The Writing on the wall

Submitted by Anon on 18 June, 2003 - 1:00
  • UK strikes up
  • Free emergency treatment shock!
  • US poverty-figures
  • Ethical code changes
  • Wish I'd made it up!

UK strikes up

You might have thought the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) bleating about a rise in trade union militancy "slowing the pace of public service reform, and jeopardising the UK's economic competitiveness" was just September conference season sabre-rattling. But bosses are genuinely worried.

The number of British firms hit by strike action has nearly doubled in the past year, according to a new survey, carried out by law firm DLA-one business in five was affected by strikes in the year to July, nearly twice as many as in the previous 12 months.

Pay, working conditions and job security were the most common cause of strike action. Half of employers are bracing themselves for further industrial unrest in the year ahead and most said they had little confidence that managers and unions would be able to smooth over their dispute.

Shame that union leaders aren't equally geared up for a fight, and instead leap to lap up Blair's crumbs of "consultation".

Free emergency treatment shock!

For a sense of what "public service reform" really means, just glance across the Atlantic, where profit-driven healthcare is the model for PFI. Even their limited rights to free emergency treatment are being restricted.

The Bush administration is relaxing rules that say hospitals have to examine and treat people who require emergency medical care, regardless of their ability to pay.

Under the new rule, patients might find it more difficult to obtain certain types of emergency care.

The new rule makes clear that hospitals need not have specialists "on call" around the clock. "The overall effect of this final rule will be to reduce the compliance burden for hospitals and physicians," the administration says. The administration drafted the new rule after hearing complaints from scores of hospitals and doctors who said the old standards were onerous and confusing, exposed them to suits and fines and encouraged people to seek free care in emergency rooms. Courts have often ruled for patients, and against hospitals.

People seeking free emergency medical care - can't have that! Whatever will they think of next?

US poverty-figures

Ever wondered how they could afford those billions of dollars in weaponry?

The number of Americans living below the poverty line increased by more than 1.3 million last year, even though the economy technically edged out of recession during the same period, a Census Bureau report shows.

The total percentage of people in poverty increased to 12.4% from 12.1% in 2001 and totaled 34.8 million. The number of families living in poverty went up by more than 300,000 in 2002 to seven million from 6.6 million in 2001.

The number of children in poverty rose by more than 600,000 to 12.2 million. The rate of increase in children under age 5 jumped a full percentage point to 19.8% living below the poverty line from 18.8% a year earlier. That's right, one in five pre-school children lives in poverty in the richest country on earth. Psychiatrist Oliver James described George W Bush as an "authoritarian driven by suppressed rage". It's not just the children of Iraq who have suffered his wrath.

Ethical code changes

Doctors are set to revise ethical guidelines established after the fall of the Nazi regime to protect patients taking part in clinical trials.

The World Medical Association's general assembly in two weeks' time will discuss the proposed revision of the Declaration of Helsinki, largely under pressure from US-based pharmaceutical giants, backed by their government.

The change would qualify the specific guidelines under which doctors have to ensure that patients who take part in a trial get the best treatment for their medical condition once the tests are over.

The new wording of paragraph 30 of the declaration says doctors "should make every effort to ensure" patients get any "available" drug or other treatment that the study proves is the most effective or appropriate for their condition. But they will not get it until it has been approved by the authorities in their country.

The working group proposing the changes says doctors and drug companies cannot be responsible for the inadequacies of health services in some states. "Neither sponsors nor researchers can take responsibility for deficiencies resulting from political mistakes and global economic circumstances," the statement says.

In other words, it's OK to use the inadequacy of local services to encourage poor people to participate in experiments but once it's over the drug companies are absolved of responsibility for these people.

Wish I'd made it up!

The American soldier Jessica Lynch, rescued by US special forces after being taken prisoner in Iraq, has signed a $1m book deal with publisher Alfred A Knopf. Jessica Lynch was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious combat service, a Prisoner of War medal and the Purple Heart medal, which is usually awarded to those wounded in combat.

Initial reports that she had been shot and stabbed as she fought fiercely against her attackers later turned out to be untrue. A US army investigation concluded that Private Lynch's convoy had stumbled into enemy territory after their severely fatigued commander misread a map, and that she was injured when her vehicle crashed into another in the convoy after being hit by a rocket propelled grenade.

An investigation by the BBC's "Correspondent" programme said the story of the rescue was "one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived".

It is not the first time $1m has been advanced for a major work of fiction.

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