Year 2000 No. 170-1, October 11-12, 2000
Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :
Interference of the Imperialist Powers Perpetuating the Carnage in Middle East
Cuban Inspiration for Safeguarding the Future of the NHS
NHS News In Brief
Ambulance Responses Fall Short
Retired Nurses Called Back to Work
Philippine Recruits Relieve Pressure
News In Brief
Three-day Week at Massey
British Oil Monopolies Profits Hit 15-Year Peak
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The most recent violence in the Middle East has gone on, fluctuating in its intensity, since Israels opposition leader Ariel Sharon provocatively visited a site holy to people both of the Jewish and of the Muslim religions over a week ago.
However, this cannot be considered the cause of the conflict. The violence, taken overall, is a result of the fact that the Israeli state is based on the suppression of the Palestinian people.
The Anglo-American powers have backed this Israeli state to the hilt, and constantly attempted to compromise Palestinian sovereignty and thwart the struggles of the Palestinian people to assert their sovereignty and establish their own independent state. US imperialism and the British government have recently stepped up their interference and intervention in the region at the very time the fight of the Palestinians for their own independent homeland has been advancing. This has been done under the signboard of "peacekeeping", of being the honest brokers been the Israeli government and the PLO.
Nevertheless, one does not have to probe too deeply to see that Anglo-American imperialism, as well as various European powers, is very aware of the crucial strategic importance of the Middle East, as well as the fact that the Levant is at the centre of this whole region rich with fossil fuels.
These capitalist powers have therefore for many years done all they can to maintain a situation of "no war, no peace" in the region. Though they have spent many long hours posing as "mediators", especially after the period of the intifada, the recent upsurge of violence and the bloody suppression of the Palestinian struggle by the armed might of US-backed Israeli Zionism demonstrates that the US-imperialist-led big powers have never intended to facilitate a lasting peace in the Middle East. They have sided with the Zionist positions and demands, and have opposed Palestinian sovereignty and a sovereign state of Palestine.
These same powers are now wringing their hands over the violence. They do not condemn the Israeli oppression, but are sanctimoniously talking of "ending the violence". They pose as impartial mediators, but impartial and unbiased forces would immediately place the blame where it belongs, with the Israeli state which attempts to "negotiate" through force.
The Israeli government must be condemned for its atrocious operations its deployment of helicopter gunships, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, missiles, grenades, and rubber-coated steel bullets which have been directed at killing and oppressing unarmed Palestinian demonstrators, and openly inflaming the situation.
But US imperialism and the British government must also be condemned for their blatant interference in the region and for their continued backing of the Israeli state. The Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is shuttling back and forth in the name of the "peace process". But this peace process is directed towards an imperialist "peace", which gives the right to every foreign power to intervene for their own ends.
The "peace process" can never succeed with any variation of the so-called "trading land for peace" formula. A sovereign and undivided Palestinian homeland state is the only solution. This can only come about if all foreign intervention in the region is ended. The bloodshed can be ended by the peoples of the region sorting out their own affairs free from the interference and incitement of the big powers.
It appears that the NHS is turning to Cuba for inspiration on how to improve its services. Officials from the Department of Heath and 100 GPs visited Cuba earlier this year to find that, despite being short of medicines and money after decades of the US-led economic embargo, the Caribbean island manages to deliver excellent healthcare at a fraction of the cost in the NHS in Britain. Later this month, a delegation of Cuban doctors, led by Cuba's Deputy Health Minister, will arrive in this country to share the secrets of their success.
The interest in Cuba comes at a time when the Labour government has declared it is concentrating on "radical reforms" of the NHS to make it "patient-centred" and more "cost-effective". The Labour government would do well to learn from Cuba in this respect, which has patient representation at every level, helping to organise the way the health service is run.
The Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, has repeatedly said he wants to see GPs take a leading role in the reform of the NHS, and it is the quality, dedication and large numbers of family doctors in Cuba that have contributed most to its impressive health record.
When Fidel Castro came to power, Cuba's mortality rates matched many other places in the developing world, with a life expectancy of 48 for men and 54 for women. Now it rivals anywhere in Europe or the US.
Male life expectancy is 74 the same as in Britain. Women can expect to live to 76 years old (79 in the UK) and infant mortality is 7.1 per 100,000 births slightly higher than Britains official figure.
However, one major difference between Cuba's health statistics and ours has caught the attention of officials: in Britain, healthcare costs £750 a head annually. In Cuba it costs £7.
Among those who went on the Cuban trip were the Principal Medical Officer of the Department of Health, Phillip Leach, the eminent academic Sir Brian Jarman and the President of the Royal College of GPs, Sir Dennis Pereira Gray.
Patrick Pietroni, a dean of postgraduate general practice at London University, who led the visit, said: "What we can learn is how they have managed to produce these healthcare statistics which are sometimes better than ours at 1% of the expenditure. They have more family doctors, who are better trained than our GPs. When we went to Cuba what was so impressive were the three-storey buildings called consultorio. The ground floor was the practice, the first floor was the doctor's flat and the second floor was the nurse's flat. No Cuban lives more than 20 minutes or so from one of these."
Each doctor also has fewer patients. Cuba has 30,000 GPs, the same number as Britain, but has only a fifth of the population. There is one family doctor per 500 to 700 people in Cuba, compared to one for 1,800 to 2,000 in Britain.
Cuba has 21 medical schools, but Britain has only 12. Cuba has 37,000 practice nurses. Britain, which has a shortage of all nurses, has just 10,300.
Some of the good health of the Cuban nation could be said, paradoxically, to be the product of the adversity that has been imposed on them. Since food is rationed and meat is relatively scarce, much of the diet is healthy fruit and vegetables. Furthermore, walking and cycling is common.
Immunisation is compulsory and thanks to the interest and investment the state is prepared to make in health, Cuba has a vaccine for meningitis B, which is now being investigated in the Britain although the prevalent strains in Cuba are not the same as here. In this field, Cuba leads the world.
New figures reveal that ambulance response times are way below government targets.
A report from Health Which? says some services have actually got worse since new measures were introduced to make sure the most urgent cases were attended first. The report says that an ambulance response to a 999 call is far too long.
That is despite a new system to prioritise serious accidents. The government wants ambulance services to answer 75 per cent of life-threatening calls within eight minutes by next year.
Only one service does, Staffordshire, reaching 87.4 percent of calls within targets. All others fall below with East Midlands answering only 37.8 percent of calls within time, disappointing the reports authors. Sue Freeman of Health Which? magazine said, "The difference there is massive and for patients that is obviously not a good set of circumstances." But ambulance services say the report is based on old figures and predict most will meet government targets, giving patients a better chance of recovery. And further improvements would save even more lives.
It is estimated 3,000 extra heart attack victims would survive if 90 percent of calls were answered within eight minutes.
Performance of services with call prioritisation
The percentage of category A calls reached within eight minutes 1999-2000:
East Midlands 37.8
Mersey Regional 59.9
North East 50.1
Royal Berkshire 63.2
Tees, East and North Yorkshire 55.5
The Two Shires 60.7
West Country 39.2
West Midlands Metropolitan 64
20,000 retired nurses have been asked to come back to work to try to stop another winter crisis in the NHS.
The Department of Health has offered wages on top of full pensions to nurses who have left within the last five years. The money will come from the £63 million already earmarked to try to avoid a repeat of last winter's staff shortages. But the Department of Health denied that the call was due to a problem with flu vaccinations, insisting that the jab programme was ahead of schedule. A Department of Health spokesman said that while deliveries from one vaccine production company had been delayed this year, flu vaccinations were generally ahead of last year. "There is no crisis in the flu campaign at all," the spokesman said.
The call for nurses aged 50 to 65 to delay retirement or return to work was launched in July as part of an early planning scheme, he said. Under the scheme, those over 50 can continue working part-time while earning pension contributions as if they were on full-time rates. "This offer is part of our overall winter planning and will be paid for out of the £63 million announced to help NHS trusts prepare for winter. It shows that we were planning for winter very early on," the spokesman added.
"It is about the NHS becoming more flexible. We would like the nurses to keep using their skills to help patients."
Nurses recruited in the Philippines to fill an urgent shortfall in intensive care and theatre operating staff began work on October 10. The first 22 full-time nurses from a group of 49 interviewed and recruited in Asia started work at Morriston Hospital, Swansea. They are undergoing a week-long induction course designed to explain the workings of the NHS in Wales and will be joined by a second group of 27 in two weeks time. The hospital, which is part of Swansea NHS Trust, was forced to cancel operations and close to non-emergencies last winter due to staff shortages. "We sent a small team of four people to the Philippines to recruit nurses for our intensive care unit and operating theatre," said Richard Jones, a nursing spokesman for Morriston Hospital. "They are all here on two-year contracts and have been taken on in areas where we have had difficulty recruiting staff over a long period. The first 22 have already started an induction course explaining the health service in Wales. A further 27 will start in a fortnight's time," he added. The Royal College of Nursing welcomed the move but said that it was not a long-term solution to the problem of staff shortages.
The overproduction crisis has hit output of tractors at Massey Ferguson in Coventry. Workers are to be put on a three-day week.
A prolonged downturn in sales is to blame for the reduced working hours at the Banner Lane factory.
The crisis has already claimed a major dealer too. Receivers were called in to examine financial affairs at Willis Farm Machinery in Shrewsbury. The firm was struggling for some time and was main dealer for Massey Ferguson. Willis went into liquidation only days ago.
Another factor exacerbating the crisis is the EU Common Agricultural Policy, which has caused problems all over Europe. The once subsidised farming industry has declined in all sectors in Britain. The increasing costs of petrol and diesel have aggravated the situation even further with the Labour government totally ignoring the hauliers and farmers' concerns outlined in the recent protest. Farm machinery production workers are now feeling the knock-on effect of the governments lack of action.
In all of this, the workers are the ones who have to take up the issues of the production processes in society. The areas of concern and responsibility lie in industry and countryside with farm implements and farm produce. Only by seeing the problems of town and country as linked, can workers think about organising society on a new basis.
High oil prices have boosted the profitability of Britains oil monopolies to the highest level for 15 years.
According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, published in the Financial Times on October 5, the rate of return on assets for North Sea oil and gas companies rose to 33.1% in the second quarter of the year, compared with 6% for manufacturing industry. These figures for the oil monopolies compare with the all-time peak of 70% in 1984, but up from 1998 and 1999 when oil prices fell.
In contrast manufacturing profitability was at its lowest level since 1993, and the return on assets for the service sector fell to 13.4% in the second quarter, the lowest level since 1997.
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