Sir, - Correspondence (D&S letters, June 29, July 6, 13 and 20) on alternative medicine was started by Dr Roger Fiskin, who says that you cannot simultaneously believe both orthodox and alternative models. From a scientific perspective you should believe neither, but may try both.

Science, especially orthodox medicine, is intrinsically limited by the scope and precision of observation. It provides a model, sometimes impressive but often crude and inadequate, and always approximate. It is to be used rather than believed.

In principle it is little different from alternative approaches, some of which I agree have wacky theories, but which should be judged on their practice. An effective practice may exist before good theory has caught up to explain it.

When orthodox medicine cannot help, it is not unreasonable for patients to try the better tested if unproven alternatives; the role of the medical profession might then be to admit its shortcomings and help steer and refer patients, at their own risk. Problems arise with quackery, incompetence, greed and cover-up - but hey, that's only the NHS as we have famously seen too close to home, not to mention the Bristol babies affair.

Orthodox medicine can claim no monopoly on those qualities, and I sympathise with Dr Fiskin's scepticism about alternatives. We should be most suspicious of the wackier ones.

By and large orthodox medicine should be much more reliable than alternatives, but Dr Fiskin should be more realistic about its serious limitations and life-ruining mistakes, and less dogmatic in condemning alternatives, if he is true to "the fight for scientific reason against deluded sentimentality".




Inquiry is vital

Sir, - The government has so far resisted calls for a public inquiry into foot-and-mouth under the independent chairmanship of a judge, preferring an inquiry to be held by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

A public inquiry would encompass the devastating effects of the crisis on rural-based businesses, whose livelihoods have been lost, in some cases never to recover. An inquiry by the RCVS, though quicker to produce, could not encompass the wider economic issues.

The future of British farming and rural industries will never be the same; the UK livestock industry will be slow to recover. The continuing long-term accumulative cost in both financial and human terms is, I am sure, agreed by all to be vast.

The cost to the nation of the BSE crisis was £5bn and the wide-ranging public inquiry published in 1997 ran to 16 volumes and addressed the serious implications for the agricultural industry and rural businesses.

If a public inquiry was necessary for BSE, there cannot be any reason for not having one for foot-and-mouth, which is having a far greater devastating effect.


Chairman, Darlington branch,

Federation of Small Businesses

Party hijacked

Sir, - I have voted and worked for the Conservative party for over 50 years. Sadly this great one-nation party has been hijacked by a vociferous right wing eurosceptic section of elected members who made life very difficult for John Major.

They then persuaded a very decent and honest man to take forward their agenda and William Hague could still be a considerable Conservative prime minister in different times. He had the qualities but not the experience.

In the meanwhile I urge fellow members of the Conservative party to vote for reason, sense and the wisdom and experience of Kenneth Clarke to lead us into a formidable party of opposition.

The fatal thing for our party would be to go backwards into a one issue anti-Europe position which has twice been rejected by the electorate.

If Ian Duncan-Smith is elected I shall continue to support Anne McIntosh who has been an extremely active and supportive MP. But I will be sad.


The Gables,



Lorry quest

Sir, - Your front-page report last week (D&S Yorkshire edition, July 27) gave disturbing news of people at the Friarage hospital for whom no nursing or retirement home accommodation is available (because of cash shortages) and in consequence have to occupy medical beds for weeks or even months.

An elderly friend recently had the same experience at another hospital in the county. Have those responsible for this state of affairs (and I don't mean the hospitals) no idea of the worry imposed upon people who are least able to fight back?

How very significant that the Friarage spokesman said the health trust "was not prepared to give out the figures" of how many people are affected in this way. It sounds disgracefully like another example of suppressing nasty NHS statistics.


Wellington Mews,


Health deficit

Sir, - I write to correct a misleading impression given by the front-page report (D&S County Durham edition, July 27).

Given that the Woodlands hospital only opened for business in July this year, it cannot in any way be held responsible for any income shortfall in the South Durham Health Care NHS Trust.

The in-year deficit for the trust, reported at June 30, 2001, was £489,779 out of an annual operating budget of just over £114m.

The deficit was made up of two principal elements. Firstly, an overspend against budget of £430,000 in clinical areas - direct patient costs - being a consequence of the increasing costs of patient treatment and the additional patients we are treating, up by 5pc.

Secondly, an income shortfall against projections of some £44,000. Shortfall against private patient income is but a few thousand pounds. It is simply too early to tell whether this is a one-off or a trend which may develop following the opening of the Woodlands. A few more months must pass before any realistic assessment can be made.


Chief executive, South Durham Health Care,

Memorial hospital,


Health investment

Sir, - I refer to the report about St Teresa's hospice (D&S, July 13).

It is wonderful that the PCG (Primary Care Group) has recognised the huge increase in the number of people we are now helping since St Teresa's opened 15 years ago, and the very important part we play in the provision of palliative care services in the Darlington area.

The funding from the PCG will enable us to look much more closely at the question of when we are able to provide beds here at St Teresa's. This valuable contribution of £50,000 is a good start.

The PCG, part of the NHS Alliance, is wise to help fund a charity like St Teresa's, because the NHS will get fantastic value for money by investing in a non-NHS healthcare provider. Once the beds at St Teresa's are up and running we will be able to provide care and help which could free up some beds in nearby hospitals.

On the subject of the care we will be providing, it was also mentioned in the report that patients would be able to receive chemotherapy treatment at the hospice. In fact we would be providing support for people who had previously had chemotherapy and also providing pain and symptom control and general palliative care.

All this can only happen if we continue to receive ongoing invaluable investment from organisations like the PCG, along with much-appreciated contributions from dedicated supporters and fundraising events.


Director, St Teresa's hospice,


Where I go to shop

Sir, - Before we all shed too big a tear for Mr Barr and his newsagency (D&S letters, July 20), let us try the shopping experience.

When you go into Mr Barr's shop, you enter a dingy world of clutter, stepping across a mat of discarded chewing gum, you have to bend down to the floor level to get your paper, risking being knocked headlong into the display stand by a customer squeezing through to the back of the shop.

Safeways is clean, light and airy. The newspapers are at waist level, safe and easy for the more senior of us. The staff are tidily presented in smart pressed uniforms and welcome you with a real smile.

I know where I want to spend my money.


Cockerton Green,


Sir, - I am a retired lorry driver and I collect old lorry photos.

I am after the photos of the old firms' lorries from around your area, especially photos of an old Scammell Mountaineer push and pull motor of old heavy haulage firm of Sunter's of Northallerton.

This vehicle was involved in an accident in the early 60s on the old A6 road near Shap village registration being KVN 604 and the late driver's name was, I believe, Mr Joe Willis.

Can any readers help me regarding this motor or other lorry photos?


5 Burnbank


By Forres, Moray