Category Archives: Current affairs

Japan must take responsibility for its past

Yesterday the news broke that the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is considering watering down the 1995 apology over Japan’s wartime past.

My father was a Japanese Prisoner of War in Java2014-07-15 13.24.28 with all the horrors that entailed. He, along with thousands of others, was subjected to the most horrific torture. Torture which included being staked out in the midday sun with a glass of water just out of reach, to routine beatings and operations without anaesthetic. Some prisoners told stories of being forced to drink pints of water, being tied to the ground and then having gleeful guards jump on their stomachs.

My father spoke of the terror when the Kempetei (the Japanese equivalent of the Gestapo) would arrive at the camp and order ten men outside to dig their own graves. Nobody knew who would be called next-all they could do was listen to the shots being fired and the thud as the men fell.

Prisoners were starved and the camps were rife with cholera and dysentery. My father spoke of eating anything he could find including frogs, spiders and snakes. When the Americans finally liberated Java, they were faced with a vision from hell, as they were greeted by thousands of skeletal men with sunken eyes and broken bodies. Many could not cope with “normal” life on return to the UK and simply dropped dead. Many others, like my father, who survived, often never recovered psychologically.

My father’s experiences damaged him for his whole life. He lost his Catholic faith and indeed his faith in the whole of mankind. He was prone to long bouts of deep depression and terrifying nightmares which had a tremendous impact on our family and particularly my mother. For her part my father was not the husband she had fallen in love with four years earlier. She often spoke of her fear he would wake from one of his nightmares and strangle her.

It took years and years to get the Japanese to even recognise that they played a part in the ill treatment and torture of prisoners of war (they were not subject to the Geneva Convention as Germany were). Although many of the more brutal guards were brought to trial and hanged, an apology seemed never to be on Japan’s radar. When it did come it was too late for my father-he died fifteen years ago. However, there are still survivors of those hell camps for whom it would be a terrible insult to hear Japan reneging on its statement.

It took a very long time for Japan to come to terms with the part it played in World War II and manage to say sorry. Even now some Japanese, just like Holocaust deniers, still believe that accounts of Japan’s wartime atrocities were lies or gross exaggerations. They believe it is time for Japan to become proud of itself once more.

On the other side liberal defenders of Japan’s Constitution say the country should never forget how it invaded Southeast Asia and the disaster that arrived in its wake. I am pretty sure that if my father was alive he would be quite certain on which side of the fence he would sit.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of all those prisoners in the Far East. I feel strongly we should not forget the horrendous experiences they went through and that the Japanese should face up to their responsibilities for their past actions.

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Cutting A&E attendance is not rocket science

UnknownWith all political eyes now on the NHS, the relentless rise in patients using A&E as a first port of call has even more significance. Recent research shows that one of the main reasons people head straight for A&E rather than any of the other NHS urgent services is that they simply do not understand how they work.

Research done by Resonant-a London based agency specialising in behaviour change and social marketing recently worked across three major South London hospitals to try and find a solution. What they found was that parents in particular do not know the difference between urgent care, walk in services and minor injury units. More importantly they found that this patient group do not know why and when to use them. In fact the only services universally understood were GPs and A&E.

Resonant devised an intervention called Get It Right which tackled this problem head on and delivered an 18% drop in demand on A&E services in this area of London. After much collaboration with local people and a variety of community groups Resonant came up with a simple and engaging guide to local services which gave local families across southwest London the confidence and capability to use other parts of the urgent and primary care network to access the care they needed.

John Isitt, Director of Resonant says: “Local NHS organisations have not learned that it is not enough to tell people not to go to A&E. Instead it is vital to address people’s underlying motivations, anxieties by making the system simpler for them. Managing demand is not the answer to the whole problem but it is an effective, evidenced and good return on investment”.

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Tiny tyrants

ImageSuzanne Moore’s brilliant piece in the Guardian yesterday about the worship of children was thought provoking, particularly for those of us of a certain age who have already brought up a family.

The parents Suzanne refers to can be seen in any up and coming area of London. The child is wheeled around in a grotesquely large buggy, hogging the pavement, and woe betide any lesser mortal who may want to share the space. I have been pushed, shoved or had abuse hurled at me for daring to suggest I too have a right to walk where I want.

Stopping for a coffee is a nightmare. The coffee shop has often been commandeered by a whole raft of yummy mummy fascists. It is nigh on impossible to weave your way around the buggies to get to a small table in a corner.

Once seated your ears are likely to be assaulted by screaming, yelling out of control kids who run amok whilst mums are either deep in conversation or glued to their i-phones unaware of the havoc being wreaked around other people.

I am going to sound like my grandmother now but in our day, when we had children, even if we were working mums, we viewed it as a commitment. Having children meant you automatically gave up things like the freedom to do what you wanted when you wanted.

When our babies cried, rather than stuff a bottle in its mouth we would communicate with it, pick it up, jiggle it about, coo to it until it was soothed. Sometimes, dare I say it, we would decide it was better to take it home where it was in familiar surroundings and if it was tired, it could sleep.

Not for today’s mum is there any notion that she must forego her own pleasure in order to meet her baby’s needs. If she wants to meet up with friends the baby must take second place. If the baby makes a noise it is merely an interruption to what she sees as her real life.

Once the baby can walk however things soon change and they are bestowed with the status of demigod. The lack of communication and bonding between the mother and the tiny baby then usually comes home to roost.

You see these children in a department store as you are idly browsing. You may suddenly come upon an uninhabited buggy and see a mother desultorily chatting on her phone and rifling through the rails. Be assured there is a little tyrant of a child close by. And soon you will hear it as it hurtles around the store, tripping up staff, completely out of control.

None of the mothers are even vaguely aware that their offspring is causing so much mayhem. How boring it is for a young child to be carted from pillar to post while mum goes shopping. How much easier it would be for all concerned if the mother had sorted out some care for her child so that she could shop in peace (as could we). The whole experience would be so much less stressful for all concerned.

Eating out on a recent visit to Spain brought home that the way we treat our children in the UK is pretty unique. Over there, little ones are seen as part of the family. When they are out and about very few children were in a buggy. Often Dad was seen carrying a baby or small child in his arms and sitting the baby on their lap at the dinner table.

Over here children seem to be unable to eat out without squealing and shouting and being the centre of attention. They have to be carefully placed in a special high chair whereas  abroad a small cushion will suffice. Children then sit up and socialize with the family and are expected to fit in.

When are we going to learn in the UK that children are simply small people who need to learn to be sociable with adults as well as their peer group. Whilst we let them believe that every time they speak or make a noise all conversation stops and all eyes are upon them there is little hope that will ever happen.

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The myth of saturated fat and heart disease

ImageAn article in the BMJ today by leading cardiologist, Dr Aseem Malhotra of Croydon University Hospital in the British Medical Journal today states that it is time to “bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease”.

In the article he also blames the food industry for lowering saturated fat levels in food by replacing it with sugar which also contributes to heart disease.

He believes that saturated fat has been “demonised” and the link with heart disease is not fully supported by scientific evidence.

“Adopting a Mediterranean diet – olive oil, nuts, oily fish, plenty of fruit and vegetables and a moderate amount of red wine – after a heart attack is almost three times as powerful in reducing mortality as taking a statin” he writes.

The saturated fat link to heart disease was first put about in 1953 when a respected US physician Dr Ancel Keys published a paper comparing saturated fat intake and heart disease mortality.

Keys looked at six countries in which higher saturated fat intake correlated with high rates of heart disease.

However, what Keys conveniently ignored was that data from 16 other countries did not fit his theory. This tenuous link between saturated fat and heart disease became enshrined in the public consciousness and has remained so ever since.

Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a US cardiologist who’s been practicing for over 30 years and is the author of The Great Cholesterol Myth, does not believe cholesterol is the bad guy in the heart disease mystery. “Cholesterol may be at the scene of the crime for heart disease, but it’s not the perpetrator,” he says.

Sinatra is among a growing number of doctors who believe that inflammation rather than cholesterol is the real villain of the piece.

Inflammation is caused by a number of things but sugar in our diet is a major factor-particularly high fructose corn sugar which is present in so many fizzy drinks. “Sugar damages arteries, increases blood pressure, and ages your organs” he explains.

Yet still doctors are prescribing more statins than ever. Cholesterol-lowering has become a huge global industry, generating at least $29 billion each year.

More and more health professionals are beginning to believe we have been focusing too hard on cholesterol and may be missing the point. If we have spent the last fifty years chasing the wrong demons the greatest sadness is the lost opportunity to tackle heart disease.

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UnknownIf I had not seen Professor Tony Rudd at Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Trust I may never have discovered the cause of the stroke I had out of the blue in 2010. It was he who insisted I should have a ‘bubble’ test to find out if I had a little known heart condition called a PFO (Patent Foramen Ovale) which may have inadvertently allowed a clot to pass through the hole to my brain.

His diagnosis was spot on so it does not surprise me that he is now not only National Clinical Director for Stroke in England but is being awarded a CBE for his services to stroke care. Well deserved I say. Without his diagnosis I would not have had the amazing operation to close the hole which I hope will protect me from a further stroke.

Nowadays, thanks to Rudd’s doggedness in improving stroke care for all of us Londoners, some 95 per cent of stroke patients in the capital are seen in one of eight hyper-acute stroke units (HASUs), where they are assessed using the latest imaging technology and given clotbusting drugs if needed. Survival rates are 54 per cent higher than elsewhere.

Now his job is to ensure the same quality of care across the country so that people get access to the very best acute stroke services, including treatment with thrombolysis [clot-busting drugs] where appropriate. Equally important is that patients are offered good rehabilitation and community care after discharge. ‘If you treat people in the community with an Early Support Discharge Team, outcomes are better and disability rates are lower’.

Rudd has been a real champion for the stroke survivor and urges anyone who has had a stroke never to lose hope. “For far too long, there has been a fallacious belief that if someone hasn’t recovered in three months, they are not going to recover at all. It’s nonsense. People carry on recovering for years afterwards. Certainly, with language, recovery starts off later and tends to go on longer,” he says.

He is also an advocate for ‘good’ stress. “A job that keeps you alert and stimulated is good stress. I would be far more likely to have a stroke from twiddling my thumbs and not having enough to do than I would do from buzzing around.” Long may he buzz around!

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July 8, 2013 · 9:14 am

Drinking too much? Say Hello Sunday Morning


A new report by MPs is set to warn that the alcohol industry is in the ‘last chance saloon’ and should face heavier regulation if it fails to take action to curb dangerous drinking.

The inquiry into the Government’s strategy on alcohol is expected to conclude that pledges by manufacturers to foster responsible drinking habits have come to nothing, with little action on binge drinking and too much marketing still aimed at the young.

In Australia one man believes that governments have got it wrong on binge drinking. Two years ago 25 year old Chris Raine from Brisbane set up an innovative website called Hello Sunday Morning .

‘I was working for an advertising agency and we were asked to design a campaign around binge drinking. I went to the pub with my boss to brainstorm some ideas and I suddenly thought this is ridiculous. I am trying to tell other young people why they shouldn’t be drinking and here I am downing pints of beer!’ he laughs.

Chris resigned the same day and started to ask himself some serious questions about his drinking and where he was heading with his life. ‘I decided to commit to giving up drinking for a year and record my experiences on a blog. People started sending in posts of support and that was how Hello Sunday Morning was born’ he adds.

The beauty of HSM is that it is an online entity which doesn’t require people to be in any particular place. It has no international boundaries and people feel free to dip in and out as and when they feel the need for online support. There is something unique about the anonymity of it which attracts people-the website now has more than 5000 HSMers supporting one another.

The rule of thumb is a three month break from the booze-enough time for people to undergo a fundamental shift in thinking about their drinking habits but short enough for them to fall off the wagon (if it really isn’t their thing). It has nothing to do with AA nor is it a finger wagging exercise about the horrors of binge drinking. ‘It’s a way of helping people take a break from drinking and get their priorities in order’ says Raine.

Izzy Lindsell is a 22 year old student who only began drinking on her 18th birthday but pretty soon became a binge drinker. ‘All my friends were pretty much drinking until they were so drunk they would fall over’ she explains. ‘I was beginning to do the same and it didn’t make me happy. I needed to rethink why I was drinking so much. It took a gap year trip to Ayers Rock to make me realize I wanted to stop for a while and reassess my life’ she says.

When she came home she discovered HSM and decided to give up drinking for a year. ‘It was really helpful to have all the other HSMers cheering me on. I have done it twice now but each time I fall off the wagon at five months. That seems to be my limit which is fine. ‘Stopping drinking for a while has helped me to realize I don’t need it to be sociable or for confidence. In other words drinking no longer defines who I am’ she says.

Izzy Lindell joined HSM this year

So could the UK government learn anything from HSM? Raine admits it is hard for governments to tackle the binge drinking culture. ‘They do their best but it’s usually too based in logic rather than passion or a narrative. The thing about HSM is it’s not prescriptive in any way. People just sign up and give it a go. It’s about people using it in whatever way they can and making any rules they want.

‘I would like to think that more social enterprises could be created to solve difficult problems that governments are facing and I can’t see any reason why these problems couldn’t be tackled in partnership over next decade or so’ he explains.

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July 16, 2012 · 11:23 am