LAST week the King's Fund reported that the shortage of nurses, especially in the capital, has reached crisis proportions. London has 5,000 nursing vacancies and the country as a whole has a shortfall of 17,000 nursing jobs.
The crisis has deepened largely because nurses' pay has not kept pace with the sharp rise in housing costs -- particularly in London.
At the same time the British Medical Association (BMA) warned that the continuing shortage of NHS beds has led to seriously ill patients being cared for in low-dependency wards where they do not get round-the-clock nursing. They said that other patients are being discharged from hospital too soon.
The BMA also pointed out that this is no longer just a "winter crisis" but a problem all year round.
None of this worries the Tories who announced last Tuesday that they would cut spending on schools and hospitals in an effort to meet their promise to keep taxes low.
The Treasury says these proposals amount to a cut in spending of £4.3 billion in the first year and a total of £16. 1 billion by the third.
To some extent this scandalous proposal has been sidestepped by the capitalist media who have focused on differences between Tory leader William Hague and Shadow Chancellor Michael Portillo over the details.
Labour minister Andrew Smith said of the Tory plans: "Now they have admitted what Labour has always said -- that their tax guarantee is a public spending cuts guarantee, so extreme that it will hit the health service, education, law and order and transport."
Not that the Labour government has any cause to be smug. The crisis in the NHS and other public services makes it vital to put the government under mounting pressure to increase direct taxes on the rich and to raise social spending. At the same time no effort must be spared in the struggle to keep the Tories out of office for good.
THE scourge of HIV/AIDS in Africa and other third world countries is
a tragedy so huge that it is hard to take in. It is estimated that unless
medical care is made available as many as 30 million people will die.
And even this is not the whole story because the AIDS pandemic is not the only health crisis these countries are battling against.
Health education programmes and preventive measures are of course essential. But this alone does not solve the problems facing the millions who are already suffering and it does not address the desperate poverty that denies people a healthy diet and medicines.
The capitalist media seems quite good at pontificating about what African governments should be doing and saying. More to the point is what the imperialist powers should be doing now. After all it has been these exploiters who have for so long been the parasites bleeding the third world dry.
We need to take up the call from Africa and add our voices to the calls for drugs to be made accessible to all who need them. The profit-hungry giant drugs companies are coming under fierce attack -- and rightly so.
Of course, while the media spotlight is on the drugs companies they will be painted as the "unacceptable face of capitalism". Yet they operate no differently from any other capitalist outfit. The forces which drive them are in the very nature of capitalism itself.
Capitalism kills millions to enrich a few. Poverty will only be eradicated when capitalism itself is in its grave.
Back to index
ALL EYES in the Middle East are focusing on Camp David and a summit which could decide the fate of millions of Palestinians for many years to come.
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat is locked in talks with Israeli premier Ehud Barak and US President Bill Clinton, who is posing as "honest broker" and host in the mountains of Maryland. But no-one doubts that the Palestinian leader is coming under intense pressure to cut a deal on Israeli terms.
The American and Israeli media have been cautious in their assessment of the outcome ofthe summit at the ill-fated presidential retreat where Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat agreed to a surrender peace with Israel back in 1978 and later paid for his treachery with his life.
Clinton and Barak have a lot to gain from the talks. The US president, who retires this year, wants to bow out in the glow of international glory and the possibility of a Nobel Prize. He will also hope that it will boost the chances of his Democrat Party successor, Al Gore, in the upcoming elections. Barak, whose ramshackle coalition collapsed last week, wants a deal to help him win the next Israeli election.
Arafat too, wants something to restore his prestige inside the "autonomous" zone administered by his Palestinian Authority. He says he will declare Palesdnian independence in September come what may. But he has few cards to play with.
The Israelis have already spelt out what they want out ofa "final settlement". Tel Aviv is talking about handing over 80 per cent of the occupied territories -- some Israeli papers say up to 90 percent -- to a future Palestinian state.
Israel will retain part if not all of the Jordan Valley to divide the Palestinian Arab state from Jordan and the huge swathe of land at the hub of the West Bank which they call "Greater Jerusalem". Israel will retain most of the Zionist settlements in the West Bank, possibly "leased" from the Palestinians and at a push Palestinian civil administration in parts of "Greater Jerusalem" would be recognised under Israeli control. As a sweetener, Israel might cede some worthless parts of the Negev desert to the Palestinian authority in compensation.
The millions of refugees living in the rest of the Arab world and beyond will get nothing -- though some Israeli papers say Barak might consider some sort of token return to allow the reuniting of families.
The "old man" ofthe Palestinian revolution really can only hope to negotiate yet another "interim" package which will give the Palestinians statehood and a bit more of their own land back while leaving the substantial questions of Arab Jerusalem and the refugees for another day. Then they could all get Nobel peace prizes.
The augurs are not good for any of them. Clinton and Barak can hope all they want but the deciding factor is the temper of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories and more importantly in the refugee camps.
George Habash, the veteran leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and long-standing critic of Arafat's strategy, retired on health grounds earlier this year. His successor, Abu Ali Mustafa, demonstrated that there will be no wavering on his behalf this week when he declared that his resistance movement will continue to struggle.
This was "not a peace process but a surrender" he stated. "The Palestinian people who fought for more than 50 years for self determination will not surrender and they are ready to fight for another 50 years to liberate our lands," he said.
And it's business as usual in the occupied territories. Last Sunday a Palestinian woman was shot dead and four members of her family were wounded by Israeli soldiers who opened fire on their car. The Israeli army expressed their "regret" at the incident but claimed they only opened fire after they were attacked by a vehicle on the same road.
Back to index
by Caroline Colebrook
TOP UNIVERSITIES are calling to be allowed to charge tuition fees of £4,000 ayear -- four times the current level.
The call comes in a report from a survey commissioned by the top 18 universities -- the Russell Group -- published last week.
It says that the money universities have to spend on each student has halved since 1980 while class sizes have doubled.
This has undermined the quality of teaching that can be given and the whole quality of the higher education experience.
The report claims that without more money, there is a serious danger of further rapid deterioration. This would put the international competitiveness of British universities at risk.
The report says that since the Government has ruled out paying the extra money from raising taxes, there is a strong case for a big increase in tuition fees for those students whose parents are deemed to be able to afford it.
The report quotes the case of Laura Spence, which hit the headlines a few weeks ago. This talented sixth former from a Tyneside comprehensive was turned down for a place on a medical course at Oxford but was offered a place at Harvard in the United States.
The report says the case illustrates the "stark contrast" between the British and American systems and claims that Harvard is "elite but socially inclusive".
"Those whose family circumstances allow them to do so pay full fees. Those from less fortunate backgrounds receive scholarships.
"Oxford does not have that kind of financial flexibility. No British university does."
The report points out that overseas students at the least expensive British universities are currently paying £6,300 a year for classroom-based courses; £7,000 for laboratory-based courses and £17,000 a year for clinical courses.
It says that fees like this would be no real problem for the 25 per cent of pupils who come from independent schools.
This report vindicates those who saw the introduction of fees as the thin end of the wedge. And it is hardly encouraging for hard up working class pupils that their only chance of getting the best in higher education will be through charity-case scholarships.
The majority of students will find themselves in the middle with fees set by complex means testing and will leave college facing bigger and bigger debts.
This means that students take on onerous part-time jobs, pick the cheapest universities rather than the most suitable for their needs, and remain living with their parents to cut living costs.
All of these measures undermine their total learning experience and their final qualifications.
We must return the education system that current members of the Government enjoyed in their youth where colleges accepted students purely on grounds of merit and students sent their applications to the universities that provided what was most sui table for them.
They should get maintenance grants that allow them to live decently without the distraction of anxiety over bills and they should not have to pay fees.
When they are earning good salaries then they should pay back what the nation has given them through income tax. The Government must grasp the nettle of the need to raise taxes and invest in our young people.
Back to index
GREECE, on Tuesday, began to confiscate the German Goethe Institute property in Athens in order to compensate Distimo villagers whom Germany refuses to pay.
Police arrived at the building at the request of the Goethe Institute director and the court officials started recording the institute's assets in the presence of police officers.
Greece's Supreme Court in mid-April upheld a previous decision by a Livadia court awarding a sum of 9.5 billion drachmas (about 27 million dollars) to the Distomo victims' families.
According to the court's ruling, German state property could be confiscated in order to pay reparations to the relatives of the 218 villagers of Distomo, near Delphi, massacred by German occupation troops on 10 June 1944.
The three German cultural institutions, the Goethe Institute, the German Archaeological Institute and the German School, could be auctioned as early as September to raise the 9.5 billion drachmas for the relatives of the victims.
Arguing that the Greek courts do not have jurisdiction on compensations, Germany says that the matter of compensation has been settled in 1960, with the signing of bilateral claims agreement.
The Greek government has said in recent days that the confiscation of a foreign state property could not be done without the permission of the country's minister of justice, but the attorney representing the relatives of the victims said that no previous approval by the minister of justice was necessary.
Back to index
SHEFFIELD College's plans to slash lecturing staff jobs are at odds with its future plans for expansion and widening participation, said Natfhe, the lecturers' union, last week.
Lecturers leaders have reacted angrily to the news that one of the country's biggest colleges plans to shed 150 jobs as part of a review of further education in Sheffield published last Friday.
Natfhe says it welcomes the proposals in the review to expand further education provision in Sheffield in the next few years and to make the college more responsive to the community.
But this cannot be achieved if the plans for a ten per cent staff cuts goes ahead, says Natfhe.
There are fears that the new college management also plans to reduce time allocated to lecturers for course leadership and development and worsen lecturers' contracts, increasing workloads to unmanageable levels.
The union has rejected claims in the review that teaching performance at Sheffield College is below the national average.
It points out that recent inspection reports by the Further Education Funding Council showed teaching at the college to be of good quality.
The college has also achieved a good standard in terms of A level results.
But the FEFC inspection report rated management and governance at Sheffield College as poor and said there were major issues to address.
Natfhe regional official Russ Escritt said: "Sheffield College's plan to axe experienced teachers while talking about expansion flies in the face of logic.
"Areas such as Sheffield need more educational support in order to tackle the issues of deprivation and social exclusion, not less."
And Natfhe general secretary Paul Mackney said: "It would be an act of educational vandalism to attempt to cut the staffing budget by three to four million pounds in September.
"It is particularly worrying that the new leadership of this college was hand-picked by David Blunkett. We hope this is not a blue print for what we can expect in other parts of the country -- an attempt to provide expansion on the cheap. If so, we will continue to oppose it."
Back to index
To the New Communist Party Page