Pyramid Comment

This journal takes an alternative view on current affairs and other subjects. The approach is likely to be contentious and is arguably speculative. The content of any article is also a reminder of the status of those affairs at that date. All comments have been disabled. Any and all unsolicited or unauthorised links are absolutely disavowed.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Health Budget "Fiddled"

To save Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt's skin, hospitals are forcing patients to wait longer for operations. The books desperately need to be balanced and new figures suggest the NHS is heading for a financial surplus this year.

The prediction of a £13m surplus is directly at the expense of cutting sevices, slashing jobs and reducing training of nurses and doctors. Hewitt has staked her Cabinet future on ending the financial crisis. The Tories claim that the NHS is in worse financial shape than at any time in its history.

"Ministers today might try to claim a small NHS surplus but this smoke and mirrors figure has only been achieved by raiding essential NHS training budgets, freezing posts, shedding jobs and cutting services": Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing. The NHS total gross deficit, in the last quarter, had risen from £1.179 billion -> £1.318 billion = £139 million (Department of Health figures).

The financial crisis has forced many trusts to postpone or cancel operations. Patricia Hewitt's skin is being saved only by savage cuts to centrally-held budgets. The 2007 year looks worse than 2006 with 23,000 staff posts being axed and nearly 3000 beds closed in an effort to balance the books.

And, of course, all those cancelled operations.

Such is the price of saving one individual's
(Patricia Hewitt's thick) skin

Drug Companies And The NHS

The NHS is being charged by the drug companies by up to 10 times too much for well-known branded medicines.The OFT highlighted in a report as the most inflated routinely prescribed treatments for high cholesterol, blood pressure and stomach acid. It is estimated that overpricing is annually costing the NHS £500 million. It emerges that Britain spends more than any other country in the EU on branded prescription drugs. UK (population: 60 million) System: yearly spending on branded prescription medicines: £8 billion (£133/head). Limits set on profits of drug companies following negotiations every 5 years, but firms are free to set the prices paid by the NHS under the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS). France (population: 60 million) System: health service with population covered by compulsory insurance. Prices of drugs based partly with reference to cost in the UK. Yearly spending: £6.2 billion (£103/head). Spain (population: 40 million) System: each of 17 autonomous communities has its own health ministry, responsible for purchasing drugs within national guidelines. Prices of branded drugs are relative to substitutes. Yearly spending: £5.9 billion (£147.5/head). Sweden (population: 9 million) System: state-owned pharmacies substitute prescribed drugs with the cheapest available generic version in stock. Prices have fallen by 15%. Yearly spending: £1.5 billion (£167/head). USA (population: 298 million) System: public and private bodies act as intermediaries to negotiate prices. The pharmaceutical industry is one of the most profitable in a country in which the average family's insurance premiums have risen by 87% since 2000. [Data from The Daily Telegraph: 21.02.07] Pfizer, one of Britain's biggest companies, warned that the proposals would remove incentives to develop new medicines and urged the Government to reject the report. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI): "It is essential that the UK-based industry's world leading record of discovering new medicines (20% of the world's top medicines were developed in the UK) is not put at risk."

Risks When Donating Eggs

The donation of human eggs has its risks. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has allegedly "underplayed" the risk of women developing complications after taking powerful hormonal drugs to increase the number of eggs they can produce. Approval is expected that women donating eggs for stem cell research can receive a discount on their own fertility treatment. In addition to the interpretation of a bribe, a concern here should be the potential to generate extra eggs that can then be legally used by employing these hormonal drugs. To harvest a deliberately created surplus that has exposed the donor to heightened risk.

IVF in Africa

The financial incentive for donation could lead to poor women being exploited. "The risks involved in egg donation are far too great to be allowed in basic research, with no direct benefit for the volunteer. This is unacceptable behaviour for a regulator," said Dr David King (chief executive of the campaign group Human Genetics Alert).

The risk is ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (ohss), which can damage a woman's fertility and in rare cases be fatal. The HFEA document (September 2006) said that mild ohss occured in 1% to 10% of cases and severe ohss in only 1%. However, guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians said mild forms occured in "up to 33% of cases" and moderate to severe cases between 3%-8%. This seems rather paradoxical in risking potentially fatal consequences and damaging fertility by chasing fertility treatment?

Currently, eggs may be donated for research only if they are a by-product of IVF treatment of sterilisation. Supporters of the move say it could lead to new treatments for conditions such as diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2), Parkinson's disease and motor neurone disease.

24-Hour NHS Operating Theatres

In a bid to cut waiting times for operations Blair wants to open the theatres in the evenings and weekends. This has been described by doctors as "madness". Operations are already being delayed until the start of the next financial year because of debts. A consultant surgeon (retired) has commented that Blair's suggestion "would be laughable if it were not so idiotically ill-informed and irresponsible. Operating theatres require support services such as pathology laboratories, imaging, portering and cleaning, not to mention professional staff groups, especially nurses who are currently subject to recruitment freezes up and down the country." Use the private sector and send patients abroad. But aftercare? Who cares? Cuts waiting lists though. In theory. "What happens if there are complications during surgery and the patient is critically ill?" so asks consultant orthopaedic surgeon, David Nunn. "It will be the poor old NHS that gets the blame." As an ill-thought out argument, emergency operations already happen at night so any schedule would easily and quickly get disrupted. Diagnosis is the problem. Just over a third of patients are treated within 18 weeks with the average waiting time nearer 30 weeks and long waits for diagnosis are often the cause.

Hotel To Become Apartments

Developers are set to make a fortune. The Thistle Hotel (former hotel in the Bayswater area of West London) overlooks Hyde Park and has a Victorian façade. The 80 'super-apartments' from this venture are expected to be worth up to £26 million each.

That's a resale value of over £2billion.


Wonder what the cost was before the transformation? If other sales are a guide: Intercontinental Hotels is to sell 25 hotels in London, Paris, New York and Hong Kong for a mere £1 billion. On average this represents just £40 million for each hotel. So a complete hotel's value is substantially less than the total 'value' of all the potential apartments contained within it. The opportunities for money laundering are enormous.

No one's going to buy into any of that unless for pure profit by selling on.


As an investment, maybe. For any other reason?

Go figure.

Plastic surgery for women: reaches 50%

Apparently in a recent survey of 25,000 women regarding 'body image', half said that they would consider undergoing corrective plastic surgery. Rather like cutting off a finger because a nail is broken. (Somewhat extreme. Like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. - DA.) It often only usually needs a little effort to effect correction of a 'problem'.

Not a knife!

  • Concerning weight loss and the removal of fat: physical (exercise) or restraint (mental) can avoid the knife. When a knife is used to 'cut' out (or off) the 'problem' unless the reason for excess fat is dealt with it will almost certainly return unless old habits are changed: eating too much, exercising too little... It's cheaper and a great deal safer to remove by effort and not resorting to surgery. Surgery may be quick, but it's dangerous and not permanent. Applying effort instead can be completely safe and permanent if habits are altered.

There is a real possibility of spreading a tumour location by cutting into one (metastasis). If surgery is required to protect life then it can be deemed essential. Otherwise it is not a requirement for life. The human (or any other animal) body is an extremely complex entity and needlessly cutting into is a reckless act. The potential dangers in quick fix 'surgery' are many. What actually needs to be 'fixed' that requires surgery? It's not like a tooth being 'fixed' or even extracted. Even that can have dangers.

And nearly a third think that they are overweight or fat if they are a size 12. That used to be the average size so what's happened to change that perception? Nothing. Half said there was "lots they would change" about their body and more than 1 in 10 said they "hated" it.

Knife + credit card = fix all



The gunges and goos that women smear all over their face to remove wrinkles and look younger? Get real and wake up. Face up (pun intentional) to the fact of getting older. Getting older should mean getting wiser. Apparently not. Mentally all screwed up though, that's for sure.

Really sad.

Blair displays contempt and arrogance - again

"Tony Blair is ready to defy public opposition to road pricing and press ahead with proposals to test pay-as-you-drive charges." So begins The Daily Telegraph front page article (21st February 2007). What the people think doesn't matter. It never does. It never has. All governments are the same and just wear different labels and is the most likely reason that the Tories have (so far) failed to properly oppose the plan. If it's not opposed now then when nothing gets done to change the 'fait accompli' in the future there can be no repercussions of broken promises. This is government, after all. It is about distance and so 'road pricing' is critical to rebalance revenue deficit caused by less petrol sold. Less fuel tax. Government thinking is quite predictable. The time span of 5 years seems very unrealistic. I would estimate 1-2 years maximum. The e-mail that 'is being drafted' to be sent to each of the 1.8 million protesters was probably written months ago. The results of a 'fait accompli' are known at the beginning and not after the closing date. And I cannot imagine Blair wasting time writing this himself.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Distance Tax

Distance Tax - Update

As engines become more fuel efficient, the tax revenue from fuel sales will decrease as less will be used (up), especially since we are all being urged to use less. The new mode of taxation has to be through distance travelled and not the volume of petrol consumed. It's a damage limitation exercise.

Whether you drive an SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle), a Chelsea Tractor, or a very small engined car, the petrol you use would be vastly different. So, it is a tax on using your car. If you have a small car then you will pay the same to go the same distance as a BIG gas guzzler, regardless of the cost of your fuel. The bigger the engine then you pay even more.

The congestion charge in London has always been the pilot scheme before it is rolled out nationally. It's transparent government being very transparent.

This is being moved into the public debating arena now. I suggest that noises about a minimum of 5 years away for charging to use the roads is a touch unrealistic. More like two years (maximum). Maybe one year. Maybe less. Wait for Blair to go so it will NOT be Blair's fault, of course.

If Cameron and the Tories 'get in' do you imagine it will all be forgotten? What has been started will be finished.

Government Labels don't matter. Never have done.

That's how it works.

Bush-Iraq exit strategy signalled by Blair

George Bush has been making noises in the annual State of the Union address recently about cutting fuel consumption and talking up renewable energy sources. In fact, essentially a complete reversal of the long term attitude. Lowering the requirement for oil imports has suddenly become important. This in itself suggests an exit strategy is being planned to get out of Iraq. If a US led invasion of Iran is on the agenda, this would seem logical as to engage in two theatres of war simultaneously is unthinkable. A face saving exercise is required and this fits the bill perfectly. Blame it on Iran and not the lethal 'error' that it was. The withdrawal of British troops will be highly significant for Blair as he hopes it will help to draw a line under Iraq as though it never happened. Bad mistake (not admitted) and let's put it all behind us. Obviously anxious to demonstrate that (some) British troops are coming home before he leaves Downing Street. Apparently, operation Sinbad (transfer of lead rôle to homegrown forces) is complete and has been successful, yet a substantial British force will remain at their permanent base. If it's been so successful and all has been fixed so that Blair can forget it all then why such an incomplete exit? Smells very bad, doesn't it? In fact it stinks as it always has. Just worse. Well, news for Blair: it will never be forgotten and even rewriting history in this era will never, ever change the legacy. He may put a smiley face on it all, but it will not go away. Ever. The chase for oil has not succeeded, so the American administration will have to rethink the future. Assuming there is one if the USA decides to take on the Iranians. In all our interests, of course. Blair to follow? Doubt it as he is off to the USA soon to make shedloads of money from his legacy. Who knows, the American people could still reject his presence... The breaking news that Blair is to announce a withdrawal of British troops (never too late or too soon) does tend to confirm a US withdrawal. Defence Secretary, Des Browne MP, mentioned a "collective decision with US". This indicates all on the same page and singing from the same hymn sheet. When questioned about redeployment, it seemed the tone faltered somewhat and suggested that troops may come home to Britain in the first instance, but could then be moved out to Afghanistan after a rest. I find it difficult to imagine that Blair would make any first move.

Monday, February 05, 2007


The radioactive heavy metal Polonium-210 (210Po), which killed Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian spy, has crashed into public awareness. 210Po is a rare radioactive metalloid that is chemically similar to tellurium and bismuth, and occurs in uranium ores. It was discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898. Less than 100 grams are (claimed to be) manufactured each year and its principle industrial use is in nuclear reactors to superheat water. A mere 100gm to simply superheat water. Really?

210Po is a highly radioactive and an extremely toxic element. Even in milligram or microgram amounts it is very hazardous and requires specialised equipment with strict handling procedures. 210Po does not penetrate the skin's epidermis and is not a threat so long as it remains outside the body. A milligram of 210Po emits as much alpha radiation as about 5 grams of radium, and enough gamma radiation to cause a blue glow in the air around it. The level of 210Po in American tobacco has tripled in recent years, coinciding with the increased use of calcium phosphate fertilisers. The ores of calcium phosphate attract and accumulate uranium, which slowly releases radon gas. As radon decays, its electrically charged daughter products attach themselves to dust particles, which adhere to the sticky hairs on the underside of tobacco leaves. This leaves a deposit of radioactive polonium on the leaves.

The intense localised heat in the burning tip of a cigarette volatilises the radioactive metals. While cigarette filters can trap some tar and nicotinic chemical carcinogens, they are ineffective against the radioactive vapours. The lungs of a chronic smoker wind up with a radioactive lining, which actually emits radiation. Smoking two packs of cigarettes a day imparts a radiation dose by alpha particles of about 1,300 millirem per year. Consider: the annual radiation dose to the average American from inhaled radon is 200 millirem.

210-Po is soluble and is circulated through the body to every tissue and cell in levels much higher than from residential radon. The evidence is found in the blood and urine of smokers. The circulating 210Po causes genetic damage and early death from diseases reminiscent of early radiological pioneers: liver and bladder cancer, stomach ulcer, leukaemia, liver cirrhosis and cardiovascular diseases. Allegedly, radioactivity rather than tar accounts for at least 90% of all smoking-related lung cancers. The Centres for Disease Control concluded:

"Americans are exposed to far more
radiation from tobacco smoke 
than from any other source."

Chelators (Greek: to claw) are synthetic drugs that are designed to attach to heavy metals and eliminate them from the body, but such drugs can themselves be quite toxic and also remove a portion of desirable minerals from the body.