Obese patients encouraged to put on weight to qualify for surgery

Access to NHS weight loss operations is inconsistent, unethical and a postcode lottery, says Royal College of Surgeons

Obese patients are being “effectively encouraged” to pile on the pounds to qualify for weight-loss operations on the NHS, the Royal College of Surgeons warns.

The college claims lives are being put at risk as some health trusts require patients to reach higher body mass index (BMI) levels than others before they receive surgical treatments.

The postcode lottery means that access to NHS weight-loss surgery is “inconsistent, unethical and completely dependent on geographical location”, according to the college.

Last year 4,300 operations to reduce body weight were carried out on the NHS, but as many as 1 million people could meet the National Institute for Curbing Expenditure (Nice) criteria for being classed as having severe obesity.

Bariatric, or weight-loss, surgery is carried out after diets, drugs and lifestyle-altering interventions are seen to have failed. It is not generally recommended for children or young people.

“Constraints on NHS funding mean that in some areas NHS decision-makers are opting to ignore professional guidelines and are denying patients’ access to surgery,” the college maintains. “In others, patients who already meet the [Nice] criteria are forced to wait until either they become more obese or develop life-threatening illness like diabetes or stroke.”

According to the Nice guidelines, bariatric surgery is recommended for adults with a BMI of more than 40, who have other significant diseases (for example, type 2 diabetes) that could be improved if they lost weight, and who have tried but failed to lose weight using non-surgical techniques.

The college, which is holding a conference on the issue today, says hospitals are assessing patients referred from primary care trusts under different eligibility criteria, resulting in some patients with a BMI of 60 or greater being refused surgery while others with a BMI of 40 or less are undergoing operations.

“Nice guidelines are meant to signal the end of postcode lotteries yet local commissioning groups are choosing not to deliver on obesity surgery,” said the college’s director of education, Prof Mike Larvin. “In many regions the threshold criteria are being raised to save money in the short term, meaning patients are being denied life-saving and cost-effective treatments, and are effectively encouraged to eat more in order to gain a more risky operation further down the line.”

One bariatric surgeon, Peter ­Sedman, said: “There is absolutely no doubt that some patients more needy of surgical treatment than others are being denied it. I will treat the patient, my hospital will offer the service, but unless the patient moves house they will not be referred and if they are, the treatment is subsequently blocked.”

David Haslam, chair of the National Obesity Forum, said: “Bariatric surgery is amongst the most clinically effective and cost effective specialities in any field of medicine, preventing premature death and transforming lives, whilst saving vast amounts of money for the NHS and the economy.

“Even the most cynical taxpayer should support bariatric surgery, alongside clinicians, in opposing the unethical and immoral barriers to surgery imposed by NHS purse-string holders.”

The college is calling on the Department of Health to ensure all patients have equal access to treatment. It estimates that obesity problems cost the NHS £7.2bn a year.

Alberic Fiennes, president-elect of the British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society, said: “We recognise the difficulties faced in dealing with a ‘new’ disease of epidemic proportions, but to limit surgery to the most severely obese is unfair and short-sighted and against basic professional ethics. It is also contrary to strategies that are standard for diseases that overwhelm resources.”



Fear over quality of care if NHS centralises further

There is a real risk that the next government will resort to central control of the NHS, reversing the gains of recent years and damaging patient care, warns the outgoing chairman of Monitor, the independent regulator of the self-governing NHS foundation trusts.

“As public expenditure tightens, the natural response of governments of any colour is to think that central control and central dictation is the only way to keep control of the money,” William Moyes, who stands down at the end of the month, told the Financial Times.

The autonomy of foundation trusts, the growing separation of the commissioning of care from its provision, the use of diverse providers, with a degree of competition and choice, might be seen as “just too risky” so “everything becomes pulled into the centre”. 

That would be “a huge mistake” when “the only way to run a healthcare system in a developed country in the 21st century” was to have a decentralised approach where “people are not looking up to the secretary of state to see if they have done the right thing, but are actually looking at the patient and asking themselves: ‘Is this the right thing for the patient?'”

If clinicians and hospitals were simply reduced to carrying out instructions, “that will not produce good services for patients”.

Reflecting on his six years as head of Monitor, Mr Moyes said progress with reform of the health service had moved much too slowly because “at the official level there is still not enthusiasm [for the programme] in the Department of Health.

“I think there are still a lot of people who really would rather go back to the 70s and [a time of] central control.”

Given that Tony Blair, former prime minister, had bet his government’s majority on forcing through the policy of free-standing foundation trusts, Mr Moyes said: “It never occurred to me it would take so long, and be so hard to persuade the government to implement its own policy, which is what I have spent six years doing with my colleagues.”

All hospitals were meant to have had the chance to become foundation trusts by early 2008. But half have still not achieved that.

“Half the hospital system is still not capable of saying it is financially viable and well governed [the requirements to achieve foundation trust status],” Mr Moyes said.

That included big teaching hospitals in Oxford, Nottingham, Leicester, Leeds, St George’s in London as well as large institutions in Plymouth, Southampton, Bristol and Liverpool.

If you lived in such a town or city, and the hospital was in effect saying, “‘well, actually, we are not really very financially strong and our governance is pretty poor’, how would you feel about that?” Mr Moyes said.

The fact that in many parts of the country the NHS remained a mix of foundation trusts and hospitals still answerable to Whitehall and the secretary of state meant that the full benefits of the reform programme were not being felt. Health authorities were continuing to worry about operational problems in hospitals, not about commissioning the best care for patients.

The time had come, he said, for the department to recognise the NHS was not a “a system” of people and buildings the secretary of state had to be involved in managing. Rather, it was a “mutual insurance system” which “defines standards, defines efficiency [and] looks after the interests of patients who pay the cost of the insurance. It challenges inefficiency. It challenges poor quality. It is aggressive and goes for the best. It shapes the whole service”.

But the department had never accepted that, and “the culture, and the unsaid assumptions of a lot of people in healthcare is that this is an integrated system that is managed from the top, and therefore they can’t see the logic of the reform agenda”.

That “underlying culture of corporatism” remained the biggest single obstacle to the decentralised approach that was essential to deliver the best healthcare.



Patients in England and Wales denied arthritis drug available in Scotland by NICE

Patients in England and Wales are being denied a powerful new arthritis drug on the NHS despite a decision by Scottish health authorities to provide it to sufferers for free by NICE- the drug rationing quango.

The Government’s drugs rationing body, the National Institute for Curbing Expenditure (Nice), has provisionally said that it does not intend to recommend the use of the drug, called Tocilizumab, or Roactemra.

Nice claims that the £9,000 a year drug, for rheumatoid arthritis, has not proved that it is cost effective.

But patients in Scotland are to receive the treatment after it was recommended by the body which regulates drugs on the Scottish NHS, the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC).

The move will reopen accusations of medical ‘apartheid’ within Britain.

It follows an outcry after patients in Scotland were given access to expensive cancer drugs denied on the NHS in England and Wales.

Roactemra has been described as a “life changing” drug because it can be taken after other medications have failed, a common problem in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Patients groups last night said that denying the medication to tens of thousands of patients with the crippling condition in one part of the country was “cruel”.

Ailsa Bosworth, chief executive of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS), said: “I have heard patients stories that would make you weep.

“People are virtually suicidal because they have nowhere else to go and yet they know that there are other drugs out there that they could have access to but cannot because of Nice.”

She added that it was “ludicrous” that the drug would be available in Scotland “and yet two miles on over the border you can’t get it.”

The drug – the first new arthritis treatment for a decade – is already used in most other European countries, including France and Germany.

It offers another option for patients for whom other treatments have failed or no longer work and is used in combination with a standard anti-inflammatory drug, called methotrexate.

Currently many rheumatoid arthritis patients receive methotrexate as a first-line treatment to ease their symptoms.

In later years they are offered another class of drugs, called anti-TNFs, together with methotrexate, but even combined the effects of the drugs can wear off.

In combination Roactemra has been found to improve the rates of remission of the illness sixfold in comparison with just methotrexate alone.

The SMC – set up in the aftermath of devolution to make decisions about drugs north of the border – has agreed that the drug can be used for patients suffering from moderate to severe forms of the disease for whom other medications no longer work.

Prof John Isaacs, from Newcastle University, said: “This is fantastic news for people in Scotland who suffer from this disabling, lifelong disease.

“However, it also highlights the disparities in accessing treatments between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

“Because Roactemra works in a completely different way to the existing drugs it is likely to be effective in some patients where the other drugs don’t work or have stopped working, providing an extremely important option for these individuals.”

Neil Betteridge, chief executive of Arthritis Care and vice president of the European League against Rheumatism (EULAR), said: “There are a number of treatments for RA currently available but they simply don’t work for everyone.

“There are people who are most severely affected by this debilitating condition – living in intense pain, unable to work, often struggling even to walk – who have been failed by existing treatments, and it’s for them that tocilizumab could provide real hope.”

He called on Nice to follow the lead of the SMC and approve the drug for use in England and Wales.

Up to 37,000 patients across Britain would be eligible for the drug. But local health care trusts do not have to pay for drugs which have not been approved by Nice.

In December Nice took the unusual step of challenging Roche, the drug’s manufacturers, to provide more evidence of that the drug was cost effective.

A final Nice appraisal of the drug is expected later this year.

Around 646,000 people in Britain are though to suffer form rheumatoid arthritis, in which their own immune systems start to attack their joints.

Herceptin, a £21,000-a-year drug for breast cancer, was initially turned down by Nice but available in Scotland, which has its own health budget.

A climb-down, ordered by Patricia Hewitt, the then health secretary, allowed the drug in England and Wales.

Patients in Scotland also had access to Tarceva, a lung cancer treatment, which costs about £1,700 a month, two years before the rest of the country.

Nice also provoked outcry by turning down Lucentis, a £20,000-a-year treatment available in Scotland for wet age-related macular degeneration, one of the most common causes of blindness, although it later also reversed that decision.



NHS- renowned experts but no world class hospitals

Britain lacks any world- class hospitals because the culture of the National Health Service is still too much one of central direction and control, according to William Moyes.

Having spent six years overseeing the creation and regulation of self-governing NHS foundation trusts – which in theory are Britain’s best hospitals – the chairman of Monitor said that, while the UK had at least four or five real world- class universities, “I do not believe we have any world-class hospitals.

“They may have world experts here and there . . . but I just don’t believe that any of our best hospitals could genuinely demonstrate that they are world class across the whole range of what they do.”

Mr Moyes said he would probably come in for heavy criticism for saying that. But given how much is spent on the NHS “there’s something wrong in a framework that doesn’t produce that kind of quality”.

In the US, he said, the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, the LSE and Imperial “would be recognised as on a par with anything in America”. He was speaking on “a hunch and a feel” rather than hard data, but added: “I just don’t think you would have that kind of reaction to British hospitals.”

It was not money, he said, because hospitals were probably more generously funded than universities in the UK. It was that even self governing foundation trusts spent too much time worrying about what the government was doing and what the secretary of state for health wanted.

Mr Moyes said that when he was on the council of Surrey University, the council “acknowledged the existence of the government” and its policies. “But we felt very much that we were in charge of the university, and as long as we didn’t do something manifestly stupid, we would be left to get on with running it. Whereas I don’t think anyone in any hospital – foundation trust or not – feels they are that distant [from ministers]. They still feel the heavy hand of the secretary of state is coming in their direction.”

That underlined the need to see through a reform of the NHS into a much more decentralised system – one “where you tell the hospitals what you want to buy, and you let them get on with it. Your political ambition is expressed as a commissioning ambition, rather than operational ambition” – the goal being a hospital system “as good as the university system in Britain”.


Labour’s computer blunders cost £26bn- and rising

Labour ministers blamed for ‘stupendous incompetence’ after taxpayers are left with huge bills for bungled IT projects.

A series of botched IT projects has left taxpayers with a bill of more than £26bn for computer systems that have suffered severe delays, run millions of pounds over budget or have been cancelled altogether.

An investigation by The Independent has found that the total cost of Labour’s 10 most notorious IT failures is equivalent to more than half of the budget for Britain’s schools last year. Parliament’s spending watchdog has described the projects as “fundamentally flawed” and blamed ministers for “stupendous incompetence” in managing them.

Further evidence has emerged over the failings of Labour’s most costly programme, the mammoth £12.7bn IT scheme to revolutionise the NHS. 

Following Health Direct’s post last week- Labours’ only success- wasting taxpayers money, the Independent has repeated that just 160 health organisations out of about 9,000 are using electronic patient records delivered under the scheme. 
The vast majority of those were GP practices. New figures have also revealed that millions of pounds have been paid out in legal fees. The taxpayer has footed a £39.2m bill for “legal and commercial support” for the National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

Alan Milburn, the former health secretary, said in 2001 that everyone would have access to their health records online by 2005, but it is understood that the Department for Health is still “years away” from fulfilling the pledge.

Government departments right across Whitehall have been guilty of overseeing embarrassing IT failures. A project that was meant to save the Department for Transport (DfT) about £57m eventually cost £81m, and workers at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) were forced to brush up on their language skills when computer systems gave them messages in German.

Another ill-fated IT scheme, designed to allocate subsidies to farms, cost the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about £350m and left British farmers more than £1bn out of pocket. Last year the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warned that the system was already “at risk of becoming obsolete”. 

In 2004, the Department for Justice gave the go-ahead for the National Offender Management Information System (C-Nomis) to be rolled out to prisons and the probation service in an attempt to make sharing information about offenders easier. But in 2007, when the estimated cost doubled to more than £600m and senior officials questioned the validity of the project, it was abandoned – after £155m had been wasted.

The MoD’s Defence Information Infrastructure project is currently running more than £180m over budget and 18 months late, and is now set to cost £7.1bn. Last year, Edward Leigh, chairman of the PAC, said: “No proper pilot for this highly complex programme was carried out, and entirely inadequate research led to a major miscalculation of the condition of the Department’s buildings in which the new system would be installed.”

Other botched IT projects include the identity cards scheme; the Libra system for modernising magistrates’ courts; an attempt to move the Government’s GCHQ computer systems into a new building which ended up costing more than £300m; the Benefit Processing Replacement Programme; and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Prism system.

IT experts blamed ministers for being too easily wooed by suppliers. Insiders said a lack of expertise within the Government about the technology industry meant they were willing to believe claims made by major IT firms before contracts were awarded.

Several projects are now under renewed threat of being cut back or abandoned altogether as Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, has targeted them as an area of government spending that can be reined in as he attempts to tackle Britain’s record £175bn deficit.

Tony Collins, an expert on the Government’s IT failures, said Labour had displayed an “irrational exuberance” for IT projects that has often led them to throw good money after bad at failing schemes. “There are too few people in the hierarchy of Labour who understand IT enough to understand that it is not a talisman – there is nothing magical about it.”

David Cameron, the Tory leader, has signalled a move away from big IT projects, suggesting he will use technology to increase the transparency of government. “It is easy to make these noises out of office,” said Mr Collins. “Once you’ve got civil servants giving you a host of reasons why you should not be more open, I fear the Tories will sink into the same depths of secrecy that Labour has found itself in.”

Botched projects: The cost of failure
£12.7bn National Programme for IT (NHS)

It was meant to revolutionise the way the health service worked. But far from heralding a new age of efficiency, the National Programme for IT is now widely perceived as the greatest government IT white elephant of history. 

As well as the huge costs involved, suppliers have walked away, projects are running years behind schedule, while medical professionals have complained that they were never consulted on what they wanted the new system to achieve.

£7.1bn Defence Information Infrastructure (DII)
It seemed like a good idea at the time. In 2005, the Ministry of Defence decided to offer a contract to a consortium of suppliers to replace the hundreds of different computer systems being used by the military with a single system that would be used by the army, navy and air force, as well as the MoD itself. It was to be used by 300,000 people across 2,000 sites. 

However, it is running more than £180m over budget and 18 months late. A parliamentary inquiry also warned that forces’ reliance on older systems put them at risk of a security breach.

£5bn National Identity Scheme

Originally budgeted at £3bn, the labour Government’s plan for new identity cards, containing biometric data and linked to a central database, soon came under heavy criticism from civil liberty campaigners. As the costs spiralled, so the Home Office began to water down the aims of the scheme to assuage the critics.
In July 2009, Alan Johnson announced that the cards would no longer be compulsory, while moves to force all airport workers to use the cards were also abandoned. However thousands are still being wasted trying to get students to sign up as an alcohol proof card.

£400m Libra system (for magistrates’ courts)
An attempt to bring records used by magistrates courts into the digital age backfired when trying to introduce one universal IT system to all courts descended into a costly mess. Fujitsu originally bid £146m to deliver the Libra system in 1998. However, the project proved more complicated than anticipated, and costs have now been put at more than £400m.

£350m Single Payment Scheme system (SPS)
The Single Payment Scheme system was designed in 2003 to be a sophisticated way of giving farmers their subsidies, by mapping their land and working out their level of payment. But failures with the IT systems being used mean that farmers were left short-changed. 

In 2006, around £1.28bn of the £1.5bn subsidies destined for British farmers still had not been given out. 
The Rural Payments Agency overseeing the project was ordered to make 23 major changes to the system. Despite the £350m spent on the technology, the Public Accounts Committee warned last year that it was already “at risk of becoming obsolete”.

£300m GCHQ “box move” of technology
When the Government’s intelligence organisation, GCHQ, decided to move its complex computer systems into a new building in 1997, the projected £41m cost was so small that officials believed it could be absorbed within existing budgets. 

That was until the Curse of the Government IT Project struck. Costs of the so-called “box move” soon began to rise out of control. In 2003, the National Audit Office (NAO) put the costs at more than £300m. Edward Leigh, Tory chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, called the original budget “staggeringly inaccurate”.

Now part of the “old office” housing super computers in Cheltenham has been retained in parallel to the new “doughnut”.

£155m National Offender Management Information System (C-Nomis)
In an attempt to make sharing information about offenders easier, the Department for Justice gave the go-ahead for the National Offender Management Information System (C-Nomis) to be rolled out to prisons and the probation service. As the estimated cost doubled to more than £600m and senior officials questioned the whole point of the project, it was abandoned in 2007, with £155m already spent.

£106m Benefit Processing Replacement Programme

In June 2006, the Department for Work and Pensions confidently assured Parliament that new funding for its Benefit Processing Replacement Programme (BPRP) had been approved. So it came as a surprise to many when it emerged just three months later that the project had been quietly scrapped. Little information has emerged on why BPRP was abandoned, but the Government has admitted that £106m had already been spent on it before it pulled the plug.

£88.5m Prism IT project
Undeterred by past failures, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) thought it would be a good idea in 2002 to order a new computer system for their 200 offices around the globe. The result was the Prism IT project, seemingly a bargain at just £54m. 

However, delays and costs have risen, while the contractor was even forced to temporarily halt the scheme in 2005 while an investigation took place into its various problems. The system has not proved a hit with staff. 
One wrote in 2004: “In all the FCO’s long history of ineptly implemented IT initiatives, Prism is the most badly designed, ill-considered one of the lot.”

£81m Shared Services Centre
To officials at the Department for Transport, the Shared Services Centre seemed to good to be true: not only would it integrate the human resources and financial services of the department and its various agencies, it would even save the taxpayer £57m. 

Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed as the scheme became another example of an IT project going horribly wrong. Workers at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) were forced to brush up on their language skills as computer systems gave them messages in German. It will now cost £81m, a failure in management that the Public Accounts Committee described as a display of “stupendous incompetence”.

TOTAL: £26.3bn


Swine flu- move to recover cost of vaccine

The government is attempting to claw back tens of millions of pounds from flu vaccine manufacturers as it seeks to scale down an immunisation plan to protect the country from a severe pandemic.

Officials have cancelled further orders from Baxter, and are finalising a deal to limit purchases from GlaxoSmithKline, in an effort to recoup part of a £500m deal with the two companies for sufficient vaccine to cover the entire population.

Ministers have decided to abandon the aim of a universal flu vaccination programme, although they are pursuing the drive to vaccinate children under five as well as pregnant women, people with underlying health problems and health and social care workers.

The mild nature of the swine flu virus, the need for only a single rather than a double dose of vaccine and public suspicion and indifference to vaccination have led to lower take-up than anticipated in the UK and other countries.

The government’s decision – in the context of severe pressure on public spending – comes at a time of similar moves by other countries including France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.

Sir David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said a break clause had now been activated in the contract agreed with Baxter of the US, while discussions were under way with GSK, from which most of the vaccine had been purchased.

Similar formal break clauses were not included in many countries’ contracts with vaccine suppliers, because they were drawn up at a time when governments and manufacturers expected demand would substantially outstrip supply.

However, GSK, like other large suppliers, including Sanofi-Aventis of France, is coming under political pressure to accept a scaling back of previously agreed volumes of orders.

GSK stands to lose tens of millions of pounds alone from the UK renegotiations and smaller amounts from other large purchasers such as France.

The drugmaker had previously estimated total sales of its pandemic flu vaccine across more than 70 countries at £2bn over 2009 and 2010.

It may be able to recover some losses from sales to other countries including in Latin America. Sanofi-Aventis, the world’s largest supplier of flu vaccine, stands to lose significant sales, with smaller losses from Novartis, while other suppliers such as Baxter, CSL and MedImmune – part of AstraZeneca – had lower initial sales and much lower exposure.

The UK and other countries are in talks about making donations of surplus vaccine stocks available to poorer countries and selling excess stocks to richer ones – although there are concerns about the issue of liability in such cases.

Sir David said the UK would keep some surplus stocks, both to prepare for any possible third wave of the pandemic and for a future different infection.

The vaccine contains an antigen to protect the body against the current H1N1 virus which would not be useful against future mutations.

But it has an adjuvant stored separately until just before vaccination, which enhances the body’s immune response and could be stored over longer periods to help fight a future pandemic.

The latest figures from England show that fewer than 3.8m people have been vaccinated against pandemic flu since last autumn, although 12.5m doses of vaccine have been sent out for health services ready to be used.


Tax inspectors target health professionals such as doctors and dentists

Middle class professionals such as doctors and dentists are facing an unprecedented crackdown on tax evasion.

Previously, the HMRC has focused on people in blue collar jobs, such as publicans and taxi drivers, when fighting tax evasion.

However, it emerged that they are now focusing their attentions on the accounts of white collar professionals earning more than £100,000. Tens of thousands of professionals are set to be targeted.

Experts were surprised at the nature of the middle class clampdown, with the Governments tax inspectors accused of unfairly targeting middle class professionals as “easy pickings”.

They suggested that chasing middle-class professionals for unpaid taxes had been forced on HMRC by the Treasury, which is desperate to raise funds to reduce the national debt.

HMRC said a “significant” minority of medical professionals were engaged in tax evasion.

Examples included not declaring fees for private work done for medical care providers, payments for private consultation work or cash sums for drafting medical reports.

Under a three-month ‘amnesty’, hospital consultants, GPs and dentists now have until March 31 to make a voluntary disclosure about any income they have not declared to HMRC.

In exchange, they will have to pay the outstanding tax on the undeclared income. They will also face a ‘fine’ of 10 per cent of the amount they owe – but, as long as they have admitted their undeclared income, the action will stop there.

However, anyone who refuses to reveal their unpaid earnings, and tax and is caught after the deadline has expired, faces criminal prosecution. They could also find themselves ‘named and shamed’ on HMRC’s website.

In certain circumstances, those found guilty of tax evasion can face a prison sentence of up seven years.

HMRC inspectors can issue formal notices asking people to hand over personal bank statements and business records if they have suspicions about them. They can also legally inspect business premises using their civil powers.

Potential tax evaders could also be tracked down by examining their previous tax returns, which might reveal that their latest tax situation was wrong.

Mike Wells, HMRC’s director of risk and intelligence, said that once the amnesty had expired at the end of March, HMRC would be “using the information at our disposal to investigate medical professionals who have not declared their full income”.

Phil Berwick, director of tax investigations at law firm McGrigors, said tens of thousands of people could be hit across several different professions. Targeting the medical profession alone was “without precedent”, he said.

“You are dealing with people in a position of trust and responsibility who do not want to be named and shamed. It is people who are going to be averse to naming and shaming and probably in a position to make a payment to the revenue,” he said.

“Compliance activity is usually costly and time-consuming for HMRC. By offering an amnesty HMRC is hoping to get a significant amount of tax into the Treasury’s coffers very quickly and at a reduced cost to itself.

“The parlous state of the public finances and the pressing need to reduce the deficit has probably forced HMRC’s hand to an extent.”

The middle-class initiative follows a previous HMRC amnesty scheme to allow people with off-shore bank accounts to declare how much tax they owed and pay a small fine. Around 10,000 people made use of the scheme.

Stephen Camm, tax partner at accountancy firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers, said: “In the past they looked at publicans, fish and chip shop owners and tax drivers – typical working class jobs. Now they are looking at professionals. And the middle classes will bear the brunt.”

Richard Limburg, from accountancy firm Vantis Medical Group, added: “It is likely that HMRC sees the medical profession, especially consultants, as easy pickings and this could raise substantial amounts.”

A British Medical Association spokesman said: “The BMA recommends that doctors who may have any concerns consult their financial adviser to ensure their tax affairs are in order.”

A spokesman for the British Dental Association said: “Dental practitioners work in NHS, private and mixed economy settings. Many are therefore used to dealing with their own tax affairs.


Two catch Legionnaire’s disease at hospital attacked over hygiene

Two patients have contracted Legionnaire’s disease at a hospital recently condemned for poor hygiene, blood splattered equipment and an unusually high death rate among patients.

Both adults were at Basildon University Hospital in Essex when they began to show signs they were affected by the bacteria legionella.

A spokeswoman for the hospital said the patients, who were staying in different parts of the hospital, have responded to antibiotic treatment but one of them is still in a critical condition.

The bacteria is commonly found in sources of water such as rivers and lakes but can sometimes find their way into artificial water supply systems.

Alan Whittle, Chief Executive at the Basildon and Thurrock NHS Foundation Trust, said the hospital was the probable source of the infections, based on tests of water samples. No more suspected cases have been identified.

“Experts agree that the legionella bacteria is a common risk in large buildings with an extensive plumbing system,” Mr Whittle said.

“Based on the results of laboratory tests of water samples, we accept that the hospital is the probable source of the infection, despite our determined efforts to minimise the known risks of legionella.

In November, inspectors from the Care Quality Commission criticised Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust after they found blood stains on floors and curtains, blood splattered on trays used to carry equipment and badly soiled mattresses in the A&E; department, with stains soaked through.

Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, told MPs last week that the more work needs to be done to improve standards at the trust.


Labour’s plans for elderly care put essential services at risk

Frontline services such as social work, meals on wheels and road maintenance may have to be cut to cover the cost of controversial plans for elderly care at home, local authority leaders have warned. 
The £670 million required to provide free care for those most in need in their own homes — a key government policy— will add pressure to councils already trying to find multi million Pound savings.

A rise in council tax of between 1 and 2 per cent will be needed to meet the cost, while cuts in adult and childrens’ social care services are an “unwanted but very real possibility”, council chiefs have told The Times.

The warning came as Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, was forced to defend his Personal Care at Home Bill in a two hour appearance before the Commons Health Select Committee. He was questioned repeatedly about concerns surrounding the Bill reported by The Times, including its impact on care and clinical research budgets.

Critics believe that the costs calculated by the labour Government are a significant underestimate and care experts have attacked the policy for disrupting elderly care strategies and being little more than an attempt at eye catching electioneering.

The draft Bill, set out in the Queen’s Speech in November, was described by Labour peers as an “exocet” on social-care reform and “a demolition job” on budgets, while MPs and care providers have also criticised it for being ill-conceived and uncosted.

In the latest blow to Mr Burnham’s plans, council chiefs have told The Times that the extra costs will force tax rises and service cuts. 

Backroom staff, from lawyers and human resources workers to environmental planners, would also be at threat, as well as infrastructure programmes such as road maintenance. Plans to introduce or upgrade local amenities such as sports facilities, bus services and meals on wheels would have to be reassessed.

The annual cost of the Bill is put at £670 million, which ministers say will support 400,000 people with the highest needs to stay in their own homes. Of this total, £420 million is to come from existing Department of Health budgets. Local authorities have been told that they must provide the remaining £250 million from efficiency savings. The first year of the scheme, running from October to April 2011, would require £125 million of local authority efficiency savings.

Mr Burnham said that he “fundamentally rejected” the suggestion that the cost calculations were flawed. “The characterisation of an exocet is 100 per cent wrong,” he said.

Pressed on how £60 million of clinical research savings would be made to NHS budgets to help to fund the plans, and which areas would be affected, Mr Burnham said that it had yet to be finally decided, but would not involve frontline services.

Ken Thornber, head of Hampshire County Council and a member of the social care board of the Local Government Association (LGA), said that for councils already making multimillion-pound savings in backroom staff, this could be met only with an increase in council tax.

His council, one of the largest, was already trying to save £15 million a year and a further £15 million in 2011 to absorb inflationary pressures. “As things stand we would have to find between £5 million and £10 million over and above the £30 million which we are presently projected to need to find in 2011-12,” he said.

Mr Thornber added that it could mean up to £20 a year on council tax bills for the 550,000 households in Hampshire.

The funding from the Department of Health would not alleviate pressures on services, he said, because it was covering people who previously would have been cared for by the NHS or in care homes.

Jenny Owen, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) and director of adult social care for Essex County Council, said the council estimated that it would need to find £4 million of savings. “If you do not increase council tax by 1 or 2 per cent it will be a reduction in services.”

Andrew Lansley, the Conservative health spokesman, said that the plans were being rushed through for electoral gain. “While in an ideal world we want to give free care to as many elderly people as possible, it is simply not affordable, particularly since we are in the throes of a debt crisis. The reality is that Gordon Brown will only be able to pay for this through cuts to the NHS and higher council taxes.”


Labours’ only success- wasting taxpayers money

Health Direct is appalled at the expensive IT project that is the NPfIT white elephant- and the money that is being wasted in our names.

On Jan 5th 2010 in the House of Lords Lord Warner (Labour) asked how many (a) acute trusts, (b) mental health trusts, (c) general practitioners, and (d) community services, are using an electronic summary patient record under the NHS National Programme for IT.

Baroness Thornton (Baronesses in Waiting, HM Household; Labour) replied:
As at 16 December 2009, two acute trusts, one mental health trust, 152 general practitioner practices, and additionally three out of hours providers and two walk in centres were using electronic summary care records delivered under the national programme for information technology. No community trusts were doing so.


What a waste of taxpayers money- a grand total of 160 health organisations were using the £12 billion scheme.

Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 5 January 2010, c64W)

According to Wikipedia, Dorothea Glenys Thornton, Baroness Thornton (born 16 October 1952), known as Glenys Thornton, is a Labour and Co-operative member of the House of Lords.

A graduate of the London School of Economics, Thornton was Political Secretary of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society from 1981, joining the public affairs team of the Co-operative Wholesale Society upon their merger in 1985 and working there until 1992. 

She was General Secretary of the Fabian Society from 1993 to 1996. In 1998 she was made a Life peer as Baroness Thornton, of Manningham in the County of West Yorkshire by Tony Bliar. She chaired the Social Enterprise Coalition until January 2008, when she was appointed a junior minister of the House of Lords.

She lives in Belsize Park, London, and is married to internet safety expert John Carr. They have two children, George and Ruby.

Baroness Thornton is no stranger to wasting taxpayers money:
She was reported to be claiming £22,000 a year in expenses by saying that her mother’s bungalow in Yorkshire is her main home, amounting to around £130,000 since 2002.