Thursday, May 31

They Both Can't Be Correct !


Two of today's tabloid newspapers the Daily Express and the Daily Mail share the same photograph of the Pope meeting the distraught (and much publicised) parents of a missing four year old girl. However in respect of the issue of House Prices in England and Wales each newspaper amazingly takes an opposite view.

What is truly amazing in fact is that both newpapers quote from the same official figures from HM Land Registry. The Daily Express tells us on its front page:

''The average home in England and Wales went up by more than £1,200 every month in the past year despite Bank of England attempts to dampen the market with hikes to the base rate. And in welcome news for home owners, experts claim that the possibility of a housing crash is becoming more and more remote.''

The Daily Mail explains on its front page that prices rises in London are seriously distorting the picture and that nationally:
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''It is the first time in seven years that prices have fallen in so many areas in a single month.''

Confused? Well that is understandable! One thing is very clear the British national tabloid dead tree industry can on the same day (not for the first time) come to two apparently opposite conclusions from the same set of official figures; they both can not be correct.

With so many apparently complex mortgages now on the market as well as the Government introducing and then may be possibly withdrawing (apart from the parts that the EU insists we have to have like it or not) House Information Packs (HIPs) buying a house (and/or selling one) is now a tad confusing. Three cheers for Mortgage Brokers I say, ''Hip hip ..........''!
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Patientline, What Price Freedom?

From the Editor's digital camera, clearly cheap freedom is out of stock.
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Double click to enlarge
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Readers that are following our campaign on Patientline (if the number of comments are anything to go by, a lot are) will recall one of the points of concerns is the deceptive nature of Patienline's new pricing policy. The prepay cards that are sold by Patientline staff on the wards and also from vending machines outside wards do not reflect the daily charge rate. The effect of this is that Patientline's customers have to pay more than they need to watch TV in their sick beds.

The photographs on this posting are but one sad illustration of the depth of Patientlines poor service. The picture above was taken at the start of evening visiting time in a large North East Hospital and the image below is of the next nearest vending machine, taken a few moments later. There are no £3.50 cards available in either machine, though £10 cards are easily available at the peak time of sales - the term 'rip off' comes to mind. (Patientline's hard pressed staff are not on duty during evening visiting time!) What a price for ''freedom''!
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If the Director of Patientline who is specifically responsible for customer service has sufficient interest in the actual quality of Patientline's customer service and wishes to reduce stress on the wards as well as increase their sales without applying inappropriate targets to their staff; I would be pleased to supply other examples of how their operational failure's are adding to the misery of many sick people. My email is ptroy@fsbdial.co.uk. I wonder if pigs might fly past my PC at the time I receive an email from Patientline on this important issue?

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Wednesday, May 30

Hitting the Nail on the Head


A superb article by Chris Dillow in The Times this morning hits the nail on the head and asks, not entirely rhetorically: "We put up with terrible, inept government. Why?
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"Subtitled, "How Whitehall can learn from Tesco and John Lewis", he rails against general government incompetence and the simplistic solution – putting different backsides on Cabinet chairs. Well every littele would help!
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"Policy failures," Dillow writes, "aren't due to having the wrong personnel in charge. Nor are they exceptions to the rule of general competence. They are the inevitable result of bad organisational structure."Dillow then goes on to tell us that one reason why big organisations become inefficient is communication failure:

Subordinates have lots of reasons not to tell bosses the truth. They don't want to burden "busy" people with detail, or rock the boat, or be victim of "shoot the messenger" syndrome. The upshot of this was famously described by the late Kenneth Boulding: "The larger and more authoritarian the organisation, the better the chance that its top decision-makers will be operating in purely imaginary worlds."

Indeed so. The full article is well worth the read.

Tuesday, May 29

Conservative Thought, History of.

Here is a longish discussion of the subject of the history of conservative thought in Britain. The excellent piece by Dr Helen Szamuely is a quality read for serious followers of British Politics.

Monday, May 28

The Bank Holiday Quote

A spokesperson from the Patients Association commenting on the Patienline issue: "These people (NHS patients) are ill, sometimes recovering from operations, they're a captive audience. And many are elderly and may not understand what they're getting themselves into. We think this is an inappropriate way to behave in hospitals.
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"Link to A2 media group >

http://www.a2mediagroup.com/?c=140&a=15398

Disharmony in Dawlish

Dawlish the oh so English seaside town in South Devon is not the type of place that one would expect to hear about a church revolt.

As a historically aware retired resident commented last week: '' Other than the development of the railway major historical events have by-passed Dawlish. Invasions, the reformation, the civil war and the two world wars have by-passed the town it really is quite sleepy.''

It was with much surprise that the a large section of the congregation, the entire 20 strong choir and organist stormed out of St Gregory the Great Church in Dawlish minutes before the 9.30am Sung Eucharist last Sunday. So serious was the protest that the matter made the headlines in both The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph.

The issue that shook (well gently rocked) middle England's readers was the introduction of ''happy-clappy services'' by the Vicar of St Gregory's The Reverend Jerry Bird who discovered the hard way that churchgoers, like all British folk, can be a traditional and militant lot when they are pushed that bit too far.

As The Daily Mail reported:
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''He (The Vicar) may have been trying to attract a more modern flock. Or maybe it was an attempt to bring some variety to his church services. However, Parishioners at St Gregory the Great Church in Dawlish, Devon, claim their usual Sunday worship has been pushed aside in favour of a "family" service, involving guitars and tambourines.

''Now the Bishop of Exeter, the Right Reverend Michael Langrish, has appealed for calm and reconciliation after moves were made by some sections of the congregation to have the vicar removed.

''The walkout is thought to be a reaction to Mr Bird's decisions to move the church altar and shift worship times to make room for the modern family service.

''However, it is understood that irreverent resentment over the vicar's alleged "bullying" personality had in fact been simmering ever since he was appointed six years ago. In that time, a Parochial Church Council secretary and churchwarden have resigned. When Mr Bird's appointment became permanent, a protest petition signed by 100 parishioners was presented to church officials."

So as is fashionable these days, what is the 'way forward' for the troubled Devonian parishioners. As always in our great nation a very British compromise will be sought. The Bishop of Exeter has asked a bishop from outside the diocese to investigate, yes it is that serious.
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One regular churchgoer from Dawlish who asked not to be named, claimed in The Daily Mail that the Rev. Bird had ''created disharmony in the pews''. In Dawlish of all places, whatever next?

The Scandal of Foreign Prisoners

A very British Prison, Wormwood Scrubs, West London.

Up to 3,000 foreign criminals will be released from prison on to Britain's streets without any attempt to deport them, Government papers have revealed last week.
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A note sent to probation staff says as few as 250 convicts from European countries will face even preliminary deportation proceedings every year.The Probation service place the blame on an EU directive which rules that committing a serious crime is no longer sufficient grounds for removal from the UK.
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As a result, the vast bulk of the estimated 3,300 European criminals released from British jails each year - including burglars, thieves and muggers - will simply walk free. The revelation undermines the empty promise made by Tony Blair to tackle the problem in the wake of the foreign prisoner scandal last year.
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Mr Blair said at the time: "It is now time that anybody who is convicted of an imprisonable offence and who is a foreign national is deported."Overseas criminals convicted of crimes warranting a jail sentence of a year or more can normally be kicked out of Britain when they are released from prison - on the grounds that their presence is "not conducive to the public good".
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Probation Circular 11/2007, sent out last week, said an EU directive has made the criteria far more stringent for citizens ofthe European Economic Area.The Home Office can only remove EEA nationals who are highly likely to re-offend. They must also pose a "present, genuine and sufficiently seriousthreat" to society.The change means all except the most serious offenders - such as killers and rapists - will not face even an attempt at deportation by the Home Office's Criminal Casework Directorate.The note to probation staff revealed that just "approximately 250-300" offenders will face even an attempt at removal - which could of course be unsuccessful.
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The latest revelation shows how, one year on, the Government is unable to escape the continuing repercussions of the foreign prisoner scandal.
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Lin Homer, head of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, recently told MPs that her staff had tracked down and deported only 163 of the 1,013 foreign offenders who were mistakenly freed without being considered for deportation. Another 512 were still to be removed from the UK, and the remainder are likely to be allowed to stay.
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Ministers are also floundering on a second promise relating to foreign convicts - to send home foreign nationals imprisoned in Britain. The reason is that British Ministers are not in a position to over ride EU law.
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It matters not that British Jails are at bursting point - with a record 80,812 inmates as of last Friday - the EU is in charge and the EU regulations are quite clear!
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Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime - who said that ? Oh well, it can only get better, but first the UK will have to leave the EU!
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Note: The core issue, is the European Union Directive 2004/38/EC "on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States", which came into force just over a year ago, an event recorded by Dr North on his blog.

Sunday, May 27

No Three Cheers for HIPs

We are told by The Sunday Telegraph today that senior government officials are secretly planning to kill off the crisis-ridden Home Information Packs (HIPs).

From 1 June - Friday - anyone selling a property will be expected to provide a home information pack to any would-be buyers. However, the not so cool hips are surrounded by controversy and confusion.The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is seeking a judicial review for what it sees as the '''failure of ministers'' to carry out a proper consultation in relation to the HIP legislation.

The only part of the accident-prone scheme expected to survive the cull, is the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), a document detailing a property's energy efficiency.The reason
why that is which The Daily Telegraph doesn't tell us is because of EU Law, which we must comply with.
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.See also > Christopher Booker on HIPS

The Sunday Quote


''Most people sell their souls, and live with a good conscience on the proceeds.''


Logan Pearsall Smith, Afterthoughts, 1933

Saturday, May 26

Truly Bizarre

By Dr Richard North
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VAT fraud cost HM Treasury £4.75bn in 2005-06 and is estimated to be worth €250bn (£170bn) annually across the EU as a whole, says a House of Lords Committee Report.
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These are such staggering figures that they defy human comprehension.Those who are old enough, however, will remember the Great Train Robbery - committed on 8 August 1963. A cool £2.3 million was stolen - £40 million in today's money – and the publicity was huge, reaching down even to the present, where the crime is part of our national folklore.
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By comparison, just the UK losses to VAT fraud in 2005-6 amounted to the equivalent of 120 great train robberies, or one every three days. You have to say it again, for the enormity to sink in: VAT fraud was equivalent a great train robbery every three days. At a European level, that number soars to a colossal 11 per day.
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For sure, more recently, the UK government has got to grips with some of the more obvious scams – involving computer chips and mobile telephones – through increased enforcement and tightening procedures. And it has done deals with the EU to change the part of the system applicable to chips and telephones – which I covered here and here.
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But the House of Lords argues that these measures are unsustainable. Simply carrying out the checks involves about 1,500 staff, at a cost of £95m a year, with some supply chains under scrutiny involving up to 600 companies. And it carries the danger of withholding money from legitimate, smaller, importers and traders, possibly pushing some to the brink of bankruptcy.
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Furthermore, the Peers warn that the system change will simply shift the fraud from goods like mobile phones to others instead - such as cosmetics, precious metals, and computer software. Thus the fraud "will continue to migrate and mutate."The only way we can get to grips with this fraud, therefore, is to change the VAT system and that – as even the Committee acknowledges – is not going to happen. It is an EU tax, it requires unanimity to change, and the majority of member states are against any fundamental changes.
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So, we must continue to suffer the depredations of (largely) organised criminals, who will continue to rip off taxpayers (us) to the tune of billions each year. And because, politically, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it, the media will note it as a curiosity (those that bother to report it) and go back to sleep while, from the Opposition, we will hear nothing.
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That is the level to which we have been driven by our membership of the EU. Neutralised and emasculated, we can only tut-tut and shake our heads in dismay. It is truly bizarre.

Patientline's Sick Sales

From the Editor's breakfast table.

The BBC web site this morning thunders: ''Phone firm pressures patients''. Continuing the theme of Patientline's culture of pressure sales in hospital wards and sales targets for its staff. I and an other former Patientline employee together with Unison spokeswoman Margaret Toase are quoted in the BBC's report.

Amazingly, Despite the BBC referring to a communication sent to all employees confirming the ''need to create a sales-driven culture'' Patientline are standing by the line that ''Patientline does not encourage hard-selling and our advisors are merely there to provide information and support to patients''.

Well, when I was working shifts for Patietientline the local and senior management would definitely "not have been happy with me if I had mereley ''provided information and support to patients''. The pressure was on to sell. During breaks staff would be asked: ''how are you doing with your targets to day''. On one particular occasion at the end of January this year when I informed a manager by 'phone that the high number of faults on the bedside units that day was making hitting my daily target figures impossible I was addressed by her as if I was a skiving school boy. The following day she called my immediate supervisor and reported my ''attitude problem''.

So Chalotte Brown, Commercial Director of Patientline, the sales driven culture was well establised in the company by the start of this year. To be fair Ms Brown and her board colleages have little idea of the effect of actual implementation of Patientline company policy on hospital wards. What is a well person's soft sell can very easly be a sick persons hard sell. Perhaps Ms Brown would like to discuss this and the realities of Patientline on air, it would perhaps clear the air?
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The BBC Web page is linked here>
How to protest about Patientline:

To obtain a petition form Email
pt@patientsinneed.org.uk or call Peter Troy on 01740 629433
Better still call Patientline - that will be very effective
0800 959 3100 - the call is free!
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Friday, May 25

A Few Minuites of Fame

Hector - a British Spotted Tabby (right) and his neice Ginny - A part Siamese (centre) observe the lime light during the filming of the piece which was transmitted several times today on the BBC Breakfast Time Programme as well as throughout the day on News 24.
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The tie incidently was purchased by the Editor's well traveld son Tim during a visit to Vietnam last year.

The End of Week Quote

''Hospital patients are being targeted by sales teams working the wards selling premium rate phone cards and TV. Patientline is already under fire for the cost of its services, and is now facing allegations that it is pushing its products on vulnerable people. The company insists it is doing nothing wrong.''

Graham Satchell, BBC News.



Many will no doubt wish to comment on Patientline's performance and prices.

The BBC Breakfast Time piece is linked below:
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How to protest about Patientline:

To obtain a petition form Email pt@patientsinneed.org.uk or call Peter Troy on 01740 629433

Call Patientline - that will be very effective - on 0800 959 3100 - the call is free (at the moment)!


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Thursday, May 24

The War in Afgahanistan


There is a good post on Red State, expanding on and linked to Dr North's excellent piece here, on the strategic military situation in Afghanistan. It very much got the point, concluding that, in war, we should "by all means listen to the generals but in the end politicians must have the final say."

Patientline Update

The above is taken from The Northern Echo 'Hear All Sides', today.
Double click the picture to enlarge.
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This week the Patients In Need campaign is calling on NHS staff, former patients, and their friends and family to protest at their exorbant charge rates by 'phoning the company free on their customer care line free on 0800 956 3100. Please hurry before Patientline replaces the freephone number with a premium rate one!
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It will be interesting to see how Patientline respond when thousands of unhappy people call. Please be polite, it is not the fault of Patientline's staff that the Directors have increased the cost of the pruducts to unaceptable hights.
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We on this blog will be watching to see how Patientline's Commercial Director Charlotte Brown responds to questioning on The BBC Breakfast Time Progamme early on Friday morning. Perhaps she will admit the comany got it badly wrong and restore the reduced TV viewing rate as well as lower the telephone call out charge back down to 10 p per minute. We can but hope, if she does the editor will be pleased to send her a bottle of the finest Vintage Champagne.
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Peter Troy can be contacted on
Contact Details
Tel. 0780 342 0995
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Comments on this Blog are of course always encouraged. Very occasionally, as is inevitable comments are left which are libilous, offensive and downright inaccurate, these are of course deleted. Below in the comments section are two such postings, one of which (and maybe the other) have been written by a Patientline deputy manager. Naturally a complaint has been made to Patientline and is currently being dealt with by the Company Secretary. The comments on this ocassion have not been deleted since they represent an excellent example of why Patientline should not be a service provider to the NHS.
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As regards ongoing postings about Patientline (UK) Ltd on this Blog it is our editorial policy to comment on the companies commercial policies and their impact on sick people and their families. We make no apologies for continuing to make comments whilst Patientline Directors remain insensitive to the needs of their customers.
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Peter Troy
Editor - Very British Subjects
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Wednesday, May 23

Wallop on Water

Another article in Monday's Daily Telegraph about water bills going up in order to upgrade Britain's "antiquated sewerage network". (Actually, a good deal of it works rather well).
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There is a great deal of toing and froing about prices and how much more we shall have to pay and how high our water bills are already so why is the money not being used for .... blah-blah-blah. Guess what is missing from Harry Wallop's article. Yes, that's right, there is absolutely no mention of the European Union or of the various water directives, now all united in the Water Framework Directive or about how much money water companies have had to spend to implement those often pointless rules. Do they do this on purpose or are they really this wet?
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The Elephant in the room clearly needs a hosing down !
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With thanks to the award winning blog - eureferendum

Monday, May 21

Creeping Sideways

By Dr Richard North

It is too easy to sneer – so I won't. But we have every reason to be wary of the new campaign, launched today, by Direct Democracy in conjunction with The Daily Telegraph promoting the cause of localism.

Fronted by Daniel Hannan (Left) MEP and Douglas Carswell MP (right), who write a piece in The Telegraph today, the idea is that power should be clawed back from central government and the EU, and returned to local authorities, under the more direct control of local voters.

Not least of the ideas is the abolition of VAT and its replacement with a variable local sales tax, in order to make councils financially autonomous. But here, as the authors well know, this is an EU-derived tax which central government is obliged to levy, under the terms of the VAT sixth directive.

Since the chances of prevailing on the other 26 member states to abolish VAT is nil, the only way Britain could get rid of this tax would be a unilateral abrogation of the directive which would put our entire membership of the EU in jeopardy. On the face of it, therefore, the push for localism falls at the first hurdle, as central government is unlikely to consider that option.
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However, the authors of the plan – Eurosceptics both - believe that, by selling the idea of local taxation to the population at large, they will build up a momentum in favour, which will make change irresistible. In other words, this is a somewhat less than subtle means of promoting indirectly withdrawal from the EU.
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As a strategy, this has some merits, although the ploy is so transparent that it is easily debunked. Government simply has to say, at a very early stage, that replacement of VAT is out of the question … treaty obligations and all that. Then, the issue is either off the agenda or the true intent has to be declared, and it becomes a matter of in or out of the EU. We end up back where we started.

Arguably, therefore, it would save a lot of time and effort if we came out openly and said that VAT is a bad tax, that it should be replaced and that, to do so, we need to leave the EU – or at least, renegotiate our current relationship with the Community.

However, that is what numerous organisations have been doing for decades, while others have more recently joined the fray – all with something less than spectacular success. On that basis, a different approach might be warranted, except that UKIP and the Democracy Movement have taken a similar approach, arguing that stopping payments of our annual £11 billion plus to the EU would solve a lot of problems.

That none of the arguments have set the political process aflame, or noticeably strengthened demands for withdrawal from the EU, suggests that the Direct Democracy ideas will have a limited appeal. Their main effect of their promotion, it would seem, might be simply to keep a number of politicians off the streets (no bad idea) and fill a few pages in the product of a dead tree seller.

If that is a negative response, so be it. The idea may be sound, but the motives are, essentially, dishonest – even if well motivated. If Mr Hannan et al (to say nothing of the Telegraph) want to leave the EU, then they should say openly, and make the case for so doing – something which they manifestly do not (in public at least). Creeping sideways round the issue is not the answer.

Sunday, May 20

Will Our Grandchildren Forgive Us ?

Shami Chakrabarti the enigmatic freedom activist writes a thoughtful piece in today's Sunday Telegraph. Ms Chakrabarti takes as her theme the currently fashionable and boring line of Tony Blair's legacy; though today's op-ed is far from boring.

As Ms Chakrabarti eloquently states, the right to free speech, to protest, to a fair trial, to privacy all have diminished during the Blair years. The point for debate is, of course are those diminished freedoms a necessary restriction of the times we live in and would the situation we have ended up with have been any different under the tenure of a different premier.

As the Director of Liberty herself profoundly points out she is like the grim reaper If you see him about then something pretty awful is happening. It is indeed a sad reflection of the way things have been that we have in recent years seen a lot of 'Reaper(ess)' Chakrabarti.

The full article is linked to the bottom of this posting and deserves a good reading. Well highlighted is the law that requires police permission to protest peacefully in Parliament Square. Truly an affront to the fundamental right to free speech. We on this blog are still appalled at the sight of sons (and a few daughters) of the landed gentry, farmers and farm workers being battered about the head by over reacting bad tempered Metropolitan Police Officers a few years ago out side our mother of all Parliaments on the occasion of the abolition of the fox hunting demonstration.

Ms Chakrabarti and Liberty make much of the Guantanamo Bay detainees and that Blair has never "unequivocally condemned the scandal". Yet in war and the fight against terrorism is very much a war, interrogation practices are sometimes unpalatable; as indeed are the products of terrorism. A balance is difficult and the detainees were not planning their annual holiday walk in the Khyber Pass when they were picked up by our American allies.

The article refers to the increasing hypocrisy of our political class when it comes to privacy. When politicians' expenses are scrutinised, they seek exemption from Freedom of Information. When our privacy is up for grabs they say ''Nothing to hide, nothing to fear."

A case in question was as recently as Friday when MPs opted by 113 votes to 27 to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act; in so doing confirming that there is one law for them and one for everyone else. There is no good reason why MPs should keep information from the people when the rest of us now have considerably reduced rights of privacy. More on this issue will be covered in the Blog later in the week.
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Some reference is made by Ms Chakrabarti to the Government's hype of the proposed National ID card. If Liberty were to achieve nothing else over the next few years other than provide an effective leading opposition of the grand and dangerous folly of the Identity Card legislation the organisation they will receive the humble respect of this blog.

Finally as Shami Chakrabarti concludes: ''One thing is certain, if we an educated electorate give up as much in the next decade as we did in the last, our grandchildren will not forgive us."

Indeed so, the terrorists must not win. Every time our basic freedoms are eroded, every time the British way of life is intruded upon 'in the interests of security' the terrorist achieve yet an other victory.


Shami Chakrabarti's article can be read in full by clicking here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2007/05/20/do2001.xml

Seeing Red over Green

Senior cabinet ministers, we are told by The Independent, are pushing for Britain to be the first nation in the world to get much of its power from the tides, as part of a massive new expansion for renewable energy.
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Dr Richard North explains why ''green eats green'' Click:

http://www.eureferendum.blogspot.com/#9187633002081754108

Mars Protest

The secret of succesful direct protesing is targeted direct action. In just one week, more than 6,000 people bombarded the manufactures of Mars, Snickers, Maltesers and Galaxy brands, with phone and e-mail complaints.

The issue was that Mars UK said it would change the whey used in some of its products from a vegetarian source to one with traces of the animal enzyme, rennet. As a result of the protest Mars has abandoned plans to use animal products in its chocolate, and has apologised to "upset" vegetarians.

Mars said it became "very clear, very quickly" that it had made a mistake. Forty MPs also signed a petition to voice their opposition.

Fiona Dawson, managing director of Mars UK, said the company had listened to customers and decided to reverse its decision. "The consumer is our boss and we had lots of feedback from consumers who were unhappy about the change.There are three million vegetarians in the UK and not only did we disappoint them, but we upset a lot of the consumers."
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So there we have it -as direct result of direct protest a direct result.
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Those that have been following the the Patientline issue may wish to call the company and demand that the reduced rate of TV viewing for over 60s is restored - the call is free the effect will be huge dial: 0800 959 3100 - the call is free!
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The Sunday Quote

“We must beware of trying to build a society in which nobody counts for anything except a politician or an official, a society where enterprise gains no reward and thrift no privileges”
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Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Churchill KG,OM,CH,TD,FRS,PC. (1874 -1965)

Saturday, May 19

More, Much More About Patientline



Patientline The Sickness and the Cure
By Peter Troy






This morning I was telephoned by a national journalist and asked to summarise why I resigned from Patientline, why I had I done so did so in a blaze of publicity and what if anything can be done to cure the Patientline problem. Is Patientline in terminal decline?

In the beginning the effectiveness of good quality affordable entertainment and communication equipment in hospitals was rightly recognised by the government when it encouraged Patientline and two other newly formed companies to install at their shareholders expense equipment that would deliver a quality service to NHS Patients at the bedside throughout the country and subsequently provide a healthy return to investors.

The largest and by far the most controversial of these companies is Patientline UK - a publicly quoted company whose corporate bold statement was, up to last month: “taking care of communications”. The patient power programme that fuelled the growth of bedside TV and telephone units had major fault lines running through the plan which widened and deepened with time. Currently the gulf between the conceptual vision and the actuality is vast, possibly like the British Health Service itself - that though is a huge story for another day.

I resigned from my part-time position with Patientline at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough (a job which I first enjoyed) because I could not work for a company that has quite clearly in my view, despite its many statements to the contrary, very little practical understanding of the needs of its customers, who are obviously (but not to Patientline's Directors and senior Managers at its head office in Slough) sick and very ill people and/or are relatives of patients who are in stressed and often in states of acute anxiety.

At the beginning of April Patientline announced that it was introducing a new price structure for the users of its frequently faulty hospital bedside units. Patientline which is in deep financial difficulty with its shares at rock bottom prices with debts of over £85 million has been told by the Department of Health (DofH) that there is no good reason why tax payer’s money should be used to bail out the company that operates in 160 hospitals throughout the country.

The Patientline's bedside units provide TV, Radio, Computer Games, Internet and telephone services to patients. Last month Patientline restructured its prices in the forlorn hope of increasing revenue. The move backfired generating an outcry in the nations media and falling sales on the wards.

Out went the reduced concession for over 65s (having a few months previously increased the age qualification from 60). The complimentary free 30 minutes viewing granted when patients first signed on together with the free two minute 'phone call from the bedside was terminated. Also done away with was the concessionary rate available for long term patients who had been Patientline customers for over 14 days continuous use.

Up went the cost of telephone calls from the bedside to an exorbitant 26 pence per minute with no mention that the charge starts from the commencement of the ringing tone when the call is made - so a call to a wrong number or a voice mail will cost 40p. Press Patientline's senior management or technicians on that specific point and they go into instant denial. A couple of short calls from a hospital bedside say 10 minutes each day will cost at over £5. An incoming call at the peak rate costs 49 p per minute (off peak 39p), as most calls from concerned loved ones would be at least 10 minuets in duration that is a not very cool £4.90 ! Long calls to sick relatives are not recommended a 30 minute call from a BT land line will set back a relative £15 – ‘phone from a mobile then apply for a bank loan the call would need to be to a much loved one!

The cost of TV viewing for older people, who represent over two thirds of patients in hospital, was increased to the 'new daily rate'. Previously over 65s were paying £1.70 that is now £2.90 per day in all but a few hospitals operated by Patientline.
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The Daily Rate was reduced but as we have described in a previous posts (click labels at the bottom) it has a nasty sting in the tail and in practice provides little improved benefit. The daily cost is in practice the same or more than it was prior to Patientline’s price announcement which is best described as being economical with the truth.
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Patients TV viewing needs should dove-tail with the Patientline pricing structure - since April they are about as far out of alignments as it is possible to get.

If Patientline had wanted to upset Medical, Nursing, Care, Support, Administrative and even Patientline's own Staff as well as many Journalists focusing on medical issues and particularly Patients and their visitors Patientline could not have done a better job. Patientline Directors and Senior Managers are clearly oblivious to the anger that they have generated in the hospital community by their ill thought out price changes last month and indeed their ongoing 'modus operandi'.

The cost of Patientline’s services is not the only major concern. In my eighteen months with the company I would estimate that between 5-10 per cent of the equipment that effected Patients viewing at the site at which I worked was at any one time in a variety ways faulty. Patientline's front line staff and call centre personnel were constantly inundated with complaints about faulty equipment. The mostly dedicated staff, who have not been awarded a pay rise (apart from minimal group performance awards) for over two years often suffered from stress related illnesses. Staff turnover was and remains high and in my personal experience the local management had very little skill (or willingness) to properly address customer complaints about faulty equipment which further added more stress to an otherwise stressful job.

Patientline increasingly have tried to address the issue of how to increase their sales. But as a lumbering top heavy corporate monster they have badly fumbled it. Rather than reduce the cost of their services and simplify the buying process their remote and very well paid (and perhaps in terms of performance over paid) executives demonstrated no understanding of the needs of sick people and made matters worse by adding to the cost and complexity of using the bedside systems. Giving much needed compensation to customers was actively discouraged by directives from senior managers - though in my case I openly ignored instruction not to give free TV, to patients who had suffered from faulty equipment.

Staff were increasing put under a lot of pressure to hit targets - sell more TV time to sick people - obtain 'phone numbers of friends and family from patients in order that automated messages could be sent encouraging return calls that would cost at least 39 pence per minute. The company supported childish staff incentives such a "beat the manager" (at obtaining phone numbers of relatives of Patients) campaign which was launched in Teesside at a particularly hyped dreadful direct sales training session. One site manager was well known for her shrieking at staff about performance figures. If Patientline's Chairman, Mr Geoff White, is outraged at these particular comments I am pleased and I welcome the opportunity to discuss with him my eighteen months in the service of his company in detail.

Clearly Patientline do not understand the needs of their customers, if they did more than the present 38 per cent of all hospital patients (a figure that is falling) where Patientline has installed bedside units would become customers. The quality of the service that Patientline provided during my contractual period with the company at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough was in my firm view not fit for purpose. Trading Standards, the Health and Safety Executive, Trust Directors, Medical Consultants and Investigative Journalists would demand serious improvements or cessation of Patientline’s operation if details of the stress that are being caused by Patientline's failings were fully investigated.
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Financially Patientline is a basket case; though this has not stopped the company from recently paying out for a "rebranding" .


Gone is the company strap line: ''taking care of communications''. Well not to do so would probably have rendered Patienline liable to a prosecution following any investigation by any half competent trading standards officer.

Either Patientline dramatically changes their corporate culture - the current pricing re-structure debacle demands, I belligerently suggest, the sacking no less of at least one senior executive and/or Director - and also embarks urgently on a strategy of lower prices. It is perfectly feasible that the charge of £1 per day for TV viewing to all patients and 10 pence per minute for all incoming and out going calls billed by the second. Without doubt this will massively increase usage on the wards; providing an urgent injection of money into the body of the company. Complementary TV should be provided to any long term (say over a month) patient Advertising revenue could easily be generated and is where Patientline's sales efforts should be directed; not at the sick in their beds.

Currently sick people that do use Patientline’s systems mostly resent doing so, at the time of leaving Patientline the company showed no sign of understanding that vital point, let alone acting on it.

It is inevitable that Patientline will fail (causing yet further stress to NHS Staff and Patients) unless there is a dramatic change in the company's operations and culture. In any event there is a need for Political intervention - one that Patientline is remiss in not instigating it self (I did on three occasions write to the Management and the previous Chairman with a detailed recommendations - I was never given the courtesy of a reply).

Britain's new Prime Minister in waiting could achieve huge popularity with a well timed solution. The problem is in some part caused by a failure of Government Policy, the much hyped Patient Power programme was well favoured by Messrs Blair and Milburn. Mr Gordon (Prudence) Brown was recently made aware of Patientlines withdrawing of free TV to a long-term patient when he visited a hospital. Mother of a Patient Linda Smith challenged the Chancellor at Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham, after cutbacks meant patients would have to pay £2.90 a day to watch TV. The Chancellor's own son Fraser suffers with Cystic Fibrosis. Mrs Smith's son Greg, 24, makes regular stays at the hospital and was angry that Patientline, which had provided the service for free, stopped doing so. Patientline’s crass ignorance of the well known fact that if you take something away especially from vulnerable people they will be resentful is beyond belief. Thanks to Gordon Brown this particular story has a happy ending, at the forceful instance of the local NHS Trust Patientline restored the free TV service for the long term patients they had so badly upset.

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It was, incidentally, with the same crass stupidity and total failure to understand that to win the hearts and minds of NHS was fundamental to its success that last year Patientline abolished the free TV viewing for NHS staff if they were admitted into hospital.

Patientline reduced the benefit to the lower rate applicable to Patients over 65. I assume that is now a non-benefit; since that lower rate has now been removed. How not to win friends and influence people that truly matter!

I think, I will write to Mr Brown's Principle Private Secretary (maybe there is no need since he reads this blog) with a policy recommendation that HHS Hospital Trusts take over Patientline’s services with newly formed non-profit making companies (this can be forced to happen by Influence, Act of Parliament or, maybe, by an Order in [Privy] Council). Patientline will probably fail anyway and the Government will need to consider a plan to continue the service to hospital patients.

I am currently organising a petition at 150 hospitals where Patientline operate. Patientline’s management are not particularly happy about this and are ordering their staff to remove the documents from ward notice boards. Never mind the organisation that I am establishing is currently receiving the Petition at the rate of an average of 42 signatures per ward. There is going to be a lot of heavy boxes to carry down Whitehall next month to Mrs Hewitt’s office. Volunteers will be needed, please.

So there we are. Do I have any regrets about leaving Patientline in a blaze of Publicity? Yes one, as I wrote in the Evening Gazette (the Middlesbrough daily newspaper) last week I am sorry in many ways that I am no longer working with the committed, dedicated positive underpaid and over worked team of Staff at Patientline’s office in Middlesbrough. I have no doubt that all other front line and indeed the call centre staff at Dumfries are the same. They deserve public recognition for all they have done in the wards and on the telephone and continue to do to help sick (some very) people to derive some pleasure by being able to access their Patientline bedside units. They continue to work despite the insensitivity and constraints of a large failing and over extended corporate organisation that as I and others have illustrated in recent weeks clearly has no shame.

Finally then, in answer to the question that was posed to me this morning why did I resign from Patientline in a blaze of publicity on 30 April? Well as J F Kennedy once said: ''no one man can change the world but every man should try''. I am trying.




James Cook University Hospital Middlesbrough


The above piece is dedicated to the memory of Lynn a former Midwifery Sister who spent much of her past 8 years as a patient in Ward 9 of James Cook University Hospital. I was delighted to provide this lady with free TV for the last few months of her life (it was one of her few remaining pleasures and the cost to her family was prohibitive). My giving this most deserving person free viewing was in defiance to the express wishes of the Management of Patientline. Lynn had, from the accounts of so many, dedicated most her life to the well being of countless young patients. It was an honour to know her in her final days.


Peter Troy
County Durham, UK

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How to protest about Patientline:


To obtain a petition form Email pt@patientsinneed.org.uk or call Peter Troy on 01740 629433


Call Patientline - that will be very effective - on 0800 959 3100 - the call is free!




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Read All About It


Pledging to regain the trust of Britain, Gordon Brown has accepted his nomination to become The Labour Party leader and The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

The Chancellor was nominated by 313 Labour MPs, making him the only candidate and Britain's prime minister-in-waiting. Mr Brown will now meet with civil service chiefs to discuss plans for a Whitehall shake-up. The Times reports that Mr Brown will spend the next six weeks meeting voters on a nationwide tour. (He may well meet John Wright who was controversially elected leader of the small business community in March following non-disclosuer of his trade union past - Wright is on a political style 100 day tour of members of the Federation of Small Businesses)

Meanwhile, The Guardian uses its front page to outline the differences between Brown and Tony Blair. Under the headline "Britain's two prime ministers", the newspaper looks at Brown's foreign policy pledges and contrasts these with Blair's visit to Washington.

The Independent carries a front page commentary from Steve Richards on what he describes as a "bloodless victory and a triumph of political will".

FURTHER READING
Guardian - front page FT - front page Times - page 6 Independent - front page Telegraph - front page Mail - pages 6-7 Express - page 2 Mirror - pages 6-7 Sun - page 2

RELATED LINKS
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Click here for the full Press Review

Friday, May 18

The end of week quote


Extracted from Harry Mead's column, The Northern Echo Wednesday 16 May :

Meanwhile, if Tony Blair genuinely regards Britain as the world's greatest nation, perhaps he will cease pursuing ever-closer union with Europe. Perhaps, he will allow us a vote on the EU's Constitution which, following its rejection by referendums in France and the Netherlands, he is still keen to promote, by representing intended reforms, including a provision for the EU to have its own foreign minister, as simply a tidying-up exercise.

What irony if history records that the Prime Minister who hailed Britain as 'the greatest nation on earth' capped his valedictory pronouncement to that effect by finally sealing Britain's fate as part of a federal state.


Quite, Editor

Thursday, May 17

Patientline - Mobile usage in Hospitals

Peter Troy's recent letter published in the Evening Gazette - Middlesbrough - was printed on the letters page as a distinctive disc. So guess where the Editor stuck it ?
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When blog editor Peter Troy was doing his bit with Patientline he was told (as were all the other Patientline staff at James Cook University Hospital) frequently by the local management that any patients seen using their mobile phones should be noted and that the matter would be taken up with the hospital management. Without doubt Patientline's management were keen that the sick and ailing used the company's bedside units at the the higher (and now much higher) charge rate rather than personal mobile 'phones on increasingly reducing tariffs.

Now that the media spotlight has fallen on Patienline's charges they will doubtless be keen to deny that they were asking their staff to sneek on patients - but the fact is they did.

There have been frequent calls made for the use of mobile phone in hosptitals.
As recently as 14 March this year Quin Parker of the Guardian published the following article on the subject:


Patients should be allowed to use mobile phones in hospitals, the Department of Health has recommended.

The DH is to update its guidance on mobile phone usage to hospitals, saying there is no reason why patients cannot use them in communal areas, although they may still be banned in some areas for medical or privacy reasons.

A DH spokesperson said the guidance is being updated following the recommendations of a review by an independent group looking into high phone charges experienced by patients using bedside facilities.

The guidance, which will be issued before the summer, will take into account mobile technology such as built-in cameras and the implications for privacy.

Andy Burnham, the health minister, said: "As technology has moved on it is right that we update our guidance on mobile phones to reflect that. We recognise that patients and staff should be able to use mobile phones where it is appropriate to do so, and subject to medical and privacy considerations.

"I see no reason for trusts to have an outright ban on mobile phones - especially in communal areas - and our updated guidance will make that clear."

Mr Burnham said bedside entertainment systems, which include phones, offer patients "additional services", and surveys suggested they brought benefits to patients.

Patientline, which installs and maintains bedside systems in NHS hospitals, came under intense scrutiny in parliament and by the telephone regulator Ofcom last year for charging consumers up to 49p per minute to make calls to patients.

Nobody from Patientline was available to comment on today's announcement.

Hospitals are responsible for their own policies on mobile phone use. Last year, the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA), the branch of the DH responsible for drug and equipment safety, issued guidance advising against a blanket ban on phone usage.

The MHRA confirmed that their guidance into mobile phone use in hospitals published last year had not been changed.

According to the agency's guidance, mobile communication equipment can be "essential in hospitals for good patient management", and a total ban on mobile phones is not required and cannot be enforced effectively.

However, mobiles create electromagnetic interference and should be switched off in sensitive areas, such as intensive care units.

The guidance states hospitals should also make sure their policies consider cameraphones potentially invading patient privacy, and the risk of ringtones being confused with alarms on medical equipment.

Wednesday, May 16

Patientline Petition


This week sees the nationwide launch of petition to the Government calling for a reduction in the cost of bedside TV and telephone calls in a hundred and fifty hospitals through Britain.
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Apparently Patientline is less than happy about this Petition and we are receiving reports of Patientline Staff removing part completed petitions (on instructions from senior staff) from Nursing Staff's workstations on hospital wards. We on this blog are at a loss to understand why Patienline management are so concerned about the paper petition. After all the Company has been locked in talks with the Department of Health for over a year to obtain government funding to do just what those that have signed the petition are demanding, lower priced telephone calls and TV viewing.

Meanwhile the debate about Patientline's operation in the Nation's hospitals steps up a gear with blog editor Peter Troy giving his reasons to BBC Journalists as to why he quit his contract with Patientline in response to their much discredited pricing policy and why the only solution to the increasing dissent with Patientline is political intervention.

Readers requesting a copy of the Patients In Need Petition should email
pt@patientsinneed.org.uk.
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Tuesday, May 15

The Cost of Water

Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink. An interesting piece over at One London.

Monday, May 14

Not Taking Care of Communications


Patientline - there is an alternative.
By Peter Troy


Apart from upsetting nursing staff and patients many Hospital Trusts and just about the entire press corps covering medical issues throughout Britain what have Patientline actually done for sick people in hospital? Well, they have provided 175,000 patients with their own personal bedside television, radio, internet and telephone units (BSUs) some with the facility to assist with the smooth running of hospitals such as providing a daily meal ordering service. In many of the hospitals where Patientline has installed the facility on the BSUs it provides medical staff with valuable medical notes at the bedside.

So why has Patientline's previously tarnished reputation gone from bad to worse in recent weeks

It is all to do with being fair, us Brits put up with a lot but when it comes to being unfair we as a nation get annoyed, very annoyed. This is being reflected in both national and local newspapers Patientline has annoyed the great British public

The recent 'price restructuring' is a lesson in corporate incompetence. By 30 April all of Patientlines' 175,000 BSUs across 160 hospitals had been ‘reflashed’ with the companies new prices. Out went the reduced rate for patients over 65; up went the out going call charge to 26 p (previously 10p) with a minimum call charge of 40p per minute; in came the new flat rate reduced charge of 2.90 per day (previously £3.50) and £7 for three days and £10 for 5 days sounds good but there is a sting in the tail.
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The company made lots of corporate noise about reducing prices, all well and good until one considers the detail. Patientline’s pre pay cards that are available from frequently faulty vending machines and frequently over stressed staff are only available in units of £3.50, £5, and £10. Paying by debit or credit card is not patient friendly either since only £5 units can be bought.
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Thus a short term patient seeking to buy three days TV and not use the exorbitantly charged telephones cannot actually pay £7.00 they have to hand over £10. The real sting comes when patients realise that the reduced rate TV has to be continually viewed - go for an operation and spend a day recovering the meter will still be running on the TV unit.

Patients over 65 are no longer able to pay the reduced rate of £1.70, the free telephone call to loved ones available on signing up to Patientline’s system was abolished as was the free half hours viewing.

It is all a sorry state of affairs and there is more detail to be found 'under the carpet'. It is not all Patientline’s fault, even though they have been greedy in their quest for contracts with hospital trusts. Some of the blame has to lie with government, The Patient Power programme which fuelled Patientline's expansion was very much hyped by Tony Blair and Alan Milburn (former Secretary of State for Health) five years ago.

The solution to the current unsatisfactory state of affairs is actually quite simple. The individual NHS Trusts should take over the Patientline operation as non profit making companies for the benefit providing a better service to patients which was the original idea.

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To help petition for lower charges from Patientlines email: pt@patientsinneed@pin.org.uk

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Sunday, May 13

The Sunday Quote



''The camera cannot lie. But it can be an accessory to the untruth.''

Harold Evans - Publishers, editor, best selling author and renowned authority on photo journalism.
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Above Tony Blair in his farwell speech at Trimdon Labour Club. The obvious caption is '' .... and did I tell you about the untruth that got away''.
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As regular readers will note the Sunday Quote (now in its fith year) has been 'rebranded' - clearly recent corporate observing has had a conditioning effect on the Editor!

Saturday, May 12

Patientline In the News Again


The Daily Mail today return to the Patientline charging issue. The Editor will post a detailed article later in the day, if his phone stops 'ringing' for long enough.
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In the meantime Daniel Martin's (an excellent journalist) piece and other comments can be read below by clicking below:
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not only
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but also
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Hands Up

A certain member of the EU Parliament has been complaining consistently about the habit of his fellows to vote in their chamber mainly by a show of hands.
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Graham Booth, one of the remaining UKIP MEPs, who avers that the well documented inaccuracies of the "show of hands" voting system in the European Parliament led him to make a call, last year, for full electronic voting, since the equipment is already in situ. That request, he says, was dismissed out of hand.
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Yesterday, in Brussels though, he triumphantly proclaimed that his call for electronic voting had been fully justified, when the most outrageous error to date was exposed. During voting on a report by Mr. Kaczmarek on "EU partnership in the Horn of Africa", amendment No. 5 was declared "Rejected" by the chairman Vidal Quadras, having assessed the show of hands "for" and "against" the amendment.
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An electronic check then revealed that it had actually been APPROVED by no less than 567 votes to 17 (with 18 abstentions). Quadras blamed the MEPs for "not holding their hands high enough".
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"I rest my case," says Mr Booth.