Health

Sky News reports that Red Cross personnel have been drafted in to hospitals to help staff as A & E waiting times continue to deteriorate.

Accident and Emergency waiting times have got even worse since the turn of the year, new figures show – with the British Red Cross being drafted in to help some hospitals cope.

A&E departments in England again failed to meet the target of seeing 95% of patients within four hours during the week ending 4 January.

Figures released on Friday morning show just 86.7% of patients were seen within this time.

In the three months leading up to Christmas the figure was 92.6% – the worst level since the four-hour target was introduced a decade ago.

More than a dozen hospitals have enacted emergency measures over recent days and the British Red Cross is helping some transport patients.

And Sky News also reports that some cancer drugs may be removed from the list of approved drugs for financial reasons.

Cancer drug companies say they are “outraged” that their treatments may be taken off a list of approved medicines after a review by NHS England.

More than 40 drugs currently on offer to cancer patients are being re-evaluated as part of cost cutting after the Cancer Drugs Fund overspent by £100m.

Since 2010, the Government has put aside hundreds of millions of pounds for the fund separately from NHS spending on cancer drugs as some treatments cost tens of thousands of pounds a year per patient.

Decisions on future provision are expected next week but some manufacturers have said their products have been earmarked for withdrawal within two months – though patients already using the affected drugs will continue to get them.

Gary Hendler, president of Eisai’s global oncology business unit which makes a breast cancer drug called Halaven, claimed the review process was based on “arbitrary scoring” and told Sky News: “We are extremely shocked, what we are asking for is the Prime Minister to pause the current process of rationing cancer drugs.”

The Daily Mail reports that medical students have been invited to work in hospitals without pay in a ‘desperate’ attempt to deal with the A&E crisis.

The NHS is under so much strain, medical students are being drafted in to do unpaid hospital shifts, The Mail on Sunday has learnt.

Fifth-year students at Leeds University have been asked to ‘undertake extra shift and weekend work’ in local hospitals, according to a leaked email from Professor Paul Stewart, dean of its medical school.

Students are not being forced to do the extra shifts, which come on top of their normal placements, but Prof Stewart wrote: ‘We have no doubt you will rise to the occasion.’

Students last night said they were keen to help. But one said: ‘There is no way of dressing this up as anything other than desperation.’

Volunteers will get travel expenses and a ‘subsistence’ allowance.

Strikes

Sky News reports on the Conservatives’ plans to make strikes in the public sector more difficult.

Conservatives have promised to legislate to make striking more difficult in some core public services if they win this year’s general election.

Under the manifesto commitment, industrial action in areas such as health, transport, the fire services and schools would require at least 40% support of those eligible to vote – as well as a majority of those who have actually voted.

The move is an attempt to stop strikes going ahead which have been supported by, sometimes, only one in ten

The TUC has denounced the plan as a ‘democratic outrage’ which would make it “virtually impossible for anyone in the public sector to go on strike”.

The proposals also pledge to end the ban on the use of agency staff to cover for striking workers, and promise a review on the possible introduction of minimum service levels to ensure that core services remain available during strikes.

The Telegraph takes up the story, adding that Unions are not happy with the Tories’ proposals.

The Conservatives provoked a major row with the trade unions oversweeping plans to ban them from taking strike action without the support of at least 40 per cent of their members.

In an article for The Telegraph, Patrick McLoughlin, announced the proposed crackdown on industrial action, which will be included in the Tory election manifesto, in order to stop union bosses holding Britain “to ransom”.

He said that of the 102 strike ballots held since 2010, nearly two-thirds failed to attract even half of the workforce. In some cases, strikes have gone ahead with the support of as few as one in 10 workers.

The CBI business organisation welcomed the proposed reforms. But the Trade Unions Congress denounced the plan as a “democratic outrage” while the GMB union said the Conservatives formed a government with less than 40 per cent of the vote at the last election.

Mr McLoughlin said the Conservatives wanted to end “misery for millions of people” with a series of tough new strike laws in the first term of the next Parliament.

The Chilcot Report

The Telegraph claims MPs have demanded the report on the Iraq war is published before the General Election.

The panel investigating Britain’s role in the Iraq War will come under pressure from MPs this week to publish its report within the next month.

A cross-party group including two former coalition ministers is attempting to trigger a parliamentary debate demanding that the Chilcot Inquiry sets out its findings by the middle of February.

The group, led by David Davis, the Conservative former shadow home secretary, and Norman Baker, a Lib Dem MP who stepped down as Home Office minister in November, believe the move will “crystallise” growing pressure on the inquiry to publish its report without further delay.

It comes after Lord Hurd, the former Tory foreign secretary, described the hold-up as a “scandal”, in a rare intervention last week.

The Chilcot inquiry completed public hearings in 2011, but publication of its report has been delayed by negotiations over the publication of private communications between Tony Blair, who took Britain into the war in 2003, and George Bush, who was US president at the time.

On Tuesday Mr Davis and Mr Baker will make a formal request to the Commons backbench business committee for time to debate a motion “calling on Chilcot to report within a matter of weeks”.

And The Guardian claims MPs are planning to challenge plans to delay the report.

Furious MPs are planning a parliamentary debate to challenge an alleged “stitch-up” that could delay the report of the Iraq war inquiry until after the general election.

A cross-party coalition has demanded that parliament’s backbench committee allocate half a day to discussing the continuing delay in publishing the Chilcot inquiry’s findings, which are expected to include severe criticism of the UK’s decision to join the US-led invasion in 2003.

The group pushing for the debate, which includes members of Plaid Cymru, the SNP and Labour as well as Tory MP David Davis, former attorney general Dominic Grieve, and former Lib Dem Home Office minister Norman Baker, believes the government must ensure that the public are allowed to see the report as soon as possible.

The increased pressure for publication came as the government confirmed that it will hold the report back if it is not completed by the end of next month, apparently contradicting assurances by the prime minister that the timing of its publication was independent of him.

David Cameron said in May that he hoped the inquiry would publish its findings by Christmas 2014. However, last month he sought to distance himself, saying: “I’m not in control of when this report is published. It is an independent report; it is very important that these sort of reports are not controlled or timed by the government.”

Last week, however, the cabinet office minister, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, confirmed that Cameron may choose not to place the report before parliament once Sir John Chilcot has submitted it to him. Wallace told the House of Lords: “The government has committed that, if this is not available for publication by the end of February, it will be held back until after the election.” He said this was because of “the previous government’s commitment that there would be time allowed for substantial consultation and debate of this enormous report when it is published”.

‘Death tax’

The Sunday Times claims the Chancellor will cut Inheritance Tax if the Conservatives win the General Election in May.

GEORGE OSBORNE has vowed to slash inheritance tax and ruled out a rise in VAT if the Tories win the general election.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, the chancellor pledged to set out before May “further” plans to ensure inheritance tax is only “paid by the rich” — and went further than before in saying his spending plans “do not involve tax rises, including VAT”.

He challenged Labour to come clean about its plans, accusing Ed Miliband and Ed Balls of perpetrating a “grand deceit” against voters by plotting £15bn of tax rises.

Osborne accused Labour of plotting a “tax bombshell”, which would lead to a 3p increase in income tax or a 3% rise in national insurance — a move he branded a “jobs tax”.

Muslim extremism

In the wake of the Parish shootings, the Telegraph reports that funding for a leading Muslim charity has been withdrawn.

A leading Muslim charity that was given a £250,000 taxpayer-funded contract to run a major faith project has been stripped of state funding in a crackdown on Islamist extremism.

Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, decided to take action against the Muslim Charities Forum after the Telegraph uncovered links to a group alleged to fund Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood political movement.

The revelations prompted a full-scale government review of the charity’s activities, which led to wider concerns and criticism over the group’s links to extremist speakers at events in Britain.

Mr Pickles said he was determined to cut off funding to any group that is linked to “individuals who fuel hatred, division and violence”.

The Muslim Charities Forum (MCF) is an umbrella group for Muslim aid organisations which work in 71 countries around the world and have a combined income £108million.

It was set up in 2007 and supports its member groups by acting as a voice for the sector and providing, training, research and a central point of contact for Muslim organisations.

The MCF was awarded a contract to run a government scheme intended to foster integration among minority faiths, improve the treatment of women and reduce youth crime as part of the Coalition’s response to the terrorist killing of Lee Rigby in May 2013.

Last year, the MCF received two grants worth a total of £110,000 from the Department for Communities and Local Government for the Faith Minorities in Action Project, which was to operate in six cities across England with representatives from at least 10 world faiths.

The charity was expecting a further £138,000 this month to continue the work, but this grant has now been scrapped and the contract to run the programme is expected to be awarded to another group later this year.

Miliband ‘will ruin Britain’

The Mail reports that Labour’s PR guru Alastair Campbell has told the Labour leader he will ruin the country – but  only because he’s posing as David Cameron to coach Labour leader for TV Election debates.

Tony Blair’s former Downing Street spin doctor has been asked to ‘sharpen up’ Miliband’s performance in preparation for a TV showdown.

Campbell has been asked to impersonate Cameron and show Miliband how to expose the Prime Minister’s weaknesses. ‘No one gets under Cameron’s skin more than Alastair,’ said a Labour insider. ‘He has been goading toffs all his life.’

But some Labour MPs are worried the move could backfire.

Campbell was forced to quit No10 in disgrace in 2003 over the Iraq War dodgy dossiers and the events that led to the death of Ministry of Defence weapons expert Dr David Kelly.

‘Campbell represents everything that people hate about politics – spin, dark arts, class war and macho aggression,’ said one Labour MP. ‘And it will allow our enemies to rake up the Iraq War and Campbell’s part in it.’

Miliband has distanced himself from the Iraq War but Labour chiefs fear that if the long-awaited Chilcot report into the conflict is published before the Election, it could still damage Labour.

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