News Ireland daily BLOG

Monday 19th May 2014

Joan Burton expresses her full confidence in Eamon Gilmore

recent polls predict a total collapse for Labour

 

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has insisted Eamon Gilmore has her full confidence despite a massive drop in support for the Labour Party.

Recent  opinion polls show the party will struggle to secure a seat in theEuropean Parliament in Friday’s election and the number local authority seats it holds will also be dramatically reduced.

Speaking at a campaign event for sitting MEP Emer Costello, M/s Burton acknowledged the opinion poll figures were bad but said Mr Gilmore had her full support.

“The Labour Party has a democratically elected leader chosen by the members of the party – we are possibly unique among parties in doing it as democratically as we do,” she said.

“I was also elected democratically as deputy leader by members of the labour party.”

She added: “The leader of the Labour Party has my full confidence.”

M/s Burton said she was hopeful M/s Costello would retain her seat in Europe.

The Minister also criticised Sinn Fein and independent candidates for preaching “fantasy politics”.

In the old arithmetic one and one made two but we have a new arithmetic from a lot of the independents and some of the parties including Sinn Fein,” she said.

“I see them holding up so called costed budgets – they are not costed because they are offering everything, all kinds of everything.”

Irish Cancer patients hit by medical card cuts

   

The Irish Cancer Society says it is concerned that many cancer patients are suffering distress and financial hardship as a result of losing their discretionary medical cards or being refused these cards.

The Society says it has seen a 12% increase in applications for financial aid from cancer patients in the first quarter of this year.

It has urged the HSE to ensure cancer patients undergoing treatment are given medical cards without delay.

Kathleen O’Meara, Head of Advocacy and Communications says it has become increasingly difficult for cancer patients to get a discretionary medical card.

“According to the HSE’s own national assessment guidelines, the patients we are talking to should, and would have in the past, been entitled to a discretionary medical card but they are not getting one now. The Government is consistently denying that there is a policy to cut discretionary medical cards but what we are hearing from patients paints a different picture,” said Ms O’Meara.

She said through the Society’s National Cancer Helpline and Daffodil Centres it was hearing from many cancer patients who are losing their discretionary medical card after a review or who are being refused in the first instance.

“We have written to the HSE’s Primary Care Reimbursement Service (PCRS) requesting an urgent meeting to discuss the issues arising for cancer patients applying for medical cards or being reviewed.”

The HSE’s Director of Primary Care, John Hennessy, recently admitted that the way in which discretionary medical cards for seriously ill patients were being reviewed in some cases was ‘indefensible’.

Minister for Primary Care Alex White stated in the Dail last Wednesday: “It is true some of the decisions made in respect of the mechanics of how the process is implemented, some of the overbureaucratising of the process, some of the delays which have happened and some of the mistakes which have happened in the implementation and administration of the system are indefensible.”

The Minister said he recognised ‘the pain, the difficulties and the dilemma that families face in these circumstances. I also understand and am aware of many individual cases in which people have felt confronted by such a situation’.

Minister White said the system must be reformed.

He said of the discretionary medical cards in circulation in 2011, around 6% have subsequently been withdrawn on review.

The Cancer Society has given some examples of the distress caused to patients by medical card reviews:

*A relative of a cancer patient looking for advice on their medical card application. They have contacted the HSE medical card department 18 times about the medical card. They are currently receiving debt collector letters regarding a hospital charge of €750 (medical card holders do not get charged for hospital services).

*A 72 year-old bowel cancer survivor who received a letter from the HSE reviewing his medical card. He needs the medical card to obtain his colostomy bags monthly and is distressed about this.

*An 80 year-old lady fearful that her medical card will be taken from her. She has metastatic breast cancer.

* A young lady with breast cancer and small children, struggling to pay childcare, her mortgage, hospital charges and drug payments, who as been refused a medical card.

* A woman with breast cancer who has lost her medical card and received a GP visit card instead. She and her husband work part-time earning a total of €651 per week, and she doesn’t earn any money during school holidays. They have two children. She is due to undergo reconstruction surgery this summer and she cannot afford her drugs and the prescription charges.

* A woman with secondary breast cancer had her medical card was taken away and is currently in treatment. She is having trouble paying for her medications since her card was removed.

The Cancer Society says it knows of know of incidences where patients who are terminally ill have been granted a medical card on a six month time limit and in the final weeks or months of their lives their card is then reviewed when the six month limit is up. They then have to re-apply which entails resubmitting all of their financial information,” said Ms O’Meara.

“This causes huge distress and uncertainty at a very difficult stage in someone’s life and we are asking that this time limit be extended or abolished.”

Additionally, the Cancer Society says, it is particularly hard for self-employed patients to get a card. This can leave them in a situation where they are not working, have no income protection and are receiving no financial assistance from the state.

The HSE is currently examining what has been dubbed a a ‘third tier’ medical card system whereby people who are not entitled to a medical card could still receive services to meet their needs.

People who have any concerns about medical cards or financial assistance can call the Irish Cancer Society’s National Cancer Helpline on Freefone 1800 200 700 or visit www.cancer.ie

It’s important to get familiar with your feet

  

While your eyes may be the window to your soul, some health expertsreckon your feet can say a lot about your wellbeing. Instead of focusing on a pretty summer manicure, or those must-have new shoes, take a closer look at your feet and see if you can determine more about your health.

Hairless feet and toes

This could be a sign of circulation problems. While hairless feet are of course desirable, sudden baldness may indicate that your feet aren’t getting enough blood flowing to them.”Expect your doctor to check for a pulse in your feet, which is another indication that your heart may not be able to pump enough blood to your feet,” Dr. McAloon told time.com.

Frequent foot cramping

Foot cramping may mean dehydration and nutritional deficiencies. If your exercising make sure you’re taking in enough water, as dehydration can lead to cramping. Also upping your intake of calcium, potassium and magnesium may help as deficiencies in these three dietary intakes can also be an issue.

  A sore that won’t heal

These can be warning signs for diabetes or skin cancer. Uncontrolled glucose levels in blood can lead to nerve damage, meaning cuts to your body may actually happen unnoticed. With skin cancer, a non-healing wound could be a red flag. Be vigilant when checking your body paying attention to every inch of skin, including between toes.

Cold feet

Cold feet could be one of many signs of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) along with hair loss, fatigue, weight gain and depression. A simple daily medication can ease symptoms, with a blood test determining if you suffer from the condition .

  Enlarged big toe

If your big toe becomes suddenly enlarged, it could be your body showing signs of an inflammatory issue, like gout. “The sudden onset of a red, hot, swollen, and painful joint requires immediate medical attention,” explained Dr. McAloon.

Bunions

Far from only being caused by tight, restrictive footwear, bunions could actually be an inherited faulty foot structure. Speak to your doctor as surgery is often an option.

Heel pain

This could be a plantar fasciitis (strain on the ligament). The longer you ignore the sharp pain, the longer it will take to heal. Ease up in intensive exercise, and where sensible footwear while the pain subsides.

  Flaky, itchy, peeling skin

This could be a fungal infection, most likely to be athlete’s foot. There are plenty of over the counter remedies to treat the irritable symptoms, and keeping your feet as cool and dry as possible will also help. If you’re fungus free it could be caused by eczema or psoriasis.

  Yellow nails

Again this could simply be caused by fungus, especially if its paired with brittle or flaking nails. Wearing nail varnish for months on end with no break may also cause yellowing nails, or may simply be down to age.

Cars could drive themselves sooner than expected after European push

 

Cars could be driving themselves down the world’s streets far sooner than expected, thanks to a change in a global treaty backed by European countries.

A little-noticed amendment to the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic agreed last month would let drivers take their hands off the wheel of self-driving cars.

It was pushed by Germany, Italy and France, whose high-end carmakers believe they are ready to zoom past American tech pioneers and bring the first “autonomous vehicles” to market.

“Today I am only allowed to take my hands off the wheel to a limited extent. Thankfully the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic has been changed,” said Thomas Weber, head of Group research at Daimler and head of development at Mercedes-Benz.

For years, so-called “autonomous vehicles” have been a futuristic dream pioneered by silicon valley companies like Google.

But as the technology becomes more affordable, Europe’s luxury automakers say they are well placed to take advantage of it because of their deeper experience in engineering, manufacturing, marketing and sales. There is no point in waiting while California upstarts catch up.

The U.S. state of Nevada passed a law in June 2011 to allow test drives of autonomous vehicles there. Google tested one in 2012.

In August 2013, Mercedes-Benz responded to the Google push by developing an S-class limousine which drove between Mannheim and Pforzheim without any driver input. The 103 kilometre stretch is known as the Bertha Benz route, named after the driver of the first ever motorcar more than 125 years ago.

But moving from test drives to marketable products was held back by Article 8 of the 1968 Convention on Road Traffic, which stipulates: “Every driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle or to guide his animals.”

The amendment agreed last month by the U.N. Working Party on Road Traffic Safety would allow a car to drive itself, as long as the system “can be overridden or switched off by the driver”. A driver must be present and able to take the wheel at any time.

Provided the amendment clears all bureaucratic hurdles, all 72 countries that are party to the convention would have to work the new rules into their laws. The convention covers European countries, Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Russia, although not the United States, Japan or China.

HOPE IN EUROPE

The amendment was submitted by the governments of Germany, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium and Austria, according to the April 17 U.N. document – showing just how important the new technology is for Europe.

Germany’s premium carmakers in particular have business models that rely on leading the market in vehicles with the most sophisticated features available. They can’t afford to fall behind.

Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW as well as auto suppliers Bosch [ROBG.UL] and Continental, are working on technologies for autonomous or semi-autonomous cars.

Mercedes has developed technology which can scan the road ahead and behind with cameras and radar, and prompt a vehicle to pull out and overtake a large truck without a driver having to touch the steering wheel.

It now wants to introduce more automated driving features into its cars, such as automated parking, automatic stop-and-go driving in traffic and motorway driving functions. Eventually, it hopes to have cars with elaborate self-driving software that can be easily updated – like an iPhone – to take advantage of new technical capabilities or changes in the law.

“We have developed a car that can drive autonomously. Now the legal framework needs to follow suit,” a Daimler spokeswoman said.

Graphene discovered in the UK – commercialisation gains maybe elsewhere

   

Graphene is viewed as a potential wonder material that is derived from graphite and Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov, Russian-born scientists (pictured above right), who in 2010 had shared the Nobel Prize in Physics, first isolated the one atom thick carbon layer at the University of Manchester in 2004.

However a decade later, there are fears that the UK may  lose out on its commercialisation.

Graphene is potentially a better conductor than silicon; it’s transparent, lightweight, strong, flexible and elastic – – features that are of keen interest to the electronics business.

The scientists had worked in the Netherlands before moving to the University of Manchester and theypublished their seminal research paper on graphene in October 2004.

George Osborne, Chancellor of the exchequer, pledged £50m in research funding in 2011 and In March’s Budget, he promised further investment, describing graphene as a “great British discovery that we should break the habit of a lifetime with and commercially develop in Britain.”

On April 1, the chancellor was back in Manchester to mark the topping out ceremony of the National Graphene Institute (NGI) and he delivered a speech praising “revolutionary science” at the University of Manchester.

Set to open in early 2015, the £61m institute will see university scientists and commercial partners working side by side on future applications using the wonder material.

However, based on patent applications, the UK is a laggard in the race to commercialise the discovery, with China and South Korea sprinting ahead..

The Financial Times says that of the 11,372 patents and patent applications worldwide relating to graphene, the UK has filed just 101 – – equivalent to less than 1%.

Almost two-thirds of the patent applications have been made by Asian companies or organisations, according to data compiled by Cambridge IP, a UK-based technology strategy company.

China in 2012-2013 made more than 80% of all patent applications.

The quality of patents vary and numbers in themselves do not tell the whole story.

However, Dr Andrea Ferrari, director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre,  acknowledged to the FT that the UK  and Europe need to catch up in terms of patent activity. “If you wait too long, then you may find that some technology may be blocked by patents,” he says.

Of the 11,372 graphene patents filed to date, 7,924 relate to manufacturing technologies, according to Cambridge IP. Asia accounts for 3,060 of these patents, compared with Europe’s 361 and 41 in the UK.

The FT says that while development will take many years, a challenge for the UK is that is that its firms that are working on development are minnows compared with the likes of Samsung Electronics of South Korea.

The biggest UK high tech company ARM Holdings reported in February 2014 that its processor technology was in 2.9bn chips that had been shipped in 2013, including ones used in smartphones and tablet devices – -up 16% year-on-year.

However, it supplies the IP (intellectual property); it doesn’t manufacture and the FTSE 100 company has less that 3,000 employed worldwide compared with 44,000 in Google’s core business.

 

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