HEALTH SERVICE: HARDLY a day passes without TV or newspapers (not so The Northern Echo) complaining about something or other to do with our health service.

Sometimes I think there is a conspiracy to undermine the NHS - the latest complaint being about hospital food.

I have had three operations in Darlington Memorial Hospital and, once on my feet again, I was first in the queue at the trolley.

The eternal complainers would probably find fault with food in The Savoy.

I have said that the NHS is a bottomless pit and the simple truth is we do not pay enough in tax to keep the NHS at a high standard across the country, however unpalatable that may sound to some people.

Hospitals are not hotels, though some people treat them as such.

A dose of life in the US, where apparently more than 30 million people have no health cover, would bring the moaners to their senses. - Hugh Pender, Darlington.

WHEELCHAIR WAIT: I AM really upset at the attitude of Sedgefield Borough Council.

I am a disabled person who applied for help to use an electric wheelchair. I was told in July it would take 12 weeks.

In November I was informed I had to wait until next year as there were no funds.

Yet they are going to spend £72,000 for a new logo plus £58,000 for staff uniforms.

It seems that council tax payers are just keeping them in the money to waste as they like. - MH Coates, Shildon.

RED ENSIGN: I FEEL I must respond to recent stories about the alleged threat to the UK's Red Ensign.

This is another Brussels scare story peddled by anti-EU Conservatives and their friends in UKIP.

The present system of registration for European ships is not only rather cumbersome, hampering trade, but can also allow vessels to slip through the net when it comes to important safety and environmental checks.

To improve this situation, the Commission last year drew up plans to update, widen, and strengthen existing rules on the transfer of ships between member states.

Current proposals do not contain provision for a European flag, but there is a long-term suggestion that the creation of a European flag for ships would be beneficial as it would allow ships to demonstrate to the authorities that they were legitimately registered within the EU.

The European flag would be a 'quality label' for shipping, but it would never replace national flags. It would also be the decision of the shipping company whether to fly the European flag alongside the national flag.

The Commission's proposal aims to make sure that EU member states comply with their IMO (International Maritime Organisation) obligations. The proposal makes it quite clear that member states which do so will not be subject to any new legislation. - Fiona Hall MEP, Liberal Democrat, North East England.

HUNT WATCH: RE J Routledge (HAS, Dec 8).There is nothing illegal about the monitoring of hunts, indeed the RSPCA is conducting monitoring of hunting along with other highly respected animal welfare organisations.

Hunt Watch undertakes its activities wholly and totally within the parameters of the law to ensure that wildlife is not chased and killed by hunters, who in their thousands, pledged to break the law.

Hunt Watch is also supported by well regarded organisations such as Animal Aid.

We are also against extremists, especially the ones who continue to hunt our wild animals.

We are undertaking a public spirited activity to ensure our wildlife heritage is protected from its abusers and the law of the land is upheld.

What a pity J Routledge does not share our sense of public duty and responsibility. - Dave Wright, Hunt Watch, Norwich.

HAPPY NOEL: THE anticipation of Christmas is often greater than the realisation for our age group.

We were privileged to see two of our grandchildren take part in their school nativity plays at the weekend and it can't get any better. In both performances, there must have been 60 or 70 children on stage of every conceivable size, weight, height, shape, shade and colour.

They danced, told jokes, recited poetry, sang and whistled through the gaps left by missing teeth to entertain us.

There were occasional missed cues and out of step dancers, without which it would have been lacking, and the angel who lost her tinsel halo kissed us goodnight later before climbing the stairs to slumberland. Her older brother was the polished, confident presenter of the finale in the other show. In striped suit and dickie bow he announced each group on stage for the last number and rousing encore. All three foot two of him.

It is amazing how teachers can get such a large mixed band of mischievous energy to do the same things at the same time for so long, and enjoy it.

After all the supporting stars of the show had left the stage, there remained an abandoned baby in the crib. The star of the show, little Jesus. - George Appleby, York.

BRILLIANT STEVE: HOW I enjoy a good laugh and boy do I get one on a Thursday when I read Soap Watch written by Steve Pratt (Echo, 7Days).

His satirical write-up of the soaps is simply brilliant humour.

Don't leave The Northern Echo Steve, but write some comedy scripts for the TV companies who give us repetitive and awful programmes to watch. - G Sowerby, Bishop Auckland.

WHITE SAUCE: I WAS surprised to say the least to read the letter from Margaret Anderson of Darlington asking for information regarding the purchase of tins of white sauce.

I suggest she goes to the supermarket where she will find packets of cornflour.

If she purchases a packet, some sugar and milk, this can easily be made. Full instructions are given on the packet. - D Turner, Thirsk.

PARK AND RIDE: THERE were two letters mentioning the Durham Park and Ride (HAS, Dec 14). I am commenting on both.

The first calls the charge of £1.70 a stealth tax but does not emphasise that this is per person not per car, so cars with more than one occupant may find it cheaper to use the city centre car parks, defeating the object of the scheme. Surely the charge should be per car, with the buses free.

The second letter asks whether county councillors practise what they preach by using the park and ride themselves when they "commute to County Hall".

However, most of conscientious county councillors' work is not only at county hall but also in their own home districts or elsewhere in the county, often shortly before and/or after meetings, so they do need their cars to be at County Hall. - John Hawgood, Durham.

School Closure Debate

EDUCATIONAL CLEANSING: RE 'Educational Cleansing' comments made by Mr John Williams, (Echo, Dec 10).

I would like to express my disgust at the comments attributed to the leader of Darlington Borough Council quoted in the Echo. He should be ashamed of himself.

It seems to me that his comments appear to be yet another attempt to bully the Governors of Hurworth School. - N Brown, Darlington.

ACADEMIES: NOT one person attending the open ,meeting at the Dolphin Centre spoke in favour of an academy.

Margaret Asquith informed the audience that there were '2,100 pupils in the Eastbourne area' - sufficient to fill an academy which we are told must be 1,200, yet Salford City Academy is 750, same size as Eastbourne School - so build it for Eastbourne, leave Hurworth in its rural location.

The council can submit an expression of interest for any schools to form an academy at any time, so why must it be Hurworth and Eastbourne, what is their underlying agenda?

We are told the reason for the merger is falling roles yet Hurworth is fully subscribed every year, so why not combine two schools which do have falling roles, ie Eastbourne/Branksome, or make a neighbourhood academy of Eastbourne/Heathfield and Dodmire?

The DfES website lists 27 academies yet divulges the results of only two, are the others so bad? Durham County Council and Redcar and Cleveland CC have not applied for an academy - why?

Perhaps because of the huge problems encountered at Middlesbrough's Unity Academy, which is in special measures. - B Baker, Darlington.

SORRY SAGA: "There has been no scandal" An interesting choice of words from Mr. Eamonn Farrar when he made his exit from Eastbourne School in Darlington and prepared to wing his way back to Hurworth.

Many would disagree vehemently. The proposal outlined by Mr. Farrar, supported by Hurworth School Governors and described recently as bearing all the marks of being 'written on the back of a fag packet' is ill-conceived, impractical and divisive in the extreme.

From someone feted latterly as Darlington's 'Secondary Education Tsar' it is a singularly narrow-minded approach to borough-wide difficulties.

Unfortunately, although saddened, I am not surprised at the most recent turn of events in this sorry saga.

The main reason I sought early retirement from Darlington Borough Council was the increasing influence of Mr Eamonn Farrar on wider secondary education policies and practices during the previous administration.

At the very least the lead on Secondary School Improvement in Darlington might in future reside somewhere less partisan.

This will however, be cold comfort for parents and pupils in Eastbourne, who deserved better, and parents throughout Darlington, wherever they reside, who need to ensure they are fully involved in any future decisions that will impact upon the educational opportunities available for their children. - Ann Gilling, Secondary Education Adviser DBC, 1997 -2003.

PROPAGANDA: WHAT hypocrisy Darlington Borough Council is displaying over the Hurworth/Eastbourne Schools issue.

Hurworth's determination to pursue Foundation School status first attracted council condemnation on the grounds that it would no longer be part of the "family of schools" and recently that it is an attempt at "educational cleansing by social class".

They must be getting really desperate, for it is the council that wishes to exterminate Hurworth and distort the facts for its own propaganda purposes.

John Williams' comments are perhaps all we should expect from the leader of a Labour cabinet which jumps on every passing bandwagon in a forlorn attempt to gain funds for a school which will never be built. Education vision? It's more a case of myopia as the Council attempts to expunge Eastbourne's problems at the expense of the 47th best school in the whole of the country (OFSTED 2004 Value Added Index) revealing a strategy bathed in cynical opportunism.

May I remind all parents that, whatever a so-called sponsor of an academy signs up to, 10% of pupils would be selected on ability or aptitude, having no catchment area restrictions imposed by the Local Authority as they operate completely and utterly outside its control.

The council seeks to divide communities by denying the truth which is that Hurworth has the national average percentage of pupils on free school meals, the single most telling indicator of socio-economic deprivation.

John Williams should be told to put his own house in order - at least one Labour councillor chooses the private Yarm School for his child despite living in the catchment area of the much heralded Education Village. - Peter Dodd, Hurworth.

CONFUSED: RE School debate (Echo, Dec 10). I became confused concerning council leader's statement over what would happen to the 300 displaced children if Eastboune School closed.

My confusion arose because I have recently studied the 'Darlington's Proposal for and Academy' leaflet.

The leaflet discusses the problems created by falling pupil numbers, it goes on to explain the Academy will address this issue and will, in fact remove 338 places which will become surplus.

Don't both proposals achieve the same result with regard to surplus pupil places? - Stephen Kyle, Hurworth.