It’s April Fools Day, citizen

A magnificent range of April Fools Day japes for you this year.
1. Food banks. In the UK. And not organised by the Disasters Emergency Committee after an unexpected tsunami in Kent.
Organised by charities and churches and individuals who find themselves disturbed to live in a society in which so many of their fellow citizens are going hungry.
So hungry that they first have to swallow any residual pride they have somehow maintained – in the face of a media that’s hellbent on demonising anyone who’s sick or disabled or poor, and then go to beg for donated tinned goods and dried pasta.

2. A Bedroom tax… This sounds charmingly antique, like the window tax that existed from 1696 to 1851.
(You’d think the conservatives would have learned their lesson about the folly of reintroducing historical taxes after the Poll Tax but it appears not. )
The bedroom tax will mean an average £14 a week cut to people who are – by definition – so poor that they are already turning up at food banks in droves.

3. NHS reform reorganization carve-up. Pissup/brewery, enough said.

4. Many many more, ad nauseam. These are no longer funny.

5. Oh, yeah, a potential rerun of the Korean war with nukes.

Where is a bloody Atheist Rapture Index when you need it?

Defaming the NHS

The British have succeeded in putting a price tag on human life, as we are about to. (from IBD editorials)

This ridiculous line suggests that there may even be some justice to the cliche that the Americans don’t understand irony. Because the writer obviously didn’t spot the irony in attributing the flaws of the US healthcare “system” to the NHS.

Let me spell it out. “A price tag on human life” is the price you have to pay when you don’t have good – or, indeed, any – health insurance. You know, like millions of people in the USA.

In the UK, we don’t have to worry about there being a price tag on our lives. The cost of UK healthcare comes out of our taxes, paid almost unnoticeably when we are well. So, we can just worry about being sick, rather than being sick as well as destitute because we are sick.

The NHS is great. It is generally free at the point of delivery. Almost everyone in the UK loves it, whatever their political views.

(However, if you really want to pay for private insurance and private healthcare, there is nothing to stop you. You’re not obliged to take the free version, which tends to be inferior to the private sector only in terms of the quality of the hotel services and in the speed with which you can get elective surgery.)

Hat tip to Respectful Insolence for drawing attention to this article as a sample of the dangerous lies being spread in the USA about the British National Health Service.

Respectful Insolence quoted a staggeringly stupid paragraph from the first version of the IBD editorials post. They claimed that Stephen Hawking (UK citizen) would have been left to die if he had had to rely on the NHS (for which I think he’s certainly got reason to be grateful). There’s a screenshot of this comedic claim on cheezburger.com

All the same, there are other assertions in the IBD editorials post that are just as absurd as the Stephen Hawking fantasy.

The controlling of medical costs in countries such as Britain through rationing, and the health consequences thereof are legendary. The stories of people dying on a waiting list or being denied altogether read like a horror movie script.

This is “legendary”, indeed. However, the word “mythical” might have been a better choice.

These stories may read like a horror movie script because they are exactly as true as the average horror movie script.

Health care isn’t “rationed” in the UK. Nor is it shared out according to a mad points system, contrary to the claims in this article that:

The more points you have, the more your life is considered worth saving, and the likelier you are to get care.

This article falsely suggests that the NHS operates some sort of non-voluntary euthanasia policy. This is so far from the truth that it is not even living in an adjacent galaxy.

In Sickness and in Health

“Doctors want right to talk faith” according to an item on the BBC health page about a BMA conference. The piece starts:

Doctors are demanding that NHS staff be given a right to discuss spiritual issues with patients as well as being allowed to offer to pray for them. (from the BBC website)

Doctors? Do NHS “doctors”, in general, feel that they have so much spare consultation time on their hands that they need to fill it with philosophical discussion? Well, no.

It’s those pesky members of organisations like Christian Voice, again. In this case it’s the “Christian Medical Fellowship”

The CMF web page title says :”a Christian perspective on Working Overseas, Ethics, Christian Apologetics, Abortion, Evangelism, Faith in Practice and Medical Training” This is too big to show in a browser title bar but you have to admire how comprehensively it gives the flavour of their interests.

They claim to represent 4,500 British doctors. (Scary, huh, if true?) The centrality of proselytizing to their goals can be seen in the literature offered by HealthServe, their overseas mission wing.

Isa Masih, meaning ‘Jesus the Messiah’, was published from July 1996 – April 1999. These back issues contain news from the Muslim world and resources for Christian students who are working towards bringing the good news of Jesus the Messiah to Muslims in universities and other tertiary institutions worldwide. …

What’s spurred their efforts to influence the BMA was the case of a Somerset nurse who offered to pray for a patient, was suspended then reinstated.

This is the sort of issue that the rabid wing of Christianity loves to make much of, and the media love to treat their complaints as news. (Auxiliary nurses told not to wear crosses and all that.) All following a goal of making religious fanaticism seem mainstream and “Christianity” under threat.

A mainstream CofE vicar (debating the issue with a man from the National Secular Society on BBC Breakfast) was aware that an unsolicited offer to pray for a patient would make her seem like the angel of death.

How much more terrifying to a sick person, if the volunteer pray-er is the doctor or nurse who is treating a patient?

If they really think prayer works, wtf can’t they just go off and do it without having to involve the prayee?

I will charitably pretend that they don’t just want to add numbers to a roll of converts (although this is the likeliest explanation for this evangelising) and that they really want to help people. In that case they must instinctively know that any efficacy of prayer comes from the power of suggestion. The prayers, crosses, and so on, are magical rituals and charms that rely on the expectations of the target.

The placebo effect, if it helps anyone get better. However, even the suggestion that your medical professional wants to pray for you would have a pretty definite nocebo effect on anyone, as it suggests that your doctor thinks you are beyond earthly hope.

of course, as the Chaplain pointed out the other day, if Christians really believed in heaven, why would the sick bother trying to stay alive? Or why would believing doctors be so cruel as to try to keep people away from their happy-ever-after afterlife?

Joke science

Coffee makes you hallucinate. (Yeah, right….) Well, it says so in a piece of research reported in lots of today’s UK papers.

The NHS Choices website says that

This bizarre claim is based on research into 219 students who answered questionnaires on caffeine intake, hallucinations and feelings of persecution. Various other news sources have reported the study, including the Daily Mail, which says that “drinking cup after cup of coffee dramatically increases the risk of hallucinating”.

Hmm, what percentage of 219 students reporting that they hallucinate after drinking coffee isn’t taking the piss? (~0% is my rough guess.)

This hallucinogenic coffee must be the best-kept secret on the planet. After centuries of coffee drinking, noone else has ever reported a caffeine -induced hallucination but these researchers found enough coffee-trippers in of a sample of 219 students to generate comparative results.

The NHS website demolishes the “coffee makes you hallucinate” claims quite comprehensively. This is reassuring in terms of the quality of NHS advice, after spuriously precise numbers of fruit-and-vegetables to eat or steps to take every day had made me a tad sceptical.

It’s obvious why the press excitedly report such nonsense (Ben Goldacre has pretty well said everything that needs to be said on that subject). But why do research projects that a 10 year-old could find gaping flaws in get done at all?

(sparing their blushes, no names) …of the Department of Psychology, Durham University carried out this research. No sources of funding were reported. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Oh yes, publication targets for academics and universities. Publish or be damned.

Have your hate

I suspect the Twat-O-Tron has been at work on the BBC’s Have Your Say (HYS) pages once more. One of todays “discussion” topics is Should immigration be cut because of the downturn? As you can imagine, this sort of thing really does bring the spiteful, uneducated, masses out of the dark, hate-filled world they normally hide in.

As always, a second-rate politician has found a topic they can grand-stand on, which appeals to the base instincts of the public:

The economic downturn will mean fewer people from outside the European Union are allowed to live and work in Britain, the UK Immigration Minister Phil Woolas has suggested.
Mr Woolas told the Times newspaper that in times of economic difficulty, racial stereotyping gets stronger so jobs should go primarily to those who live here.
He said when people were losing their jobs, immigration had become an extremely thorny issue.
Mr Woolas said the government would not allow the population to go up to 70 million.

I doubt more than a handful of people outside his constituency had heard of Mr Woolas before this, but he has achieved his goal. His “inspiring” comments have drawn quite a bit of attention to him.

Predictably, at the time of writing anyway, the weight of comments on HYS is in support of this madness. It seems that people have an arbitrary idea of what means someone is “British” enough to be here. On its own, this is bizarre enough but it seems there is a new version of logic available to these people. Each of these seem to fall into a theme.

The first is made up from people who are slightly misled:

UK Government must respond to the changing economic situation by making drastic cuts in the non EU workers coming to work and live in UK.With recession knocking on our doors resulting in job losses and increase in unemployment it will be folley to allow the immigration at the present level. Immigration must be restricted to needed skilled workers only. [By the miracle of irony, this comment was from “Mohan Lal Ramchandani, Westhoughton, United Kingdom”]

Non-EU migrant workers are, despite scare-mongering stories, few and far between in the UK. There are already regulations in place to restrict this migration to skilled workers, which is why the non-EU migrants tend to be in highly specialised professions (Doctors for example). Now, as with all things, the jobs are open to everyone – if British doctors are either unable to take the job, or unwilling to work at the market rate, then why on Odin’s Earth shouldn’t non-EU immigrants do the work?

Worryingly for non-xenophobic lunatics, the jobs lost in the recession are always certainly going to hit “British” workers before they hit migrants; the migrants are already paid peanuts. This will provide an arsenal of madness for the xenophobes and it is worrying that the Immigration Minister didn’t think before he spoke. Well done HM Government.

The next category is the weird, irrelevant, analogy:

At last. Well done for your comments hear. This country could easily be swamped by immigration. The world population is spiralling out of control.
In the Ciaro area for example, there are more than 1.5 million every year, and there is no way enough jobs can be created, despite Egypt’s economic growth.
Rubbish just piles up in the streets, alongside dead animals and roaming packs of unempoyed young men. A worrying vision for a future UK city? [Phil, Enfield]

Typo’s aside, this madness. I have been Cairo and it looked very different to that. However, even if “Phil” was 100% accurate it carries a huge so what. London is not Cairo. The differences are immense, even if UK councils have gone down the road of less and less frequent rubbish collection…

The inevitable empty rant also has its place:

I just cant express my anger at the way in which New Labour have allowed immigration to run riot over the last 11 years in only 500 words.
To announce a cap on immigration now, after the NHS and almost every other public body in the country have been saying for years that they cant cope with the current influx beggars belief, and I just dont believe that they will have the strength to stand up to the namby pamby lefties who put the needs of foreigners before those of brits.
Shut the door today [Downingstreet Mole, Leominster, United Kingdom]

Basically, this is someone who is just plain angry. They don’t really have anything to say and there is no coherent argument. They just wanted to rant about leftwingers. Well done them. Oddly, and sadly for the tabloids, most immigrant workers don’t put pressure on the NHS. People who are earning less than minimum wage aren’t really in a position to take a few days off sick. People who are here, living 30 to a house, dont make a huge dent in the NHS dentistry budget. Yes, a small percentage do use the health service but most don’t. They cant afford to.

Conspiracy theorists have to get their oar in:

please remember we live on an island, and not a very big island at that.
tony blairs government idea of a multicultral country is and was flawed from the outset forgetting history and the fact this little island is not big enough for too many people to live on safely.
the only reason the government invited so many in was to gain supportand ultimately engineer staying in power longer, ignoring indiginous minorities infavour of incoming peoples.
it has to stop now.[delminister, truro, United Kingdom]

Well, this is odd. There are quite a few which have made this claim (or a variation thereof). It strikes me as odd, because Labour’s managed to get in power while a Conservative government held the seat. So, did Labour have a secret load of migrants to vote for them or is this just nonsense? Equally weird, migrants dont get to vote… Truly, the world of HYS is bizarre.

Staying with the madness we get this:

Everyone I speak to from the UK complains about immigration.
The Government ignores what the population of the UK wants. A stop to it.
For this reason alone, regardless of any supposed economic benefits, it should be stopped.[Will de Beest, Spain]

(Spain! Ha). Basically this implies that the government shouldn’t mind about the benefits or costs of a policy, but should just do what ever the subset of the population this nutcase talks to want. Wow. Wouldn’t that lead to a Utopia.

“What are you going to say to the employer who is desperate to fill a job, but can’t find anyone suitable in the European economic area?”
Keith Best, chief executive, Immigration Advisory Service
Is this for real? – is this guy seriously suggesting that there are jobs out there that can not be filled by anyone from within the EU, let alone this country?
If that is the case then maybe the employer should take his business elsewhere.[Graham Duncan, United Kingdom]

Erm, yes. That is what Keith Best is saying, If the employer can’t find some one from the EU he takes his business elsewhere and employs from outside the EU. It is a shame that (on HYS) British-loving seems to mean the same as idiot. This is a milder version where a poor sense of history has conspired to create the idiocy:

We were once a proud nation at peace with itself and common sense lived here it was so good everyone else wanted to live here.
Our grandfathers had worked hard and sacrificed much to make this county Great but immigration reversed all that. Broke, and under shortsighted leadership we have given away more than we could afford.
Should immigration be cut YES, in all honesty it should have been stopped years ago. [Tom J-P[, Byfleet]

There isn’t really all that much I can say to that, other than no.

The comments continue to be a mix of racist, mad or just daft, although having just refreshed them I see there is some balance there now. The oddest part is that people are in favour of immigration laws (which will only affect non-EU migrants) because they want to reduce the number of EU migrants. It really is that stupid.

Worryingly (for the UK) it does show how stupid our electorate is, and how easily they can be misdirected by a slightly cunning politician. I really do think that democracy doesn’t work – most people are too thick.

Ironically, if we did institute a system where people who could barely read or write English were deported, we’d be stuck as most of them (using HYS as my non-scientific, non-representative sample) would have been born here…

Abandoned babies

Finding a new-born baby in a bag on your doorstep seems to be becoming a minor hazard. Today, one was found in Birmingham. One was found in Liverpool on 25 September. South Lanarkshire on 7th August. A stillborn baby was found in Hackney in April.

It’s not just the UK. A Times article reported that Italian hospitals had introduced a higher tech version of the foundling wheel – a device that lets mothers deposit babies where they could be found – in response to rising numbers. Germany and Japan have “baby hatches”

Baby abandoning is very rare. So you can’t really identify a trend here. Granted, there are always going to be mentally disturbed or desperate or stupid women. There are always going to be individual lives that are tragic. All the same, it bears examination. Typically, mammals abandon their babies under extreme survival stress.. This explanation applies in many parts of the world where lack of access to contraception compound the effect of living on the edge of survival.

So, why is this happening in the richest countries in the world? In Western Europe, an unwillingly pregnant woman can get access to abortion. There are adoption agencies that can’t find enough babies for people who want them. There are a whole range of social and medical services that should enable a child to stay with its mother.

It seems to me that one thing that could contribute to ever higher numbers of abandoned babies is the Fortress Europe mentality. Access to health and social services is increasingly denied to the people who fall under the radar – failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.

Ever-tightening ID nets – where access to services depends on ID, as discussed last week – mean that more and more people live in an invisible underclass in the UK. The health impacts include increasing numbers of people without access to basic health care. Which includes contraception, abortion and maternity services.

The consequences could be much more wide-reaching than a potential rise in the numbers of dead and abandoned babies and greater maternal mortality (horrible as these are). What about communicable diseases? Do you really want people without the right ID documents to get treatment to be spreading TB around your neighbourhood?

Public health is public health. Circumscribing access to public health services might seem like a wise move in terms of short-term economic targets. It might make the Daily Mail readership feel that their tax money isn’t being spent on people they don’t want to support. So, there are political forces impelling this sort of exclusionary policy. But it is basically demented.

Medical staff aren’t deliberately not treating socially-invisible people. The system is doing the rationing for them. If you lack an entitlement card, you won’t see a doctor.

The cost of restricting entitlement is much greater than the cost of providing the treatments. Surely, a system could be devised that was flexible enough to stop exploitative health tourism without marginalising people.

Call me as selfish as you like, but I would rather take the chance that the odd illegal immigrant gets their bunions treated courtesy of my tax pounds than that I contract cholera or Ebola because the system offers no point of entry for a sick person.

Chaplains cut

There has been a cut of 54,000 NHS chaplain-hours, according to research by Theos, a theological “think-tank”. Theos admits that this might seem like less than an unmitigated disaster to some of us:

Cue secularist delight, with something like the following logic. “The NHS exists to provide clinical care. The NHS necessarily subsists on a limited budget. NHS funds, therefore, should not pay for anything but clinical care.”

Indeed. Good points. There is a constant debate over health spending. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence refuses to pay for lots of treatments because they are too expensive in relation to the benefits they might bring. So paying vicars would be my first choice for applying a cut.

Theos argued that hospital chaplains provide many services beyond bedside praying:

they are there to answer needs that are simply human: coping with the death of a loved one, the suffering of a child, the fear that comes with injury or sickness.

Well, why not provide trained non-sectarian counsellors instead?

Unless every church has a few dozen religious folk on its staff to cover the whole variety of beliefs, surely most people will get the wrong flavour of vicar/deacon/minister/priest/imam/guru/rabbi or moderator of the church of Scotland anyway?

There’s a joke on scientia natura blog based on the deep rancour between believers whose ideas are indistinguishable to outsiders. Let alone between warring religious belief systems. Is it likely that a sick Wee Free Scottish Presbyterian would welcome the ministrations of a priest? That a rabbi would be welcomed by a grieving Muslim family?

Theos’ stand on this is quite miffed. (It is a “theological discussion” site, remember….)

Where chaplaincy provision is removed it is not replaced by secular pastoral support – assuming “You are only a ‘lumbering robot’ programmed by your genes so you shouldn’t fear an eternity of non-existence,” qualifies as pastoral support. Instead, it is simply lost to those most in need.

(I personally would be quite cheered by a deathbed counsellor who said something like that.)

Admittedly, NHS chaplains don’t force their attentions on the unwilling. However, the appearance of “caring” soul-seeking religious vampires can be one of the minor horrors of serious illness for non-believers and half-arsed believers alike. I know of a Catholic mother who called in a priest to sneakily administer the last rites to her (unconscious) dying atheist daughter, over the very strongly-expressed wishes of the dying woman’s husband.

There is a subtle idea underpinning the whole concept of the NHS chaplain that expresses the silly ” no atheists in foxholes” myth. This is that fear can not only overpower reason but that it should. Some things are too hard to bear. If our levels of fear or grief or pain are really enormous, we start craving for impossible, magical solutions and trying to bargain our way out. That seems to be a natural part of being a human. It doesn’t make religion true.

Religions promise false escape routes, in exchange for believing their myths, observing their regulations and, usually, handing over a contribution. This is basically taking advantage of the sick and grieving. So, I’d have to say that the loss of a 54,000 chaplain-hours is at least another half a million chaplain hours too few.

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Gratuitous aside for connoisseurs of tv so bad that it’s good
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Does anyone else remember an ultra-low-budget Scottish 1980s daytime tv production called “Airport Chaplain?” The entire series was in that title….
Storylines were things like “man has heart attack on plane. He needs the last rites! But there’s a snowstorm and a priest can’t get there in time! Can the C of E airport chaplain get away with delivering the last rites?”

It was so beyond any concepts of “naff” or “camp” that my brother and I even produced a fanzine for it.