Letters: Yet another health secretary looks to technology to save the NHS

Steve Barclay - TOLGA AKMEN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Steve Barclay - TOLGA AKMEN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

SIR – Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, pins his hopes on technology solving the problems of the NHS. In 1990, before his disastrous reorganisation of the health service, Kenneth Clarke said much the same thing. On that occasion computers were the solution.

Technology has its place but, having worked in the NHS for more than 40 years, I can say that by far the greatest priority for politicians and senior administrators alike is staffing. We need adequate numbers of high-quality staff in the NHS and, having attracted them, we must retain them.

Dr Tim Cantor
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

SIR – Another NHS IT project. Surely it can’t fail.

Michael Baker
Nawton, North Yorkshire

SIR – An elderly neighbour had a stroke on Sunday. Her son sought the help of neighbours, my daughter and son-in-law, who are both GPs. An ambulance had already been called and, despite my son-in-law being able to give the call handler medical details, the handler could not say when the ambulance would turn up. Eventually, they wrapped the frail 92-year-old in a blanket and, with great difficulty, got her into a car and drove her to the nearest hospital, 17 miles away.

I lived in Naples in the 1990s when cars were often used to ferry people to hospital and a white handkerchief was waved out of the window to alert other drivers. Is this really what it has come to in this country in the 21st century?

Kate Watson
Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire

SIR – I know of one NHS Trust that trialled a “hospitals at home” scheme in 2014-2015. It was contracted out to a company that was not primarily a health care provider, and was an abject failure.

My mother, aged 88 and unsteady on her feet, was sent home from hospital with a backpack of equipment and cheerful assurances that her care would be of hospital standard. Alone one night after a family member had settled her into bed (when the scheduled nursing assistant visit failed to take place), she suffered a fall.

She was found the next morning, having lain for hours with her foot trapped against a hot radiator, by the same family member. Her red button alarm was on her bedside table. There was no response from the dedicated and supposedly 24-hour helpline, nor was there ever a response from the company concerned. My mother died a few days later.

If the “hospitals at home” plan is to be implemented, it must be rigorously supervised and not contracted out at the lowest cost. Resources adequate to ensure good-quality, reliable care must be guaranteed and not subject to the whims of politicians. The cost saving to the NHS could be considerable but this must not be at the expense of the elderly and vulnerable.

Penelope Sizeland
Plymouth, Devon

Tory self-sabotage

SIR – The endless revelations about Conservative sleaze, lies, criminal behaviour, attempted cover-ups, porn scandals, serious breaches of the ministerial code and contempt for the law and the electorate make this current Government the most unfit to lead the nation in living memory.

The Tories have sadly condemned themselves to the political wilderness. They lack top-level managerial ability, leadership, good judgment and a moral compass. They have nobody to blame but themselves for the horrible mess in which they find themselves and deserve to lose the next election.

Kim Potter
Lambourn, Berkshire

Ipso and Wagner

SIR – In September 2022, Yevgeny Prigozhin made international headlines when he admitted, after years of denials, that he was the founder of the private Russian military company, Wagner.

Before that revelation, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) was among many organisations to receive complaints from him that contained inaccuracies about his involvement (“Putin’s warlord used British lawyers to try to silence me – and the press watchdog happily indulged him”, Features, January 28). His complaint to Ipso was concluded within five months, without the involvement of external lawyers or any investigation by Ipso.

The abuse of systems of redress to make false complaints is wrong and always a matter of regret. But in this case, as well as many others, Ipso provided a faster and less expensive resolution than the legal system, and therefore limited the impact on the journalists who were rightly investigating Prigozhin’s activities.

Lord Faulks KC
Chair, Ipso
London, EC4

In our thoughts

SIR – A message for Esther Rantzen: please keep battling on. You have given so much to both young and old. You are the epitome of how life should be lived – with irreverence, humour and great love and caring. And you have so much more to teach us all.

Martyn Bennett

Antisocial media

SIR – The actress and presenter Emily Atack’s awful experiences of being pursued on social media highlight what a menace it is.

Young people, in particular, seem obsessed with it and the sad little world they access via their phones. The billionaires who launched the various platforms are only interested in profit, and anyone who imagines they will put a stop to online harassment are living in dreamland.

There is one simple way to avoid all this, and that is to do what a number of celebrities have done: revert to using personal emails and text messages.

Bob Kingsland
Stroud, Gloucestershire

Hey presto

SIR – Jennifer Dean (Letters, January 30) played music in class to calm her pupils. I found that playing the William Tell Overture to my class of seven-year-olds increased the speed at which they changed for PE.

Liz Boniface
Blackpool, Lancashire

Welby's royal role

SIR – The Archbishop of Canterbury would do well to concern himself with the “plight” of poor and disadvantaged families in his own parish rather than that of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – who, of their own volition, abandoned their royal duties and moved to another country, where they have acquired considerable wealth by criticising and complaining about damage done to them as a result of being part of the Royal family.

Why, in that case, would they wish to attend the King’s coronation?

Robina Williams
Hove, East Sussex

Mankad in cricket

SIR – You report (Sport, January 26) that there is a move to ban Mankad dismissals in amateur cricket. It is never good to vary the rules at different levels. Cricket should be one game with one set of rules.

An alternative approach would be to ban the Mankad at all levels but to give the umpire the right to strike off a run as “incomplete” if the player at the non-striking end sets off too early, just as would happen if a batsman turned before fully reaching the crease at the other end. This could be accompanied with a warning system, perhaps with three warnings leading to dismissal.

Gerry Wareham
Pocklington, East Yorkshire

Judge vs jury

SIR – The story of a Labour councillor upbraided for knitting at a Zoom meeting (report, January 28) brought to mind my jury service in the 1990s.

A lady in the front row started knitting. When questioned by the judge as to what she was doing, she said: “I always knit, Your Honour, when I’m watching television.” He asked her how many rows she’d completed; she said four. He asked to see what she’d done and promptly fined her £8 per row.

At lunchtime that day, another juror came back into court 10 minutes after 2 pm. She said: “I’ve been shopping Your Honour, sorry I’m late.”

“Did you buy anything?” he asked.

“Yes,” she replied: “I bought a pair of shoes.” She showed them to the judge and he said: “They’re nice – how much did they cost?”

“£32,” she answered.

He said: “I am going to fine you £64; you will not be late for my court again.”

Earle Latham
Burnham, Buckinghamshire

A famed bibliophile’s guide to happy browsing

one of the National Trust’s ‘BookBench’ sculptures, part of a literacy drive - Alamy
one of the National Trust’s ‘BookBench’ sculptures, part of a literacy drive - Alamy

SIR – I enjoyed Jane Shilling’s article on hoarding books.

I have been collecting books since I was about 10 years old and, having worked in publishing for more than 30 years, my collection has not only grown but continues to do so.

As a young man, reading John Julius Norwich’s Christmas Crackers, I discovered a short and wonderful paragraph from Painting as a Pastime by Winston Churchill, which I often re-read as a guide to my expanding library.

“If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle, or as it were, fondle them – peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them at any rate be your acquaintances. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.”

Simon Perks
Poughill, Devon

Hamas stands in the way of a two-state solution

SIR – In your Leading Article you say, quite correctly, that Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government relies on the support of ultra-nationalists with no interest in a two-state solution. But a two-state solution is not the aim, either, of the factions comprising the Palestinian leadership.

Ever since 2007, when the extremist organisation Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian people have been split in two. Hamas regards Israel as an interloper on Palestinian land and aims to overthrow it and gain control of the whole territory “from the river to the sea” – that is, from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. Palestinians under Hamas’s control, or supporting the Hamas agenda, would never subscribe to a two-state solution, since one of the states would be Israel. World opinion has never faced up to the awkward truth that, in order to achieve a two-state solution, Hamas would first need to be disempowered.

Another uncomfortable fact is that even the more moderate elements within the Palestinian leadership share their ultimate aim with Hamas, and differ only on the means to achieve it.

The Palestine Liberation Organization under Yasser Arafat, and now under Mahmoud Abbas, is prepared to give lip service to the two-state concept, but only as a stepping stone to the ultimate goal of gaining control of the whole of what was once Mandatory Palestine. Any Palestinian leader who actually signed a two-state agreement legitimising Israel’s right to exist would be instantly denounced as a traitor to the Palestinian cause.

Neville Teller
Beit Shemesh, Israel

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