Friday News Review

More questions raised over Lansley’s health reforms

Andrew Lansley has said the UK’s outcomes when it comes to health issues such as heart attack and cancer are among the poorest in Europe, despite similar spending. But John Appleby, chief economist at the King’s Fund think-tank, has now challenged these claims and called for a cautious interpretation of the evidence. While UK heart attack rates in 2006 were twice those in France, the UK will actually have lower rates by 2012 if trends continue, he wrote in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). “Comparing just one year – and with a country with the lowest death rate for myocardial infarction (heart attack) in Europe – reveals only part of the story,” he said. “Not only has the UK had the largest fall in death rates from myocardial infarction between 1980 and 2006 of any European country, if trends over the past 30 years continue, it will have a lower death rate than France as soon as 2012.” – PA

Meanwhile David Cameron has claimed that family doctors’ frustrations with the current healthcare system in England are the driving force behind the controversial Health and Social Care Bill, which will lead to the scrapping of Primary Care Trusts and the establishment of new GP-led “consortia” that can purchase care from state-run hospitals or private providers. Speaking at a Downing Street reception for GPs running pilot schemes on Wednesday night, the Prime Minister said: “So many of you are telling me about your frustration with the current system, that you want to do more and become more involved. That is what is behind all this.” However the doctors’ powerful trade union, the British Medical Association, is stepping up its opposition to the reforms and will hold an emergency meeting of its council in March to discuss them. – the Telegraph

Votes for prisoners

Figures reveal that 1,780 criminals convicted of violent or sexual offences would be eligible to vote under plans to give prisoners voting rights. The BBC learned last week that the government wants to limit the right to those sentenced to less than a year. Ministry of Justice figures for England and Wales at the end of 2010 show 1,551 inmates convicted of violence against a person serving less than a year. There were 229 people convicted of sexual offences in the same bracket. Labour MP Gloria De Piero obtained the figures, which relate to the number of people in jail in England and Wales at the end of December 2010, by submitting a request to the Ministry of Justice. The ministry add a disclaimer, saying the exact figures “are subject to possible errors”, but the political effects cannot be mistaken. – the BBC

Consumer confidence drops

Consumer confidence tumbled to its lowest in almost two years in January, hit by rising inflation, a increase in value-added tax and a looming programme of public spending cuts, a survey showed on Friday. The GfK NOP consumer confidence barometer slid 8 points, the sharpest monthly slump since the recession of 1992, to a 22-month low of -29. Declines were registered in all five categories, with the “climate for major purchases” index the hardest hit following the rise in VAT to 20 percent from 17.5 percent at the start of the month. – Reuters

Woodland sell off

England’s public forests are to be sold off to the private sector for up to £250m, the Government announced yesterday in one of its most contentious policy decisions. In a move squarely driven by the ideology of the Conservative “Big Society” agenda, most of the 637,000 acres of state-owned woodland in England, owned and maintained by the Forestry Commission, is to be sold off over the next decade, despite an angry campaign of opposition and a recent poll showing 84 per cent of the public are firmly against the idea. However, the announcement, made by the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, showed signs of alarm in Whitehall at the antagonism which has been aroused. The Government appeared to be bending over backwards to appease its critics by stressing that a series of safeguards would be built into the process, to ensure continued free public access, good management and wildlife protection in woodlands that were privatised.

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