Opt-in is just for those who can afford it

Regarding your report on two GPs offering a private, out-of-hours service in Newcastle (The Journal, October 17), I was deeply disappointed by Alan Beith's comment about it being "inevitable"; perhaps "disgraceful" would have been a more appropriate first response.

Regarding your report on two GPs offering a private, out-of-hours service in Newcastle (The Journal, October 17), I was deeply disappointed by Alan Beith's comment about it being "inevitable"; perhaps "disgraceful" would have been a more appropriate first response.

The Berwick MP's use of inevitable implies a sort of acceptance. The absence of outright condemnation may encourage others to climb aboard the bandwagon of greed.

The letter from Berwick Conservative Anne-Marie Trevelyan the following day started well, improving "inevitable" into "dismay".

However, she then chose to send a typical Tory mixed message by saying: "I have every sympathy with the two doctors." Perhaps she wishes to hug them, which seems to be the new-found Conservative way of dealing with wrongdoers. Then she goes on to wish them success privatising patient care.

Can we believe her when she adds that "we must not stand by and watch our NHS services being dismantled for the poorest in our community by the Government"? I think not.

Given Newcastle Primary Care Trust's responsibility to provide a duty of care, I wonder if it has carried out a risk assessment as to whether these extra duties which the two doctors will undertake will be so onerous that fatigue, stress and the like could increase the risk of mistakes to existing patients and to those new fee paying patients.

The doctors may feel they are filling a gap in service provision at the same time as filing their pockets. As doctors, they helped create that gap.

Is it not the case that they opted out and now they are opting back in for the few that can afford to pay? They may grow their new "private health" business to the point where they no longer need or want their NHS GP contract.

The second of The Journal's leaders of October 17 poses an interesting question when it states: "A society which does not consider it outlandish for ordinary people to pay for the services of a GP, may also take a hard line on lending books."

What's your answer, readers?

KEVIN LITTLE, Shield Hill, Northumberland

This NHS out of hours service is gold-plated

IREAD with interest your article about the GP out of hours service and the two GPs from Throckley who have set up the company Beyond General Practice in response to what they feel is inadequate NHS -out-of-hours provision.

I think it is only fair to inform your readers that out of hours services are not all inadequate, and in the Durham and Chester-le-Street area we are really quite proud of our service. In fact, Which? magazine recently reported on out of hours services across the country and concluded that the former Durham and Chester-le-Street Primary Care Trust was the only three star trust who had a three star out of hours service (of those they examined).

We employ 62 local GPs, mostly from the 17 GP practices in our area. Our average ring-back time is under 20 minutes, the average wait in our Out Of Hours Centre is zero to 15 minutes, and our home visit responses are 100% within two hours, of which 80% are within one hour.

We have had patients help us in doing customer satisfaction surveys, and are keen to respond to suggestions for improvement. We accept non-emergency 999 patients dropped off by the ambulance service and see about 80 patients each month sent to us from A&E who have problems best dealt with by a primary care professional.

One of our strengths is our skill-mixed team which includes GPs, emergency care practitioners and our 24-hour district nursing service.

This means we can share knowledge and give second opinions on difficult cases. We can look after those terminally ill at home better because of the different skills we bring.

Because we serve our own locality, patients don't have to travel too far to our centre, which is in the grounds of our local hospital anyway. We are all proud of the service we provide and resent the implication that all out-of-hours services are uniformly poor.

I would be grateful if you would print this letter to reassure those who live in the Durham and Chester-le-Street area that their service is gold standard.

Dr JOHN PRESTON, GP from Chester-le-Street, County Durham & Clinical Lead for Durham and Chester-le-Street Out of Hours Service

Ghost Ships would sink all our hopes

AS a Hartlepool councillor and long-time Ghost Ships protester, I was not allowed to attend last week's Hartlepool Borough Council meeting as I was judged to have a prejudicial interest.

I was not even allowed in the public gallery. Apparently I might have sent signals to an "accomplice" on the committee, or my presence in the gallery could have intimidated the committee. Nice to know I'm thought to be that influential!

I have never doubted we can dismantle the ships here, but because we can, does that mean we should? In my opinion, the answer is a definite `no'.

For years, Hartlepool Council has encouraged clean, green, hi-tech companies.

If council policy is now "jobs at any cost" there are plenty of dirty, dangerous, unpleasant activities we can encourage: a toxic waste incinerator or spent nuclear fuel storage, for example.

Here are a couple of predictions: 12 months after dismantling starts Able's boss will be a few million quid richer and the only voices heard at the yard will be from Polish, Bulgarian or Rumanian workers on minimum wage who send most of it home.

The contribution to the local economy will be minimal but will damage our long term prospects.

What the people of Hartlepool will enjoy are noise, dirt and a landfill our children and grandchildren will have to clean up.

Coun STEPHEN ALLISON, UK Independence Party, St Hilda Ward, Hartlepool Borough Council

Let's float a new plan for HMS Calliope

BERTHED on the Thames next to Tower Bridge and Ken Livingstone's City Hall, designed by Sir Norman Foster, is the famous Second World War battleship, HMS Belfast.

Why doesn't the Royal Navy follow its own example and replace HMS Calliope with a real ship, HMS Newcastle? Berthed alongside Sir Norman Foster's Sage, Baltic, the famous bridges and the new developments, everyone would win.

ALAN SHARE, Gosforth, Newcastle

Lolly stick building takes some licking

YOUR correspondent PK Fairclough (Voice of the North, October 20) is not the only one who thinks the Quadrus Centre at Boldon Business Park is ugly.

Who would put up a building with views over a lake and give the offices such tiny windows?

A friend of ours who lives outside the area asked us what that "hideous building" was the first time he saw it. Our 10-year-old grandson says it looks as if it was made out of lolly sticks and, to us, it will always be "the lolly stick building".

BILL ALLON, South Shields, South Tyneside

Nissan made such an impact at Eton

TIME heals, so they say. At least David Cameron hopes so!

I have heard many inane comments come from the mouths of Tory leaders lately, but he has really plumbed the depths with his latest twist on life or "the world according to Cameron". He tells us that he remembers reading, as a young boy at Eton, of the Nissan company coming to Wearside, thinking how marvellous, how exciting, how super the project was, how much it would mean to an area of high unemployment.

What a shame he didn't use his time at Eton to reflect that the main cause of the unemployment at that time was his heroine, Margaret Thatcher!

Of course, he's finding it difficult North of Watford, but condescending comments such as that will not endear him to us up here. It will just make us turn towards the sick bag.

Perhaps he'll return sometime soon, before the next Tory leader is wheeled out, with a cloth cap and whippet by his side.

BOB WATSON, Labour, Seaton Delaval Ward, Blyth Valley District Council

Our tractors pull the season to a close

WITH reference to your report on Alwinton Show (The Journal, October 16): it was a good report following an excellent show. However, the statement that the show is Northumberland's last outdoor country event of the year, is wrong.

In fact, the Northumberland Vintage Tractor Club has held its Vintage Rally the weekend after Alwinton Show for many years, as far back as 1974, when the late Eddie Brown organised a working weekend at Lee Moor.

Would it not be a good idea to make note of the aforementioned misleading report in "Northumberland's Daily Newspaper"?

DAVE MITCHELL, Honorary Treasurer, Northumbria Vintage Tractor Club, c/o Nunnykirk, Northumberland

PS. I would just like to mention that I go back much further than 1974 at Alwinton Show, doing gate duty as a youth on the Clennell Road car park and that I have taken The Journal every day for many years, as did my father before me.

A very big thanks to you all from NCH

IAM writing to say a heartfelt thank you to all the runners who took part in the Great North Run on behalf of NCH, the children's charity.

We had more than 150 people running for us this year and we are very grateful to each and every one of them.

They put in so much time and effort into this event, by not only finding the time to train for the event, but also helping to raise a great deal of sponsorship money for NCH.

I also want to say a big thank you to Keith Fitzsimmons of Synergy Health Care in Bedlington and his team of physiotherapists who worked tirelessly throughout the day assisting our runners.

They have joined us for the last three years and their work is always greatly appreciated by our runners.

The Great North Run is always fantastic and it's due to people like our runners and volunteers who make the event so special.

NCH, the children's charity, thanks every one of you!

SHEILA COLTMAN, NCH, the children's charity c/o NCH North-East, 12 Granby Road, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, HG1 4ST (tel: 01423 524286)

Has anyone found my golden memories?

ON October 4, I lost a gold chain bracelet, probably on Bamburgh beach in Northumberland. This bracelet is of great sentimental value.

The previous day, I noticed a gentleman using a metal detector on the beach.

If any reader knows this gentleman, please give him my letter. A reward is offered.

S COURY, 21 Asmuns Hill, London NW11 6ES (tel: 0208 458-9658)


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