Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Truth, the whole Truth …. and nothing but the Truth.

Having watched with utter fascination the incredibly rapidly developing events surrounding the unravelling of the edifice that is the News of the World, I have taken some time to think about what the implications for us, the public, may be.

(A very comprehensive collection of Guardian articles, charting the hacking saga, is to be found on a Guardian page, here.)

Sunday will see the last printed issue of the News of the World. Whatever the reason for Rupert and James Murdoch’s apparently sudden decision to ‘dump’ this long-established title from their News International portfolio – and there are as many theories as there are pundits commenting ad nauseam on our screens, on the radio and in the press –  will any of the events of this week make a difference to our lives or our democracy?


Will @mulberrybush, @MagNews and I be able to hang up our keyboards safe in the knowledge that all will now be well with the way the press conducts itself? 


The corruption at the News of the World appears to have happened some years ago and those responsible will, with conscientious detection on the part of the Met’s new Weeting Inquiry, be eventually brought to book.

There are gloomy predictions that similarly dirty practices will be found in the way other papers developed their scoops and sensational stories.

But even were every journalist, member of the police force and private investigator involved in the phone-hacking or blagging arrested, charged and appropriately punished, we would still be left, in the tabloid papers especially, with examples of the kind of journalism which harms our democracy and well-being.

The media, including the press, can be very influential. They can manipulate opinion. 

The writer of the extract below argues that media has little real influence and cites a very good example of a newspaper’s attempt to claim credit for swaying the public’s choice of Government.

From the Independent:  

Leading article: Misunderstanding media influence

Thursday, 1 October 2009

“The Sun newspaper decides to rescind its support for Labour and the political world is turned on its head – or so you would assume from the reaction in the rest of the media yesterday. Sky News spent much of the day reporting on the political reaction to the decision of its News International stable mate. One wonders whether this is a good advert for the media “independence” and “plurality” that James Murdoch spoke up for in Edinburgh in August.

But, in fairness, it was not just News International outlets that were getting excited about this development yesterday. BBC radio and television news programmes were full of coverage of the supposedly crucial development……….

…….All this is over the top. And not just because this change in The Sun’s support was heavily signposted and long expected. It is excessive because it reflects a hopeless misunderstanding about the power of the media.”


Written just before the last General Election, about the Sun‘s dramatic announcement that it was switching its support from Labour to the Tories, this article attempts to dispel any belief we may have as to the power of the press to mould opinion.

You will have guessed by the very fact that I help to run this blog, which seeks to help in a small way to bring about a fundamental change in the behaviour of certain elements of our press, that I cannot agree wholeheartedly with the anonymous writer of that piece!

A newspaper may not be capable of manipulating the political leanings of the population by clearly declaring its own. But what it can do, and there are many examples of this behaviour, is to publish confused, partial, even mendacious facts and data. 

Below are a few of available links to articles and headlines over the past few months which have been proven untrue or inaccurate:

Factcheck: Is ‘Health Tourism’ Costing the Taxpayer £200m? – Full Fact
(Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail)

Factcheck: Can the Disabled Claim ‘Free’ BMWs? – Full Fact
(Daily Mail, Sunday Times, Express)


#pressreform – What’s the Truth Behind the ESA Outrage? 

More fact – checking can be found on the Channel 4 Factcheck page.

For whatever reason, the careless or deliberate inclusion of skewed or inaccurate facts in articles and headlines is misinforming the reader and misrepresenting the truth. The use of incendiary, insulting, emotive language such as  ‘scroungers’,’fiddlers’, ‘workshy’ etc.

When the public are fed the wrong facts, any decision they make, any opinion they develop is not based on truth or accuracy and the paper encouraging rage or contempt is guilty of breaking the trust of us all.

Most journalists are honourable and dedicated to bringing truth and honesty to what they write.

It is the practices of the few which need to be rooted out and exposed. 

Hopefully, the promised Judicial Inquiry, announced by David Cameron yesterday, into the culture and practices of the media will ensure that freedom of the press will no longer mean freedom to peddle lies.


Nick Davies on Phone-hacking, Murdoch and News of the World – Video

The investigative journalist Nick Davies on how the phone-hacking scandal has escalated, leading to News of the World’s announced closure :

How brave was the Dowler family to stand up and criticise their ordeal… ? Then there is this afternoon’s breaking news…

During the last couple of days since Levi Belfield was convicted there has been much press coverage about the sad case of the young girl Milly Dowler who disappeared, later to be found dead.

However, much of the press coverage has been about  Milly’s family – her father, mother and sister who bravely stood up outside the Courthouse to deliver their verdict on the process to which they’d been subjected.  The jury took seven hours to debate and as the verdicts were read out the family broke down sobbing and Mrs. Dowler collapsed, clearly very seriously upset.  But was their upset about the verdicts or the fact that the episode of the inquiry into Milly’s death had ended…  probably both.

The four-week trial saw Milly’s father, Robert Dowler and her mother Sally subjected to cross-examination by Bellfield’s defence team.  Each of them had broken down in the witness box – it was suggested that Milly may have run away because she was unhappy at home.  In their statement outside the courthouse the Dowler family said that the process had been “mentally scarring” and that the justice system was loaded unfairly in favour of the criminal

There have been different accounts of this from the Police and the Defence team, defending their actions although the Police did apologise and has called for changes. Surely the Chief Constable was aware of how the family were being treated? This was a high profile case. Wonder if an apology would have been made had the Dowler family not read out their statements? 

The defence barrister, Jeffrey Samuels QC, has been unavailable for comment. A spokesperson for the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) argued that the adversarial nature of trials is fundamental to justice.  He may have a point. But what about the reporting. Should parts of this trial been held in private.

Finally, it transpires that although the jury debated for seven hours, and this was on the issue of whether Levi Belfield had abducted another girl Rachel Cowles,  the judge discharged the jury without reaching a conclusion.  The judge blamed the media coverage of the trial.,

So basically the media got the in way of a fair trial of Levi Belfield the man suspected of also trying to abduct Rachel Cowles.  The attempted abduction file will lie on file. Clearly questions will be asked about the Judge’s decision to dismiss the jury..   it appears that the Attorney General’s office will be looking into it. 

Yet again the media is in the spotlight.   In May the Attorney General’s office won permission from the high court to bring contempt of court proceedings against the Sun and the Daily Mirror over their coverage of the Chris Jefferies in December last year. He was the man who was arrested on suspicion of murdering Joanna Yeates in Bristol. A date is awaited for the case to be heard.

This afternoon, as I write this blog, the death and reported possible suicide has been announced of Mr. Christopher Shale, a Snr Conservative in David Cameron’s constituency.  I won’t say too much as it is early days but as the circumstances of Mr.Shale’s death unwinds, one has to wonder if external bodies had a role to play – all roads appear to point in that direction! and  Questions arise here too…

At this stage, despite what our political beliefs may be, we should consider the feelings of  Mr.Shale’s family. This will be a very sad time for them.

But watch this space…

Some of the latest media coverage : Dowler family
The Telegraph – Chief Constable talks about ‘shock’ of experience for the Dowler family
The Indy – Lawyers defend cross-examination of Dowler family
The Mail – Murder tore Milly’s family to shreds, and the legal jackels feasted on what was left
The Mail –  Police & Lawyers blame each other for ‘inhumane’ court ordeal
The Guardian Milly Dowler’s family solicitor re phonehacking Milly’s voicemail

Some of the latest media coverage : Christopher Shale
The Guardian – Christopher Shale found dead..
Daily Mail – Did Cameron’s ‘rock’ die of a heart attack 20 hours before his body was discovered in a portable toilet at Glastonbury?
The Telegraph – Tests to reolve mystery death…
The Telegraph – Christopher Shale – big society man 26th June 2011
Sky News – announces Post Mortem on Christopher Shael is ‘unascertained’  27th June 2011
The Indy – ‘Top Tory’s festival a mystery’  Undetermined pathology findings re death of Christopher Shale

A quiet revolution at the NHS Information Centre

Tim Straughan came as a surprise to me.  I am not sure how after three years of following the Stafford Story that day 99 of the inquiry was the first time I heard of the NHS Information Centre. Probably because I have a blind spot for acronymns.
The NHS information system is an important part of the journey to better information about health care. This journey has been going on for many years, and it will continue under this government. It became very apparent that we will be hearing a great deal more of it as it takes the central role in bringing about the “Information revolution” which is one of the key pieces of the NHS reforms.
Take a look at their website which is astonishing.
About us
The NHS Information Centre is England’s central, authoritative source of health and social care information for frontline decision makers.
Our aim is to revolutionise the use of information to improve decision making, deliver better care and realise increased productivity.
I have plenty to say about the NHS reforms, most of it uncomplimentary, but where the plans for the NHS Information centre come in I think I feel reassured.
Mt Straughan is a quietly humorous and diplomatic man. He speaks with precision and economy.  He runs a 500 strong team that deals with the data collection, analysis, processing and dissemination of an astonishingly varied mass of data designed to help us see what is going on in the NHS and social care systems.
We do need an information revolution, and the Midstaffs story shows us many of the reasons why.
Midstaffs and information
Throughout the Mid Staffs Inquiry we have been repeatedly hearing about problems with access to information
·         There are people who had access to a piece of information but were missing out on another bit which might help complete the picture. 
·         Bits of information that people think have been hidden have attracted huge and unwarranted attention. This has created ideal breeding grounds for Conspiracy theories.
·         Information has been seriously misunderstood and misused.
·         There are question marks about the quality of quite a lot of data, and it is clear that staff collecting and inputting data do not always have the same understanding as the system designers.
·         There have not been enough trusted people to advise on the quality of information, and many decisions, some of them important ones, have been taken by people who do not understand the limitations of the data they are using.
·         There have been simmering rows and resentments between different statisticians with different ways of measuring things.
·         There has been a major problem with the use of information by the press, which must relate to both the way in which information is given to the press and media, the responsibilities they have to use information correctly, and the options we have for challenging them when they need to be challenged.
Statisticians and Clinicians
What we perhaps see, when we look at the way in which Statisticians and Clinicians interact is a kind of mutual incomprehension. The Statisticians that I have listened to within the course of the inquiry are people who care very deeply about the health service and know that they have something valuable to offer. They know that by helping people to challenge their thinking and see things differently that they can help to transform the delivery of health care. Clinicians are too often swamped by dealing with day to day pressures of looking after individual patients in an overstretched health service, and will often feel quite irritated with what looks like additional things that they are required to do.  
Both Clinicians and Statisticians would agree that the task is to improve safety and quality of care for patients but perceptions of what helps with this will vary.
The interface between statisticians and Clinicians is further complicated by political rows about the effectiveness and cost of the health service.  This often leads, as it did in Stafford, to statistical tools which were designed as an honest tool for assisting clinicians make better decisions, being abused as a political weapon to beat the NHS and the government of the time.  
Often the pressure to complete data inputting is financial or part of the regulatory burden. As the health service attempts to measure performance to ensure value for money then failing to complete paper work on time, or in the right way can have consequences.  The pressure to complete the task without the necessary understanding or attention to detail is a real issue.
The private sector issue
None of this is helped by the conflict between different information companies that has erupted in the case of Stafford Hospital where the views about the quality of the information are in direct conflict, or by the deep hostility that many people within the NHS instinctively feel towards the involvement of commercial companies.
Distrust of statistics used by the media and politicians.
Many people do have a natural scepticism about Statistical information. This is not surprising. A huge number of news stories and the kind of rows that routinely erupt in PMQs are based on Statistics, often wrongly used or wrongly presented, so trust in statistics is being routinely undermined.
The media love dramatic stories, and most journalists are come from an arts background and are not good at dealing with the intrinsic difficulties of probability data, so we get the “swine flu” scenario, with Jeremy Paxman demanding that the chief Statistician tell us how many millions of people are going to die.
Statistics used well can help the NHS save lives, and can help the public and politicians see that they do so.  Statistics that are misused can cause distress, and confusion. 
The Role of the NHS information Centre.
All of this forms a background to the role of the information centre.
We have seen a huge proliferation of different sorts of data, and huge arguments about the quality of data. We are, as Tim Straughan says, data rich and information poor. The mission of the NHS information centre is to cut through these arguments. To make data available to anyone who can make effective use of it.
The aim of the information centre is very ambitious. It is there to gather as much information about the health service as possible in one single place. It will make it available for people to see in the most transparent way possible. The centre aims to cut out duplication, and will work with a range of people who can provide a service of analysing the data. Some will be within the NHS, many will be private sector firms or individuals. The uses to which this information will be put are only just beginning to be imagined. The users will make use of the data with clear understandings of the rules of use. Much of the information they produce will then come under the umbrella of the Information centre. Users are already being invited to set up their home pages within the Information centre website.
Tim Straughan talks about the need for greater confidence in information – The need to be free from political interference. There also need to be the possibility of sanctions against people who breach strict rules governing the use of official statistics. He mentioned that there has already been an occasion where a minister has misused figures on Knife crime which came from NHS sources, and has been given an official reprimand by the National Statistician. 
Given how much time and energy is wasted by exercised like having to fact check just about everything that is said in PMQs and ministerial questions, and the lack of public trust that this generates then I would personally welcome this. We need our politicians to be using good information. We need the press to be using good information, we need both of them to be able to check with authoritative sources, and we need there to be effective ways of challenging them and getting corrections made when they are wrong.
I am not expecting miracles here, but I think that the intention behind this information centre is genuinely to improve the quality of information that informs the public and informs political decision making.
Tim Straughan was asked about what data gets collected. He says that there is a remarkable degree of global agreement on what it is needed to collect.
In the Stafford Case we have got very bogged down in the issues surrounding one particular set of data, the HSMR system. Tim says that we are moving away from the idea that one figure can possibly tell the story, There needs to be ways of cross checking with a wide range of other information. He says the centre is working with 300 indicators that can show us a much more rounded and complete picture.
Health service managers and the public will have access to a dashboard of indicators that will both prevent simplistic observations and help us to see better.
The intention is to carry information about many things including :
·         Outcomes.
·         Complaints
·         Work force Data
·         HSMR
·         Prevention
·         Population health
·         Lifestyles
·         Primary Care
·         Community care
·         Social care.
Moving towards consensus.
The kind of issue that happened in Stafford with the eruption of a dispute between rival information companies is unfortunate, and the information has already played a significant role in bringing the parties together to more towards a mutually agreed system for the future.
Views on Dr Foster.
Tim tells us that there are very mixed views within the health service about the company. Some are firm believers in the system, others are not. Many people felt strongly that the publication of the League table without having made the methodology available, and gained universal acceptance of their methods was certainly premature, and probably inappropriate.
On the subject of transparency Tim can see both sides of the argument. He defends the DFI because He says that they did in fact believe that they had published their methodology in a transparent way, but he also accepts that people found in practice that there was not enough detail to permit people to replicate the results and so people were still not convinced.
Tim is very clearly determined to get people to work together. I believe that it is possible for him to do this. Many of the disagreements that have existed are down to extraneous factors outside the substance of the statistical material. When viewed calmly, and out of the glare of publicity that has bedevilled this issue people can see that this is the case. 
Tims view of the individuals he has met in relation to the Stafford case is a refreshingly generous one. He values the skills, the creativity and the integrity of the individuals involved.  He describes DFI people in particular as sparky people, pushing the boundaries of knowledge.  
One of the issues that did emerge about Dr Foster is that as they were working with the DoH to advise on statistics that they could not bid for the work that they wanted to do. There has been a separation of the DoH from DFI so now there is no longer a conflict of interest.
Francis report and SHMI
The problems between the different groups of statisticians became fully apparent during the first Francis inquiry. He recommended work to resolve that and that is why the NHS information centre brought the Statisticians together to thrash out the framework for the SHMI system.
The Concordat on HSMR
As a result of the work towards SHMI there is now a definitive statement on the limitations on HSMR and the assumptions that can be drawn from it. This clarifies that the use of the 400-1200 excess death figures for Stafford is inappropriate. This concordat which we saw briefly on the screen at the inquiry shows that most of the key players in the NHS, including Doctor Foster Intelligence have signed this.
The Future.
Tim is very proud and optimistic about what is being to develop information systems. It is clear from what we have heard from him and from Richard Hamblin that there is real potential for something remarkable.
Restoring Trust.
Robert Frances picked up on the issues of political interference with statistical information and the need to protect statistics against misuse.  He is suggesting that NHS statistics should be issued through the National Statistics office, and that there should be clear codes of practice to prevent misuse, with penalties for those who do.
The complicated and as yet little understood saga of Stafford and HSMR has been the trigger for beginning a remarkable information revolution.
The future should be very interesting indeed. 

Some people are having problem in posting responses. We are not sure why that is. If you do type a response, please save it, and if you have a problem in posting it contact me through twitter, @mulberrybush
Diana Smith

Dr Foster Intelligence. Roger Taylors Story

The evidence from Dr Foster intelligence is another of the days that it would have been impossible for me to miss at the inquiry. This blog is again me working under time pressure, and I cannot do Roger Taylor justice this way. I will come back to it in a lot more detail later. This evidence turned out to be one of the most important days so far. It has certainly provided me with the piece of the jigsaw that I had missing.
Dr Foster Intelligence is central to the Stafford Story. This is the company that published the Dr Foster league table of mortality rates in 2007. This is what set the hare running that would eventually lead to the Healthcare Commission investigation and all the subsequent inquiries.
Dr Foster intelligence is the commercial company set up to sell the information systems designed by Professor Jarman to Hospitals and a range of other users. There is a price tag of £35,000 per hospital per year for that service.  If you want to see what commercialisation within the Health service looks like then Dr Fosters is a good place to start. If you want to see how we face the challenge of incorporating commercial organisations into the health service, and the incomprehension this can bring with it then Dr Fosters and the Stafford experience is a very good place to start. 
The company has always seemed shadowy to me. People talk about their large plush offices, sales techniques that seem a little alien to many of the people who work within the NHS and their reluctance to share commercially sensitive material.
It was important to me to be able to put a face to this company. What I saw was the face of an energetic company that is capable of doing some really innovative things, some imperfectly, a company that is subject to the pressures which come with the need to generate profit. This is “a different country. They do things differently here! “
Robert Taylor is an imposing, or even handsome man, perhaps one of the most articulate speakers we have heard, his previous job was as a journalist with the Financial times. He came across as very professional in a business world kind of way. I came prepared to be hostile but I liked him.
The Lawyer wasted no time – we were straight to the point.
This is the bold claim that Dr Fosters made in their publication of 2007 
Hospital mortality ratios are an effective way to measure and compare clinical performance, safety and quality. Deaths in hospital are important and unequivocal health outcomes. They are also relatively straightforward to measure, being clearly defined events that must be reported in law.”
The lawyer wanted to know if this was an over claiming of the position.  Can the System actually act as measure of performance and quality? Or are they over claiming?
Roger Taylor came up with a different statement   
in measuring clinical outcomes and clinical performance there are no perfect measures. What we try to do at Dr Foster is provide the best possible information that can be derived from the data that is available
 I’m saying an effective measure of safety is one that helps you identify the risk of something being wrong.
This is of course in line with many of the statements made by people throughout the inquiry that the system can act as a warning system – a prompt to go and look. That is the limitations of what it can do.
The lawyer asked if it was right to put information into the public domain – and he felt that it is, with the right kind of caveats, which he believed were in place – in that the wording was in his publication.
Roger Taylors views on the public are interesting.
The public as well, I should stress, are all — although they are not statistically very — on average very knowledgeable, they are very cognisant of the fact that this type of performance information is – is imperfect and they are very aware of that fact.
In general I would completely accept his assertions that the Public recognise garbage when they see it, What of course has to be remembered is the way in which the garbage about Stafford has been packaged and repeated through channels that people want to trust, that they can no longer make these judgements. He talks about the scepticism of the public about statistical information which he sees as essentially a healthy thing, This exists, It will be increased if the Stafford story is ever properly seen or understood by the public, and it is a tragedy because good statistics, appropriately used can really help us pin point and solve problems.
He talks about the way that what is on the public’s mind affects the thinking of health service managers, for instance the public priorities in 2006/7 were waiting times and infection. He wants the data they use to be part of the process of informing the public effectively, and helping them to be a part of the process.
He also thinks that being transparent has the effect of helping to improve the quality of data and of data systems.
I hope he is right. A large part of the press coverage that has occurred in the Stafford Case has been about trying to
Dig for bits of information that were withheld. Assuming that these contained the real truth and making them the story. A large part of them has also been the focus on one single indicator – the HSMR, which in the case of Stafford was, for complex reasons (will blog later) fatally flawed. As we here in the evidence from the NHS information centre (blog to follow)  A vast amount of data will become publicly available this autumn as part of the public information revolution and the NHS will be working on 300 different indicators rather than one eye catching but misleading figure.
The lawyer raised the matter of acceptance – and it was clear that within the NHS there was a very mixed response to the information produced in 2007 People did not trust either the methodology or the quality of the data.
The backing of the DoH did something to help to establish the company as legitimate, but there was still suspicion.
A lot of people felt uncomfortable with the idea of a private company making profit from public information, and especially uncomfortable with the idea that the methodology was not transparent. This suspicion still persists.
Roger Taylor was asked about the relationship with the government. It is clear that this is not a simple matter – a government that is at the start of its term may welcome transparency – but once in a difficult position, and subject for criticism then they may become less supportive.
Roger Taylor was asked about the tricky relationship with the SHA. He was very open about this – It was a difficult relationship, it is worth reading the transcript on this – P17>. It appears to me that these two men now understand each other pretty well. – in a good way!
This exchange with the Chairman (Robert Francis) is interesting.
3 that. You publish your annual guide, which to make no
4 bones about it, seems to result in the odd chief
5 executive resigning, but it seems to follow —
6 A. I would say that that isn’t actually the case. I know
7 there has been speculation about that but —
8 THE CHAIRMAN: But that is a potential perception and it is
9 a perception that may matter here.
10 You also sell services to trusts which allows them,
11 in effect, to get some of the information that ends up
12 in the guide in advance and, therefore, an opportunity
13 to do something about it. Is there not a potential
14 conflict between your commercial activities in that
15 regard and the use of publicity in a way which may
16 promote those commercial activities?
Robert Taylor says that the hospitals who buy in do not at present get an advantage, but because this “enrages customers” they will be changing this policy, and in future customers will get a chance to challenge figures before publication.
There is P23 a discussion on methodology. DFI had the impression they were being transparent on this – Tim Straughan picks up on this in the afternoon. The openness on methodology was open in that all ingredients declared, but not how you mix or bake them.
There is a move towards greater openness all the time – with a lot of material being published on NHS choices.
There is a very interesting exchange with Steve Allen – begins p27 which shows the tension before the publication of a Dr Foster Guide. Roger Taylor made it clear that they are always worried about legal challenge.
Steve Allen is making the points that DFI should Consult, reach agreement on methods and then measure. Roger Taylor accepts that there is a need towards much better agreement.
My own observations as I listened to this ( and maybe this is unfair) was that what we have at the moment is a commercial organisation outside the NHS, which depends on publicity to sell its services and is essentially free to lob bombs into the NHS.
I think this is a perception many hospitals share, and the essential “commercial” challenge for DFI is to overcome this distrust.
We looked briefly at the relationship with Prof Jarman. See P33.
The issue of HSMRs was discussed P35 There has been an active debate about their use and limitations since 2000. The Stafford Case has brought that out into the open and has forced statisticians to work together, bringing together a consensus around the SHMIs These will not be a fixed entity The SHMIs will keep developing over time.
I am now going to have to curtail this piece – to get to today’s hearing on time, but there are a number of important themes that come through.
The issue of the palliative care coding which first arose in Professor Jarman’s evidence was explored in more detail. The Lawyer I think correctly raised the possibility that the correction of data which led Professor Jarman to suspect gaming – the main theme in the media coverage of his evidence – was in fact perfectly possibly the correction of very bad miscoding. This is certainly the way that I interpret it. (more to come)
We heard how the hospital at the first attempt of correcting their data first piled lots of people into Palliative care code, which was not right, but later moved to much better coding of the co-morbidities – which corrected the method and had the effect that the HSMR has stayed low.
Robert Francis raised the matter of the 400-1200 excess deaths and has had a clear statement from Roger Taylor that these figures should never have been used. They are an illegitimate interpretation of the data. Roger Taylor referred to the document he had co-signed on this issue which clarifies the limitations of HSMR. We saw this document in the afternoon. (more to come)
Robert Francis raised his real concern at the way in which the media continue to misuse the death rates and excess deaths. (more to come)
A pivotal moment for me came with the matter of the claim that 80% of the cases in Stafford had originally been coded wrongly. This clearly came as a bolt out of the blue to Roger. It was a major shock. It people could get the methods this wrong then that is a fundamental blow to the integrity of his system. He clearly did not want to believe that this was possible.
I would have to advise anyone with a doubt about quite how bad the data was to go back to the healthcare commission report which deals with this in some detail.  The data was that bad, for a complex mix of reasons. (more later)
The other important moment came when Roger Taylor was asked if they make any attempt to control the quality of the data used by their system. He said that they have simple ways of checking if the material is complete – enough entries, and timely- they have no way of checking of their customers are operating the system in entirely the wrong way.
He was asked if there needs to be better ways of checking the quality of the data. His answer was Yes.
More Later!

How lucrative is the private health & care home business and who are some of the figures behind such businesses…?

Initially the issue was about the appalling treatment residents suffered as shown on the recent Panorama programme.  However, as more information comes to light, more questions arise about the ‘care industry’!

Today’s Daily Mail Headline :  No 10 Man at heart of care homes scandal : Blair aide’s key role at bank that oversaw sale of troubled Southern Cross empire

Jeremy Heywood is now David Cameron’s Permanent Secretary at Downing Street – he is tipped to be the next Cabinet Secetary.  No mention of that in the headlines – the headlines concentrate on Heywood being close to Tony Blair !  Also he spent some time in Gordon Brown’s government too.   Hmm…  a case of the right wing press looking after the right wing government…  A rather biased edge in reporting here which of course is why #pressreform was established – to expose/debate about the media especially unfair reporting, but rarely has it been so blatant !  But that point isn’t the main crux of this blog…  It merely opened up what appears to be a rather large can of worms… read on..

Within the Daily Mail article the name of Baroness Sally Morgan of Huyton appears..  She is a Non-Executive Director of Southern Cross, having taken up her post in 2006. She is a Labour peer and was filmed along with Stephen Byers, Geoff Hoon and Margaret Hewitt in a Dispatches programme entitled ‘Politicians for Hire’ where it was suggested they could provide access to government for the business and corporate world – for cash !  Remember it ? I understand that The Baroness was cleared by a sub-committee of the House of Lords.  Then there was the expenses issue

Apart from being associated with Southern Cross The Baroness also sits alongside Alan Milburn on Lloyds Pharmacy advisory panel. He, of course, is a former Health Minister. And she sits on the board of Carphone Warehouse!  All very lucrative I’m sure.  This is a profile of Labour that I hate to bring up, but if I don’t do so in this blog then I’m not being honest. It’s painful. These factors remind me that Labour must examine ethics about what is acceptable and what is not.

Back to Baroness Morgan! In February this year, Michael Gove, Cameron’s Education Minister decided to appoint her to be Head of Ofsted, the education watchdog !  So not only was she a go-between with the trade unions it appears that TheBaroness has transcended into the coalition government.  Quite a gal – of sorts!  We know that Milburn also serves this coalition government as do one or two other Labour figures.  The most recent remarks by the GMB towards the coalition, especially after Vince Cable’s attack warning against strikes, has not been very friendly !  Kevin Maguire from the Daily Mirror isn’t too keen on Baroness Sally Morgan either
Last week Cameron stated that 31,000 residents from the troubled Southern Cross Care Homes would be found alternative accommodation.  What really concerns me, however, is where will these residents be transferred to…   I wonder if it could be with Barchester Care Homes? Barchester essentially appears to be the same company as Castlebeck – the care home featured last week on Panorama. Barchester is one of the largest groups of care homes – headed up by Mike Parsons who knows and chats to er..  yes one Mr. David Cameron  He has talked quite openly about his support for Cameron’s policies  and adds that he hates health & safety checks ! Indeed, I imagine he does, even more so after the Panorama documentary on Castlebeck   Video :  

So what else do we know about Mike Parsons ?  Well, he has plenty of business interests…  and from media reports and his own Barchester website he appears to offer a great service in healthcare whether it be Barchester Healthcare, Castlebeck or whatever other company he has ! He reckons that health and socialcare needs to change and that with Barchester ‘You’re in good hands’   This conveys a rather different picture from Panorama !  This piece on Westminster Healthcare explains how we pay from the public purse… Westminster Healthcare ? You’ve probably guessed…  yes another Mike Parsons business  
By now you will gather that there’s quite a lot of money to be made from vulnerable people and the taxpayer who happen to fund much of these businesses ! And here’s some more information about Parsons and his partners…   Now you’d think that Mr. Parsons and his partners made enough money out of healthcare.. but no… have a look at this list especially under the name of Michael Dennis Parsons.  It reveals one company Burleigh House Properties Ltd – estate agents  And if that isn’t enough here are lots of details re Barchester
Well you might be rubbing your hands thinking that there’ll be lots of tax collected, ensuring that taxpayers’ money is filtering back into the Treasury.  Really? Is that what you thought ?  The holding Company of Castlebeck, Barchester etc., is called Grove Limited and is based in Jersey,  Not only that but there’s an investment company called Lydian Capital which is backed by the three Irish owners of Castlebeck… Lydian is based in Geneva. Yet another tax haven.  The three Irish entrepeneurs also have financial interests in horseracing and in the Sandy Lane Resort, Barbados – here’s a bit of info together with a profile of one of it’s owners Mr. J P McManus also co-owner of Barchester, Castlebeck…  and even radio stations ! Wonder what else he and his fellow entrepeneurs own…   What will they turn their attention to next, the NHS?! 
Mr. McManus is Irish by birth, has massive business interests in Britain, manages a holding company in Jersey and lives in Switzerland.  I wonder if Ireland loses out…   Yes, healthcare is big business and we may suspect that we the British taxpayers appear to be losing tax from profits made in the UK, much of it paid for by us, the taxpayers and/or from vulnerable people! I wonder what the real scandal is ?

And remember, this blog focuses on just one such provider of health & social care !
And finally, if you think abuse is centred in just one or two care homes, have a look at this list  Now is the time to have a debate about health and social care.  If we ignore, we do so at our peril.  Should health & social care be in the hands of a few people who make huge profit, or in the public domain…  Will there be a public sector to be able to have such a consideration ? And who is the private care sector accountable to ? Is this the sort of provision we want for the NHS?  I think not…
All the information used in this blog is publicly available. 

What is the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) ?

I have re-posted the blog as it appears to be so pertinent following the panel debate on Newsnight this evening…  Some of it may appear to be not from today – you’d be right – it was written a few months ago but the issues are the same !  I hope the links in blue are !!

It appears that more and more people are complaining about what is and what is not appearing in the newspapers, the emphasis placed up on it and how news is reported on tv with suggestions that ‘this just isn’t fair’.  Some take up their complaints with the Press Complaints Commission and here are some recent cases some would say not too serious. What about the more serious one’s…

So what is the PCC, under whose jurisdiction does it operate and who funds it ? Well, here lies a story…

For starters I find that “The independent Chairman is appointed by the newspaper and magazine publishing industry” according to the PCC website. Independent ? Really ? Why would the newspaper and magazine publishing industry appoint the Chairman… I can see that such an action would be in their interests… Aaaah, I get it… on further investigation I find that the PCC is funded by… the press ! Yes, the press ! I suppose this is where the term ‘self-regulation’ comes into reality.

How can it be right that the press can fund a Commission to investigate complaints about the press ? How can the press insist that the only option available to complainants is for them to complain to a body which has been created by the press and is based on a Code which the press drafted. Yes the Commission drafted it’s own code – by members of the Press ?  The press of course has access to lawyers to defend their case. Many individuals do not ! And there appears to be no element of appeal ! Here is the editors’ code of practice

You’ll be comforted to know that the editors’ code of practice is periodically reviewed by “a special committee of editors” ! Yes editors ! The Chairman of that special committee I gather, is Paul Dacre from the Daily Mail  The Chair of the PCC itself is Baroness Peta Buscombe, a Conservative Peer. There’s an article relating to her and the PCC here and it’s an interesting little story!

I began to search to find out how and why the PCC was established in the first place. It seems that it replaced a body called The Press Council which was considered not to be fulfilling it’s role from what I can gather. So the PCC was formed in 1991. Seems a long time ago and the media and press has changed since those days… one example being that there wasn’t the incessant coverage of 24 hour news that we have today. Don’t think the ‘paparazzi’ was around either?   It seems to me, and I know to many, that the press just appear to get away with whatever they wish to write…  Once the headline is there, it’s there.  If an apology is ever given it’s usually on page 17…  hidden away.  Broadcasters seem to believe that we’ll believe anything they spout forth !  That really isn’t the case at all…  We’ve all become media savvy and it’s time the press woke up to it !  They treat us as though we’ve just landed on planet earth…

And finally who is the PCC accountable to ? I’m afraid that is an answer I cannot give as I’ve not been able to find any reference to the PCC being accountable to anyone but itself !

And if you’re really interested here’s some further information :
Website of the PCC
The governanace of the PCC : An independent review
er.. who undertook the review ? Hmmm…

This week-end has seen the unfolding of criminal activity that cannot be ignored however much the press would like to ignore it…   The press of course are usually the one’s to break the news where unfairness is seen to be playing a part or where criminal activity takes place and is of public interest.  But this story is about them!!   And it has taken months to receive the tiniest smattering of coverage. Now we are beginning to find out why… 

More newspapers appear to have been caught out in the phone-hacking saga – the first person to break this news was a lawyer. Since then others have come forward…  Are people frightened of the press for some reason ?  And let’s not forget that phone-hacking is illegal..   This is a very serious matter.  We have No 10 involved, the judgement of the PM, a former Prime Minister who believes his phone was hacked, members of the Royal Family, various celebrities, other Members of Parliament, Vodafone is in there somewhere…     Have I left anyone out….   I’m sure there’s someone else…  of course, one Mr. Rupert Murdoch, for whom all roads seem to lead  in this issue.   So where does this leave the BSkyB application ?…  Are we really confident that Mr. Murdoch’s application should go through without a blink ?  I, for one, am certainly not ?

This week-end has seen news uncover that makes it apparent that ‘things have been going on’ for a long time. One question that springs to my mind is – who holds the power – and who exactly runs this country ? 

But not to worry – we can always turn to the PCC !

Let us know what you think ?  Your views are important…


Thankyou, Full Fact!

Promoting accuracy in public debate

It’s a rare day which doesn’t see the group whose logo is reproduced at the head of this page checking facts which appear on the printed page of a newspaper or are uttered by ‘experts’ and politicians. 

Prompted sometimes by a member of the public, concerned that what they’ve read or heard may not be true, and sometimes I suspect out of a doubt in their own minds, the team at Full Fact research the data until they have got to the bottom of the problem. They then publish their Factcheck results online on their website as well as to the increasingly wide audience of Twitter. 

They appear to be refreshingly non-partisan and fair in the way they present their conclusions, unlike the many of the sources of the ‘facts’ they investigate!

More and more, Full Fact is becoming a real force in holding organisations, especially the press, to account and have had a great deal of success in extracting corrections to articles which contain inaccuracies.

Tonight, a tweet from Full fact appeared on my timeline containing the following link: Newspapers Correct Incapacity Benefit Claims After Full Fact Complaint .

I had noticed what appeared to be exaggerations and inaccuracies in an article in the Express on April 28th 

and wrote a blogpiece in an attempt to show how such a piece could be divisive and hurtful to the subject of the article. 

Full Fact went much further, examined similar claims printed in the Sun, Telegraph and the Daily Mail and have managed, by way of complaint to the PCC, to wrench an agreement from all three newspapers to print corrections to their articles.  

 The process was not easy:

“Unfortunately we again found that the papers’ reluctance to acknowledge the error made the correction process longer and harder than it needed to be, however we are happy that Full Fact’s work seem to have been taken on board: when the latest set of ‘fit to work’ statistics were released a few weeks ago, the papers all managed to avoid repeating this mistake (although we did come across other errors).”

If any justification were needed for the setting up of Full Fact, the final paragraph of their announcement of their success says it all:

“We hope that by finally setting the record straight these particular errors will not be repeated by the MPs considering the Welfare Reform Bill, and Full Fact stands ready to ensure that future discussion of the legislation bear a closer resemblance to the facts.”
More power to Full Fact’s collective elbow!                                                                                     

Hysteria, Revenge, Hysteria, Counter Revenge… has a pattern developed and how is it being driven…

For some reason I awoke just after 3.00am having had a deep refreshing sleep.  Almost as though it was meant to be.  Now, some of you know that my sleep pattern is far from normal… so the fact that I was tweeting at 3.45am came as no surprise !  Yes my antennae was switched on and buzzing – there was definitely something happening…  I turned on my lap top and lo and behold there was a statement from CNN stating that President Obama would be speaking from The White House in about 30 minutes at 10.30pm eastern time – 3.30am UK time.  On went the telly. Yes, there was  Wolf Blitzer from The Situation Room confirming what was about to happen.  Er..  hang on…  10.30pm on a Sunday evening from The White House… ? Excuse me – what on earth could be going on.. Definitely something BIG ! I was awake enough to realise that.

I looked at BBC News, Sky News – nothing happening !  So I sent a couple of tweets along the lines of  ‘Wakey Wakey….  are you aware of what’s happening?’.   The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger was the first journalist in the UK to latch on to what was happening and the following piece came out at 4.00am and eventually the BBC and Sky woke up – I even sent them tweets saying ‘Wakey wakey something big is happening’ !  But CNN was on the spot and on the ball ! Obama made his statement 

And then the news began to roll…   Oh and goodness me, did it roll ?  Well and truly.  Experts were called into CNN, Fox News which was.. er… was er..  Fox News!  I’ll choose not to go there… I didn’t stay there anyway ! Experts were called in and asked for their opinions.    CNN showed people waving, screaming, shouting and cheering from the railings in front of the White House and the cheering and dancing continued later in Times Square and other places in the United States.  Clips of 9/11 and the atrocity of the twin towers were shown…  Yes, the man most wanted had been found and now no longer existed.   Osama bin Laden was dead.  Cameron looking a little bleary eyed, sporting a different sort of unruly hairstyle gave his response

In the hours that followed many comments, opinions, pictures, new and historical videos were conveyed.  It all poured out very quickly and presenters were almost tripping over each other such was their zeal to be the first to break each little teeny weeny minute piece of news.  Statements were made, not all matching by any means. Different accounts were given – all by no-one who was actually there but nevertheless each and every word was given as gospel…   convincingly…  but even so some were not accurate! A photograph of bin Laden was circulating on twitter and did so for hours before it was announced that the photograph was actually two years old !   Of course by the time I publish this blog, that may have been retracted and  proven to be accurate !!  Even now over 12 hours later the pieces of news that were breaking then are being ‘corrected’ or as they would prefer to say, ‘confirmed’ at this time.  It was dramatic, make no mistake of that.  Shock and excitement being conveyed.  Most of the news, of course came via tv stations. A flavour of the day :  Sky   BBC blog
BBC News  View from Israel  FoxNews

But how did all this begin?   Why did Osama bin Laden become such a venerated & worshipped figure amongst some – yet  feared and hated by others ?  I don’t think anyone on any tv station has raised this today, (apart from him heading a terrorist organisation) yet there has been much speculation as to who his successor might be – almost along the lines of who the next Pope would be !  What about Al Qaeda…  it’s future…  But who/what is Al Qaeda and why has it become part of our lives ?  I would have thought that after such an event as has been reported today, that this question might have been examined but instead we’ve been awarded different accounts of the same story hour after hour…  It all began on 9/11 or did it…?  Doesn’t it go back further ?  Where do we go from here ?  Do we want the same relationship.  I’m not sure that I do…  Do you ?  How did it all begin ?

A quick potted history : The commencement of Al Qaeda is usually traced to the 1979 Soviet War in Afghanistan. The US was of the opinion that the Soviet support of the Afghan Marxists against the Afghan Mujahedeen was an indication of Soviet aggression and a way of expansion. Clearly the US felt uncomfortable.  Operation Cyclone was launched via the CIA which forwarded funds through Pakistan’s Intelligence agency to the Mujahedeen.  Osama bin Laden approached the wealthy of Saudi Arabia to fund some organisations to fight the Afghan Marxists such as the Maktab-al-Khidamat group from which Al-Qaeda was created.  In 1989 the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan but the communist Afghan government remained in power for a further three years, eventually over-ruled by the Mujahedeen which struggled to successfully provide an administration. I well remember the dreadful scenes from Afghanistan during that time and we have certainly seen them in recent years.  Continual fighting left the region devastated.  The struggle then spread to other parts of the world by some Mujahadeen and various organisations were created to take the struggle further, one such organisation being Al-Qaeda which I understand was created & headed up by Osama bin Laden.

The above all occurred  before 11th September 2001 – or as we have come to know it – 9/11.  We know what happened that day.  Afterwards, Bush reacted, deided to go  into Iraq taking Britain with him !  And we were part of a fully fledged war in the middle east. The US is still there…  but do the American people wish to draw a line under all of the above ?  You bet they do !  So where now ?

Without doubt Al Qeada will be appointing a new leader, if it hasn’t done so already.  Maybe the first indication we receive of that will be a violent one, injuring many many people.  I sincerely hope not but it’s likely and we are reaslistic enough to face up to that fact.  Warnings to be vigilant have already been issued by the US Govt and the UK Foreign Office.  I think we all reckon on revenge being taken for the US taking the life of Osama bin Laden.  Can it be avoided ?  Well, bin Laden brought various grievances and some of us will remember that these included  the presence of US troops in the Middle East; the brutality and treatment of the Palestinians; and the continued sanctions against Iraq.

Do we argue with any of that ?  Do we and the US have such concerns…  ?  Haven’t we aired such grievances…?   Am I saying that we have common concerns about what is happening in the world ?  I think I am….  Is it just too simple to sit down and talk…  before any more lives are lost…  To do so we need to be chasing an agenda of peace, not war.  We ALL need to be able to ‘Turn the other cheek’ and to take one quote from the Quran ‘Turn thou then from them and say, ‘Peace’.  Would that be possible…  would it ?  Could we do that ?   After all, where does fighting and war take us…  ?  Is it too much to ask ?  Or maybe not enough….  Ask yourselves, what is the alternative ?  More of the same…  more lives lost…  we all lose loved one’s in the end. Is that what we really want ?  Losing mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children… 

Could world leaders take us there ?  Would it be possible ?  Are they ready for that ?   How would the media handle such a thought, such a consideration?  Would it be as ‘thrilling’ for some as the news which has broken today? Would it sell newspapers or would the thought of peace not be quite so sensational?  Oh I’m not naieve to believe it could happen without serious repercussions from some quarters…  or that it could happen overnight, or could it ?  Isn’t it worth a try ?  For all of us and for our children ? For peace, not war…

What forms our perception of Stafford Hospital?

After three years of expert reports and press coverage there are reasons why we may still not be seeing what happened at Stafford clearly.

Here is my perception of what happened.