Junior doctors’ strike in the UK

Jeremy Hunt, the UK Secretary of State for Health, has urged the junior doctors’ representatives to return to the negotiation table.  This followed the most successful “junior doctors’ strike” in the UK. Doctors are complaining about the working conditions especially the new junior doctors’ contract to be introduced by the government. The contract in its essence increases the workload on doctors and puts patients at risk. There has been worldwide support to the junior doctors’ strike and all efforts have been made to ensure patients’ safety on that day.

Demand for rubber ‘threatens forests’

According to a report, protected forests in Southeast Asia are being threatened due to increasing worldwide demand for rubber tyres.
As swathes of tropical forests make way for rubber plantations, UK researchers say animal life, which is already, endangered, such as birds, bats and primates are at risk. According to Conservation Letters, it is estimated that by 2024, up to 8.5 million hectares of new rubber plantations will have to be created to meet demand. With the destruction of habitats, breeding grounds and food supplies, the impact on wildlife is potentially catastrophic.

Should we care?

The already endangered white-shouldered ibis, yellow-cheeked crested gibbon and clouded leopard are species, particularly under threat, report the team led by Eleanor Warren-Thomas, from the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA).
Can we do anything?

Dr Matthew Struebig, from the University of Kent, declared: “There’s a lot we can do …to make rubber production more wildlife-friendly.” She suggested incentives like agro-forestry – mixing rubber with other trees – to retaining patches of natural vegetation along rivers or in small conservation areas, as in organic farming in Europe. She went on to say: “The tyre industry consumes 70% of all natural rubber grown, and rising demand for vehicle and aeroplane tyres is behind the recent expansion of plantations. But the impact of this is a loss of tropical biodiversity.” 8.5 million hectares is roughly the size of Austria. Surely there’s a legitimate biodiversity concern here? Conservationists believe so. They are concerned that switching use of land to rubber cultivation can harm soil, water and biodiversity. As rubber is the most rapidly expanding tree crop in the Southeast Asia mainland, shouldn’t we take them seriously and halt this intrusion now? The first review of the effects on biodiversity and endangered species of this forest destruction could be compared to the problem that arose with palm oil; it is now linked to the growing tyre market.

The Philippines : The study reported that numbers of bird, bat and beetle species can decline by up to 75% in forests that have been converted to rubber.

Is developing more efficient sustainability initiatives the solution?

The researchers, from UEA and the University of Sheffield, are asking tyre manufacturers to support certification scheme initiatives.

This must surely be key to protecting our forests and wildlife, whilst fulfilling demand, by creating a standard endorsed by the public, and scientists, to manage rubber crops in a more environmentally friendly way?

Gene therapy: ‘Tame HIV’ used to cure disease

A pioneering treatment to correct errors in DNA, has transformed the lives of six boys with a deadly genetic disease, doctors declare. For people suffering Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome (WAS), a defective immune system leaves people susceptible to infections and bleeding.

A British and French study, published in JAMA, has used tamed HIV to correct the irregularities. A child wheelchair-user now has free mobility and there are improvements in other cases. The syndrome affects up to 10 children in every 1 million, almost exclusively boys.

Patients suffering the condition find that tiny bumps and scrapes can lead to wounds that are slow to close. Eczema is often present and they face repeat infections including pneumonia as well as some cancers and autoimmune diseases. It arises from an error in the genetic code that contains the building instructions for a key element in the immune system, a protein called WAS. The main therapy is bone marrow transplant; however that can only be considered when the donor is a close tissue match, such as from a sibling.

Great Ormond Street Hospital, in London, and Necker Children’s Hospital, in France have conducted trials to remove a part of the children’s bone marrow and purify it to find the cells that regenerate the immune system. Afterwards, the corrected bone marrow cells were then inserted back in the children. The outcome was so positive that in six out of seven boys, the therapy was a success. It reversed symptoms and drastically cut the number of nights spent in hospital.

Daniel Wheeler, who is now 15 and from Bristol, was the first British patient. His older brother died from the same condition when he was two-and-a-half. Their mum Sarah told the BBC News website: “Daniel was in and out of hospital, he had frequent infections of ear, chest, flare-ups and bruised joints, and lots of operations.”

Prof Adrian Thrasher, from Great Ormond Street Hospital, told the BBC News website: “I think it is very significant, it is another clear and powerful demonstration that a gene therapy approach is an effective one.” Prof Ian Alexander from the Gene Therapy Research Unit at Sydney’s Children’s Medical Research Institute in Australia said although the work was promising, it was “still early days”.

When all medicine, even Paracetamol, has risks, couldn’t interfering with genetic code bring huge dangers? Several trials have been abandoned as patients developed leukaemia when the modification turned healthy cells cancerous. But those trials did show one thing – the underlying principle worked. Could gene therapy be about to come in from the cold?

Climate change: an urgent need to act

Climate change has become a global issue and residents of countries across the world are beginning to stand up and voice their opinions on perceived lack of action. The constant back and forth between world superpowers over the issue turned it in to a problem that many governments are too willing to place far down their list of priorities.

The problem
Global warming is happening because carbon dioxide and other gases produced by humans are collecting in the atmosphere, causing the world to slowly heat up. The effects of the problem are already beginning to show, with world temperatures rising in the past 50 years at the quickest rates ever recorded. Issues caused by the problem are likely to affect our water resources, agricultural capabilities, energy supplies, transportation and ecosystems.

Protests
On the 21st of September 2014, in over 200 locations worldwide, thousands of people came out to protest at lack of global action, with a 310,000 strong rally in New York attended by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon. These demonstrations wanted countries to cut carbon emissions, but the question is did any world leaders take notice? Will they make a change?

World leaders
Next year the United Nations will meet in Paris to discuss a plan for a global agreement on climate change. For the first time in 20 years it is expected that countries, including the worst offenders for carbon emissions, will make a binding legal agreement on how to make a change.

The problem that is expected to happen at the conference is that superpowers such as the USA, India and Russia will make unreasonable demands for emissions allowances. In preparation for this, Mr Moon tried to organise an informal discussion on the 26 September 2014, but many world leaders failed to attend. Are countries not taking the issue seriously enough? What are the best solutions to the problem? Will the Paris conference make a difference?

Taking action
In the end, it is in the hands of the people of the world to make sure their governments are taking it seriously. For instance, in the UK, voters must make sure that a dedication to climate change is in the winning party’s manifesto at the 2015 general election.

Climate change is not an impossible problem, there are technologies being developed all the time which will harness natural resources to create energy. Wind farming, solar power and hydroelectricity are underused; it is a global dedication to change which is needed to move away from fossil fuels.

Whether or not the Paris conference has a positive outcome, or leaves the worst culprits of carbon emission in a position to continue poisoning the earth remains to be seen.

Ashya King: lessons to be learned

The parents of 5 year old Ashya King were released from a Spanish prison after a European arrest warrant against them was cancelled; this arose following their actions to smuggle him out of Southampton General Hospital and travel to Spain, believing he was not getting the best care and that his condition would deteriorate. They wanted Ashya, who has a brain tumour, to receive treatment at the Proton Therapy Centre in Prague.

However, the full force of the Law immediately swung into action, involving the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Hampshire Constabulary. The couple were arrested, handcuffed, separated from their son and thrown into prison, simply for loving their son and wanting the best possible treatment for him.

Justice for the Kings
Only after a sustained cry of public protest ensued, involving the Prime Minister, were the parents re-united with their desperately ill son. By now the child was confused, depressed and lying alone in a foreign hospital, adding to the family’s anguish.

Mr King said: “We want to help our son get through this bad time because he hasn’t got too many months to live and we’re locked away in a cell…”

Mrs King, said: “I just want to wet his mouth because he can’t drink through his mouth, I want to brush his teeth, I want to turn him side to side every 15 minutes because he can’t move.”

Yet, he could still see and feel emotions. Would deprivation of a mother and father’s comfort help Ashya? How would the little boy’s confidence and trust be impacted long term? The story has touched the hearts of people worldwide.

We have since learnt that the private clinic in the Czech Republic can treat Ashya.

Duty of care v parents love
The CPS said the risk to Ashya’s life “was not as great or immediate as had been originally thought.” The parents had ordered specialist foods to care for Ashya, and had managed to charge the food pump.

Doctors have a duty of care to do the best for their patients. Do loving, devoted parents also have a right to disagree with their decisions? Isn’t there a case for decent common sense to prevail?

On the other hand, what sort of outcry would have happened if the doctors had let him go without a word and the boy had died? What would this say about his medical care?

The parents have won their brave fight against the institutions yet only after the healthcare system, the police and prosecutors were ruthless in their pursuit of them.

Was their only crime to opt out of receiving NHS care? Having allowed their son to be treated by the NHS they couldn’t escape its clutches and were punished if they dared to disobey the rules? Was this the fault of the doctors or a heavy handed NHS?

Should we question a healthcare system that, instead of apologising to the parents when they thought the service was not good enough, reacted with an unpleasant uproar?

Clearly, there are some lessons to be learned.

Extremism and brainwashing kids at school – A crime against humanity?

In recent weeks, the issue of extremism and brainwashing in UK schools has once again re-occurred in the media and in parliament.

Specifically, education secretary Nicky Morgan announced that there would be certain school reforms following ‘disturbing’ findings in Birmingham schools.

These findings were uncovered by education commissioner Peter Clarke. He was appointed to the role when a letter, detailing what was happening in certain schools in the Midland, was uncovered.

Known as the ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ letter, it showed plans to push a more Islamist doctrine in some schools – ousting any teacher who did not actively follow the same agenda.

The report

In his report, Clarke found that in some Birmingham Schools there was an Islamist ethos that was not only “intolerant” but also “aggressive”.

In some cases, sexism, homophobia and hostility to other forms of extremism were being actively promoted.

Clearly, this level of intolerance is not acceptable within our schools, primarily because of the ease with which children are easily led.

How do you solve the brainwashing and extremism problem?

In response to Clarke’s findings, Morgan introduced two new reforms, aimed at helping head teachers to overcome any obstacles in running their schools in the correct manner.

She introduced a new education commissioner for Birmingham, where the majority of extremism is in evidence, as well as a new board of head teachers for staff to receive extra support.

These new tiers of oversight were specifically created to support teachers, making sure that extremist views are not influencing their work.

The responsibility placed on the shoulders of a teacher, at both primary and secondary level, is often a heavy burden to carry.

And it is important that they are properly supported and regularly assessed, to make sure the curriculum is being taught correctly.

Religious extremism needs to be avoided and an understanding of difference and diversity should be instilled in our school system.

Conclusion – a crime against humanity

The period up until the age of 18, is one of the most important periods in a person’s life. The ability to absorb information will never be better and a child’s ideals are very often moulded at this time.

For this very reason, brainwashing children to extremist views can be seen as a crime against humanity.

Children have the right to have a balanced upbringing, where an innate tolerance and understanding of cultural and religious diversity is a strong platform for the future.

If our children are influenced by extremist versions of religion, humanity will suffer when our society becomes more fractured and intolerant.

Are Whistleblowers being treated fairly?

Whistleblowers are being victimised when they go back to work.

A recent government report found that whistleblowers were often victimised and bullied after exposing misconduct in companies and public services in the UK.

As the expenditure of public money is often shrouded in a cloud of secrecy, a whistleblower can give us an insider’s perspective – divulging valuable information that lies within the public interest.

Legally protected

The act of whistle blowing is covered, in law, by the 1998 Public Disclosure Act.

For information to be leaked legally, it must be proven to relate to malpractice or criminality.

Atrocities such as the police cover up of the Hillsborough disaster have been revealed because of whistleblowers and it remains an important way to uncover wrong doing.

The second section of the law states that whistleblowers have the “right not to suffer detriment”.

This rule is more difficult to enact because the public body or company, and fellow employees, often suffer as a result of the whistleblowing.

Upon returning to the workplace, whistleblowers are often treated with disdain. They are harassed and bullied and although covered legally, it is difficult to reprimand those who are singling them out.

The report says that: “the whistleblowers fears of reprisal are often justified, and such experiences are likely to deter other employees from raising a concern”.

How is it possible to fairly treat whistleblowers?

If whistleblowers do not feel like they are protected then they are less likely to reveal important evidence.

It is thus important that we push for those who victimise whistleblowers to be given harsher punishments.

Although the law currently protects whistleblowers, punishments for harassment are not nearly heavy enough.

Companies and public services should be forced to do everything in their power to make sure that this consistent problem does not occur.

Conclusion

The report states that: “Where the identity of whistleblowers is known, departments must ensure that they are protected, supported and have their welfare monitored”.

It also offers three suggestions to how companies should work with whistleblowers:
1. “Ownership from the top by assigning a board member who is accountable for the proper treatment of whistleblowers”.
2. “Providing whistleblowers with appropriate support and advice, such as access to legal and counselling services”.
3. “Appropriate and swift sanctions against employees, at all levels in the organisation, if they victimise whistleblowers”.

All of these suggestions, especially the third recommendation, would help to make the life of a whistleblower easier. In turn, this would make it more likely for people to come forward and expose issues which are of great importance to us all.

Tony Blair: False information and war

Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and ‘Middle East Peace Envoy’, has urged the government to take action in Iraq or face terror attacks on British soil. These comments sound strikingly familiar as the legacy of 2003’s invasion is highlighted by mass-killing in the Middle East. Indeed, the former PM sent tens of thousands of British troops to Iraq while warning the UK about weapons of mass destruction. However, Blair rejects claims that he is partly responsible for the current destruction taking place in Iraq and the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands of humans.

“We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that ‘we’ have caused this. We haven’t. We can argue as to whether our policies at points have helped or not: and whether action or inaction is the best policy. But the fundamental cause of the crisis lies within the region not outside it,” writes Blair in a recent essay.

Blair is correct in saying that issues within Iraq – such as religious extremism – have fuelled the carnage, but didn’t he have a role in lighting the match?
Blair took the UK to war, following the lead of the Bush Administration, on the account of Saddam Hussein’s alleged ability to launch weapons of mass destruction (WMD) at 45 minutes notice and the links to terrorism. This has proven to be false, however, and it seems that the intelligence was either dangerously flawed or hugely exaggerated to gain public backing.

The French government didn’t believe it and President Jacques Chirac refused to back the UN because the US-UK claims of WMD weren’t backed up by a shred of evidence. Across 600 cities, almost 10 million people protested against the invasion on one single day. London was the one of these cities and Londoners, in general, have rejected the war which has led to the death of many British Soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Now as militants cause bloodshed across the fragile nation and there is a real risk of destabilising the whole middle east which will lead to more human suffering, Blair has called for a ‘selective use of air power’ while washing his hands of any responsibility. “Even if you had left Saddam in place in 2003, with the Arab revolutions in 2011, you would have still had a major problem in Iraq,” he said. “You can see what happens when you leave a dictator in place, as has happened with Assad now. The problems don’t go away,” continued Blair.

The former PM is probably right, the problems don’t go away. It is unlikely, however, that the problem would be a brutal sectarian war between Sunnis and Shias. The current events in Iraq raise the question of whether it is time for leaders like Blair to rethink our stance on intervention. Is it time to make a case for choosing between the more palatable of two problem situations, rather than always intervening with force?

Saddam Husain will rightly be remembered as a murderous war criminal. However, Iraq’s current crisis only highlights the fact that the country was more stable under his dictatorship than it is now. This alarming realisation demonstrates how the invasion of Iraq, based on false information, was a complete failure. Perhaps Blair should be pointing the UK away from another war. We still do not know the Blair’s agenda behind the war…but can we still trust him? Or is he simply a war criminal? If so, then why is he not being prosecuted for war crimes and only judged by history.