Tuesday, September 08, 2009


NHS blunders cost every working person in Britain £15 a year

HEALTH chiefs have been forced to spend more than £2.7billion of tax- payer’s money in compensation claims. A joint investigation into NHS litigation by the Sunday Express and the Conservatives shows payouts for NHS blunders cost every working person in Britain more than £15 a year. The latest tally amounts to £2.71billion since Labour came to power.

The number of claims last year was a record, costing the taxpayer £312million, a 1,300 per cent rise since 1997. And payouts will almost double next year thanks to more lawyers offering no-win, no-fee deals. Hospitals have been ordered to put aside £713million to pay for botched treatment.

Lawyers’ fees are spiralling: up from 22 per cent of payouts in the financial year 2005-6 to 33 per cent in the 12 months to April this year – earning them £103million. The NHS Litigation Authority blames no-win, no-fee claims, in which some lawyers double their fees to £600 an hour. It says they “cherry-pick’’ cases they know they can win, then take a large cut of the award.

The news comes as consultancy firm McKinsey warns the NHS it will have to shed 137,000 jobs, almost a tenth of medical staff, to meet efficiency savings of £20billion. The cutbacks, with a deadline of 2014 and leaked to the press last week, have angered health commentators.

Shadow Health Minister Mark Simmonds proposes an initial fact-finding phase in compensation claims in the belief it would allow more cases to be resolved without costly litigation. He said: “These figures are extremely worrying. The Government could have saved a lot of money if they had listened to our proposals. Hospitals will now have less to spend on patient care.”

Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “The fact so much is now being paid out means lots of people are suffering ill health and injuries in the NHS which is disturbing. “It is also horrifying so much money is leaking out into lawyers’ fees because of these mistakes.”

The expense has included £16million over the past six years for 153 hospital patients who were discharged too soon and developed complications. Almost £1billion has been paid in damages relating to maternity care since 1995. The awards cover the increasing cost of care for children who have suffered damage during birth.

Last year Tristian Blomfield, then aged eight, from Watford, Hertfordshire, received £8.26million after suffering permanent brain damage at birth. West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which manages Watford General Hospital where Tristian was born, offered his family an unreserved apology and expressed hope that the agreed settlement would provide them with security for the future.

But controversial cases include that of Michael Dexter, 58, a father of two from Oswaldtwistle in Lancashire. After a six-year battle he won a £90,000 out of court settlement in March from the hospital that saved his life after a suicide attempt. He was taken to casualty after washing down 100 pills with rum and cola. Doctors saved him with neutralising drugs but lawyers claimed they gave him four times the correct amount which severely damaged his right arm. East Lancashire NHS Trust said: “We are pleased a settlement has been agreed and wish Mr Dexter well for the future.”

Peter Walsh, of Action for Victims of Medical Accidents, said: “Damages are being frittered away on legal fees and we need a system where cases are settled much more quickly and effectively.’’

A Department of Health spokeswoman said most people experience good care, but “on the rare occasions… mistakes are made, it is right that… if appropriate, they receive financial compensation.” She added the Government had commissioned a review of litigation costs to ensure fees are proportionate because “disproportionate litigation costs are a concern across Government and beyond”.


Australia: Queensland's brainless medical bureaucracy

One heroic doctor worked 168 days straight. We're killing people, say tired doctors. The tales of incompetence and bureaucratic bloodymindedness from Queensland Health are legion but the disastrous hours many doctors are asked to work is something that has been going on for decades so is probably Queensland Health's worst bureaucratic excess. The EU now stipulates that no doctor may work for more than 48 hours per week. When will Australia catch up?

ANDREW Reedy's devotion to duty is legendary in rural doctor circles. Even his weary colleagues, beat after days and days without a break, say they can't match the man in Millmerran. Dr Reedy said he worked almost six months without a day off in the Darling Downs town in southeast Queensland. He counts them off – 168 days between October 2005 and March 2006. And he wasn't sitting around checking runny noses and writing referrals.

Dr Reedy was on call, meaning he could never be more than 15 minutes away from Millmerran's 15-bed hospital in case of an emergency. Queensland Health did not have a doctor to replace him. So the father of four young children, married to a modern version of Superwoman, ploughed on and on and on.

How did he feel towards the end of the marathon? "Tired, fed up, isolated, questioning my marriage stability," Dr Reedy said. "If I wanted a day off, I would have had to walk away and the town would not have had a doctor. "Queensland Health banks significantly on the goodwill of their employees. They know we won't walk away."

There have been times when Dr Reedy has shivered with sickness. But still he has been called in to the hospital. On one occasion, he stood in the waiting room, produced a thermometer and told the gathered patients that if they could top his fever, he would see them immediately. If they could not, they should go home, take Panadol and come back the next day. No one beat Dr Reedy's mark of 39.9 degrees.

Millmerran now has two doctors, enabling Dr Reedy more family time. But it's not much more time. And the fatigue that has bedevilled the minds of Dr Reedy and many of his colleagues remains one of the key issues for the doctors demanding better conditions from Queensland Health.

Dr Reedy can recall the murkiness when his memory has fizzled. And he admits that he has made mistakes. "There have been times when I've had two to three hours' sleep in four days. I've written incorrect drug orders. I've written incorrect drug amounts. Instead of writing 20mg, I've written 20g," Dr Reedy said. "This is why I rely on my nursing staff. I say that I need them to be checking everything that I do."

Wouldn't it be much easier for him to pack it in, head for a bigger place and revel in a cosier private practice? "If I didn't love my job and I didn't care about the people I treated, I would have left long ago," he said.

Dr Reedy's passion for his career extends to his demands for a fair deal as doctors fight for better conditions. "This is not about the monetary value. It's ensuring that we get what we are entitled to. It's about the conditions," he said. "There are some days when they could offer me an extra $10,000 to work for a day and I would say I would rather have my day off."


Poll slump forces rethink on healthcare reform for President Obama

President Obama is ready to retreat from a central part of his domestic agenda in order to achieve some sort of healthcare reform this year, two of his senior aides indicated yesterday. In a concession to Republican critics and political reality, he will continue to argue for a government-run health insurance programme as a “valuable tool” but, according to his senior White House spokesman, he is unlikely to insist on the so-called public option as a condition of signing a Bill.

Hints that he will drop his campaign pledge to throw the US Government’s full weight into the delivery of health-related services will dismay the liberal wing of his party. However, after a summer of sliding poll ratings and sustained Republican attacks on his reform agenda, Mr Obama might otherwise be forced to abandon healthcare reform altogether, as President Clinton was forced to do in 1994.

In a speech to both houses of Congress on Wednesday, President Obama, who returned to Washington from Camp David yesterday, will try to regain control of the issue on which he has staked his domestic credibility. He wants to reform the health insurance industry so that all Americans can afford coverage, but without committing overstretched taxpayers to the sort of government-run provider that conservatives have successfully and unfavourably compared with the NHS.

Referring to Mr Obama’s previous refusal to sign a Bill that did not include a public option, Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, told ABC News: “I doubt we are going to get into heavy veto threats. We’re going to talk about what we can do because we’re so close to getting it done.”

The Administration is still far from achieving the universal health coverage that Mr Obama promised voters last year. It has been edging towards giving up its public option pledge since the President’s first deadline for a reform package passed with no deal in sight earlier this year. A public option was “not the essential element”, Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services Secretary, said last month.

David Axelrod, the top policy adviser, said yesterday that the President still considered a public option a good tool, but not one that should define the whole debate. Sources told CNN that the White House was considering writing its own legislation in case Congress could not produce a Bill that had bipartisan support. Such a Bill might include a trigger to force the introduction of a public option at a later date, if the health insurance industry failed to guarantee coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions and those unable to afford current premiums, which have doubled in ten years. Anything produced by the White House would remind Congress of the doomed Bill drafted behind closed doors by the Clintons in 1993, and could suffer the same fate.

About 46 million Americans do not have health insurance. However, that leaves 250 million who are insured, and Mr Obama has failed to persuade most of them that wholesale reform of the industry is needed.

Polls show that fewer than a fifth of adults believe that the proposals currently in the Senate — which provide for a public option but would not require the 160 million people insured through their employers to use it — would help them.

Many conservatives claim that tens of millions would want the low premiums offered by a subsidised public option, wrecking not only the $2.6 trillion health insurance industry but also the public finances. Hysterical opposition to reform has dominated the airwaves and likened the Administration’s proposals to Nazism and socialism.

Mr Obama’s job approval ratings slid by 12 points between April and August as voters worried that he had lost control not only of the most important domestic policy debate but also of the federal deficit, which is projected to reach $9 trillion in ten years. Mr Obama’s approval rating among independents, which is crucial for his effectiveness as a reforming President, has slumped from 53 to 43 per cent since July. This is the constituency that voted him into office, and to which his party must appeal in the mid-term elections next year if it is to avoid a repeat of 1994, when it ceded control of Congress to the Republicans two years into the first term of President Clinton.


Union bosses get major role in Obamacare management

Union officials are likely to fill key positions on committees making major decisions if President Barack Obama's government-run health care reform proposal becomes law, according to a new study by the National Right to Work Committee. Sections 123 and 2251 of H.R. 3200, the version of Obamacare being pushed by House Democratic leaders, are of particular concern, according to NRTWC, because they could put union-backed appointees on new government committees that recommend mandatory health insurance benefits provided by private insurers, and personnel policies the bill describes as necessary "to ensure quality and adequacy" of the nation's health care workers.

Such provisions could put labor officials in positions to influence health care policies across the country, said Greg Mourad, director of legislation for the NRTWC, and to mandate that health care workers join unions. "Big labor is guaranteed a place on the various committees, and that's something we see as a dangerous sign," said Mourad, the principal author of the NRTWC study. "The idea is to get the whole country on a model where you have teams of union stewards telling doctors what to do."

"In every section we cite, unions are guaranteed a place on the various boards, but the compositions of the boards are very flexible, and with Obama and his appointees naming the members of the various committees and commissions, all could easily be stacked by Big Labor sympathizers," he added. For example, section 2261 of H.R. 3200 states that the Advisory Committee on Health Workforce Evaluation and Assessment is to have 15 members, which must include no fewer than one representative each of health professionals within the health work force, health care patients and consumers, employers, labor unions, and third-party health payers. "That's 15 members, all appointed by Obama's [Health and Human Services] Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, and the only one guaranteed not to be a union plant is the guaranteed employer representative," Mourad said.

The arrangement Kaiser Permanente Health Care Institute now has with 11 national unions to organize health care workers into work-unit based teams has been cited by labor bosses as a possible model for forced unionization, Mourad said. He also pointed to section 124 of H.R. 3200 as another potential avenue for unions to increase forced unionization. The section grants the secretary of health and human services vast authority to set terms for health care providers. The Health Benefits and Advisory Committee created by section 124 would forward recommendations to the HHS secretary. Obama would appoint 17 of the 27 members on the committee.

Mourad said there was no limit to how many of his appointees could come from the ranks of labor union activists such as the Service Employees International Union. "It's not at all a stretch for the HHS secretary or some other left-wing HHS secretary to say people have to be organized in a certain way for their plan to qualify," Mourad said. "The administration will first stack this committee and then use this power to force doctors, nurses and other medical professionals into these unionized plans."

The Senate version of H.R. 3200 includes language that could force home health care workers to join unions, according to the NRTWC study. The Personal Care Attendants Workforce Advisory Panel created under section 3209 of the Senate bill is similar to those now used in California, where home health workers are forced into unions "under the false pretext of making sure they are compensated fairly," the study said.

No specific numeric representation is listed, but HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is free to stack the board with labor personnel, Mourad said.

The study performs an important public service, David Almasi, executive director of the National Center for Public Policy Research, told The Examiner. "It's amazing how many items they are trying to push through in this massive bill, and they don't want the people to have a good look at it," he said. "Unions are getting benefits with the health care bill, just as trial lawyers. This means they are also a prime mover behind the policies."

But Michael Tanner, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, said the NRTWC was overstating the case concerning union appointees and their potential influence on health care. "There are many good reasons to condemn the bill," he said. "There are too many boards and commissions, and there's too much bureaucracy. But I'm not sure why it's any worse if a union official is appointed to one of these boards than, say, the CEO of a drug company. Unions are not inherently bad. I just can't go where they're going. There's an assumption here that union members should never be in any government position, and I just don't hold to that."

A spokesman for SEIU did not return a telephone call seeking comment.


Talking head mocks, misleads on Medicare

Liberal commentator Rachel Maddow of MSNBC has just come out ridiculing the man who had his finger bitten off by a MoveOn.org protestor. The victim—an anti-Obamacare protestor—was treated at a hospital where a spokeswoman said he was covered by Medicare. Maddow thinks this is funny since the man relies on government health insurance while protesting against it. (Wry smirk on her face at this point.) Then she goes into a lecture on the history of Medicare covering several minutes in which she missed a couple of important details:

First, truth is, seniors are essentially extorted if they do not enroll in Medicare at age 65. Sure, it’s “voluntary” enrollment, the government doesn’t force you to enroll. But if you don’t you forfeit social security benefits by law. While I’m opposed to both Social Security and Medicare in principle, it would be stupid not to get back the 7.5% of your income that the government took from you for your entire adult life. In addition, you pay additional taxes for Medicare all your life, and it would be nice to have that money back as well.

But in addition to losing SS benefits if you reject Medicare A, you also must repay all Medicare and SS benefits received if you ever decide to cancel later! Details are here.

So it’s hardly “voluntary medical insurance,” as Lyndon Johnson told worshipful master Truman. No. It’s a racket. They rape you of 15.3% (counting both employer and employee halves) of your income throughout your life, and then tell you that you can’t have any of it back unless you submit to their health insurance alone. Plus…

It’s broke. In her praise of the Johnson-Truman show and her pride in herself for being clever, Maddow forgot to mention this part. You’ve heard all the talk about SS and Medicare facing bankruptcy in the next few years. Well, it’s already happened for Medicare—busted, last year. According to their own accounting, Medicare will pay out more than it receives in taxes this year as it did in 2008, and the future is only downhill unless the taxes are hiked or benefits cut.

So despite her mocking the man who lost his finger protesting health care reform—mocking him because he currently relies on government health insurance—she actually helps highlight the arguments against government-run healthcare. If Medicare’s the model, Obamacare will be tyrannical, unfair, and it’ll run us all out of money in a matter of years. Thanks for making the connection Maddow. I wish you could see it.


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