As providers of dental services to overseas patients, we follow very strict procedures to ensure that no infection can take place – this is in the interest of both patients and our own dental staff. Hence, all our procedures assume that patients can carry diseases unknown to them – or sometimes undeclared.
Below are a few examples of how we ensure this:
Anything that goes into the patient’s mouth is either sterilised or single-use (disposable). Sterilisation is both chemical and heat (autoclave).
Needles, gloves, masks are only used once. Needles go into a special waste needle box, other hazardous waste into another hazardous waste box. These are collected by a special waste disposal company. Nothing that has been in a patient’s mouth is mixed with any other waste or touched again after the patient left the treatment room.
In between two patients, the chair is cleaned with a disinfectant, and the non-removable components are sterilised using the chair’s own autosteril system.
As you can see, contracting the hepatitis C virus through having dental treatment with us can be ruled out.
My personal view is that non-medical contraction is much more likely, though admittedly, there are countries with less stringent procedures and also there may be clinics in any country that do not follow guidelines, but these must be rare. – Yours, etc,
Access Smile,
Rákóczi Utca

Sir, – The claims apparently made by members of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland that campaigns run by to promote the responsible use of alcohol in Irish society somehow constitute “subliminal advertisements to encourage people to drink” (“Industry efforts to curb drinking a ‘joke’ and encourage consumption”, Home News, April 24th) are incorrect and perverse. Our raison d’être has always been stated clearly: we are an alcohol social responsibility organisation, not an alcohol prohibition organisation. Our key focus is 18- to 24-year-olds, and the fact is 87 per cent of this age group drinks alcohol. That is the context in which our messaging and campaigns are structured.
The very difficult task which we undertake is to challenge and change some of the harmful cultural ways in which Irish people have, for generations, used alcohol. Hence, the messaging surrounding our current TV advertising campaign is that this age cohort should not be pressured into drinking more, or fast, or to indulge in our so-called “rounds” system. advertisements are not about encouraging people to drink, but – if they do drink – to use alcohol responsibly. In that context, we seek to promote cultural change, point up the harmful and adverse consequences of abusing alcohol, and provide information and strategies to help consumers adopt a more moderate style of drinking. We advise that for some, and in certain circumstances, it is best not to drink at all. Recent campaigns depicted a series of situations where persons who are drunk interfere with, and abuse, innocent third parties, including those working in, or attending emergency departments. Our award-winning Reclaim Your Weekend programme and dedicated website seek to alert the broader 18-29 age cohort to the benefits of avoiding excessive weekend alcohol consumption so they can participate in activities and events around the country that cost nothing.
Evidence provided by Millward Browne, in January 2013, suggests we are having a positive impact. is perceived as the leading organisation promoting “drinking in moderation” and is significantly ahead of, for example, the HSE and its sponsored organisations. In addition, 85 per cent of over-18s are aware of; this figure rises to 91 per cent for the 18- to 29-year-old cohort. More than 90 per cent of those aware of said this brand should be used more widely, while 81 per cent said “it is effective without pointing the finger”. exists to help tackle problems arising from the abuse of alcohol in Irish society, and believes the most effective way to build on the progress already being made in this field is to have all stakeholders, including Government, the alcohol industry, the retail sector, professions like doctors, and ourselves, working together. Partisan and partial approaches will not resolve the problems. We would welcome those genuinely interested in addressing the issue, rather than complaining about it, to sit down with us and discuss how our campaigns might be further improved. – Yours, etc,
Mature Enjoyment of
Alcohol in Society (MEAS),
Fitzwilliam Street Lower,
Dublin 2.

Irish Independent
• What a moving and inspirational report (April 25) about brave 16-year-old Donal Walsh. His cheerful outlook on life and advice to fellow teenagers are magnificent.
Also in this section
The big sell out
It’s party time, folks – Joan says so
Martin is all politics and no governance
Adults, too, should take a leaf out of Master Donal’s book.
You rightly put his story and image on your front page.
I wish this young fellow all the happiness and peace that’s left to him.
His courage is amazing and makes one’s own problems seem trivial.
If any future award-winning film or book could be written/made, surely this is one story in point.
As Donal bravely faces up to and accepts the cruel inevitable, his all-too-brief life must be a celebration of his outstanding presence on this planet, and a tribute to his supreme courage for others – adult and child alike – to follow. Indeed, he has achieved in 16 years what most of us could not in a hundred.
Dominic Shelmerdine
London W8
Abortion legislation
• The impasse surrounding the on-again-off-again legislation for X Case abortion is mind-boggling. Does it matter one whit whether two, six or 600 – be they specialists in medicine, plumbing or stamp collecting – are consulted about the reality or substantiality of the probability that a suicide will be attempted? Would any sane person, however qualified, or even a Supreme Court judge, ever say: “Ah! Don’t mind her! She’s not going to kill herself?”
What is this notion of “trusting” a girl who cannot face having her baby, or a psychiatrist who consents to being asked about it?
Am I hopelessly naive in trusting anyone and everyone, not excepting either girls or psychiatrists, to “ideate” suicide if they think it the only way of getting something that they want very badly? Can somebody’s human rights be extinguished in the crisis of being “unwanted” by someone else? How could it be “anti-woman” to prohibit abortions, no less fatal to female babies than to male?
Frank Farrell
Stillorgan, Co Dublin
Irish fix for problem
• Three more people are required to make the ‘suicide/abortion assessment panel’ that the Government is (apparently) contemplating to be fit for its intended purpose: namely a bishop, a banker, and a politician.
Perhaps it would be better for all concerned if the Government came clean and decreed that the treatment to be dispensed in any such cases will consist of an air ticket to the UK?
Roger A Blackburn
Naul, Co Dublin
Assess the Cabinet
• Can we have six psychiatrists to examine members of the Cabinet, please?
Gerry O’Donnell
Dublin 15
We’re a laughing stock
• In regard to the proposed legislation, I hope the phrase “to be assessed by six consultants” is nothing more than an ill-founded rumour.
If it isn’t, notwithstanding the human tragedy, we risk becoming an international laughing stock.
Shades of WB Yeats’ comment during the riots after Sean O’Casey’s ‘The Plough and the Stars’ opening night at the old Abbey Theatre: “You have disgraced yourselves again!”
John McGeorge
Doonbeg, Co Clare
Let the medics decide
• With reference to the divisive debate on the abortion legislation: I feel legalisation on this issue should be left to the medical profession, who have the practical experience on this very serious matter.
I am sure that midwives, nurses, doctors etc, almost all of whom are trained in ethical morals, compassion, logic and dignity, will find the right solution, and not the politicians or the media.
Michael O’Mara
Patrickswell, Co Limerick
FF has a wail of a time
• I read today that our soldiers of destiny are torn on whether or not to continue with church-gate collections. Some grass-roots members find it in bad taste. I disagree.
Indeed Fianna Fail’s jobs spokesman Dara Calleary stated that his party would collect outside any church, regardless of religion.
May I commend this gentlemen on his entrepreneurial spirit and direct his attention toward a market he may have overlooked.
Simply combine a couple of thirsty stone masons with two dozen concrete blocks, cement and a six pack of liquid motivation and quicker than you can say “Oy vey, the economy is wrecked” – the world’s first mobile “Fianna Fail Wailing Wall”.
This miniature wailing wall can be mounted on a small builders’ trailer and driven to temples all over Ireland.
And don’t worry, it’s the Fianna Fail Wailing Wall, so it’ll be full of holes and cracks big enough to accept any size envelope. Shalom!
Enda Cormican
Saratoga Springs, NY
Richie Rich’s pay day
• Richie Boucher’s pay on the day of Bank of Ireland’s AGM was €3,587.20. Not bad for having a free lunch and taking a few insults.
Kevin Devitte
Westport, Co Mayo
TDs gone to the . . . cows
• What a shame when the country is suffering from a severe shortage of fodder on its farms that we have an excess of lobby fodder in Dail Eireann. If only there was some way to convert these spare TDs into animal feed, the shortage could be alleviated somewhat.
Brian Ahern
Dublin 15
Ashamed of electorate
• In the Irish Independent of Monday, April 15, a letter titled ‘Enda, how dare you make us bow our heads’ castigated Enda Kenny for his comments on how we got into the mess our country is in – yet there is no mention of the 23 years of rotten government under various Fianna Fail leaders.
The only reason I bow my head is the failure of the Irish electorate to see the corrupt behaviour of the Haughey era for what it was. When I see the mish mash of TDs elected by the people without regard to the principles or ethics of the people concerned, I fear for Ireland.
It is this inability of the Irish electorate to recognise real leadership and principled and ethical people in our midst that makes me bow my head. I am proud of the current Government and its sincere and serious attempts to return Ireland’s respect and that job is in the best hands at present.
Oliver Lupton
Collins Avenue, Waterford
Step aside for youth
• The young people of this country are finding it increasingly difficult to get work. Populations in small towns are dwindling due to the mass emigration of recent graduates who need to leave to find work and to have any chance of building a life.
Not only are there very few jobs at the moment, but people who are retiring or taking voluntary redundancy and pocketing the lump sum that comes with it are getting employed by their previous company or alternative ones.
I am a firm believer of taking work when you can get it, but there comes a point where you have to step aside and let the young people take over, especially if you have had a long and fruitful career.
Judi Coffee
Address with editor


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