Category Archives: Health
Much ado about an OP nerve-agent: but hundreds of British farmers were poisoned – compelled by government to use OP dips
Senior ministers have been told that the nerve agent used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal in in Salisbury, on Sunday 4 March 2018 near Porton Down, has been identified by Porton Down experts as the organophosphate Novichock. Porton Down’s research focus has successively been known as Chemical Warfare, Chemical Defence, Chemical & Biological Defence and now Defence Science and Technology. Areas of concern are outlined here. Early British collaboration with American chemical warfare research (aka ‘field studies’) is acknowledged here.
In 2015 the Guardian reported that a cross-party MPs called for an inquiry into the compulsory use of dangerous chemicals called organophosphates (OPs), used to protect livestock from parasites. The Farmers Weekly reported that the Sheep Dip Sufferers Support Group repeated this call in 2016
The problem was first identified by Dr Goran Jamal, a Kurdish-born neurologist working in Glasgow, who later gave evidence of OP-related Gulf War Syndrome. Read Booker’s compelling account in Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares are Costing Us the Earth, or extracts from it here.
In his autobiography, BBC Countryfile presenter Adam Henson wrote: “the authorities realized that they were poisoning a lot of farmers”. In Countryfile Magazine (9.6.17) he wrote (snapshot of page, above right)
BBC Countryfile Magazine made the following points below:
- OPs were originally created as a nerve gas and were developed during the Second World War. In 1951 Lord Zuckerman, who would go on to become the government’s chief scientist, warned of the dangers of allowing farmers to use OPs. Zuckerman raised concerns that farmers could absorb the poison through skin or inhalation. Read the legal noticepublished by Minister of Agriculture and Fishery regarding the harmful effects of Ops in 1951. Read a report published by Tim Farron, MP, stating that Government knew about the harmful effects of OPs.
- Zuckerman called for farmers to be given detailed instructions for the use of OPs and for the substance to be labelled as deadly poison, although neither suggestion would be adopted until the 1980s.
- Dipping sheep became compulsory in the late 1970s, and the use of OPs specifically was mandated by the British government until 1992. Read abstract at Small Ruminant Research.
- In 1981 an advice leaflet was produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that warned against the dangers of using OPs, citing that the chemicals could be absorbed through the skin. A report from the HSE in 1990showed growing concerns over the use of the chemicals.
- UCL’s Dr Sarah MacKenzie Ross reviewed existing scientific evidence in 2013 and found that 13 out of 16 studies showed evidence of neurological problems following long-term, low-level exposure to Ops. Long-term health issues linked to OP poisoning also include multiple sclerosis and memory issues. (Ed; we add her work in Neurotoxicology and Teratology, Volume 32, Issue 4, 2010, abstract here.)
- In April 2014 MPs called for a ‘Hillsborough-style’ inquiry into the sheep-dip poisoning, with Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham called it a “major scandal”. Source: Agri Wales.
A saga of missing medical records
In the Telegraph, Booker pointed out that the health of thousands of farmers and their families had been destroyed by using highly toxic organo-phosphate (OP) chemicals to dip their sheep, as a protection against parasites. When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) commissioned its own internal study into this disaster, its findings in 1991 were so devastating that they had to be ruthlessly suppressed. The survey, later released under a freedom of information request, said:
“Repeated absorption of small doses [can] have a cumulative effect and can result in progressive inhibition of nervous system cholinesterase.”
The Manchester Evening News published an early photograph of Littleborough farmer, the late Brenda Sutcliff with her husband Harold. She and three family members became ill after using a government-recommended sheep dip. No active, healthy old age for her – but her persistent campaigning was recognised and celebrated by many (below left).
Details of a sheep dipping survey were released by the Health and Safety Executive following a Freedom of Information Request by the Sheep Dip Sufferers Group. The HSE survey examined sheep dipping facilities and practices on a representative sample of 696 farmers across 16 different regions of Britain. See also: Minister pledges to re-examine OP sheep dip files
But in the same month as this report was published internally – May 1991 – the farming minister at the time, John Gummer, was demanding that local authorities clamp down on farmers who refused to use the chemical.
The report found 160 occasions where some form of ill-health occurred after dipping. It also criticised manufacturers for providing inadequate protective clothing and unclear instructions to farmers on how to use the chemicals: “If with all the resources available to them, a major chemical company proves unable to select appropriate protective equipment, what hope is there for an end-user?” Booker commented that ministers were only too aware that the government had forced the farmers to use these chemicals, which its own Veterinary Medicines Directorate had licensed as safe to use and ends:
“Although in 1992, the government quietly dropped the compulsory use of OPs for dipping, without explanation, a succession of Tory and Labour ministers refused to accept publicly that repeated exposure to them could cause irreparable damage – because, it seemed, any public admission that they were as dangerous as the HSE had found them to be might trigger off a major scandal resulting in tens of millions of pounds of compensation claims”.
A more high-profile victim (see illness), former sheep farmer Margaret Mar (right), a life peer in the House of Lords, has spent three decades campaigning in Westminster on the issue.
She said: “I know from private discussions with an advisor at the Department of Health that officials knew about the risks, but couldn’t publicly criticise OPs because they were a government-recommended dip at that time”.
An campaign by the Sheep Dip Sufferers’ Support Group, co-ordinated by Tom Rigby, organic dairy farmer and chair of NFU’s Organic Forum, has an exceptionally accurate and informative website, with a balanced approach, useful links and well-documented interviews and reports with the political establishment – recording reasonable interaction with MPs like Andy Burnham, George Eustice and Paul Tyler.
They deserve the last word:
“We are a group of volunteers campaigning for better diagnosis and treatment for all those affected by organophosphates used in agriculture. We have no membership subscription or outside funding and rely mostly on the collective experience of those who have been bravely battling against the devastating effects of these chemicals for decades.
“We hope 2018 will be the year when the farming community comes to realise the impact these insecticides have had on those involved in disease control and that they finally start to get the help and support they urgently need”.
Over 2400 of the people who were given contaminated blood have died and MP Diana Johnson (below, left) asked for an urgent Commons debate last year.
She had to get six leaders of opposition parties — including the DUP — to sign a letter to Ms May asking for an inquiry before Theresa May finally succumbed to pressure and announced a public inquiry into this 1970s and 80s scandal.
Last year it was recalled here that British haemophiliacs and other victims’ lives were blighted in the 1970s and 1980s by cheap imported US blood products, harvested from inmates and drug addicts. More than 5,000 were infected and went on unknowingly to infect family and friends. It is estimated that over 2.400 have died since then.
At a 1997 independent inquiry into the scandal, Lord Archer of Sandwell said: “By the mid 1970s it was known in medical and government circles that blood products carried a danger of infection… and that commercially manufactured products from the USA were particularly suspect… but the products continued to be imported and used, often with tragic consequences.”
It was decided that victims should die to avoid going over budget
Ministers believe the reforms (cutbacks) are necessary because more people are now considered likely to develop serious health issues – and be entitled to higher payouts – pushing the programme as much as £123m over budget.
In April, as he left the Commons, the former health secretary Andy Burnham declared there had been a “criminal cover-up on an industrial scale in the NHS” over contaminated blood and called for a Hillsborough-style inquiry.
Meanwhile the contaminated die apace as this inquiry gets under way, 30 years too late.
Work capability assessments, introduced under the last Labour government, were first carried out by Atos, which had a £100 million a year contract in 2012 – and later earned much more. The firm made a £42million profit in 2010 and paid its chief executive Keith Wilman £800,000, a 22% pay rise on the previous year. Since then other providers, including Capita and Maximus, have also been making these assessments. For several years there has been evidence from a wide range of sources that they are not being carried out efficiently. A few examples follow:
Doctors backed a motion at the annual BMA conference in 2012 stating that Atos’s assessments were “inadequate” and “have little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long-term sick and disabled persons.
In their evidence to the Fifth Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment (2014), the BMA repeated its 2012 call for government to end it “with immediate effect and replace it with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to the weakest and most vulnerable in our society”.
2015: An academic paper, published in the BMJ’s Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in which examined 149 English council areas, found that nearly 600 suicides in England may be associated with the government’s “fit-for-work” tests.
Oxford and Liverpool researchers looked at three years’ data and also found the Work Capability Assessments could be linked to a rise in mental health problems. The BBC reported in 2015 that the study found the areas with most WCAs showed the sharpest increases.
2016: The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found that UK welfare reforms have led to “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights.
Changes to benefits “disproportionately affected” disabled people, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) found. The 2016 investigation was launched after receiving evidence from disability organisations about an “alleged adverse impact” of government reforms on disabled people. UN committee members visited London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast in October 2015 to identify any gaps in human rights protection for disabled people. As part of its inquiry, the CRPD also looked at a range of recent welfare reforms and legislation including the Welfare Reform Act 2012, Care Act 2014, and Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.
The BBC reported the UN inquiry’s conclusion that changes made to housing benefits and criteria for parts of the Personal Independence Payment, combined with a narrowing of social care criteria and the closure of the Independent Living Fund, “hindered disabled people’s right to live independently and be included in the community”.
Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green rejected the UN report’s findings, but it has now been announced that after a high court ruling on 2017 regulations, introducing criteria which discriminated against those with impaired mental health, decisions on personal independence payments will be reviewed.
2017: Directors and other officers of the Department of Work and Pensions receive new year’s honours for services to ‘welfare reform’, as a reader draws attention to an undated article in the Dorset Eye, by Douglas James, listing 82 people who have died or committed suicide soon after dealings with agencies such as ATOS and the government’s Department of Work and Pensions. A search was made for news of the first five on the Dorset Eye list and links to fuller accounts were added. Most of the people were aged 30-40.
2018: Private Eye 1462 reported in January that despite long-drawn-out resistance from the DWP, Atos and Capita, the Information Commissioner’s Office has now ruled that the DWP must reveal monthly reports These include details of complaints against assessors, the length of time taken by t-assessments and how many fail – i.e. are overturned on appeal.
In December the Commons Work & Pensions Select Committee report revealed that:
- it had heard disturbing evidence,
- accounts of medical assessments range from frustrating to gruelling,
- there were remarkably high, if slowly improving, levels of unacceptable reports,
- not one doctor had been involved in the assessments and
- Capita’s own auditing found that at points in the contract almost 60% of its reports were “unacceptable”.
MP Tom Brake speaks out:
“Many constituents are in despair when they contact me after an inaccurate report. Reports of face-to-face assessments need to be unbiased, fair and above all accurate. It was important to flag up these discrepancies directly with ATOS. The Government need to ensure that assessments are recorded to prevent alarming inaccuracies. I will continue to put pressure on the Government to reform the current system. At the moment too many people have lost faith in the system.”
Last resort: after many disastrous years – like Windscale nuclear reactor station – in June Atos Healthcare announced changes to its name – but not its practice.
In an earlier post it was noted that “Governments are balancing budgets on the backs of the poor” (John Grisham) 2.6 million women born in the 1950s will ‘lose out’ because of changes to pension law: “while corporations and the richest individuals receive tax breaks”.
Grahame Morris, MP for Easington, wrote earlier this month:
“Across Britain some 3.8 million women are affected by the increase to the state pension age. Though there is a good deal of sympathy for the aim of equalising the retirement age, what has taken place in practice has been appallingly unjust. Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) agrees with equalisation, but does not agree with the unfair way the changes were implemented – with little or no personal notice (1995/2011 Pension Acts), faster than promised (2011 Pension Act), and no time to make alternative plans”.
Guy Opperman, work and pensions minister with responsibility for financial exclusion, failed to reassure women in their 60s, hit by changes to their pension, by advising them to get a job or take up “extended apprenticeship opportunities”.
“Raising the pension age for women, often with little notice and sometimes failing to notify people of the changes at all, is a recipe for disaster.
“Many Waspi women affected by state pension inequality have been working full time and paying national insurance since the age of 15 or 16. In my constituency of Easington, the government’s changes to the state pension age will harm some 4,542 women.
“The OECD has recently ranked Britain’s pensions system as the worst in the developed world – yet the Tories are attempting to deny Waspi women even a basic state pension” . . .
“Excluded from the winter fuel allowance, from the free bus pass and now from the state pension, this generation of women are now in numerous cases having to sell their homes, take on precarious poverty-wage jobs or rely on foodbanks . . .
“The government’s given reason for failing these 3.8 million women is that to give them their pensions would cost as much as £30bn – for six years of pensions.
“Yet research from Landman Economics suggests the cost of helping Waspi women would likely be a more modest £8bn”. Morris lists the wider context:
- Refurbishing Westminster will cost the taxpayer some £7bn,
- Britain’s airstrikes in Syria are estimated to reach a cost of around £10bn.
- Increased privatisation of the national health service is estimated to cost at least an extra £4.5-£10bn each year.
- There have been billions of pounds of needless tax cuts to the bank levy.
“In this context finding the money for Waspi women seems a sensible price to pay to give these women justice and stop poverty from rising to ever more tragic levels. We know and we can see that it isn’t equal, it isn’t fair and it isn’t justifiable – it’s driving down the incomes and the quality of life of countless women.
Morris: “The prime minister is herself a Waspi woman but I doubt she ever has or ever will be faced with a choice between heating or eating. Yet this doesn’t mean it is too late for the government to do the right thing”.
“The parliamentary ombudsman is currently investigating the Department for Work and Pensions for maladministration, by failing to notify women of the changes to their state pension age. If the ombudsman finds in favour of the Waspi women the government could have to pay compensation to the tune of billions of pounds”
The Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru, the DUP and 50 Tory MPs support the Waspi campaign.
Birmingham Council adopts the government’s austerity agenda: asking the low paid to accept even lower wages
In July, Birmingham City Council reneged on an ACAS-mediated, cabinet-approved agreement between the Unite union and Birmingham’s talented Council Leader, John Clancy, which was to end the seven-week refuse collection dispute.
And when BCC reneged on the Unite/Clancy deal, they also issued redundancy notices to the Grade 3 workers. These were later banned in the High Court when Mr Justice Fraser spoke at length about the “extraordinary” and “astonishing” state of affairs at Birmingham City Council with “chaos” between senior personnel. Read more about his reflections here.
Council leader Ian Ward (left) told a BBC reporter: “The cost of the (three month) dispute, yes that’s cost in excess of £6m”.
This ‘new’ version of the original deal (details here), described by union insiders as a ‘total climbdown’, was agreed at a special meeting of the BCC cabinet on Friday.
ITV reports that yesterday Birmingham bin workers voted to accept the council deal.
So a seven week dispute was allowed to go on for three months, regardless of health and safety implications, losing £6m of ratepayers’ money – and the wrong head rolled.
From ‘Our Birmingham‘, under another title.
A GM Watch emessage quotes from a Greenpeace article which points out that the rejection of this latest bid for a 5-year renewal was an even worse result for the Commission than the vote on its previous 10-year proposal.
That bid had the backing of 16 countries but only fourteen voted in favour of the 5-year renewal, with as many either voting against, or, like Germany, abstaining from voting.
The breakdown of the vote reveals that the governments not backing the renewal represent far more of the EU’s population:
- 14 Member States (representing 36.95% of EU population voted in favour.
- 9 Member States (32.26% of EU population) opposed relicensing
- 5 Member States (30.79% of EU population) abstained.
The qualified majority necessary to grant a new EU licence requires support from countries representing at least 65% of the total EU population, but the countries that voted for renewal represent less than 37% of the population.
The UK, which is one of the most committed glyphosate supporters, is preparing to leave the EU. As it has nearly 13% of the EU’s population, with the UK out of the equation post-Brexit, the states currently voting for glyphosate renewal would represent less than a quarter of the EU’s population.
News 24 reports that Luxembourg environment minister Carole Dieschbourg (right) welcomed the outcome when she became one of the first to tweet the result. “Luxembourg voted against renewal and prolongation. Good outcome for our health and environment,” she said.
On 24 October MEPs at the European Parliament voted to restrict its use from 2018 and impose a full ban by 2022.There were 355 votes in favour of banning glyphosate, 204 against and 111 abstentions. MEPs,
The EU Commission will next take its proposal for a 5-year renewal licence for glyphosate to an appeals committee but it is expected to fail to gain enough support in the appeals committee.
However, the Commission has the power to adopt its own proposal without the backing of European governments. Will the EC disregard the precautionary principle detailed in Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (EU), which aims at ensuring a higher level of environmental protection through preventative decision-taking in the case of risk and covers consumer policy, European legislation concerning food and human, animal and plant health.
The presenter of this BBC radio programme, Adrian Goldberg, grew up on the Druids Heath council estate in Birmingham, the home of the ‘municipalism’ pioneered by Joseph Chamberlain when he was Mayor of Birmingham – summarised by Walsall MP John McShane in the Commons in 1930:
“A young person today lives in a municipal house, and he washes himself … in municipal water. He rides on a municipal tram or omnibus, and I have no doubt that before long he will be riding in a municipal aeroplane. He walks on a municipal road; he is educated in a municipal school. He reads in a municipal library and he has his sport on a municipal recreation ground. When he is ill he is doctored and nursed in a municipal hospital and when he dies he is buried in a municipal cemetery.”
Adrian is described as being an ideal candidate to judge the changing nature of the local council, because when he and his family moved there the local authority:
- built properties and
- collected the rent.
- Adrian took a council-subsidised bus service to
- the secondary school run by his local education authority.
- On the way home he’d drop into his council-run library to pick up some books
- or take a swim in the council run pool.
He comments, “Today the situation is much more complex”
Adrian considered the effect of austerity on the role of councils today. Birmingham council has almost halved its staff since 2008, from around 24,000 to 12,500. Last year another £28m was cut from Birmingham’s adult care budget of £230m. 2017/18 – the seventh year of cuts – is predicted to be the toughest year yet with expected reductions of £113m to the council’s overall budget, on top of £650m already cut since 2010.
Local government grants and powers have been greatly reduced in several areas, including education and housing. Read more about the following cases here.
- The fate of the formerly successful council-run Baverstock Secondary School in Druids Heath
- The group of residents who set up the Friends of Walkers Heath Park in November 2011
- The volunteers who are helping to run the library
- Druids Heath’s handsome and historic Bells Farm community centre (below), with its food bank and other services, also kept going by local volunteers.
The link also leads to news of high-rise tower blocks in the area; dilapidation, damp and fire hazards go unremedied, the splendid concierge system was abandoned and full time neighbourhood office advice centres, closed in 2006, were replaced by a private call service which was expensive, often not answering, with staff unable to supply the information needed.
In Birmingham there was a move under John Clancy’s leadership to take back ‘in-house’ the services currently undertaken by profit-making private companies, deciding not to renew one Capita contract and considering the future of refuse collection in the city. This, because the ‘market place’ economy which has developed, privatising refuse collection, road maintenance and ‘back office’ functions in Birmingham, has proved to be more expensive and often less efficient. This hope is fading as Richard Hatcher reports on the new regime: Birmingham Council Children’s Services contracted out, Children’s Centres closed.
The health and safety of council tenants is evidently not a government priority
Inside Housing reports the housing minister’s description of sprinkler systems for high rise blocks as “additional rather than essential” and refusing a council’s request for funding promised after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Strangely, the conservative Prime Minister expresses admiration for Joseph Chamberlain
Mayor of Birmingham in 1873, city MP in 1876, Joseph Chamberlain directed the construction of good housing for the poorest, libraries, municipal swimming pools and schools. Unlike Ms May and colleagues, he was not in favour of a market economy, arguing for tariffs on goods from countries outside the British Empire. He was also an ‘economic interventionist’ (see Lewis Goodall, Newsnight), described as a “gas and water socialist”. He took profit-making private enterprises into public hands, declaring that “profit was irrelevant”.
Ms May’s government continues to implement a series of cuts affecting the lives of the country’s poorest and most disabled with might and main.
Ironically the contemporary politician sharing Chamberlain’s principles is the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, whose policies she echoes but does not implement.