Healing the world
Sir: We most warmly commend the courage of Professor Meirion Thomas (‘The next NHS scandal’, 23 February) in lifting the lid on the appalling abuse of the NHS by foreign visitors. It has been going on for years but has been covered up by the culture of fear that has pervaded that organisation. We stand ready to support the professor in parliament if that should prove necessary.
Regrettably, the present position is even worse than he described. The relevant quango (the Primary Care Commissioning group) issued instructions last July that GPs must accept an application for registration from any foreign visitor who is here for more than 24 hours as well as from all illegal immigrants. Thereafter the screening system for access to secondary care in hospitals is, as he describes, utterly feeble.
We accept that it is not the task of doctors, still less medical receptionists, to decide on eligibility. That is why we have proposed that specialist offices be set up to issue entitlement cards for access to primary or secondary care in England.
This whole matter has been ‘out to consultation’ since August 2004. It is truly scandalous that it has still not been dealt with. As the financial pressures on the NHS intensify, access to primary care that is open to the whole world will stretch public tolerance to the limit.
The Rt Hon Nicholas Soames MP
The Rt Hon Frank Field DL MP
Co-Chair of the Cross Party Group on Balanced Migration
Aid for foreign patients
Sir: I can’t really sympathise with Professor Meirion Thomas’s reluctance to treat foreign patients whose only options are to come to England or die. It does seem rather churlish to send them away when the NHS is propped up by foreign doctors, many from third-world countries where medics are desperately needed. A solution might be to pay for their treatment out of our foreign aid budget, with the bonus that we could dispense with the costly and ineffective bureaucracy of establishing eligibility.
Sir: What is this grisly new word that the Beeb, in its death throes, is foisting on the English language: to ‘redact’? It is French, or German: viz rédacteur en chef, but not English. What is wrong with ‘edit’, or ‘censor’? Hasn’t the BBC done enough damage to the English language? In public documents the US uses an equally creepy word, though perhaps more apt: to ‘sanitise’. May I however plead with The Spectator to eschew either horror; and bin them along with that much abused adjective ‘iconic’?
Sir Alistair Horne, CBE, Litt. D.
Gove’s idea of history
Sir: Toby Young (Status anxiety, 23 February) can’t quite believe how many professional historians have denounced the new history curriculum, but if so many of us are against it, perhaps we have a point. I am glad that he agrees with our recent statement that history is a ‘treasure house’. There is a crucial difference here, however: he sees it as a repository of knowledge, whereas we described it as ‘a treasure house of human experience’. Yes, this does mean that we advocate learning about bias and the complexities of social and gender history, as well as the facts of political and military history.
The new proposals require children to gallop through the centuries to 1700 by the time they leave primary school. Everything else must be crammed in before they can drop history at age 13 or 14. There is thus little chance that they will remember, or even understand, much about the medieval, Tudor and Stuart periods.
There is surely a major inconsistency here in the thinking of Michael Gove. On the one hand, free schools are allowed to devise their own course content; on the other, the minister wants to micromanage which gobbets of history should be studied in maintained schools. The idea that there is a canonical body of knowledge that must be mastered, but not questioned, is inconsistent with high standards of education in any age. Even the new English curriculum does not impose a list of great authors, apart from Shakespeare, on teachers. Yet under the new proposals, history teachers are advised to teach the poet Christina Rossetti, as an example of ‘creative’ genius, and the novelist George Eliot as an example of Victorian social and cultural development. Professional historians are indeed wary of such ministerial tinkerings, not because we are a bunch of dyed-in-the-wool lefties as Toby Young fondly imagines, but because they will do nothing to raise standards or to create a freer educational system.
Professor Jackie Eales
President of the Historical Association, History and American Studies,
Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent
Not to be confused
Sir: I much enjoyed Matthew Parris’s musings on the brand names of yesteryear (23 February) begun as he gazed on a bottle of Vosene shampoo. I was sent in search of my Betjeman to check his poem ‘Middlesex’ in which the heroine’s hair ‘delicately drowns in Drene’ when it gets its weekly wash — the weekly wash and the Drene both familiar from my teenage years.
Later, Matthew mentions Dr White’s Lemonade — again harking back to my teenage years. I feel I should point out that it was (and possibly still is?) R. White’s Lemonade. Dr White was a purveyor of sanitary towels.
Events in Rome
Sir: Recent events in Rome remind me of a famous 1970s advertisement for the small business investment company ICFC. The headline ran: ‘I resign.’ Smaller headline: ‘You can’t. You’re the boss.’
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