Snakes, scorpions may prevent hospital patients dying


This video is called National Geographic Wild – Deadly Snakes.

Translated from Leiden university in the Netherlands, 14 August 2014:

Poison of snakes and scorpions for new antibiotics

Hospital bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics are a growing problem. The Leiden antibiotic expert Gilles van Wezel will, along with colleague Michael Richardson and experts in the Leiden university hospital and Naturalis museum, look for new antibiotics, made from the poison of snakes and scorpions. To do that, he will get a cash injection from the Scientific Research Organisation.

Britons with depression not getting treatment


This video from New Zealand says about itself:

Can we use video games to treat depression?

17 April 2011

Ever wonder if gaming can be used as a therapy for young people with depression?

Find out how University of Auckland researcher, Dr Sally Merry, and her team of researchers and games developers have created a video game to treat youth depression. Sally hopes the therapy will reach out to depressed youth, 75% of whom would normally receive no treatment.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Two-thirds of Britons with depression get no treatment

If these figures related to cancer patients the nation would be in uproar, says new president of Royal College of Psychiatrists

Sarah Boseley, health editor

Wednesday 13 August 2014 13.12 BST

Less than a third of people with common mental health problems get any treatment at all – a situation the nation would not tolerate if they had cancer, according to the incoming president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

While the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has pledged to deliver “parity of esteem” for mental and physical health services, the treatment gap is now so huge that it may prove impossible to bridge in the current financial climate, said Professor Simon Wessely of King’s College London in his first interview since election to the post.

“People are still routinely waiting for – well, we don’t really know, but certainly more than 18 weeks, possibly up to two years, for their treatment and that is routine in some parts of the country. Some children aren’t getting any treatment at all – literally none. That’s what’s happening. So although we have the aspiration, the gap is now so big and yet there is no more money,” he said.

Wessely said there would be a public outcry if those who went without treatment were cancer patients rather than people with mental health problems. Imagine, he told the Guardian, the reaction if he gave a talk that began: “‘So, we have a problem in cancer service at the moment. Only 30% of people with cancer are getting treatment, so 70% of them don’t get any treatment for their cancer at all and it’s not even recognised.”

If he were truly talking about cancer, he said, “you’d be absolutely appalled and you would be screaming from the rooftops.” Wessely said he had asked Simon Stevens, the NHS England chief executive, how the gap would be bridged but was told that resolving the issue would involve a “much longer conversation with the public”.

A larger proportion of people with psychosis, who have severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, are on treatment, but even that figure is still only 65%, according to Wessely, who added: “That doesn’t mean they are getting the right treatment or anything like that, but getting something. For most mental disorders it is still the exception not the rule to be recognised, detected and treated. So when we talk about the rise in antidepressant prescribing, before we start leaping to the tumbrils and saying the world’s coming to an end we should have a look and say, hang on a second, if that is appropriate prescribing then that’s good.”

The concern over pills for common mental disorders – for depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), for instance – could be misplaced, Wessely argued. Much of the criticism assumes that GPs are putting many more people on pills because of an absence of counselling or talking therapies, even though the numbers of therapists being trained to provide cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has substantially risen thanks to a government programme called IAPT (improving access to psychological therapies).

Wessely applauded IAPT, but did not accept the argument that talking therapies were necessarily “better”, a word that to many people has a moral implication. “If you say they are more effective, I don’t really think that’s true. I think they are cheaper and easier. CBT is more popular with some people, but other people don’t like it,” he said. “The truth is most people don’t get either. Of course if you are working in areas of high antidepressant prescribing – they tend to be difficult areas like Merthyr Tydfil or Blackpool – of course where you don’t have good psychological services then you will use antidepressants. That’s not wrong, but what’s wrong is you don’t have the alternatives.”

In the US, the rate of use of stimulant drugs such as Ritalin exceeds the number of people with ADHD, so there is over-medication of the disorder. “But in Britain it is under, which suggests under-prescribing.”

The UK is also seriously short of psychiatric beds. “The fact that people are travelling hundreds of miles for a bed, the fact that bed occupancy is now 100% everywhere – in some trusts it is 110% and we’re hot-bedding – is a symptom of a system [in crisis]. Relatives and patients hate it. Junior doctors hate it – they spend all their time on the phone. Sometimes bad decisions are made just to get a bed. But we don’t think the answer is just let us have some more beds because those will probably fill up as well. We’ve been told for years that if we just get community care right we won’t need beds. That’s clearly not true. We will be announcing a commission on beds but it’s really on systems. Beds are symptomatic of a problem.”

Wessely, who is married to Clare Gerada, recent head of the Royal College of GPs, strongly believes in the need for general doctors, nurses, midwives and social workers to have more mental health training and for there to be much greater integration of diagnosis and treatment of physical and mental disorders. Trials have shown that picking up and treating depression in people with type 2 diabetes improves the control they have over the disease: they take their medication and keep complications at bay. And there are patients who are referred by their GP to a specialist because of a suspected heart complaint – which turns out to be panic attacks that have not been picked up for months.

“The whole of our healthcare system is about separating mental and physical. You couldn’t devise a system better suited to separating the mental and the physical if you tried,” he said. At King’s, psychiatrists have been put into general medical clinics with great results. “Most people have quite complicated views of their illness anyway,” he said. They are not resistant to doctors offering cardiac tests and counselling for a recent divorce at the same time.

“Certainly when you look at the cost of investigations, when you look at the cost of treatment that isn’t necessary, when you look at the cost of lost working days, when you look at the cost of additional care, actually it does become cost effective. The problem we always have is those savings are not always made to the health service.

“But we know people with physical health problems who also have mental health problems cost about 45% more than those who don’t. That’s absolutely and unequivocally clear. The cost of their care goes up. They comply less with treatment, they come back more often, they have lower satisfaction and they have more complications.”

• To contact Samaritans, call 08457 90 90 90

Louisiania government lied to hospital about death penalty drugs


This music video from the USA is called Gil Scott-Heron: Angola, Louisiana (1980). The lyrics are here.

By Tom Hall in the USA:

Louisiana procured death penalty drug through deception

13 August 2014

The Louisiana Department of Corrections deceived a hospital in southwest Louisiana into providing it with a drug to be used in executions, according to a report from the New Orleans-area investigative journalism outfit The Lens. The drug in question, hydromorphone, is part of the same two-drug protocol used in the drawn-out, agonizing deaths of Dennis McGuire in Ohio and Joseph Wood in Arizona earlier this year.

The fact that Louisiana has resorted to cloak-and-dagger methods to procure the supplies needed to carry out its state killings testifies both to the immense and growing opposition to the death penalty and to the collapse of any commitment to democratic rights or the rule of law in the American ruling class.

In late January, Elayn Hunt Correctional Center’s Medical Unit contacted Lake Charles Memorial Hospital to request 20 vials of hydromorphone, a potent painkiller and controlled substance. It is common practice for licensed pharmacies to sell drugs to other pharmacies, provided that they are needed to treat medical patients. As the only facility housing the state’s chronically or seriously ill inmates, Hunt Correctional Center would have had a plausible reason to request the drug. Indeed, the prison pharmacist explicitly told the hospital that the drug would be used for a “medical patient.”

However, the real destination for the drugs was the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary, commonly known as Angola, where the state’s death row facilities are located, where it was to be used to execute Christopher Sepulvado, sentenced to death for the 1992 murder of his stepson, in only a week’s time.

Lawyers for Sepulvado were able to temporarily delay his execution, arguing that he had a right to know the manner in which he was to be executed. In May, after botched executions in Ohio and Oklahoma created a public uproar, the Louisiana Department of Corrections agreed to a six-month delay of Sepulvado’s execution in order to review the state’s lethal injection protocol.

The documents surrounding the state’s underhanded procurement of the execution drugs were made public last week as part of Sepulvado’s ongoing legal battle. By sheer chance the state, which, like other states, jealously guards the source of its lethal injection drugs, neglected to redact the name of the pharmacist at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital in official records.

Like many other states throughout the country that currently administer the death penalty, Louisiana has scrambled in recent years to find alternative sources of lethal injection drugs after the European Union banned the export of chemicals to the US to be used in executions. Louisiana had switched to the two-drug protocol involving hydromorphone and midazolam, a commonly available sedative, on January 27, only a day before the Hunt facility filed its request for hydromorphone with Lake Charles Memorial Hospital.

Before then, Louisiana had used a one-drug protocol involving pentobarbital, which had been in widespread use throughout the country since 2011 after the previous three-drug standard had become unavailable due to shortages. However, pentobarbital has also become scarce, and the state’s supply ran out last fall.

The impending shortage of lethal injection drugs sent the state into a flurry of improvisation to find a work-around in order to execute Sepulvado. In September, the state explored the possibility of obtaining pentobarbital from a Tulsa-based compounding pharmacy, the Apothecary Shoppe. In addition to the significantly lower quality of drugs produced at compounding pharmacies, such an arrangement would have been in flagrant violation of state law, which requires that suppliers be licensed in the state of Louisiana.

The Apothecary Shoppe has allegedly also supplied lethal injection drugs to Missouri, which has carried out seven executions in 2014, and Oklahoma, which botched its execution of Clayton Lockett last May (see: “Missouri carries out seventh execution of 2014”).

Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the Louisiana state legislature to protect the confidentiality of the sources of the state’s lethal injection drugs, in addition to allowing the state to legally purchase medication from out-of-state suppliers. The bill attracted overwhelming support within the state legislature before it was pulled at the last minute by its sponsor, Joe Lopinto (R-Metairie), after public outrage erupted in the aftermath of botched executions in Ohio and Oklahoma.

The dangers inherent in the ad hoc hydromorophone-midazolam protocol that Louisiana switched to were known even before the horrific executions in Ohio and Arizona. Deborah Denno of Fordham University told Mother Jones in November of last year, “We don’t know how these drugs are going to react because they’ve never been used to kill someone … It’s like when you wonder what you’re going to be eating tonight and you go home and root through your refrigerator to see what’s there. That’s what these departments of corrections are doing with these drugs.” …

The author also recommends:

Arizona’s two-hour execution and the brutalization of America
[26 July 2014]

The horror in Ohio’s death chamber
[22 January 2014]

Irish ‘pro-life’ government threatens women’s lives


This 15 November 2012 video from Ireland is called UTV coverage – Vigil and Protest in Memory of Savita Halappanavar- Belfast.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Pregnant women face abortion ban in Ireland even if they’re a suicide risk

Guidelines allow pro-life medics to stop vulnerable women from terminating pregnancies at all costs, pro-choice experts warn

Henry McDonald in Dublin

Thursday 7 August 2014 18.27 BST

Pregnant women in Ireland could be blocked from having an abortion even if they are at risk of suicide after conceiving as a result of rape or incest, under new guidelines issued to Irish doctors.

Experts warned that the Guidance Document for Health Professionals, which has yet to be made public but has been obtained by the Guardian, will give power to doctors, obstetricians and psychiatrists to prevent vulnerable women from terminating their pregnancies.

Some clinicians, including one of the Irish Republic’s leading psychiatrists, said the rules would leave women “at the mercy of a local, moral and political lottery”. Veronica O’Keane, professor of psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, said a woman could potentially have to see up to seven medical experts before getting a decision on her right to an abortion.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which has also been shown the document, has described the guidance on dealing with women contemplating suicide as “an excessive degree of scrutiny by medical professionals”.

The guidelines were drawn up after the Irish government introduced legislation last year to allow for abortion in extremely limited circumstances. The law followed the death of Savita Halappanavar, 31, who was denied an emergency termination that could have saved her life.

Pro-choice campaigners are concerned that conservative attitudes among health professionals will put more women’s lives at risk. More than 100 Irish psychiatrists – nearly one in three in the country – signed a statement last year opposing any kind of abortion reform, including those cases of women at risk of suicide.

The 108-page guide does not include provisions for an independent committee to make decisions on treating those with “suicidal intent”, which was a key demand among campaigners for reform. They argue an independent committee would be more objective than local medics and allow women more privacy.

Pro-choice doctors are also concerned that the language in the first few pages of the guidelines is more stridently anti-abortion than last year’s law. In its introduction, the document states that “the purpose of this act is to restate the general prohibition on abortion in Ireland“. Medical professionals are also advised on the first page that the act provides “a clear criminal prohibition on abortion”.

On page 10, a diagram explaining the procedure for applying for a termination makes clear to Irish doctors that the initial referral for women including those with “suicidal intent” begins with her own GP.

If the GP agrees, he or she will refer the woman to three doctors – including one obstetrician and two psychiatrists – who will decide whether there is a real risk to the woman’s life through suicide. If her request is rejected, she will go through an appeal system involving another two psychiatrists and another obstetrician.

The guidance states that the first psychiatrist to assess the woman has the right to “seek a second psychiatric assessment” or appoint a psychiatrist of their own choice. Critics say this will allow anti-abortion psychiatrists to recommend a colleague sharing the same views.

On the same page it advises that any of three medical experts, including an obstetrician, can assess a woman with suicidal intent and certify whether or not the woman should be allowed an abortion – although obstetricians have no mental health training.

O’Keane, a consultant psychiatrist for more than 21 years, said because there was no national body to rule on these cases vulnerable women were left “at the mercy of a local, moral and political lottery. They could come up against anti-choice physicians who in effect become conscientious obstructors to abortion.”

She added: “The repeated examination of a woman’s mental state by at least four doctors, and possibly seven, the repeated questioning specifically about suicidal ideation and intent, will not only be overly invasive, confusing and distressing emotionally, it will also be time-consuming in a period of crisis when a suicidal woman needs access to a termination as soon as possible.”

She called the guidelines “completely inappropriate”. “I would have preferred a national review panel to make these decisions because Ireland is a small country,” she said. “It would have been better in terms of privacy and access to mental health professionals who are committed to enacting the spirit of the legislation. We have a very strong anti-choice lobby in psychiatry and there should have been procedures put in place to allow women to bypass them and their moral, political, theocratic obstacles.”

O’Keane pointed out that the section called “Risk to life from Suicidal Intent” means pregnant women have to state explicitly that they are going to kill themselves before being considered for a termination.

“This is very bad practice because if psychiatrists are practising within these guidelines then that will be the stipulation, that the woman in question must state that. Yet in the majority of cases of suicide that psychiatrists deal with there is no stated intention of killing themselves.

“The terms of reference are too narrow and dangerous, and we in Ireland have very high rates of suicide and even a government drive to reduce suicide numbers. In these guidelines, what we are actually doing is saying to Irish women, ‘You have to actually tell us that you’re going to kill yourself or you won’t get that abortion.’ It is completely contrary to good psychiatric practice.”

Nurse Edith Cavell, a real World War I heroine


An artist's impression of what an Edith Cavell £2 coin might look like

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Commemorating a real hero of World War I

Monday 4th August 2014

PETER FROST celebrates a little victory

WHEN our present Con-Dem government started to plan commemorations for the anniversary of the start of World War I, it didn’t take a genius to guess just who its heroes would be.

Would it be the brave and oh-so-young Tommies who fought like lions in the trenches and on the muddy, bloody battlefields that were home to this historic conflict?

No. It was clear that David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Michael Gove — then still rewriting school histories — would hand the accolades to insensitive and incompetent officers, the often Eton-educated donkeys, who sent so many brave men to an unnecessary early death.

The government’s Royal Mint announced it was to honour one of the most insensitive of all the donkeys, Lord Kitchener, who convinced thousands of working-class lads to sign up. Many of them were very young indeed who lied about their age to answer Kitchener’s jingoistic appeal.

Kitchener was a warmonger with the blood of millions on his hands.

Even before WWI he had a reputation for atrocities. He led the Omdurman massacre in Sudan in 1898 and expanded the network of concentration camps in South Africa during the second Boer war. Many civilians died in the unhealthy conditions.

In January this year the Morning Star published my article on the outrage and insensitivity of such a commemorative Kitchener coin. This article proved to be just one part of a massive public outcry.

I suggested that nurse Edith Cavell would be a far better candidate for such a commemorative coin. I suggested the message on the coin be her famous last words: “Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

I wasn’t the only one backing Cavell. Tens of thousands signed an online petition organised by Sioned-Mair Richards, a Labour city councillor in Sheffield. Richards, a former mayor of Carmarthen, had admired Cavell since she was a girl.

Cavell was a vicar’s daughter and the English matron of a teaching hospital in Belgium. She had already built a huge reputation as an influential pioneer of modern nursing.

When war broke out she was visiting her mother in Norfolk. She hurried back to Belgium where she knew her nursing skills would be urgently needed.

Cavell’s hospital became a Red Cross station for wounded soldiers. She ensured all nationalities were equally treated in her wards. “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved,” she said.

When a number of wounded British soldiers, cut off from their comrades, arrived at the hospital, Cavell faced a dilemma. Should she help the British soldiers and put at risk the neutrality of the Red Cross and endanger those working with her?

If she refused to help the soldiers they would be in danger of being shot, along with any Belgian civilians who had harboured them. Cavell decided to help them despite the risk to herself.

“Had I not helped, they would have been shot,” she later said.

In order to help them she joined the Belgian underground. Her actions helped more than 200 allied soldiers to escape to neutral territory. When the network was betrayed, Cavell was arrested, found guilty of treason by a court martial, and sentenced to death.

Cavell was shot, in her nurse’s uniform, by a firing squad, at dawn on October 12 1915 in Brussels.

Now the British Mint has belatedly announced that it will mark the anniversary of the first world war with a £5 coin bearing the likeness of Nurse Edith Cavell.

It’s very rarely that our dreadful government gets it right, given enough pressure from the likes of the Morning Star and the public in general.

Peter Frost blogs at frostysramblings.wordpress.com.