Sunday, 18 February 2018

Brexit Britain is not a country which would have welcomed an old émigré called Walter Holland, its erstwhile and now forgotten 'Giant of Epidemiology'

In 2016, Lord Dubs, who came to Britain as a Jewish refugee on a Kindertransport from Czechoslovakia when he was seven in 1939, sponsored an amendment to the Immigration Act 2016 to offer unaccompanied refugee children safe passage to Britain amidst the European migrant crisis. Originally rejected by the House of Commons, the amendment was accepted by the Government following a second vote in favour by the Lords. In February 2017, the Home Office abandoned the scheme after accepting 350 out of the planned 3,000 child refugees.

 * * * * * * 
Walter Holland, who has died at the age of 88 and whose passing has been scarce noticed with a brief tribute from King's College and a handful of tweets, came to Britain as a refugee from Czechoslovakia in the same year as Lord Dubs at the age of 10 in 1939. In his adulthood he played a big part in the branch of medicine known as 'epidemiology' and has been instrumental in improving thousands of lives of British people.

Walter was born in 1929 in Teplice in the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia, the son Hertha and Henry, who, with his own father, was a successful Jewish businessmen who owned a very large wholesale business that sold cotton and woollen goods which was the largest wholesaler in the country. He recalled, as a boy, the violence and unrest fomented by Hitler and the Nazi Party based on his ever shriller demands that the Sudetenland should be returned to Germany : "Almost every weekend we would leave because of the riots that used to take place and go to the mountains, or somewhere like that, which was not very pleasant really."

When, in September 1938, Britain and France gave Hitler what he wanted at Munich and he annexed the Sudetenland, the family moved to Prague and then with the German occupation of the city the following year his father moved fast : "My father was Jewish and he had helped a large number of Germans in their escape from Germany before 1938. When Prague was taken over he left almost immediately, within 24 hours and within 6–12 hours of his departure the Gestapo came for him." 

His father had made his way to Britain and a few weeks later Walter and his mother followed, leaving behind his Grandfather who died from a heart attack in 1940 and Grandmother who died in the horrors of the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, quite near to Teplice.

His father had managed to transfer funds to Britain before his escape and, when War between Britain and Germany broke out in 1939, was working for the electrical company British Thomson Houston in the Midlands. Walter himself, knowing "only a few words of English," went to a succession of English boarding schools, including Rugby, where he combined an interest in history with the sciences.

He recalled : "I think probably, my parents suggested that I would be more likely to earn a living if I did a scientific subject than a non-scientific subject, but I decided that medicine was of interest to me. I can’t say that it was altruism or my wish to do good. I think my interest was largely because I could see an application for the physics and chemistry, biology and maths that I was learning. Various other books about what doctors could do and did also fascinate me and that’s what really I wanted to do. And I was always brought up with the feeling that I also had a duty to repay society for what it had done to help me. And I think that also there was always a feeling of gratitude about how we had been received by this country so I felt I had some debt to repay."

Having successfully sat the Higher School Certificate, Walter was still too young to start his training as a doctor at St Thomas’ Hospital in London and so started working as a Research Assistant to Dr Tom Day, Reader in Pathology for a pound a week. From Day he learned about "the need for exactitude and for being careful and so on, so that I could understand what research was about."  He also developed his taste for : "the excitement of research. If you set up a particular experiment and it works and you see the things that you hoped that you would and you discover new structures. It was really the excitement of it and the need for patience, but at the end it paid off."

He later speculated : "I think that the question of hypothesis driven science was not common in the late 1940s. It was, ‘Let’s find out how something works.’ Not, ‘I think, that this is what is going to happen, let’s see if that’s right or wrong."

Having started his formal BSc studies and in recognition of his early promise, he was one of three students, of the sixty in his year, offered the opportunity to study for an 'intercalcate degree' and chose to insert 'physiology' into his studies. He later commented : "It was extremely instructive because it was just at the time that they were beginning to do open heart operations and we were the individuals who were asked by the cardiologists to do various estimations of blood gases because we’d used a Van Slyke machine. It was a very interesting 18 months."

Having graduated in 1954, Walter was required to serve his two years National Service in the RAF from 1954-56 and it was as an RAF doctor that he discovered the particular area of research to which he would devote a substantial portion of his professional life : respiratory disease. It was his first foree into epidemiology, the branch of medicine dealing with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health.

His term of duty wasn't over when, in 1956,  he joined the Central Public Health Laboratory in Colindale in North London to work on testing a new vaccine developed by Glaxo for use against the respiratory illness, adenovirus. It proved to be fortuitous that the vaccine failed its safety tests because Glaxo forgot to switch the incubator off over Christmas and so the specimens were “fried” and the company offered him the opportunity to study Asian Flu, affecting S.E.Asia and expected to reach Britain in the winter of 1957. So he put aside the opportunity to work in the Institute of Aviation Medicine : "I decided that flu was a once in a lifetime opportunity whereas the physiology I could do anytime and so I stayed at Colindale."

With his non-hypothesis based approach he said : "The question posed for me was why did flu only appear when the weather got cold, in the winter months?  So we set up a system of surveillance to identify when the first cases of influenza reached this country." His boss at Colindale was Professor Corbett McDonald who was to carve a career as an occupational epidemiologist, whose work led to the universal recognition of the toxicity of asbestos.

As a result he visited : "all the RAF recruit training stations every 2 weeks and examined and took blood specimens from every recruit who was ill at the time. I hadn’t got the faintest idea of what epidemiology was, that was really where I learnt what it was about. I found it fascinating and very interesting."

He followed this up with an investigation of two outbreaks of Q Fever, one in the Isle of Man in Jurby in the Officers’ Training Camp where he "was able with reasonable certainty to show that it came from the officers having a smoke in a shepherds hut where the lambs had had their young." The other was at St Mawgan in Cornwall where he "was able with reasonable certainty to show that the infection can be spread from man to man, which had not been described before."

In 1957, at the age of 28, with his National Service over he returned to St Thomas' Hospital as a Clinical Lecturer in Medicine and conducted an epidemiological study of respiratory infections of patients in hospital. Two years later he moved to the London School of Hygiene and it was here that he served his apprenticeship when he worked with (left to right) : Sir Austin Bradford Hill, Richard Doll and Donald Reid, who "had a completely shared ethos on epidemiology and epidemiological research. They were all three very hard nosed, very, very good methodologists."

Walter then left Britain for a year to earn some decent money by filling a substantive post at Johns Hopkins University in the USA where he started a study to look at the effect of air pollution on respiratory disease and devised an investigation which examined post office and telephone van drivers in four different locations in Britain with different levels of air pollution, could be used in the States and whether it could demonstrate that the finding that respiratory disease was commoner in Britain than in the USA was true.

He returned to Britain in 1962 "with the idea of developing epidemiological research at St Thomas" and two years later he was placed in charge of the newly created 'Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Social Medicine' within the Department of Medicine.

He recalled : "On appointment as a Senior Lecturer I was given Honorary Consultant status and I continued to hold a clinic once a week for patients with chronic respiratory disease. That was the research field that I was studying and I felt it was important to maintain my clinical links." He taught his students on his clinical ward rounds, he thought it was crucial to be in touch with patients in order to learn.

At the same time he recruited statisticians and also social scientists from a non-medical backgrounds and developed a close relationship with the London School of Economics and Professor Richard Titmuss but confessed that his main interest remained "hard-nosed epidemiology."

Walter was working at a time when respiratory disease was one of the major causes of death and disability in Britain, problems of air pollution were manifest and he himself recorded that he had lived through the Great Smog in London in 1952 "so I knew what it was about." He was interested in why disease affected some and not others : "Part of my work in the Air Force had suggested to me that factors in early life could be important in making individuals more susceptible to develop chronic disease in later life. Nobody was really doing any work on that so that I thought that that was an interesting area for exploration."

The result was 'The Kent/Harrow Research Project' and working with the Medical Officers of Health in both areas and chose the districts he and his team would investigate by their environmental and social factor affecting populations of children. The Project lasted a total of seven years. In Harrow they started from birth and followed the children to the age of five and in Kent started at age five and went to age 14. He recalled working with his colleague John Colley, later Professor of Epidemiology at Bristol University : "I was then not married and neither was he, and so we each spent one evening a week visiting families in Harrow. That was considered normal. In my day, medical researchers would start at nine o’clock in the morning and usually work till nine, ten in the evening."

He reflected that in 1960s and early 1970s, there was no pressure to provide quick results : "The pressure was to provide results that were valid and good, not quick and dirty. And, in fact, studies that were quick and dirty were looked down upon by my generation, and still are." 

The results were published at the end of the 1970s and were tabulated with the use of early computers and confirmed the :

* influence of air pollution on the development of respiratory symptoms and respiratory function from birth.
* occurrence of illness in the first year of life was important in terms of predetermining the liability for respiratory infections in later life.
* importance of cigarette smoking by parents on respiratory illnesses in 1-year-olds,
* importance of social factors and deprivation on height and weight and on nutrition in school- aged children.
* growth of obesity, particularly in the deprived groups in Kent.

He noted that in the 1960s : " the realisation that health services research was important began to permeate." In 1967–1968 he created a Department of Health-funded unit, which indicated the Government's recognition of the importance of his work, linking public health and clinical medicine. In 1968 he became Britain's first Professor of Social Medicine.

The new unit was born out of the role he and his team played in the rebuilding of  St Thomas’ Hospital when they "were challenged to provide some ideas for doing this and we eventually said we’d do what we knew how to do, namely a population survey in Lambeth, find out what illnesses people had, what services they received and from that try to design the hospital."

The proposal to build a new hospital at Frimley on the basis of more outpatient facilities than in-patient facilities provided Walter with the opportunity to undertake his next research project which produced "unexpected findings."  The first involved the early discharge of patients : "We showed that actually the costs were almost exactly the same if you included the social costs, which everybody always excludes." Another was that : "the major cost of minor operations was not in the hospital but it was the time off work, which was the same whether you were in for 2 days or whether you were in for 7 days." 

He was now approached by the Medical Research Council if he would like to put for a proposal for a major study of ‘Smoking in School children.’ He found the reception of his study frustrating :
"We showed that children began to take up smoking before they went to secondary school, so that if you wanted to have an affect you had to do it in primary school. We suggested various ways for doing this. We were completly blocked by the educational establishment who were uninterested in doing anything among primary school children and who were unwilling to change their curriculum to take into account what we said, which was to teach that children had to take responsibility for their actions rather than how to learn to read and wrote only."

In addition, he came up against : "complete resistance by the local politicians and central politicians as well, to admit that children below the age of 11 could take up smoking! They didn’t want to believe this! This was so foreign to their ideas that they couldn’t understand that, perhaps, between 3 and 7 per cent of children below that age were already smoking when they entered secondary school."

With the advent of screening services in Britain in the 1970s, Walter and his team "were asked to do a large randomised control trial of multi-phasic screening, which was a sort of ‘MOT’ of everybody" and after 8 years had the results of the trial, which showed that essentially there was no improvement : that multi-phasic screening did not improve mortality or morbidity. As a result his findings were then accepted by the Department of Health and multi-phasic screening was not introduced into the NHS. He saw his groundbreaking paper on validation of medical screening procedures, published jointly with fellow epidemiologist Archie Cochrane in 1971, became a classic in the field.

Walter was interviewed about what he called 'the milieu of screening' in the 1960s in 2016 :

Walter said, with self-effacement : "I think that the things that I have done over the years have been concerned with the health of populations and with the factors that cause disease and improve health. Certainly some of the work, and certainly a greater proportion of the work that I did in my final years was to enable others to do that and provide them with the opportunities to do it rather than doing it myself."

Those 'things that he had done' included the publication of over 315 articles and books, his editorship of the Oxford Textbook of Public Health and the International Journal of Epidemiology from 1971-1977 and Presidency of the International Epidemiological Association from 1987-1990. In addition, he was he was President of the Faculty of Public Health and in 1992  was made a CBE in recognition of his contribution to the field.

* * * *

With grateful acknowledgement to Christopher Cook's 2004 interview with Walter, without which this post could not have been composed..

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Britain is no country for old steel workers like Richard Bevan, fleeced of their British Steel pensions by financial vultures

In 1967 Harold Wilson's Labour Government used its power to take the independent steel makers in Britain into public ownership as 'British Steel' and in 1988 Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Government sold it off again as the privatised 'British Steel plc', whose workers continued to pay into the British Steel Pension Fund. The company merged with Koninklijke Hoogovens to form the 'Corus Group' in 1999 and in 2007 Corus itself was taken over in 2007 by the Indian steel operator, 'Tata Steel.'

In 2017 Tata announced a restructuring of inherited £14bn British Steel Pension Fund to keep its loss-making operations in Britain afloat.

These are the small number of big movers whose actions have affected thousands of small lives.

* * * * * * * 
Parliament's 'Work and Pensions Select Committee' has now published a Report which deals with  the closure of the British Steel Pension Scheme. Apparently, the average British Steel retirement saving was £400,000, per pensioner, although, in around 20 cases, the transfer value was in excess of £1million. The Committee found that many retirees were 'shamelessly bamboozled' into transferring hundreds of thousands of pounds into risky products and in the process netting so-called advisors' chunky payouts with fees as high as 10% . They were 'exploited for cynical personal gain by dubious financial advisers in tandem with parasitical so-called ‘introducers.’'

The Committee Chairman, veteran MP Frank Field, said : "We're not sure of the full extent, but we've certainly got evidence and presented evidence, in the Report, that there are not just a few occasions where this has occurred and there have been people who probably have been fleeced of the most valuable asset they will ever had, which they would have built up as part of their pension scheme. Some have been entitled to a million pounds drawing down of which the financial vultures have been after and in too many cases, been successful in getting their claws on."

Richard Bevan who has been working in the steel industry for almost 40 years, most recently at Tata's Trostre Plant said he turned to a local company to discuss what to do with his pension savings once it became clear that Tata's British Steel Pension Scheme would close. Apparently, he was advised to leave the scheme even after he had received a communication from the Pension Fund advising him that a revaluation was under way which could mean he had much more in his savings pot than previously thought. He now thinks that he was misled and told BBC Wales he has lost almost £200,000 by transferring out of the Pension Scheme.

The Head of Policy at Hargreaves Lansdown, Tom McPhail said : “It is extraordinary that even after the pension mis-selling scandal of the 1990s, the members of the British Steel scheme could be let down so badly. The scheme trustees and administrators should surely have taken more responsibility for protecting members interests and shielding them from unscrupulous advisers. Contingent charging, where the adviser is actively incentivised to recommend a transfer, creates a glaring misalignment of interest between adviser and their client; it would be remarkable if it didn’t lead to at least some mis-selling.”

One would think that the evidence proving the exploitation of these old pensioners was irrefutable, but :

* despite the fact that the Committee concluded communication to British Steel pensioners over switching their pension pots was 'woefully inadequate', the Trustee of the scheme rejected this  conclusion and said it was 'not supported by the evidence' and 'all members were provided with enough information to make good choices.'

* The Pensions Regulator also rejected some of the Report's conclusions and a spokesperson said it : “helped tackle unscrupulous financial advisers who were exploiting the situation.” “We went to Port Talbot and took part in a discussion forum with scheme members and others. We reviewed communications sent to members and were satisfied they adequately warned of the dangers of transferring out of a defined benefit scheme.”

* ex-Pension Minister, Steve Webb, urged authorities : “not to throw the baby out with the bath water. The obvious lesson is that you clamp down on the crooks and scammers, not that you clamp down on pension freedoms.” 

"The pension's got to last me the rest of my life."
ex steel worker Richard Bevan

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Britain is a country and no country for more and more hungry old men and women

The veteran MP, Frank Field, set up the 'All Party Parliamentary Group on 'Hunger and Food Poverty' with Laura Sandys in 2013, in order to investigate the root causes behind hunger, food poverty and the huge increase in demand for food banks across Britain. The group renamed itself the 'APPG on Hunger' in 2015.

Last month it delivered a Report : 'Hidden hunger and malnutrition in the elderly', which began with :

'Malnutrition arises when a person’s body does not gain the nutrients it needs to function properly. Older people are particularly at risk of becoming malnourished, due to a range of unique medical, physical, and social reasons.'

The Report said that a million old people in Britain are at risk of 'withering away in their own homes' as a result of malnutrition caused by social isolation and cuts to public services. It concluded that isolation, which can be caused by either bereavement, illness, immobility or confinement, perhaps through the loss of a driving licence, are the main causes of a largely 'hidden' problem of elderly hunger in Britain.

It stated that : 'Loneliness accompanied by a bowl of cereal and two sandwiches, every day, every week, should be unacceptable in modern Britain. But within the current legislative framework, it is almost inevitable.'

In answer to the question : Why are so many old men and women in Britain in 2018 undernourished ?

The Report said that there is a heightened risk of malnutrition among old people who do not qualify for formal social care packages or whose help does not include assistance with shopping or cooking hot meals. They are not getting that extra bit of help to make sure they are looking after themselves. Things are made worse by cuts to 'meals on wheels' and bus services and local shop closures. Fewer than half of local authorities now provide 'meals on wheels', down from 66% in 2011 and the Report adds that some councils have replaced them with a link on their website to takeaway food shops.

Frank has said : “Hidden beneath the radar, there are malnourished older people in this country spending two or three months withering away in their own homes, with some entering hospital weighing five and a half stone [35kg] with an infection or following a fall, which keeps them there for several tortuous days, if not weeks. The elimination of malnutrition amongst older people is urgently required for the sake of the NHS, and social care services, but above all for purposes of humaneness.”

Izzi Seccombe, Chair of the Local Government Association’s 'Community Wellbeing Board', said : “Significant funding pressures on councils are already threatening services that elderly people and their friends and families rely on, particularly meals on wheels and luncheon clubs.”

The Government, whose austerity policy is the root cause of malnourished old men and women in Britain, thinks that the answer is to spot them before they become malnourished and a spokesperson said : “Malnutrition is a complex issue and most patients diagnosed in England have other serious health and social problems. We know better diagnosis and detection is key, which is why we continue to train all health staff to spot the early warning signs of malnutrition so effective treatment can be put into place.”

Britain's hungry old men can take heart that their Government is not preventing them to become malnourished, but is training staff to spot them before they fade away.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Brexit Britain is not a country which would have welcomed an old émigré called Michal Giedroyc

In 2016, Lord Dubs sponsored an amendment to the Immigration Act 2016 to offer unaccompanied refugee children safe passage to Britain amidst the European migrant crisis. Originally rejected by the House of Commons, the amendment was accepted by the Government following a second vote in favour by the Lords. In February 2017, the Home Office abandoned the scheme after accepting 350 out of the planned 3,000 child refugees.

 * * * * * * 

Michal Giedroyc, who has died at the age of 88, came to Britain as a refugee at the age of 18 in 1947 and has played his part as an active citizen and has contributed to the life of the country ever since, not least as being the father of his tv personality daughter Mel.

'Mel' : Melanie Clare Sophie Giedroyc, was born in the summer of 1968, the youngest of four children, when Michal was 39. After graduating from Trinity College, Cambridge with a degree in Italian language and literature, she forged a career as a tv presenter and actress, best known for her work with Sue Perkins, co-hosting series including 'Light Lunch' for Channel 4, 'The Great British Bake Off' for the BBC and chat show 'Mel and Sue' for ITV. Last year she took on the role of co-presenter on the BBC show 'Let It Shine.'

In 2016 Mel said of her Dad :
'He and I have a lot in common. We’re as tough as old boots and both have a good sense of humour. For such a cerebral man – he speaks seven languages – it always surprises me that he shares my love of Les Dawson, Eric Morecambe and Danny La Rue – ribald, end-of-the-pier humour.'

He was born Michal Jan Henryk Giedroyc'in 1929 in Lobzow, Poland, the son of Prince Tadeusz Giedroyc who was a judge and senator in the Polish Second Republic and lived in an 18th century manor house inherited by his mother, Anna. In his book 'Crater’s Edge', he described an idyllic pre-Second World War childhood at the manor with its gardens and an ice-house that allowed the cook to produce ice cream and the wild birds that flocked to its surrounding woods and fields.

It was not to last. After the outbreak of War in September 1939 and as a result of Hitler's pact with Stalin, Poland was invaded by the Red Army from the East. The house was plundered and an officer pulled a gun on the 10-year-old Michal, threatening to kill “this Polish puppy.” His father was jailed and Michal, along with his mother and two sisters, were evicted and thrown onto the streets. Then, in 1940, after being classified as 'enemies of the people,' they were taken to the railway station and locked in a sealed cattle truck and were dispatched for farm work in Siberia, where as scions of the old order Stalin's decree was that they should “toil and die.”

As an eleven year old, the memories were etched forever on his mind and as he recalled : “We were locked 40-plus in a cattle truck, old men, women and children. There were no facilities, just a hole in the floor. Once a day we were allowed water. It took a fortnight and only twice were we given gruel. It was cold, especially when we crossed the Urals. Most people sat on the floor for warmth, but not my mother. There was a plank by the window which was access to fresh air. We sat there.”

As the train passed through Minsk, the family was able to look up at the prison where their father was being held. In Nikolaevka, a small town in northern Kazakhstan, his mother was put to work on a collective farm and the family found shelter in the cottage of a former soldier of the Imperial army, sharing one room with two other Polish families.

Their fortunes changed in 1941 when, under an agreement with the 'Polish Government-In-Exile' in London, Stalin ordered the release of Polish prisoners and deportees so that a Polish Army could be formed on Soviet territory under General Wladyslaw Anders.

In September 1942 they travelled to Tehran where his mother found work as a seamstress and in  1944, at the age of 15, Michal joined the Polish Army and left for training in Palestine. but his hopes of fighting to liberate Poland were dashed when the Yalta Agreement ceded Poland to the Soviet Union. The family sailed for asylum in Britain and the following year,1948, heard that their father, after being tortured by the the NKVD had been executed when he fell by the roadside while on a forced march.

The family settled in Britain and Michal studied for a degree in Aerodynamics and Hydrodynamics at Southampton University and then got his first job designing wings for the Vickers Vanguard and when he became a naturalised British subject, was no longer able to use his inherited title as a 'Prince.'

In 1956, at the age of 27, he moved to Folland Aerospace, where his work on the air intake of the Folland Gnat. Two years later he married Rosy, a trainee nurse, and for a few years they lived in Hong Kong, where he was in charge of aircraft maintenance at the Airport before they returned to Britain in 1966, settling first in Surrey, then in Oxford.

It is testimony Michal's multitalented nature that he later left engineering and worked as an economic consultant to developing countries. In his fifties in the 1980s, he served as an adviser to the Oxford Union, which was then struggling financially and within two years had restored the accounts to a modest surplus.

He demonstrated his academic prowess after researching his family background in medieval Lithuania led to his contribution of articles to the Oxford Slavonic Papers. When he was 63 in 1990, as a result of his scholarship, he was invited to visit Lithuania and while there took up an offer to travel in an official car over the border to Belarus, to visit his childhood home. It proved to be a traumatic experience and he recalled :  “The KGB followed us, in case we caused trouble. I knew how to find my way to where the manor had been, but it was no longer. It had been wiped out by Soviet guns in the war. There was nothing, just the sheds of the collective farm … By the end of the day I had developed the shakes.”

Michal found that by his memoir he exorcised some of the ghosts which had haunted him from the past, as indeed, as they have done for the thousands of refugees, pre-Brexit welcomed to its shores. It was published in 2010 as 'Crater’s Edge' and translated into Polish, Lithuanian and Russian. A Times critic described it as 'the epic tale of a brave and enterprising young boy coming of age and surviving extraordinary events.' He himself admitted :  “Now the book is finished, the nightmares have gone. Vanished.”

Apart from his professional contribution to the economic and cultural life of Britain, Michal also enriched it in having fathered, in addition to Mel, three more remarkable children. If Britain had not opened its doors to him and his family in 1947, it would not have :

'Miko' : Michal Graham Dowmont Giedroyc, was born in 1959 a banker and gospel musician. He composed the music for sister Coky's bizarre tale of Fanny Cradock, 'Fear of Fanny' in 2006, the story of Britain's famous and maligned tv chef from 50s to the 70s.

Kasia, married to British ambassador in the UAE. Philip Parham and, mother of seven children and working as a special needs teacher at the British School of Al Khubairat.

'Coky' : Mary Rose Helen Giedroyc, was born in 1962 and had jaundice as a baby and a little tuft of hair growing out of the top of her head. Miko took one look at her and said : “That’s not Mary Rose. That’s Mary Coconut” and the  name stuck. She became a film and tv director, known for her work on 'Women Talking Dirty', 'The Virgin Queen,' 'The Nativity' and 'Penny Dreadful.'

* * * * * * * 
"While Great Britain had a proud history of providing sanctuary for children in the past, we seem to have forgotten to not only love our neighbour, but the stranger too."
Lord Dubs

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Britain is no country for old men with prostate cancer

Despite the fact that one man every hour dies from prostate cancer, most British men still have no idea what the gland does and some don’t even know they have one.

For years campaigners have warned that British survival rates for most cancers are way behind those in Europe and the US and studies suggest 10,000 deaths could be prevented each year if Britain merely hit the European average. The analysis shows Britain is also left trailing by developing nations such as Jordan, Puerto Rico, Algeria and Ecuador.

A study, published in The Lancet Medical Journal, analysed the records of 37.5 million patients with 18 of the most common cancers, comparing survival rates for 71 countries and found that Britain languished in the bottom half of the league table for 7 of the 18. Because women do not have a prostate gland, prostate cancer is a disease which affects only men and mostly old men at that and Britain is ranked 27th for survival rates out of the 61 countries for which data was available. 

The figures indicate that in Britain almost 11 old men in 100, diagnosed with prostate cancer will die with 5 years of diagnosis and they would have had a better chance of survival in 26 other countries.

Figures from a 'Prostate Cancer UK' public awareness study last year indicated :

* Men enter a period of 'poor health management' in Britain their fifties and sixties, just when they become higher risk of prostate cancer.

* 45% of men aged 50 – 69 will only see their GP either when ill or in an emergency, yet we know men with early diagnosed prostate cancer often have no symptoms.

* Less than 20% of men in Britain know where the prostate gland is and what it does.

Angela Culhane, Chief Executive of Prostate Cancer UK has said : ”Ignoring your prostate can be lethal. You can’t see it, you can’t feel it, and shockingly many men only realise they have a prostate when it starts to go wrong. If men really knew what the prostate can do to them, they wouldn’t ignore it. As a country, we need to wake up and stop men dying needlessly. Ignoring prostate cancer won’t beat it – only fighting it will. Now is the time to join the fight to beat this disease."

A survey of 2,000 men by Prostate Cancer UK in 2016 found a 92% of men had no idea that the prostate helps make the fluid sperm swims in and contains muscles for ejaculation, with more than half not knowing where it was in their body and 17% were unaware of it altogether.

In addition, and of more concern, is the fact that 88% of men from higher risk groups : those over 50, black or with a family history of the disease, were unaware of their increased danger. 11% of them believed they were actually at lower risk of developing prostate cancer, and 86% of black men didn't know they were twice as likely as any other racial group in Britain.

Former England footballer, who lost his grandfather to the disease, the 52 year old Les Ferdinand, has played a role in highlighting the problem : "I'm not surprised so many men don't know what their prostate does - it's an easy gland to ignore. However when it goes wrong, it can be deadly. Prostate cancer affects one in four black men - double the risk faced by all men, and it kills a man every hour. Don't ignore the statistics and don't ignore your risk."

One old survivor of prostate cancer is the 83 year old TV broadcaster Michael Parkinson who has said : "Luckily for me I was aware of the potential threat my prostate posed to me long before I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I had regular check-ups and thankfully my cancer was picked up at an early stage and I was successfully treated. However, too many men are still reluctant to go to the doctors and too many turn a blind eye to their risk of the disease. But ignoring prostate cancer won't beat it. Speak to your doctor, if not for you, for your family."