Tag Archives: Cystic fibrosis

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 11th April 2017

Bus Eireann Unions may halt strike when a  proposal issue is settled

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Bus Eireann unions may halt the strike when the industrial relations’ court as a last resort issues a proposal to end the dispute.

A Labour Court hearing began this afternoon after a third round of talks collapsed at the Workplace Relations Commission this morning.

It is unclear when the court will issue its recommendation, but it likely to try to do so as soon as possible.

When the recommendation is issued, a collective decision will be taken by all five unions on whether to suspend industrial action while a ballot on the proposal takes place. Sources indicated they are likely to lift the pickets.

A total of 1,900 workers have been on strike for over two weeks over payroll cuts as the company attempts to stave off the threat of insolvency next month.

Many passengers have turned to private operators and management fears that many may not return when the dispute is resolved.

Opportunity to strike a deal in Bus Eireann dispute ‘squandered’, says SIPTU representative.0:00 / 01:44

Speaking on his way into the hearing, Siptu Transport Division Organiser, Greg Ennis, said a decision had not been taken on whether industrial action would called off.

He said after the court issued its recommendation, the national committees of the five Bus Eireann unions will take a collective decision on “the best course of action”.

General Secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers Union, Dermot O’Leary, said unions would make a submission to the court today and it may decide to engage in talks with the parties this evening.

He claimed there are “forces at play” that would prefer to see the demise of Bus Éireann, rather than concentrate on securing its future.

Unions claimed they had agreed savings worth €18m through a voluntary redundancy scheme and efficiencies at last night’s talks.

It is understood that there were disagreements when management sought further savings by replacing basic pay, overtime and premium rates with a single rate.

They questioned why further savings were needed “to deal with a €9m problem”, which is the value of the company’s losses last year.

Acting Chief Executive Ray Hernan has warned that Bus Éireann faces insolvency next month.

In a statement, Bus Éireann said progress was made at talks and agreement reached to eliminated many inefficiencies in work practices.

However, it said “an offer” made by the company to help deliver “financial viability” was rejected by unions representing drivers.

“We apologise to our customers for any inconvenience caused as a result of the ongoing industrial action,” said a spokesperson. Secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers Union, Dermot O’Leary, said unions would make a submission to the court today and it may decide to engage in talks with the parties this evening.

He claimed there are “forces at play” that would prefer to see the demise of Bus Éireann, rather than concentrate on securing its future.

Unions claimed they had agreed savings worth €18m through a voluntary redundancy scheme and efficiencies at last night’s talks.

It is understood that there were disagreements when management sought further savings by replacing basic pay, overtime and premium rates with a single rate.

They questioned why further savings were needed “to deal with a €9m problem”, which is the value of the company’s losses last year.

Acting Chief Executive Ray Hernan has warned that Bus Éireann faces insolvency next month.

In a statement, Bus Éireann said progress was made at talks and agreement reached to eliminated many inefficiencies in work practices.

However, it said “an offer” made by the company to help deliver “financial viability” was rejected by unions representing drivers.

“We apologise to our customers for any inconvenience caused as a result of the ongoing industrial action,” said a spokesperson.

Cystic Fibrosis Ireland welcomes new HSE medication deal

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Health Minister Simon Harris right pic told the Dáil on Tuesday that agreement had been reached “ in principle” between the HSE and Vertex on the commercial terms for the supply of Orkambi and Kalydeco to patients from next month. And left pic Jillian McNulty, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, has fought long and hard to get the drug funded by the HSE.  

Cystic Fibrosis Ireland has welcomed the long-awaited deal completed by the HSE and drug manufacturer Vertex to make a wonder CF drug available.

Almost 600 patients will benefit from Orkambi and Kalydeco because of their particular CF genotype. These drugs slow the progression of the illness, reduce hospitalisation caused by sudden worsening of the condition, and reduce dependency on other drugs like expensive antibiotics.

CFI chief executive Philip Watt said there “ is a very innovative element to the agreement which is that it is inclusive of ‘pipeline drug therapies’ from the same company that are currently showing promise in the advance stages of clinical trials”.

“Even with Orkambi and Kalydeco, there will be around 30% of the CF population that still has no drug that treats the underlying cause of their condition in Ireland. This is why a pipeline deal is so important. There also may be better drugs for those on existing Vertex drugs coming down the line.”

Health Minister Simon Harris told the Dáil that agreement had been reached “ in principle” between the HSE and Vertex on the commercial terms for the supply of Orkambi and Kalydeco to patients from next month.

Orkambi can be used by patients aged 12 and over while Kalydeco can be used on children aged 2-5.

Mr Harris said: “Both parties are now working to finalise the contractual arrangements and complete approval processes in advance of May 1. I want to also especially acknowledge that this has been an extraordinarily difficult time for CF patients, their families, and friends as they have been waiting for this process to conclude.”

About 40 people with CF had been receiving the treatment on a trial or compassionate-use programme.

Once the deal has been scrutinised by HSE lawyers, it will go before Cabinet for final approval.

Fianna Fáil TD Marc McSharry said “while the agreement in principle is welcome, the fact that it has taken this long to get to this point is beyond reprehensible”.

Water charges refund’s now on the cards as FG and FF agrees a deal

Barry Cowen and Simon Coveney below left picture.

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Water charges are now dead in the ground and Housing Minister Simon Coveney must begin work on issuing refunds to almost one million law-abiding households?

After 10 days of frantic negotiations Fianna Fáil performed yet another u-turn on its policy to finally vote through a report on the future funding of domestic water services.

But their water spokesman Barry Cowen denied capitulating to Housing Minister Simon Coveney, arguing the party had ensured the “failed regime is gone”.

Mr Coveney will now begin work on legislation that will see around 70,000 a year hit with levies for “excessive” usage of water.

Every person will be allowed use 226 litres of water per day before risking prosecution.

And builders will be required to install meters in all newly built homes.

Fianna Fáil had objected to the word “excessive” and the further rollout of meters but backtracked on foot of fresh legal advice provided to the Oireacthas water committee.

Asked if he accepted Mr Coveney had won the battle, Mr Cowen replied: “I don’t care about whether it’s 2-nil, 3-nil, 5-nil or 10-nil or 1-1 or whatever it might be.

“When the spin fades away the facts will remain that there are no changes and Fianna Fáil has honoured its commitments.”

He said 10 days had been wasted on foot of Fine Gael game-playing which he suggested was the result of the leadership battle between Mr Coveney and Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar.

“Maybe you can ask Mr Varadkar if he’s happy now because it’s the same deal that was there 10 days ago,” he said.

Mr Cowen said if he expected others to abided by the legal advice then he would have to do so himself.

“Charges are gone, they are not coming back,” he said, adding that if households “wilfully abuse water I have no problem with them being fined”.

However, Solidary TD Paul Murphy who has led the anti-water charges movement last night urged people to start digging up water meters.

He noted that only houses with meters will be liable for excessive usage charges.

“So if people are out there and they currently have water meters that they don’t want to have, I’d suggest that if they get rid of those water meters then they can’t be faced with any charge whatsoever,” he said.

Mr Murphy said general charges were gone but they Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil had done a “backroom dodgy deal”.

As tensions rose yesterday Taoiseach Enda Kenny told Mary Lou McDonald not to come into the Dáil “exuding righteousness” on water charges.

Mr Kenny claimed Sinn Féin’s view on paying for water was “sabotaged” by the by-election victory of Solidarity’s Paul Murphy in November 2014.

“Then the sound of marching feet in Tallaght changed your view,” he said.

The Fine Gael leader was responding to an attack from Ms McDonald who said the “bully boys” of Government were trying to sabotage the work of the Committee set up to decide on the future funding of domestic water services.

“You are now trying to bully your friends in Fianna Fáil into a U-turn,” she said, in reference to the fact that new legal advice appears to have persuaded Micheál Martin’s party to accept significant changes to the committee’s final report.

“The argument on water has been won on the streets by thousands of protesters who marched at countless demonstrations.

“Your refusal to accept defeat on the issue of water represents a real crisis for democratic representation,” Ms McDonald said.

Department of Finance figures suggest next Irish budget will be more moderate 

Pressure on the public finances is expected to increase in the run-up to Budget 2018

Image result for Pressure on the public finances is expected to increase in the run-up to Budget 2018   Image result for Pressure on the public finances is expected to increase in the run-up to Budget 2018  Image result for Theres room for tax cuts and spending increases in the Irish next budget of 2018 likely to be considerably smaller than the 2017 package

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan (above left) who will present the latest forecasts to the Dáil Committee on Budget Oversight on next Thursday.

The room for tax cuts and spending increases in the next budget is likely to be considerably smaller than the 2017 package because of new spending commitments entered into last year, according to updated Department of Finance calculations.

While Budget 2018 is expected to allow for a €1.2 billion budgetary adjustment, the real room for manoeuvre could be as little as €570 million because of the carryover effects of measures contained in Budget 2017.

Pressure on spending from an ageing population and pay rises agreed under the Lansdowne Road deal have already limited the Government’s budgetary options.

Further concessions on public pay amid the threat of strike action from unions or a significant shift in the current tax trend could leave the Government with even less scope.

A spending review, scheduled to take place prior to Budget 2018, is expected, however, to generate “efficiency gains” within the system that will free up some additional money, albeit this is not expected to radically alter the Government’s position.

In a draft stability programme update, which will be submitted to the European Commission later this month, the department said the Irish economy is on target to create 55,000 additional jobs this year and a further 50,000 in 2018, bringing the unemployment rate below 6%.

Brexit threat.

It said the economy was growing strongly, but warned that the threat of Brexit and a changed policy stance in the US meant that “a continuation of robust economic expansion cannot be taken for granted”.

The department has reduced its projections for economic growth in 2019, 2020 and 2021 by roughly 0.5% each year on account of the greater likelihood of the UK opting for some form of hard Brexit.

However, the department upgraded Ireland’s growth outlook for this year amid a stronger-than-expected end to last year.

The department is now projecting that gross domestic product (GDP) will expand by 4.3% this year, from 3.5% at the time of the last budget. For 2018 a growth rate of 3.7% is projected.

A ‘Resilience’

The document says the key goal of budget policy is to improve the “resilience” of the economy so that any adverse developments can be absorbed “with minimal fallout”.

The documents forecast that Ireland will meet its borrowing forecasts of reducing the structural budget deficit to 0.5% of GDP by next year. This assumes that growth meets forecasts and that the scale of tax cuts and spending increases in the budget are in line with what was envisaged in earlier plans.

The department will finalise its pre-budget forecasts, including the amount of money it will have to spend on budget day, in a summer economic statement. Prior to that, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan will present the latest forecasts to the Dáil Committee on Budget Oversight on Thursday.

A separate report from the National Competitiveness Council, meanwhile, has warned that Ireland’s failure to invest in infrastructure or to tackle under-resourcing in education would take it toll on the economy, particularly in the wake of Brexit.

Scientists unravel the knotted mystery of the loose shoelace

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Researchers discover how laces come undone and offer alternative way to tie them that does knot involve your granny

The lead research said his curiosity about why shoelaces came undone intensified when he began teaching his child how to tie them.

Things can start to unravel at any moment, but when failure occurs it is swift and catastrophic. This is the conclusion of a scientific investigation into what might be described as Sod’s law of shoelaces.

The study focused on the mysterious phenomenon by which a shoe is neatly and securely tied one moment, and the next a flapping lace is threatening to trip you up – possibly as you are running for the bus or striding with professional purpose across your open-plan office.

In a series of experiments involving a human runner on a treadmill and a mechanical leg designed to swing and stomp, the scientists revealed that shoelace knot failure happens in a matter of seconds, triggered by a complex interaction of forces.

Oliver O’Reilly, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California Berkeley and the study’s senior author, said: “It’s unpredictable but when it happens, it’s in two or three strides and it’s catastrophic. There’s no way of coming back from it.”

The study found that the stomping of the foot gradually loosens the knot while the whipping forces produced by the swing of the foot act like hands tugging on the ends of the laces. As the tension in the knot eases and the free ends start to slide, a runaway effect takes hold and the knot suddenly unravels.

The findings also revealed what knot experts, such as sailors and surgeons, have long suggested: that the granny knot many of us use to tie our laces comes undone far quicker than an alternative method that is no more complex.

Robert Matthews, a physicist at Aston University in Birmingham who was not involved in the latest work, said: “It’s provided hard scientific backing for what many people have long suspected: that the traditional way of tying shoelaces is pretty rubbish.”

O’Reilly said he was inspired to investigate after spending decades pondering why laces spontaneously unknot themselves – an intellectual niggle that intensified when he came to teach his daughter how to tie her laces.

The scientist enlisted a pair of PhD students and initial tests revealed that sitting on a chair and swinging your leg or stamping your foot does not generally cause a knot to come undone. It appeared to be a combination of both motions that conspired to unravel laces.

Next, the scientists captured slow-motion video of a runner on a treadmill. They found that the foot strikes the ground at seven times the force of gravity and as the fabric of the shoe squashes down on impact, extra lace is freed at the top of the shoe, causing the knot to loosen slightly with each stride. Meanwhile, the swinging leg causes the lace’s free ends to whip back and forth tugging them outwards. As the knot loosens, the friction holding the knot tight decreases, and as the free ends lengthen, the whipping force goes up, leading to an avalanche effect.

“The interesting thing about this mechanism is that your laces can be fine for a really long time, and it’s not until you get one little bit of motion to cause loosening that starts this avalanche effect leading to knot failure,” said Christine Gregg, a graduate student at UC Berkeley and a co-author.

The scientists tested two basic versions of the standard knot and bow: the square knot and the weaker granny knot. In a square knot, you start by crossing the lace in your right hand in front of the one in your left hand and then threading it under the left one. For the bow you repeat the process, but crossing the end that’s now in your right hand behind the one in your left (with added loops to make the bow). In a granny knot the same overhand motion is repeated for both knot and bow.

According to the data, the lace slippage rate was cut by at least a factor of five using a square knot compared with a granny knot. “Simply reversing the way we form the final knot when tying laces makes a huge difference,” Matthews said.

O’Reilly said: “With the strong [square] knot you might be able to get through the day without it failing.” Although he admitted to still using the granny knot himself through habit.

The study suggests the square knot works better because the impact of the foot loosens the knot more slowly, but the scientists were not able to establish why this is the case.

Biggest asteroid in 13 years is going to fly past Earth on today Wednesday

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On Wednesday the 12th, our planet’s going to get a close shave from an alarmingly large chunk of space rock – as the biggest asteroid in 13 years sails past.

The asteroid, known as 2014 JO25, will sail safely past 1.1 million miles away – but NASA says, ‘this will be a very close approach for an asteroid of this size’.

There’s no chance the asteroid will hit Earth – and is roughly 2,000 feet wide.

It was discovered in May 2014 by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona

NASA says, ‘The asteroid will approach Earth from the direction of the sun and will become visible in the night sky after April 19. It is predicted to brighten to about magnitude 11, when it could be visible in small optical telescopes for one or two nights before it fades as the distance from Earth rapidly increases.’

Small asteroids pass within this distance of Earth several times each week, but this upcoming close approach is the closest by any known asteroid of this size, or larger, since asteroid Toutatis, a 3.1-mile asteroid, which approached within about four lunar distances in September 2004.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 11th December 2016

Irish Water spends a hefty €5m on expert advice

Hefty bill run up in the six months since controversial charges were dropped

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Irish Water has spent €5m on outside business strategists, lawyers, computer experts, public relations and finance specialists in the six months after the Government formally suspended the controversial charges.

The revelation that the embattled utility has paid over €826,000 a month on consultants since May 1 – when it was effectively placed in limbo by the Government – will infuriate nearly one million people who have handed over €144m in water charges last year.

Those who paid their bills still have no idea if they will get that money back if charges are ultimately abolished.

Last night Fianna Fail’s environment spokesperson Barry Cowen said legislation was urgently needed to ensure the utility was fully accountable for all money it spent.

The list of lucrative contracts includes an average monthly bill of nearly €3,000 for public relations services at a time when a major question mark hangs over the future funding of the company.

Documents reveal nearly €5m was spent on ‘third-party’ services from May 1 to the end of October this year. This includes €775,141 on ‘business change’ support services.

Ernst & Young was paid €406,268 for its expertise, while official records show accounting and consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers received €123,570.

Efforts to improve customer services supports also came with a hefty price tag, costing €774,848. It is estimated €32,285 is being spent every week to help improve and streamline customer services.

Ernst & Young also emerged a big winner, earning almost €486,000 for its expertise in the area.

Official records also show that hiring in legal expertise remains a major drain on resources – costing on average €56,800 a month.

In total, €340,830 was ring-fenced to cover costs in this area over a six-month period. Dublin-based legal firm McCann Fitzgerald was paid a total of €79,071 since the beginning of May. The next highest earner was Philip Lee, a specialist commercial law firm, who received payment of €71,438. Invoices for the services provided another law firm, Arthur Cox and Company totalled €45,410. Some €55,700 was allocated to covering the fees of a ‘senior counsel’, although records do not specify the reason for the expenditure.

PricewaterhouseCoopers received another separate payment of €68,000 for its “support on specific technical investment and engineering projects”. A further €113,277 was spent to ensure the “highest standards of governance” in areas like business analysis, information security and data protection. And Murray Consultants, one of Ireland’s biggest public relations agencies, was paid €16,866.

The expenditure comes against a backdrop of continuing uncertainty as to what approach will be adopted with customers who have already paid their water bills.

In a statement, Irish Water said it can require technical assistance and third-party support at any given time. Such expertise was not required on a permanent basis and therefore it was considered more “cost effective” to employ third-party specialists “as they are required”.

A spokesperson said the use of third-party external service providers represents just over 1pc of its annual operational costs. A company spokesman said the relevant data covers the period of May 1 to October 31 this year.

This was on the basis the clause facilitating the suspension of water charges was contained in the confidence and supply arrangement – put in place at the beginning of May on formation of the Government.

Fianna Fail’s environment spokesperson Barry Cowen said legislation was urgently needed to ensure the utility was fully accountable for all monies it spent.

He pointed out that the confidence and supply arrangement Fianna Fail has agreed with Fine Gael commits to retaining Irish Water as a national utility in public ownership. He said the agreement meant the company must be answerable to the Dail under a number of headings.

“We would have hoped that process would be complete by now, but it’s obviously not, and it’s something we’ll be taking up with the minister, with a view to bringing forward relevant legislation to give effect to that.”

He believes this would result in greater “transparency” in the operations of the utility.

The commission established to examine its future operations recommended that funding for the country’s water infrastructure should come through general taxation – but that there should be charges for wasteful use.

A special Oireachtas committee will now also decide if those who did not pay previous water charges should be prosecuted.

Deputy Cowen says the party is keeping an “open mind” on whether those who use excessive amounts of water should be liable for some financial payment.

“The main thrust of the recommendation is that it is paid for out of general taxation, and we agreed with that analysis.

“But there are many questions outstanding,” he said.

In a statement, Irish Water said “significant progress” had been made since the suspension of charges.

This includes “continuing the development of a single way of working for Irish Water as a public utility, to allow for a full transformation of services to the utility from local authorities.

“This is an enormous undertaking.

“We have developed new systems for local authorities to report vital information on operations, leakage, water and waste water quality to us electronically and in real time in a standardised and consistent way”.

These and other projects had required “specialist support”, but would have a “lasting significant value” for Irish Water as a utility.

As much as 112,000 additional jobs in construction will be created over the next three years here,

Say construction industry chiefs?

Image result for As much as 112,000 Irish additional jobs in construction will be created over the next three years here  Image result for As much as 112,000 Irish additional jobs in construction will be created over the next three years here

A report on the sector found carpenters and joiners will be in most demand.

Construction chiefs have claimed there will be 112,000 additional jobs in the industry over the next three years. A report on the sector found carpenters and joiners will be in most demand followed by general labourers, operatives and electricians.

The Construction Industry Federation has launched a new website, cifjobs.ie, to target workers who emigrated in the 10 years since the property bubble burst and the economy collapsed.

A report on the future of the sector by DKM consultants revealed the industry is set to grow by 9% a year up to 2020 and said that it can sustain more than 100,000 additional jobs.

It said there will be a need for 30,800 carpenters and joiners, 27,600 general labourers, 18,100 operatives, 15,200 electricians, 13,900 plasterers and tilers, 11,800 plumbers, 9,600 managers, 9,400 painters and decorators and 7,800 bricklayers.

CIF director general Tom Parlon said emigrants should consider coming home. ” There is sufficient work in the pipeline to require about another 112,000 jobs up to 2020 and beyond.

“The CIF is attempting to ensure there are sufficient skilled employees by engaging in several initiatives. We’re working with the Education and Training Boards (ETBs) to upskill those on the live register with construction experience. We’re attracting young people into the industry by highlighting the modern globalised careers available. Finally, we’re trying to get the positive news about the industry and Ireland in general to those in the diaspora to attract them back.”

The website will highlight jobs available in the lobby group’s member companies and allow potential candidates to engage directly with them.

Orkambi makers to meet HSE for CF drug pricing cost talks

Asking price for medicine that acts on lung function €160,000 per patient annually

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The HSE has indicted it is willing to pay €75m annually, but not the existing €400m bill across five years.

The Health Service Executive and US makers of cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi, Vertex, are to meet on Wednesday, December 15th, to discuss the cost of the medicine.

Orkambi, which improves lung function and reduces hospitalisation for CF patients, would cost €160,000 per patient annually, or €400 million for the health service over five years, according to its initial price.

Agreed approach

The HSE is willing to pay €75 million which would make it the sixth most expensive drug used by the Irish health system.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he has sought to collaborate with other countries on an agreed approach to negotiations on Orkambi and the HSE has cautioned Vertex it must ask a more affordable price.

The HSE and Vertex said they are committed to finding a definitive solution.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals said this week it will only re-enter price talks on Orkambi if Government representatives with the power to make decisions are at the table.

Vertex asked the HSE to commit to having Mr Harris, HSE director general Tony O’Brien and Department of Health Secretary general Jim Breslin at the talks.

Speaking in the Seanad earlier this week, Mr Harris said this was a “complete misrepresentation”.

“The law of this land, passed by this House and the Dáil in 2013, makes clear that the HSE is the body with statutory responsibility for decisions on pricing and reimbursement of medicines.”

Thousands of people protested outside the Dáil this week about the issue.

The bottom line, says Fitch, is that a monkey’s speech limitations stem from the way its brain is organized.

“As soon as you had a brain that was ready to control the vocal tract,” Fitch says, “the vocal tract of a monkey or nonhuman primate would be perfectly fine for producing lots and lots of words.”

The real issue is that monkeys’ brains do not have direct connections down to the neurons that control the larynx and the tongue, he says. What’s more, monkeys don’t have critical connections within the brain itself, between the auditory cortex and motor cortex, which makes them incapable of imitating what they hear in the way that humans do.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a science fiction movie from 2011, actually has the right idea, notes Fitch. In that film, after a lab chimp named Caesar undergoes brain changes, he eventually is able to speak words such as “No.”

“The new Planet of the Apes is a pretty accurate representation of what we think is going on,” says Fitch.

Irish taxpayers warned to be careful with scam phone calls claiming to be Tax Revenue staff ?????

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The Revenue Commissioners is warning against a slick phone scam intended to scare people into paying off a bogus tax collector.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Revenue Commissioners said a “small” number of people had contacted the office after receiving random telephone calls over the past week.

The calls are purportedly from a local tax inspector looking for so-called tax defaulters to make a payment and/or disclose their PPS numbers.

In one case, a taxpayer received a call from “Revenue Ireland” in which an automated recording told him to contact the “Revenue” urgently.

The suspicious taxpayer rang a Dublin number that was answered by a man who did not have an Irish accent claiming to be “Officer Ray Miller of Revenue Ireland”.

The taxpayer’s suspicions were confirmed when he began speaking in Irish and the bogus Revenue official couldn’t understand him or refer him to someone who could speak Irish, so he told ‘Officer Miller’ it was an obvious scam and he hung up.

Revenue spokeswoman Clare O’Melia said she was not aware of anyone being taken in by the scam. But she urged anyone who may have responded to a request for “an immediate payment of a tax bill over the phone” or provided the caller with their PPS number, bank account or credit card information to contact gardaí and their bank.

“Anyone who receives a telephone call purporting to be from Revenue about which they have any doubts, particularly if the call is out of the blue, should contact their local Revenue office or the Collector General’s Division at 1890 20 30 70,” she said.

“It’s Christmas and there are a lot of scams out there.” Gardaí have now also issued a statement.

“An Garda Síochána would like to remind the public to be wary of any contact from an unsolicited source, whether it is by telephone or email.

“Do not under any circumstances give out your credit/debit card, bank account, or PPS Number to anyone who makes contact with you over the phone.  An Garda Síochána, Revenue, nor any Financial Institution will ever call you and ask for your PPS number or bank account details.”

Majella O’Donnell hits out at Ireland’s mental health services

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Majella O’Donnell has hit out at Ireland’s mental health services, after her friend was denied immediate help despite being severely depressed.

The 56-year-old wife of Donegal crooner Daniel O’Donnell has previously opened up about her own battle with depression, and how she once considered taking her own life.

Taking to Facebook, Majella decided to use her voice and revealed how she felt “angry and disgusted” after her friend with mental health issues was told she wouldn’t be seen to until next year.

“My friend Anne is a young mother who has been feeling anxious, unmotivated, irritated and generally depressed. She is aware of it and has been on antidepressants in the past,” she wrote.

“She is also aware of the fact that it is negatively affecting her relationship with her partner and putting a huge strain on them. She wanted to get to the bottom of why she feels this way. She phoned a psychiatrist to see if she could talk to someone professional and was told that a) She would have to be referred by her GP; b) She wouldn’t be seen until at least February, and c) It would cost her €300 an hour for the psychiatrist.

“What the f*** is that all about? I get so bloody angry at this kind of thing. Here is a young woman realising that she has a problem and trying to do something positive about it and this is what the outcome is! She went back to her GP who once again prescribed antidepressants, a stronger one this time – and that’s it.

“She doesn’t really want to take them as she would like to understand why she feels the way she does but she feels she has no choice,” she said.

Speaking up: Majella has suffered from depression in the past.

Majella then hit out at the outrageous fees psychiatrists are charging patients, as her friend received a quote for €300 per hour.

“I can accept that a GP needs to refer you, but what really p***** me off is the fact that no one could see her until at least February – but that doesn’t really matter because she could never afford the €300 per hour fee that is being charged. €300 per hour! What the f*** is that all about? It is shameful.

“How dare anyone charge that kind of money to help another human being who is in a desperate situation. That sort of fee cannot be justified! We have wonderful support groups around the country – like Pieta House, Aware, Mental Health Ireland, Grow and lots more – doing their best to help people with their mental wellbeing, but when someone tries to help themselves before things have reached the point of no return, this is what happens.

Make a change: Majella is disgusted with Ireland’s mental health services.

“We need, as a country, to sort this problem with accessing psychiatrists and if there is a shortage, then we need to actively start incentivising medical students to look at psychiatry as their speciality.

“Why do we have to wait until a person is so desperate for help that they are considering taking their own lives before we are willing to do something about it,’ she said.

“We need to start being pro-active about mental health instead of being reactive. There, that’s my rant over. I may be a little unreasonable about the whole subject, but it is one that I am so passionate about,” she added.

Graphene Putty could be the future of medical equipment sensors

 Image result for Graphene Putty could be the future of medical equipment sensors   Image result for Graphene Putty could be the future of medical equipment sensors

The internet of things could be about to get a bit more playful as the AMBER centre showcases a new type of graphene sensor made using the kids’ toy, Silly Putty.

As an atom-thick wonder material, graphene has been prophesised for years now as the next big thing in material science.

But now, an interesting breakthrough made by the AMBER centre in Trinity College Dublin could be about to take us into the sillier side of science, or at least Silly Putty.

Led by Prof Jonathan Coleman, a research team within the centre has been looking at how a melding of graphene and the kids’ toy Silly Putty could be a match made in heaven.

Realising graphene’s unique conductive properties and Silly Putty’s ability to mould into almost any shape, the team wanted to see could they be combined to create a mouldable sensor.

Sure enough, Coleman and his team found that that the electrical resistance of putty infused with graphene – that it is calling ‘G-putty’ – was extremely sensitive to the slightest deformation or impact.

Can detect the footprint of the smallest spider

To test its effectiveness, the team mounted the G-putty onto the chest and neck of human subjects and used it to measure breathing, pulse and even blood pressure.

To the team’s amazement, it showed unprecedented sensitivity as a sensor for strain and pressure, hundreds of times more sensitive than normal sensors, offering hope for future use in medical devices.

It could also be used as a precise impact measurement device capable of detecting the footprints of the smallest spiders.

Speaking of its potential, Coleman said: “While a common application has been to add graphene to plastics in order to improve the electrical, mechanical, thermal or barrier properties, the resultant composites have generally performed as expected without any great surprises.

“The behaviour we found with G-putty has not been found in any other composite material. This unique discovery will open up major possibilities in sensor manufacturing worldwide.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 1st June 2016

Minority Irish Government suffers its first defeat on workers rights Dáil vote

Labour and Sinn Féin in sharp exchanges over Dáil motion on workers’ rights

   

The minority Government has suffered its first Dáil defeat of this Dail.

Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan: claimed Labour was guilty of ‘gross hypocrisy’’, given it failed to defend the rights of workers while in government.

Its amendment to a Labour motion on workers’ rights was defeated by 78 votes to 58 on Wednesday night. Fianna Fáil voted with Labour against the Government as did Sinn Féin, the Green Party, a number of Independents and the AAA-PBP.

Sinn Féin did not press on its amendment.

A number of Independents including Clare Daly, Thomas Pringle and Mick Wallace facilitated a vote for the AAA-PBP amendment as the group did not have the minimum 10 TDs required for a vote, but then abstained. The AAA-PBP motion was defeated by 104 votes to seven.

Labour’s motion on the protection of workers’ rights was accepted without a vote. It calls for the Government to introduce a legislative package to protect and enhance workers’ rights through a number of measures including ending the abuse of ‘if and when’ contracts, combating, bogus self-employment, ensuring freelance workers have the right to collective bargaining, promoting the living wage in public procurement and preventing unilateral pay reductions.

There were sharp exchanges between Sinn Féin and Labour during a resumed debate on the Labour motion.

Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan claimed Labour was guilty of “gross hypocrisy’’ , given it failed to defend the rights of workers while in government.

He said the Labour motion called on the Dáil to stand up for working people and ensure employees secured a fair share of national prosperity.

“These are fine sentiments but this motion is sponsored by a party who was a partner in the most right-wing government since the foundation of the State,’’ Mr Quinlivan added.

“In government, Labour and Fine Gael went vulture-like after the incomes of ordinary working people and waged war on the living standards of the most vulnerable.’’

Labour TD Alan Kelly accused Sinn Féin of engaging in political point-scoring instead of looking meaningfully on the issue.

“While Labour in the Republic is trying to form a coalition of political thought and trade unions to tackle if and when contracts and zero hour contracts, Sinn Fein in government in Northern Ireland stands over one of the highest rates of the proliferation of zero hour contracts anywhere in the world,’’ he added.

Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh O Laoghaire criticised the “practice of bogus self-employment and the ill-treatment of workers’’.

He said it had been a significant issue in the building industry and was now creeping into other forms of employment.

Mr O Laoghaire said bogus self-employment allowed a company to make an illegitimate saving on tax and employers PRSI, a figure which increased profit by roughly 11 percent at the exchequer’s expense.

“For the worker, this can mean no entitlement to holiday pay, sickness or maternity benefit, or even pension contributions,’’ he added.

“There is no redundancy, no notice of termination and no recourse when it comes to a case of unfair dismissal.’’

Labour TD Joan Burton said if there was a blot on the recent 1916 commemorations in O’Connell Street, it was “the spectre of Clerys famous building shrouded and dead, a death created by a series of clever corporate moves both on and offshore with hundreds of workers thrown out on the street’’.

‘I used to think I was curvaceous’ but now I’m obese’ (says new Minister) Marcella

*Corcoran Kennedy says people over use the word ‘bullying’, 
   

The new Minister of State for Health Promotion on the left: Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and in a Fine Gael group photo right.

A new junior health minister has revealed that she used think she was “curvaceous” but now realises that she is actually obese.

Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, who has responsibility for health promotion, also told the Dáil this evening of death threats she received during the General Election.

During a debate on the formation of a new strategy for the health service, the Offaly TD said people have to take “positive steps” to make sure they improve their own well-being.

She described it as a “sad fact” that one in four children are obese and more than half of adults are overweight.

And she revealed: “It’s something that I’m going to have to look into my heart about. I used to think I was curvaceous but now I’m told I’m actually obese so I better do something about it.”

As part of her new portfolio Ms Corcoran Kennedy said she will be encourage people eat better food and cut down on alcohol and tobacco.

The first-time minister then addressed a Dáil debate on mental and told about how she somethings feels down.

“We all experience anxiety. We all experience depression of one type of another. Some days you might be down and that’s normal enough. But if you can’t get back up that’s when you might be going into trouble,” she said.

And she warned that the word ‘bullying’ is losing its impact because some people are using it in a “facetious” way.

“The word ‘bully’ for me has very strong implications, whether it’s in the schoolyard or the workplace or whatever.

“But if that word is just thrown around and becomes something commonplace, then there isn’t the emphasis on it that there should be, and the recognition of how wrong it is and that there is action that needs to be taken,” she said.

Ms Corcoran Kennedy went on to describe how she finds social media “very, very challenging”.

“The level of negativity and vilification and viciousness that is tossed at public representatives as if we are figures of stone. As if we do not feel the same as everybody else. As if we don’t have a family the same as everybody else,” she said.

“During the election I gave up looking at it altogether. My life was actually threatened on social media.

“I don’t believe that the person who threatened me had any intention of carrying anything out but at the same time it wasn’t a very nice thing to think that there was a man somewhere in the country that thought the world would be a better place without me in it.

“And that he would be prepared to do time if I was removed from the world.”

She added: “That’s actually just a horrible thing to take in as a public representative and as a citizen of this country.

“It’s entirely wrong that that type of behavior from adults is tolerated because we wouldn’t tolerate it from children in the playground.”

Kian Egan and Jodi Albert love life by the sea in Strandhill Sligo

    

Kian Egan and Jodi Albert are fulfilling their dreams in Strandhill Co Sligo.

Former Westlife singer Kian Egan and his wife Jodi Albert say they’ve no regrets about turning their back on the celebrity circuit by opting for a quieter life by the sea in Strandhill in Co. Sligo.

The showbiz couple told Ryan Tubridy on RTÉ Radio 1 yesterday, that they have embraced living by the sea and the lifestyle it affords for themselves and their family as “it’s a so friendly and lovely place to live”.

The Voice of Ireland coach Egan said that touring the world with Westlife and living in London for many years highlighted “how special and amazing” Strandhill is, saying it was the perfect option for settling down with their growing family.

He told Tubs: “I suppose as the years went on and we got married and started having children and talked about the idea of where they would grow up and what type of lifestyle we wanted them to have, it just felt like no matter where we went in the world, Strandhill was the place for us.”

The couple, who have been together for 12 years and have two sons, 3-year-old Koa and new arrival Zekey.

Jodi agreed with the sentiment, adding: “Here it’s so friendly and lovely that everyone genuinely wants to say ‘Hi, how are you?’ and they mean it, they care, in London they don’t.

“As I got older and we had children I just really wanted to be part of a community and I want my children to feel like they’re part of a community because I travelled so much as a kid working that finding that place where you belong was a weird thing for me.

Kian Egan and Jodi Albert chat to Ryan Tubridy about living in Strandhill

“I don’t want that for my kids, I want them to belong somewhere, so if they travel the world they know where home is.”

However, the couple admitted that they still enjoy the glamorous side of city living, saying they love spending time in Dublin when Kian is filming The Voice.

Albert said: “We have our chill time during the week and then when he’s working we have a little weekend to ourselves and go eat in a nice restaurant and have a couple of cocktails!”

Newly appointed Senator to donate her salary to Pieta House

Joan Freeman will donate her €65,000 salary to suicide prevention centre that she founded in 2006.

NO FEE0483 Darkness Into Light 2016 copy     FB_IMG_1462605410191

Joan Freeman, the founder of the suicide prevention centre Pieta House, is to donate her Senator’s salary of € 65,000 to the service she set up in 2006.

Joan Freeman, the founder of the suicide prevention centre Pieta House, is to donate her Senator’s salary of €65,000 to the service she set up in 2006.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin appointed Ms Freeman to the Seanad last week.

In an agreement reached by Mr Martin and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Fianna Fáil were allowed to make three appointments to the Upper House.

Joan Freeman to give the whole salary that comes with her new Senator role back to the organisation she founded

Ms Freeman said it was “only right” that Pieta House benefitted from her appointment to the Seanad.

“I was appointed Senator because of Pieta House so it’s only right that Pieta House and the community benefit as a result of this,” she said.

“I’m only reflecting what the people of Ireland have done over the last ten years by giving so much. It costs Pieta House approximately €1,000 to provide a programme of therapy to one person from start to finish so this money will go towards helping people who need the service.”

In the decade since it was founded, Pieta House has helped over 20,000 people in suicidal distress or engaging in self-harm. More than 5000 poeple accessed the service in 2015.

Cystic Fibrosis drug Orkambi rejected by Irish Government as not cost effective

Price talks urged between Government and maker on cost pf €160,000 per patient medicine

    

Cystic Fibrosis Ireland said patients were dismayed by the recommendation against reimbursing the cost of a new drug,

A new €160,000 drug that cystic fibrosis (CF) campaigners have described as a “game-changer” has been rejected for Irish patients on cost effectiveness grounds.

Cystic Fibrosis Ireland said patients were dismayed by the recommendation against reimbursing the cost of the drug, Orkambi.

The recommendation by the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics recommends that Orkambi should not be funded “at submitted cost” though it recognises the health benefits provided by the drug.

Price negotiations needed?

CF Ireland said the recommendation opens the door to further price negotiations with the manufacturer, Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

It called on the Government to clarify if it will enter into further negotiations and called on Vertex to reduce significantly the price of Orkambi as part of these negotiations.

“We support a fairer deal for this drug, but it will be a travesty if this drug is not provided to our patients or if there is a significant delay in providing this drug,” said CF Ireland chief executive Philip Watt.

About 500 people with CF have the potential to benefit from Orkambi in Ireland.

Rare Arctic whale spotted for first time in Irish waters

Bowhead renowned for its singing prowess and repertoire of songs

Whale Moving    Today FM image

The rare Arctic bowhead whale normally frequents far cooler waters below polar ice.

An Arctic bowhead whale has been recorded for the first time in Irish waters, some 2,000 miles south of its natural habitat. The rare marine mammal, renowned for its repertoire of songs, normally frequents far cooler waters below polar ice. It was spotted by port pilots for Greenore and Warrenpoint at the mouth of Carlingford lough last Sunday.

The research yacht Celtic Mist, which was donated to the IWDG by the family of late taoiseach Charles J Haughey, is in the area and hopes to get further sightings of the mammal, which is estimated at just under seven metres (20ft) long.

IWDG sightings co-ordinator Pádraig Whooley said he had received photos from Leo Cunningham of Carlingford Louth Pilots, adding that the mammal’s paired nostrils were the key identifying feature.

Dr Berrow said the size indicated it was a juvenile and may be the bowhead which was spotted hugging the coastline at Cornwall, southwest England, on May 15th.

In February 2015, a bowhead was recorded off the Scilly Islands. He said this latest report made for a “remarkable recent run of sightings of this very rare species at these latitudes”.

Another Arctic wanderer, a beluga whale, was sighted off Antrim in July, 2015. Humpback and minke whales are currently feeding off Cork; both humpbacks and blue whales are renowned for their musical prowess.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 11th April 2016

Number of housing units for sale across Ireland at a 9 year low

    

Daft.ie says in its latest report that the total number of properties for sale at any one time across Ireland continues to fall from 2015 and in the first quarter of 2016 was a 9-year low.

At less than 24,000, the report says this is now at its lowest point since February 2007. The biggest falls in availability are now occurring outside Leinster. Across Munster, Connacht and Ulster, there were 13,500 homes for sale in April 2016, compared to almost 21,000 two years previously.

House prices rose by an average of 5.9% in the year to March 2016. The divide between Dublin and the rest of the country persists, with prices effectively stable in the capital — rising just 0.9% in the last year — compared to a rise of 9.7% on average outside Dublin. In almost all parts of the country, however, inflation now is less than three months ago.

The national average asking price in the first quarter of 2016 was €210,000, compared to €198,000 a year ago and €164,000 at its lowest point. In Dublin, prices have risen by an average of €91,000 – or 41% — from their lowest point in mid-2012. Outside the capital, the average increase has been €37,500, or 28%, since the end of 2013.

The report says that while prices are stable in Dublin, they continue to increase strongly in other cities. Compared to the same period in 2015, prices in the first quarter of 2016 were 14.9% higher in Cork, 14% higher in Galway and 18% higher in both Limerick and Waterford cities. Inflation outside the cities varies from 8.3% in Leinster to 10.4% in Connacht-Ulster.

Commenting on the figures, author of the Daft.ie Report Ronan Lyons said: “It is interesting to note that in year-on-year terms, prices are now falling in five Dublin markets — Dublin 2, Dublin 6, Dublin 16, Dublin 18 and South County Dublin. These are some of the most expensive markets in the country and show the effectiveness of the Central Bank rules. Nonetheless, across the country, prices continue to rise, because the increase in population each month is not being matched by an increase in new homes. Addressing the shortage of supply and in particular the high cost base on construction — must a top priority for the new Government.”
Average list price and year-on-year change – major cities, Q1 2016

Dublin City: €311,686 – up 0.9%
Cork City: €232,145 – up 14.9%
Galway City: €228,222 – up 14.0%
Limerick City: €149,989 – up 18.0%
Waterford City: €134,945 – up 18.0%

The issue in the Irish housing market currently – and in particular in the greater Dublin area – is a lack of homes. Every month, roughly 2,000 new households are formed, each requiring somewhere to live. But each month currently sees the construction of at best 1,000 new homes. In Dublin, the figures are even starker – nearly half of all new households are being formed in or around the capital but only 150 or so properties are being built each month in the city.

The result is that fewer and fewer homes are on the market. And this is a trend that is common to all parts of the country now, not just Dublin, which did not see any significant over-construction during the bubble years. The first graph below shows the total number of properties on the market each month from 2010 on. It is clear from the graph that the tightening of supply in Dublin took place between 2011 and early 2014 and if anything has improved slightly since.

New drug offers some life changing hope to cystic fibrosis patients

A new drug could make a dramatic difference to one patient with cystic fibrosis,

 

Claire Meleady with her dog Rupert.

Most 30-somethings woke up this morning wishing they’d something new to wear to work and all Clare Meleady wants, however, is access to a new drug that could enable her to get a job.

A trained reflexologist and tai chi expert, 30-year-old Meleady has cystic fibrosis. However, she is a suitable candidate for Orkambi, an expensive new drug which could significantly improve her quality of life.

Her condition prevents the 30-year-old from working, restricts her attendance at big family events, and has even put a stay on her hopes of starting a family with Barry, her husband of five years.

Orkambi could solve a lot of those problems, but the HSE has yet to decide whether it will pay for the drug, which is expected to cost €150,000 annually per patient.

Currently there are around 1,200 people with cystic fibrosis in Ireland.

However this country not only has the highest rate of the disease per head of population in the world, but also has some of the worst types, because of the particular genotype prevalent in Ireland.

In acknowledgement of this, and of the ongoing need for better facilities for cystic fibrosis patients, Friday next will see a major fundraising campaign in which thousands of volunteers will sell purple roses nationwide to raise €65,000 for the support group Cystic Fibrosis Ireland, whose members anxiously await the HSE’s decision on Orkambi.

“Orkambi is very expensive but a lot of people in the trials have done very well and it’s been a life-changer for many people. I’d like to try it,” says the Ashbourne, Co Meath, woman, who was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 15 months. “It’d enable me to be able to work and my health would be more reliable.”

Although she tries to stay positive, she acknowledges that cystic fibrosis has a severe impact on her day-to-day life: “I cannot work, which puts a huge financial strain on our household,” she says, adding that when she got married, her disability allowance was slashed from €188 a week to just €50.

This has placed the couple under significant financial strain — Barry is a clerical worker and his salary is not huge, she says, adding that they’re currently considering whether they can continue to afford their car.

On a deeply personal level, the loss of her younger brother Paul — the only other member of the extended family to have cystic fibrosis — in February 2015, came as a huge blow to Meleady.

Paul died of heart failure. He had a condition which was unrelated to cystic fibrosis but which, because he had complications related to his cystic fibrosis, could not be treated.

“We were very close, because we both had the condition and we understood how each other felt .”

Her own condition is progressing from moderate to severe.

Although people born in the 1980s are now expected to live into their 30s and early 40s, the average age of death from cystic fibrosis in this country is 27. However, Meleady avoids focusing on the negative. Instead, she spends several hours a day exercising and practising an array of techniques to help her control her symptoms and maintain a positive attitude.

“I practise mindfulness and do meditation and tai chi and I focus on living in the moment.

“You cannot look too far into the future — I deal with the road blocks that come up. Cystic fibrosis has taught me to appreciate a lot,” she explains.

Her devoted husband and a hugely supportive family networks are among the many blessings in her life she says — as is her adored golden retriever Rupert gets her out and about: “He has given me a reason to get up in the mornings.

“The walking has increased my fitness a lot,”says Meleady, who regularly does brisk 10km hikes, often around the Phoenix Park.

Exercise “keeps my lungs clear and keeps me fit,” she says. “I set up a tai chi group locally and I try to do tai chi most days which is very good for strengthening the body and is also a form of meditations.”

She takes a cocktail of medicines — antibiotics as well as medication for digestion, bones, stomach and bowel.

Her big priority now is seeing HSE approval for Orkambi: “I’ve been really anxious for Orkambi to come out. Down the road, I’d love to start a family but with my health the way it is, it’s too risky,” says Meleady, who is on average hospitalised up to three times a year and regularly attends outpatient clinics for a variety of health problems associated with her condition.

However, inadequate staffing and resources means hospitals cannot always cope with the needs of cystic cibrosis patients, says Philip Watt, head of Cystic Fibrosis Ireland.

Ongoing staffing problems can mean delays in admitting patients, he says, while the shortage of dedicated isolation rooms for CF patients is another worry.

“In some cases there can be delays in getting treatment because of staffing shortages or lack of rooms,” he reports, adding that sometimes patients have to stay at home instead of going into hospital, while the lack of specialised staff, such as specialised nurses or psychologists, is another issue.

Orkambi, he says, has been shown to reduce hospitalisation amongst patients by about 50%.

“We probably will know in the next eight weeks — around end of May, the HSE will decide whether they will pay for the drug,” he observes.

Until then Meleady must wait and hope: “This drug could change my life — I’d have more energy, less chest infections, and maybe I would be able to work, see my friends and think about starting a family.”

In the meantime, she continues to count her blessings and fundraise for Cystic Fibrosis Ireland.

A dedicated musician, she and some friends released a single on behalf of the group some years ago, raising €6,000 for CFI.

Last Halloween, Meleady and her family raised more than €4,000 for the association in memory of Paul.

“I have a lot of good in my life,” she says.

What is cystic fibrosis?

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder which affects the glands, damaging many organs including the lungs, pancreas, digestive tract and reproductive system, impacting breathing, digestion and reproduction.

It causes thick sticky mucus to be produced, blocking the bronchial tubes and preventing the body’s natural enzymes from digesting food. n Cystic Fibrosis National Awareness Week takes place from April 11 to 17. On 65 Roses Day is supported by RTÉ’s Keelin Shanley and Bryan Dobson. It takes place on April 15. Volunteers will sell purple roses to raise €65,000 for services for people with cystic fibrosis. People are also undertaking a range of fun 65-themed challenges as part of the fundraising appeal.

Is Ireland eating itself to death?

Ireland has been caught in a perfect storm of poor diet and sedentary lifestyle… and it threatens to turn us into the fattest country in Europe. Are we eating ourselves to death?

        

Schooled in fitness left picture: First year students at O’Fiaich College Dundalk taking part in their PE programme.

To doctors like Donal O’Shea, it is the race we don’t want to win. The latest figures from medical journal The Lancet show that Irish males are on course to become the fattest men in Europe within the next decade.

The report finds that Irish women are also breaking the scales as they head towards the top of the heavyweight table.

Already, one in four Irish children is classified as “overweight or obese”.

Another report this week showed that the number of young people taking part in any sport at all in a six-month period has dropped to 68%.

So, how did we find ourselves in this position?

“Back in the 1950s, we were the leanest people in Europe. If anything, at that time were too thin,” says Dr O’Shea, Director of the Weight Management Clinic at Dublin’s St Columcille’s Hospital.

Since the 1970s, we have had a transformation in our lifestyles, and are now facing a potentially life-threatening battle of the bulge.

Despite no end of advice, nannyish healthy-eating tips from nutrition watchdogs, food pyramids, countless reports from health quangos and TV shows like Operation Transformation, we seem to be losing the war on weight.

According to the Lancet report, by 2025, 38% of men and 37% of women in Ireland will be obese. And six out of 10 adults are already classified as overweight.

“Just giving advice does not seem to have worked. The average Irish adult is one or two stone heavier than they were 30 years ago,” Dr O’Shea tells Review.

While this trend is common across the world, it is not universal. Women in Singapore, Japan, Belgium, France and Switzerland have hardly increased their body mass index over the past 40 years.

A coincidence of two changes in our lifestyle helped to bring about the great expansion in the national girth.

“We changed to a diet that was high in fat, high in salt and high in sugar, and the number of fast food outlets grew,” says Dr O’Shea. “At the very same time, physical activity started decreasing. These two factors – changing diet and growing inactivity – came together in a rush, and obesity took off and it keeps going up.”

Our grandparents may have had a lower life expectancy, but their unprocessed diet of meat, potatoes and veg – the ‘holy trinity’ – had health benefits.

“There is a lot to be said for your traditional dinner,” says Janis Morrissey, dietitian at the Irish Heart Foundation. “Jobs in our grandparents’ time were also more manual, and that made a lot of difference.”

Some of the causes of our great expansion may be obvious. The popularity of television, the growth in the number of cars, and the decline of manual labour in favour of office jobs, all mean that less physical activity is required to get by.

In 1981, half of all children in Ireland walked to school. Now, that figure is 25pc.

In other countries, the acknowledgement that we lead more sedentary lifestyles is accompanied by more organised physical activities, particularly for young people. Streets are designed to encourage us to walk or cycle.

“Children should be getting one hour of physical activity a day in school. At second-level, students are supposed to have two hours of PE in Irish schools in a week, but many don’t have any at all,” says Elaine Mullan, lecturer in health-related social sciences at Waterford Institute of Technology.

Many secondary schools have no gym and no playing pitches and some of the changes to our lifestyle have happened without us even noticing.

The Irish Heart Foundation’s Morrissey says portion sizes for some foods have grown spectacularly. A survey by Safefood Ireland has shown that the average jam doughnut is three times bigger than the equivalent in the late 1990s. The same goes for croissants and fruit scones. The average muffin and Danish pastry is four times bigger. Did we even notice?

Small and almost imperceptible changes to our lifestyle make a difference to our level of physical activity, and these all add up.

When driving, we used to have to roll the window down manually – now we just press a button. To change channels we had to walk to the TV set and possibly argue over who would do it; and 40 years ago dishes were more commonly washed and dried by hand, requiring a greater expenditure of energy.

The digital age has only added to this surge of inactivity?

Office workers send emails to colleagues who are only a few feet away or down the corridor instead of walking over to them, while kids are more likely to play games on computers than out on the street.

Amid growing safety fears, particularly about traffic, children are given less freedom to roam, and may even be barred from running in school playgrounds. A recent report on obesity by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland advised that schools should allow “running and free play” in school playgrounds and recreation areas.

Unlike other physical conditions, obesity tends to be regarded as a moral failing, and there is an attitude that it comes about as a result of some sort of gluttony and sloth. But is the preaching tone of so much of the health advice given out counter-productive?

According to Francis Finucane, consultant endocrinologist at Galway University Hospital, making the obese feel ashamed is the wrong approach.

“Rather than seeing it as a moral flaw, we should see it as a complex disorder. The reason there are variations in who is fat and who is thin is largely down to genetics.

“Behaviour to do with physical activity and diet are to some extent beyond our control.”

Dr Finucane believes that we can tackle the obesity epidemic by making changes to our environment and introducing taxes on fast food and sugar-sweetened drinks.

As a significant first step in the war on obesity, a tax on sweet fizzy drinks is now looking more likely after a number of parties included it in their election manifestos.

Some 15pc of people consume sweet fizzy drinks every day, but consumption rates are much higher in the 15-24 age bracket. Some 29pc of young men drink these high-sugar drinks daily.

When you look at the sugar content of some of these drinks, it is not hard to see why doctors are concerned. A typical small bottle of cola, for example, contains the equivalent of 12.5 teaspoons of sugar – and a 500ml energy drink can contain up to 21.5 teaspoons of sugar.

Advocates of such taxes believe that the example of the plastic-bag levy show how this type of measure can affect behaviour.

The Irish Heart Foundation commissioned research from an economist, and found a 20% sugar tax would reduce consumption by 18%, and would yield about €44.5m in revenue.

Waterford IT lecturer Mullan believes we need to change our transport policies to compensate for our sedentary lifestyles by encouraging more cycling and walking to schools and workplaces. Realistically, it may be impossible to drag school parents or workers out of their cars if they live far away, but measures can be taken to alleviate this.

“We can’t expect everybody to walk or cycle all the way to school or work. But it’s normal in other countries to have large park-and-ride facilities where there is room for bike storage,” says Mullan.

At lunchtime in urban Ireland, it is common to see children in school uniforms queuing for fast food at nearby outlets, but there are now signs of a strong backlash.

In Greystones, Co Wicklow, parents mounted an effective campaign to create a “no fry zone” as they tried to stop a McDonald’s opening near three schools. Although planning authorities approved the plans for the fast-food restaurant, the opening was stopped when the owner of the property, Lidl, decided it would use the site for other purposes. One of the local residents behind the campaign in Greystones, Philip Moyles, says: “We have been encouraging people to make submissions to Wicklow County Council’s development plan to ensure that no fast-food restaurants can open within 400 metres of schools. There have been over 210 submissions from the public.

“One of the reasons for the campaign is to minimise the exposure of children to obesity, because this can carry into adulthood.”

We may wring our hands at the preponderance of fast food and unhealthy processed products, but studies have found that the ingredients for a healthy diet can be much more expensive. The foods that make us obese, such as processed fatty meats, are often cheaper, according to Mullan.

It is no surprise, therefore, that social background is an important factor in obesity, particularly in childhood. Children growing up in low-income homes are twice as likely to become obese than those in better-off families, a Safefood study has found.

Unless urgent action is taken to prevent obesity, it may soon become normal, just as it is in the US.

“Our perception of normal body weight is determined by the people around us,” says Mullan.

“If people around us are getting larger and larger, then our concept of what is normal changes – and we are more likely to be obese ourselves.

Smart umbrella now tells you when it’s going to rain

If you can afford Oombrella, it’ll be the fanciest parasol you own.

   

Everything is connected these days, so why not an umbrella? Oombrella is an upscale parasol that alerts you if it’s going to rain before you head outside and reminds you not to leave it behind. That’s a neat idea, but is it worth a $75 (€64) bet on Kickstarter? Clement Guillot (above), the Paris-based entrepreneur behind it certainly thinks so, and was recently at theHacking Hôtel de Ville event in Paris to find more backers. I was able to check out the device and found it to be a charming use of connected tech, though the price may dissuade many folks.

Oombrella tries hard to be worth it. It has Kevlar ribs to maximize wind resistance, and the “shiny” style canopy is a head-turner. It even has a camera screw on top to double as a GoPro selfie/boom pole. However, similar weather-resistant dumb umbrellas can be had for under $30. So most of what you’re paying for is the “capsule” tucked inside Oombrella’s handle, which can be bought separately for €29. It’s a mini weather station with temperature, pressure, humidity and light sensors on board. Those communicate with a smartphone app via Bluetooth LE to perform a variety of functions.

The company behind Oombrella already has a weather platform calledWezzoo with some 200,000 users. The app uses that system to give you a 15 minute warning when it’s about to rain so you can grab it before heading out. Another feature is “forget me not,” which helps ensure you don’t lose Oombrella by notifying you when you stray too far away from it.

As with other connected devices, there are tracking and social functions. You can see the stats of your last rainy trip, including where you went, how much you used it and what the weather was like. You can also spot other Oombrella users in the area using the social functions. A nice touch is a handle light that blinks when you get a call or message, in case you can’t hear your phone during a torrential downpour. If you let it, Oombrella can also “collect data and share it with the community to make hyperlocal weather data more accurate,” according to Wezzoo.

The idea of a stout umbrella that reminds you to bring it when it’s raining and helps makes sure you don’t leave it behind it is nice use of connected tech. However, the price may be a touch high for many folks. While Oombrella has sold out at the €59 ($67) early-bird pricing on Kickstarter, the €64 ($73) and up offerings are still available. The campaign is €10,000 short of its €59,000 goal, but if you’re a weather nerd or want a high-end umbrella that doubles as unique connected device, there’s a week left to grab one.

World Bank plan to tackle the changing climate

    

When the rains came to Senegal’s capital and largest city, Dakar, in 2009, the people in Cite de Soleil were up to their chests in water. Even today you can still see the water marks on the walls. People who live there today still talk of the stench, the diarrhea, and the chest ailments suffered by the children.

Travel along the coast and the impact of increased erosion on tourism spots is all too evident. Go inland and you see people having to cope with significant droughts and shorter growing seasons. It’s all too evident that people, particularly poor people, are already suffering the effects of weather-induced stresses.

And looking forward, the climate models suggest that this will only get worse with more extreme rainfall likely in Dakar, stronger coastal erosion, reduced fishing opportunities, and more extreme drought conditions inland.

Senegal is trying to tackle these issues, often with the help of the World Bank. One project is putting in place infrastructure to help manage the floods. It seems to be paying off. People say that when the rains came in 2014, the water washed away quickly. They were able to return to their neighbour-hoods and reinvest in housing. An agricultural project is helping people use new varieties of seeds with a shorter growing season.

These examples illustrate the importance for people and countries for more action to help them adapt to a changing climate. And it’s experiences like these that influenced the thinking behind the World Bank Group’s new Climate Action Plan, with its emphasis on rebalancing our work, with a greater focus on the need to build up the resilience of people and countries to adapt to a changing climate.

At its heart, it’s an action plan that’s intended to help the 140 developing countries who work with the World Bank Group deliver on their ambitious promises in the historic Paris agreement reached last December on climate change. As part of the Paris process, countries committed to implement their national plans, known as NDCs – Nationally Determined Contributions – to put help curb global warming.

Soon leaders will gather in New York to formally sign the agreement. The agreement’s main aim is to keep the global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

To reach those goals, we know we must bend the curve of emissions. That’s why in our action plan, we’ve laid out a target to help developing countries add 30 gigawatts of renewable energy over the next five years- enough to power 150 million homes – to the developing world’s energy capacity.

And it’s why we’re aiming to invest US$1 billion to promote energy efficiency and resilient building in cities responsible for two-thirds of the world’s energy consumption. We will also work with over 30 cities to come up with lower carbon city plans to help deal with the influx of people to urban areas.

We all know that such changes will require massive amounts of private sector investment. That’s why we’re aiming to mobilize $25 billion more in commercial financing for clean energy over the next five years. It’s also why IFC, our private sector arm plans to increase its climate financing by 50 percent to $3.5 billion per year by 2020 and why it plans to increase its mobilization of private finance to $13 billion a year by 2020. And it’s why too, we’ll continue to help countries to axe damaging fossil fuel subsidies and put a meaningful price on carbon pollution, which has the potential to redirect trillions of dollars of investment into a cleaner greener future.

But between now and when the Paris agreement comes into force in 2020, it will be vital to do more – as the experiences of Senegal illustrate – to help developing countries adapt to the changing climatic conditions impacting so many people.

We know if we don’t act, climate change threatens to drive 100 million more people into poverty in the next 15 years. We have to boost people’s resilience so they can cope with the changing climate. And with natural disasters on the rise, we have recognised the need to do more.

We’re working for universal access to early warning systems. So by 2020, the goal is to provide 100 million more people in 15 developing countries access to early warning systems. We’re also expanding sovereign risk disaster financing and aim to provide 50 million more people with social protection to better to cope when disaster strikes.

We’ll be developing tools to help cities become more resilient, piloting a new approach in 15 cities by 2020 integrating a number of elements such as infrastructure development and investment, land use planning, and disaster risk management. And we’ve set a target to quadruple funding over five years to make transport systems more resilient to climate change.

But as we all know, and our plan recognizes, we can’t overlook one of the most basics of human needs – food. With a changing climate, we need climate smart agricultural systems. We’ll be developing investment plans for at least 40 countries by 2020. We’ll be working to boost high efficiency and low energy use irrigation schemes to help farmers grow crops and also help spur greater use of hybrid crops that can withstand different climate patterns in the future. We will also work to restore degraded lands, to protect communities in at-risk deltas and coastal zones, and support investments in forests in ways that both provide livelihoods to poor people and protect valuable carbon sinks.

Climate-smart land use can not only put more money in the pockets of farmers, but can also increase food production. More than one billion people on the planet are now undernourished, and the world needs to produce at least 50 percent more food by 2050, in tougher climatic conditions. So our ability to feed the world’s future population depends on us all becoming climate smart.

To get the kinds of impact we all aspire to, will need action at scale. So as well as our own increased climate financing, we will work to help governments not only translate their own ambitious national plans into reality but also build climate resilience into their overall policy-making, planning and budgeting systems. And we will be collaborating even more with other partners to increase our impact.

It’s a tough and ambitious agenda, but we know that without such action now, we will not be able to deliver on our ambition to eliminate extreme poverty and increased shared prosperity. We owe it to the children in Senegal and elsewhere around the world.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 16th March 2016

The ESRI says mortgage rules should be modified to increase & build more Irish houses

    

The ESRI says the number of mortgages in negative equity have fallen below 100,000 for the first time since 2008

The Economic and Social Research Institute has said the Central Bank’s mortgage lending rules should be modified to ensure more housing is built.

However, it also recommends that a modified rule would work to prevent an oversupply of housing, as happened during the last decade.

The ESRI supports the Macro Prudential rules the Central Bank introduced to reduce house price inflation and stop risky lending practices.

But it argues the policy should be implemented by a different type of rule that would ease borrowing requirements under certain conditions – such as now – and tighten them up if there were signs of trouble.

In particular it argues that the housing supply situation should be an explicit factor in setting lending loan-to-value and loan-to-income rules.

With housing supply not expected to meet the annual demand of 25,000 new units until 2018, the ESRI thinks tough rules now could hold back the supply of houses and apartments.

But it thinks the rules should automatically become harder, choking off credit, if there was a danger that builders started to produce more homes than the market could handle, as happened in the middle of the last decade

In its latest quarterly economic commentary the ESRI also says the number of mortgages in negative equity have now fallen below 100,000 for the first time since 2008.

It expects the economy to grow by around 5% this year.

ESRI Associate Research Professor Kieran McQuinn said the Central Bank’s mortgage lending rules have had a tempering effect on house price inflation.

However, he also said the rules also had a negative on housing supply.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland he said: “Certainly those measures in principle will have an effect on house price inflation but they will also have an impact on housing supply.

“In fact they would, if you like, result in a further contraction of housing supply or they would restrict the growth of housing supply because of the impact that they have.”

He said we do not have enough supply at the moment and a broader view needs to be taken when looking at the Central Bank measures.

Ireland’s two bumper weeks ahead will see tourist’s spend up to €150m

    

Fáilte Ireland expects a significant increase in travellers from abroad for the festivities, and says a price tag cannot be put on the economic impact made from the publicity the country will receive for both St Patrick’s Day and the Easter Rising Commemorations the following week

Ireland will be “front and centre” across the globe over the next two weeks with more than 370,000 people expected to descend on the country for the St Patrick’s Festival alone.

Fáilte Ireland expects a significant increase in travellers from abroad for the festivities, and says a price tag cannot be put on the economic impact made from the publicity the country will receive for both St Patrick’s Day and the Easter Rising Commemorations the following week.

Some 125,000 tourists are anticipated to arrive into the country, with another 250,000 Irish coming home for the weekend.

Among the droves of visitors will be close to 150,000 adults, according to estimates by the Dublin Chamber of Commerce.

This would bring at least €100m to the economy but could reach as high as €150m, a spokesman for the chamber told the Irish Independent.

“There’s a fantastic mix with the weather, Scotland coming over for the rugby, and the Easter Rising commemorations, so it’d be a very good couple of weeks without factoring in Paddy’s Day,” he said.

“A conservative estimate would be €100m – but having a look at recent years, there will be 150,000 adults in the country and they’re probably going to spend an average of €700 while they’re here.

“It’s pretty good numbers and it’s good for the economy. It’s going to be a bumper couple of weeks,” he added.

The visitor spend will spread across hotels, pubs, shops and tourists attractions such as the Guinness Storehouse and Kilmainham Gaol.

Fáilte Ireland’s Alex Connolly told the Irish Independent that the Emerald Isle would be the “envy of the world” over the coming weeks.

“Ireland is going to be front and centre across the world,” Mr Connolly said.

“It’s going to be an intense few weeks of tourism, with a very large footfall coming in from overseas.

“Paddy’s Day is a global calling card and I don’t think any country in the world has a day like this – everybody has an aspiration to be Irish.

“However, it’s impossible to quantify the impact of the commemorations because it’s never happened before.”

It is expected that close to 650,000 people will line Dublin’s streets for the centrepiece of the festival, tomorrow’s parade.

Nurses to be hired “as matter of urgency” to reduce HSE emergency department overcrowding

The decision was made at the Workplace relations Commission today.

   

Recruitment is to begin for new nurses in an effort to stem the current emergency department crisis.

The agreement was made during crisis talks at the Workplace Relations Commission involving the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and the HSE/Department of Health.

Overcrowding has been an ongoing issue for Irish hospitals, with an ED taskforce being convened by the Department of Health to deal with the situation.

Late last year, new rules introduced a “zero tolerance” policy towards patients waiting more than nine hours to be seen.

The first review of the Emergency Department agreement to ease overcrowding took place today, where the HSE and Department reaffirmed their absolute commitment to implement all strands of the agreement.

The INMO said that at the meeting today, management reaffirmed:

  • The need for senior management and clinicians, at hospital and group level, to meet on a weekly basis with INMO Emergency Department representatives to monitor and review the 24/7 operation of the agreement and the escalation policy
  • That all nursing posts which are vacant – and other posts required to deal with admitted patients – either in Emergency Departments or on wards, will be advertised and filled as a matter of urgency
  • Discussions will begin next week on the establishment of the taskforce on nurse staffing in Emergency Departments

“That’s critical in terms of safe practice for our members, manageable workload for our members, and safe care for the patients presenting,” said INMO General Secretary Liam Doran.

The WRC has also agreed to meet again with the parties on Friday 15 April.

Doran said that the INMO is satisfied that the HSE/Department of Health remain fully committed to implementing all aspects of the Emergency Department agreement to ease overcrowding.

“The INMO will now meet directly with the Department of Health/HSE, on Monday, to finalise circulars with regard to the implementation of these critically important issues,” said Doran.

Innovative new lung transplant procedure takes place at Mater Hospital Dublin

Development means donor organs previously classed unsuitable now safe for recipients

  

The new lung transplant recipient Leigh Bagnall {above left), with her consultant thoracic lung transplant surgeon M/s Karen Redmond at the Mater hospital in Dublin on Wednesday.

Surgeons at the Mater hospital in Dublin have performed an innovative new lung transplant procedure on a woman with cystic fibrosis, making it the first such operation of its kind in the country.

Leigh Bagnall (20), from Drogheda, Co Louth, received donor lungs which were reconditioned outside her body before transplant to improve the quality of the organs.

Known as ex vivo lung perfusion transplantation (EVLP), the procedure makes donor lungs previously classed as unsuitable safe for transplant. It was performed by consultant thoracic and lung transplant surgeon Karen Redmond and her team.

The Mater hospital said the conversion rate for lungs that are successfully reconditioned and transplanted using the procedure is at least 50 per cent.

This means that for every two organ donors currently deemed unsuitable for lung transplant, the processes can restore the lungs of one, dramatically increasing the size of the current donor pool.

Ms Bagnall and her surgeon spoke to media at the Mater hospital on Wednesday morning.

Ms Redmond said the surgery marked “a hugely significant milestone in the history of the transplant programme in the Mater hospital and for the Ireland East Hospital Group”.

She said the practice of ex vivo lung perfusion to recondition lungs was still in its infancy, but had the potential to significantly increase the availability of donor lungs for transplantation in Ireland.

“With appropriate resources, the lung transplant group has the potential to perform more and more lifesaving procedures year on year, with record high numbers for 2015 already achieved.”

The EVLP process takes about four hours to complete using a ventilator.

Throughout the process, the lungs are maintained at normal body temperature and perfused with a bloodless fluid known as Steen solution, which contains high levels of Albumin, Dextran and an electrolyte composition.

There are approximately 30 people currently on the waiting list for lung transplants.

Ms Redmond said there were a a “huge shortage” of viable lungs available in comparison to the number of patients awaiting transplants, however.

“If you couple this with the fact Ireland has among some of the most severe phenotypes of cystic fibrosis and the highest incidence (per head of population) of CF in the world, this first successful transplantation using EVLP is a huge step forward for both the treatment of CF and the potential of the lung transplant programme in Ireland.”

Ms Bagnall thanked all the surgeons and staff at the Mater hospital and her donor and their family.

“I am forever indebted to them. Since undergoing the surgery I have felt absolutely fantastic; it really has given me a new life. It was only two years ago I was forced to drop out my college course and was on full time oxygen. Fast forward post-surgery and I am now off oxygen and fully intend on returning to college in September to study make up artistry.”

She was eight and a half weeks on the waiting list for her transplant.

Ms Bagnall said the EVLP procedure gave her hope for the future of CF treatment in Ireland.

The heart transplant programme in the Mater began in September 1985 and the hospital is the national heart and lung transplant centre.

In May 2005 the first lung transplant procedure undertaken in the state took place in the Mater, closely followed by the first double lung transplant in 2006.

Pigeons wearing backpacks are monitoring air pollution in London

    

A flock of pigeons complete with sensor-carrying lightweight backpacks are helping consumers track air pollution in London.

The birds have technology on-board to not only monitor air quality, but are also reporting on it live by tweeting what they find in the skies above the capital.

Users can also tweet the birds giving their location and receive a report back on the air quality in that area.

The three day scheme has been created by Plume Labs, a technology firm that specialises in helping people track and reduce exposure to air pollution, has created pigeonairpatrol.com where London residents can view a live map.

Romain Lacombe, the CEO at Plume Labs said: “Air pollution is a huge environmental health issue, killing 10,000 people every year in London alone. Putting air sensors on the back of pigeons goes beyond raising awareness of this problem and helps Londoners understand the impact of pollution in an accessible, tangible and immediate way.”

Lacombe added that a device for humans to wear that monitors air quality was also being planned.

“DigitasLBi is also helping us to recruit beta testers who will be the first to access our devices, to build a collaborative, human-powered air quality monitoring network across London,” he said.

Twitter is also involved in this aspect of the scheme, and their head of creative agency development in the UK, Helen Lawrence, said: “Twitter brings you closer to what matters to you the most, in real time.

“Over the last 10 years Twitter has been used in ways that we would never have imagined – rivers that Tweet when the water level rises, sharks that Tweet when they’re swimming near shore and now pigeons that Tweet live pollution information. Real time information, direct to your mobile is hugely useful, but add pigeons into that mix and you’ve got something really powerful.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 25th February 2015

Estimated cost of universal health insurance will be known by April

says Leo Varadkar

  

Sinn Féin points to WHO warning that competition between insurers does not cut costs

Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin: “there is no evidence of any country in which a competitive insurance system has kept costs

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar expects to have an estimate of the cost of universal health insurance (UHI) in April.

He said the Department of Health was working with the ESRI and the Health Insurance Authority on a major costing exercise to establish costings for the Government’s plan to roll out universal health insurance.

The analysis will look at “alternative systems of financing” and will estimate the cost of insurance for individuals, households, employers and the exchequer.

“I expect to have the initial results from this exercise in April, following which I will revert to the Government with a roadmap on the next steps to UHI,” the Minister told Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

Mr Ó Caoláin had pointed to the report of the World Health Organisation (WHO) which raised concerns about the Government’s plans for insurance for all and highlighted examples across Europe where insurer competition proved ineffective in improving efficiency and controlling costs.

No magic prescription

Mr Varadkar said his department had provided information and observations on an early draft of the report. “The work of the WHO and others points to the fact that there is no magic prescription for all countries when it comes to health service reform,” he added.

But Mr Ó Caoláin said the WHO confirmed that “there is no evidence of any country in which a competitive insurance system has kept costs under control”.

Mr Varadkar said Ireland’s health system was the best example of keeping costs down. “We spend €1.5 billion less than we did seven years ago and more patients are seen.”

Cystic fibrosis discovery may lead to new treatment strategy and help patients breathe easier

    

A team led by UC San Francisco professor of medicine John Fahy, MD, has discovered why mucus in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis (CF) is thick, sticky and difficult to cough up, leaving these patients more vulnerable to lung infection.

Fahy and his team found that in CF – contrary to previous belief – inflammation causes new molecular bonds to form within mucus, transforming it from a liquid to an elastic sludge.

The scientists also made headway in the lab in exploring a potential new therapeutic approach to dissolve those bonds and return the mucus to a liquid that is easier for the lungs to clear.

CF is a lifelong inherited disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. There is no cure. About 30,000 children and adults in the United States have CF.

Fahy said that the research, a collaborative effort between UCSF, University College Dublin (UCD), in Ireland, and the Cleveland Clinic (CC), in Ohio, has implications for other lung conditions characterized by thickened mucus, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and asthma.

The work was reported in the February 25 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

Polymers – naturally-occurring molecules in mucus that form long chains – are the key to the discovery.

Until now, scientists had thought that CF mucus is thicker than healthy mucus because it has a greater concentration of DNA polymers. To test that idea, Fahy and his group exposed mucus samples taken from CF patients to two current CF medications: Pulmozyme, a drug that breaks up DNA polymers, and N-acetylcysteine (NAC), which targets disulfide bonds between mucin polymers. Mucin is a protein that is the major constituent of mucus.

“We thought Pulmozyme would be more effective than NAC in liquefying the mucus, because CF sputum contains lots of DNA,” said Fahy. “But to our surprise, NAC worked much better.”

Using confocal microscopy, the scientists learned why: CF mucus consists of a dense core of mucin with a layer of DNA wrapped around it, like a thin blanket draped over a solid pillow. Thus, while Pulmozyme makes mucus less stiff by eliminating DNA, NAC succeeds in liquefying it by breaking up the mucin.

Fahy and his team then investigated why mucin in CF is so compacted. They found that mucin polymers become linked together crosswise by newly-forged disulfide bonds. Fahy likened the polymers to logs floating down a river. “The logs can float down the river as long as they are floating independently,” he said. “But if you bolt them together side to side, they will clog the river.”

Homosexuality causes cancer, says an Irish anti-gay marriage group

  

An Irish family campaigning group claim that same-sex couples are more likely to get cancer.

An Irish family campaigning group has launched a series of extraordinary attacks against same-sex couples, including claims that same-sex couples die younger, are more prone to cancer, and are more likely to abuse and injure children,

The Alliance for the Defence of the Family and Marriage (ADFAM), an initiative based in Ireland which claims to “promote and defend the traditional family”, have been distributing the leaflets to spread their beliefs this week. Witnesses say they have been handed out outside churches and rugby matches among other venues. A journalist for the Irish website Her was handed one of the pamphlets outside a Divine Mercy event in Dublin. It comes in the run-up to the Irish Republic’s referendum in on same-sex marriage due to take place on May 22.

ADFAM have defended the pamphlet, which is titled ‘Why Should I Vote Against Same-Sex Marriage?’ and have listed reasons why readers should vote against the marriage equality referendum.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Séamas de Barra a member of the alliance said the claims are backed up by research undertaken in Denmark, where civil partnerships were legalised in 1989.

The group also defends its claim that same-sex marriage “is a confidence trick” which “tends to be very short-lived, and promiscuous” and that “frequently, same-sex pairs don’t even live together.”

In the past the group has stated that voting for same-sex marriage “is like voting for Islamic State-style sharia law. It is giving in to a very small minority. In this case, the very small minority will dictate what marriage means. Persecution of Christians surely will follow, and it will become a crime to teach and preach Christian morality.”

Tiernan Brady, policy director at the Irish Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), fiercely condemns the pamphlet’s content. “Most importantly, it’s not true,” he says. “It’s disrespectful, and an attack on the humanity of certain citizens of Ireland.

“Unfortunately there are those who will take us back to a time of intolerance. ADFAM don’t seem to care that the referendum is a vote about real people and real people’s rights. Lesbian and gay people will read that pamphlet, and the intent can be nothing other than to do as much damage to people. Their motivation is dark, dangerous and disgraceful. We have to remain positive.”

While Brady says that pamphlets like these are “poisonous” and believes they will increase in the run up to the referendum, he also thinks that the anti-gay sentiments expressed are “out of tune” with Irish popular opinion. Currently, the polls are showing that 77% are in favour of same-sex marriage and all the political parties support it.

However, Brady added that is is “desperately worrying” that there has been no official condemnation from a number of religious organisations and believes that if the Irish church were to openly condemn the pamphlets it would be a powerful move. “The polls are positive, but that doesn’t mean we should become complacent,” Brady added.

“Ireland has been a phenomenal success story in recent years, from the decriminalisation of same-sex sexual activity in 1993, to a referendum on equal marriage in just over 20 years. But this leaflet is an attempt to turn the clock back to a time when gays and lesbians lived in the shadows.”

Same-sex couples have been able to enter into a civil partnership in the Republic of Ireland since January 2011, but Ireland does not permit same-sex civil marriage. Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced last Thursday that his party Fine Gael, will support the referendum, declaring that Ireland is a “compassionate and tolerant nation”. Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail both announced last month they too will support the referendum.

But the Catholic church in Ireland is campaigning against the introduction of same-sex marriage. Last December, Ireland’s Catholic bishops launched a 15-page pamphlet setting out its position, stating it would be “a grave injustice” if gay and lesbian couples were granted equality in marriage.

People in Connacht and Ulster are least likely to be smokers

  

People in Connacht and Ulster are the least likely to light up, but Dubliners smoke the most in the country, according to a new report.

The smoking rate in the west and north west is 17%, compared to 21.6% in Dublin and 19.8% for Leinster as a whole.

Munster is in the middle ground with a rate of 18.9%, less than the national figure showing 19.5% of people over the age of 15 years who smoke.

The HSE report which tracks smoking trends, and found 70,000 quit last year, confirms that 39% of smokers are in the lowest socio-economic groups, including the semi-skilled, unskilled and unemployed.

A nationally representative survey of 1,000 people is undertaken by Ipsos MRBI for the HSE every month to obtain data on smoking prevalence. It found:

1 A higher percentage of men, 21.6%, reported being smokers than women – 17.6%.

2  Smoking rates were highest among young adults aged 18-34 years, reaching 27.3% in the 25-34 year old age group.

3 Prevalence was lowest among the 15-17 age group at 7.9%.

4 Around 36% of all smokers light up 11-20 cigarettes per day. Some 59.2% describe themselves as occasional to light smokers at 10 or less cigarettes per day.

But 4.8% are heavy smokers. They smoke more than 21 cigarettes a day.

On average smokers have 12.71 cigarettes a day. Meanwhile, overall smoking prevalence has declined from 28.28% in June 2003 to 19.53% in December 2014.

Since the tracker began, a higher proportion of men have smoked every year.

Male and female smoking has declined to 21.55% and 17.59% respectively.

Commenting on the report, the Irish Cancer Society warned that a special, targeted effort needs to be made in disadvantaged communities so that the health divide between rich and poor does not widen.

“That drop in the smoking rate tells us that everything we’ve done to reduce the number of smokers is working,” said spokeswoman Kathleen O’Meara.

“However, we know that people from poorer communities are more likely to smoke and that smoking accounts for half the gap in life expectancy between a rich person and a poor person. Smoking has been identified as the single biggest cause of inequality in death rates.

“Therefore, when we see that the smoking rate is still much higher in disadvantaged areas, it indicates to us that more needs to be done to help people quit? For instance, the smoking rate amongst Traveller women and men was 52.5% in 2010 and for homeless people was 90% in 2013.

“Clearly, exceptional efforts need to be made to achieve the Governments ambitious goal of a 5% smoking rate by 2025, particularly in disadvantaged or marginalised communities.”

She pointed out that early findings from the Irish Cancer Society’s ‘We Can Quit’ pilot programme indicate that with help available in local communities, and designed to meet their particular needs, people have more success in giving up smoking.

‘We Can Quit’ is an initiative of the ICS in partnership with the Northside Partnership, the Blanchardstown Area Partnership, the HSE and the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

“The service offers women a supportive environment in which to overcome the barriers to quitting smoking. The free 12-week programme is group based so that women can join forces with other women as they quit together. Such initiatives hit tobacco where prevalence rates are stubbornly high.

Mammal’s eyelashes are perfectly trimmed to protect eyes without obscuring vision

    

Mammals are pretty amazing. And now it turns out their eyelashes are more than just a nice addition.

Research has shown that mammalian eyelashes are the best length to protect against dust without hindering their sight.

Scientists who studied 22 species ranging from hedgehogs to giraffes found that in every case lash length was roughly a third of the width of the eye, just the right length to shield the eye without blocking out too much light.

The correct length of eyelashes reduced both evaporation rates – preventing dry eyes – and dust deposition by 50% compared with those that were too long or too short.

Dr David Hu, who led the experiment, concluded in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface that: Our study demonstrates that eyelashes divert airflows, acting as a passive dust controlling system for the eyes.

“They reduce evaporation and particle deposition up to 50%, indicating the evolution of eyelashes may have played a role in reducing the frequency of endogenous blinks, which replenish and clean the tear film.”

Lashes are found in nearly all mammals, yet their function is not fully understood.

One theory is that they are dust catchers designed to protect the eye from falling particles and another is that they act as whisker-like sensors, triggering a protective blinking response when they are stimulated.

In humans, it has been said that their main function is to draw attention to the eyes and assist communication and expression.

Lessons learned from the research could lead to “eyelash-inspired” protection for optical sensors, the researchers added.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 25th November 2014

People with terminal illnesses will no longer face a medical card review

 

Major medical card changes announced by Leo Varadkar

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has announced major changes to the medical card system to make the processing of applications more sensitive to the needs of people with serious illnesses.

People with terminal illnesses will no longer have to have their medical card reviewed, Minister for Health has announced as part of a major change to the system.

Leo Varadkar also said the Health Service Executive can provide people with therapies or appliances, even in the absence of a medical card.

Changes in the medical card system will see more account taken of the burden of an illness as part of an “enhanced” assessment process.

The power of a GP to extend a medical card in difficult circumstances is to be extended to four months and to 12 months in sensitive cases.

There will be greater exchange of information between the medical card central assessment office and local health offices when applications are considered.

More than 10,000 people, who had their medical cards removed and later reinstated, have been told they will retain the cards pending implementation of actions to improve the scheme.

“From now on, wider discretion and greater humanity will be exercised as part of an enhanced process that takes into account the burden of an illness or condition,” Mr Varadkar said.

His initiative is the second attempt by the Government to lay to rest the controversy surrounding the award of discretionary medical cards, which was a major issue contributing to electoral difficulties for Fine Gael andLabour earlier this year.

Last May, former Minister for Health James Reilly tried to defuse the controversy over the withdrawal of cards by promising they would henceforth be given out on the basis of medical condition.

Mr Varadkar abandoned this approach after Prof Keane’s group found this was not possible.

Mr Varadkar said the controversy had convinced him more than ever that the only solution was a move to universal healthcare.

Without this, there would always be people above the financial threshold for qualifying for a card.

New legislation may be needed to ensure the burden of an illness was taken account of when awarding cards, he admitted; “We’re already pushing the existing legislation to the boundaries”.

Prof Frank Keane, who chaired a review group on medical card eligibility, said measuring illness burden would be a difficult process.

It had not been done anywhere else in the world but it was not impossible.

Prof Keane’s group, whose report has been published, found it was neither feasible nor desirable to move away from the present system of awarding cards on financial grounds and listing medical conditions in priority order of eligibility.

“The present system works well in 95 per cent of cases but we’re trying to respond to the public demand for greater discretion in the remaining 5 per cent,” Mr Varadkar said.

He admitted he now regretted the Cabinet decision to impose “probity” savings on the HSE in the 2012, which had resulted in cards being taken away from sick people.

Two-thirds of people who applied for cards this year and were over the income limits were given a card on discretionary grounds, Minister of State for Primary Care Kathleen Lynch revealed.

The Irish Medical Organisation and children’s campaign Jonathan Irwin of the Jack & Jill Foundation both gave the measures a “cautious welcome” for the greater exercise of discretion proposed.

The Irish Cancer Society said it would campaign for a complete overhaul of legislation to decisions were made on medical rather than financial grounds.

The controversy over the removal of discretionary medical cards escalated in the run-up to the local elections earlier this spring and was widely blamed within Fine Gael and Labour for the parties’ poor performance.

Shortly after the election, the Government rowed back by re-instating up to 15,000 discretionary cards which had been removed during HSE reviews in the preceding years.

Ryanair partners Booking.com, now to add some 550,000 hotels to its website

   

Ryanair has announced a strategic partnership with Booking.com, offering over half a million hotels for booking on its website.

The new partnership will allow customers to book accommodation directly on Ryanair.com while booking flights, the airline says.

Booking.com is a world leader in online hotel and accommodation booking, and will facilitate the airline in offering competitive prices on “any type of property” in 209 countries.

The partnership is the latest step in Ryanair’s “Always Getting Better” programme, following a new website, an app with mobile boarding passes and a Business Plus service.

“Ryanair will carry 89 million passengers this year at our lowest fares and our partnership with Booking.com guarantees the lowest hotel prices, allowing Ryanair customers to book their flights and accommodation together,” said Ryanair’s Chief Marketing Officer, Kenny Jacobs.

Andre Manning, Booking.com’s Global Head of PR, added:

“We are excited to be the exclusive partner of Ryanair and to see reservations of accommodations grow rapidly in a very short time via their website.”

Over 750,000 room nights are reserved daily on Booking.com.

The company is based in the Netherlands, but  is supported internationally by 150 offices in over 50 countries including Dublin, Ireland. It hosts over 40 million guest reviews.

How genetic screening can reduce the risk of cystic fibrosis

 

Patrick Mullane and Dr John Waterstone with baby Bridget.

Genetic testing of an embryo prior to implantation gives people with genetic diseases the chance to become parents without passing on inherited condition.

All babies are special but baby Bridget Mullane is particularly precious as her parents thought they might never be able to have a family together. They are at high risk of having a baby born with cystic fibrosis (CF), a disease that primarily affects the lungs and the digestive system.

Bridget’s birth this year following a technique used to screen embryos for genetic conditions such as CF was hailed as a major milestone for Irish reproductive medicine.

Her father, Patrick Mullane, who is 34, has CF, the most common genetic disease in Ireland, while her mother, Lisa Cooke, who is 24, discovered she was a carrier of the CF gene after being tested. The couple, from Dromahane near Mallow, Co Cork, were facing the possibility that they would never be able to have children together when they heard about Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) which had just been introduced to Ireland.

PGD is a technology that allows genetic testing of an embryo prior to implantation. Conception takes place through IVF and only the embryos diagnosed as being free of a specific genetic disorder are transferred into a woman.

The treatment is suitable for couples who are at risk of transmitting an inherited genetic disease to their children such as CF, Batten disease, muscular dystrophy, Fragile X or Fanconi Anaemia.

Prior to the development of the PGD technology, the only option for such couples was either to avoid becoming pregnant, or to become pregnant and undergo chorionic villus sampling or CVS (which involves taking a sample of cells from the mother’s placenta) at 11 weeks, or amniocentesis (which involves taking a small amount of amniotic fluid from around the baby) at about 14 weeks. If the foetus was affected by a life-threatening, inherited disease, the couple faced the awful decision of whether to continue with the pregnancy.

After her first round of PGD at Cork Fertility Clinic, Cooke discovered she was pregnant and the couple were thrilled when their little daughter was born weighing a healthy 7lbs 9oz (3.4kg) at Cork University Maternity Hospital on June 27th. Bridget was tested for CF at birth and was found to be a carrier of the gene.

“We realise how lucky we were to get pregnant on the first attempt. I was nervous at the start but the treatment wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I was told to do a pregnancy test two weeks after the embryo was transferred into me, and I was actually on a train in London when I found out I was pregnant,” she says.

Genetic counselling: Mullane and Cooke had genetic counselling before the treatment and Cooke was put on medication to stimulate ovulation. The treatment involved removing 28 eggs from her, and fertilising them through IVF. On day five, using laser-assisted biopsy, cells were removed from the embryos and sent to a genetic lab in the UK for analysis. Of the healthy embryos that survived, one was transferred back into Cooke’s uterus and the others were frozen.

The couple are already talking about having a second baby, and they are planning to use some of the other embryos that are in storage at the fertility clinic. Mullane is optimistic about the future.

“I lead a fairly normal life. I go to the gym to keep myself healthy. Staying fit helps to keep my lungs clear. I’m on a mild antibiotic all the time and I take tablets to help with my digestion. There’s a new drug for my mutation of the disease in stage 3 trials so hopefully that will become available some time soon.”

Ireland has the highest incidence of CF in the world with about one in 19 Irish people said to carry one copy of the defective gene that causes it. Many people with the disease in Ireland can now expect to live into their 30s, 40s and beyond; a 76-year-old woman recently became the oldest woman in the country to be diagnosed with CF.

High price? The cost of PGD is very high, at more than €10,000, as it includes genetic counselling and genetic analysis fees on top of IVF treatment. Cystic Fibrosis Ireland provided Mullane and Cooke with a first-time applicant grant of €3,000 through its fertility treatment scheme but Mullane feels strongly that the HSE should fund the procedure for people with CF. He points out that infertility is directly linked to CF and the cost of PGD treatment to ensure a child is born without CF far outweighs the lifetime cost of treating a CF patient.

Alicia May of CF Ireland agrees that the treatment should be funded by the HSE, saying that infertility should be treated like any other secondary complication of CF such as diabetes or osteoporosis. The organisation is currently drafting a policy document to advocate for the State funding of fertility treatment in CF.

“Our fertility grant has been operating for a few years, it is hugely beneficial and hugely valued by people with CF, and we have had quite a few success stories. We have not had to turn anybody down yet, but there is more demand for the scheme with people living longer and wanting to start families, which would not have been possible in the past.

“Unfortunately, PGD is so expensive that it excludes many people with CF who cannot work and are dependent on disability allowance.”

Dr John Waterstone, medical director of the Cork Fertility Centre and a consultant obstetrician at Cork University Maternity Hospital, stresses that PGD is not an easy process and is “not for everybody”.

He says that Cooke was a very favourable candidate for the treatment due to her age and the large quantity of good-quality eggs she produced. “This is not an easy process and we have to be very sensible about who we offer it to. IVF is more successful for younger couples and PGD is a form of IVF. Some of the embryos are not going to be usable because of the genetic condition involved, and in older women, there will be fewer eggs to start with.

“If a woman is older and less likely to produce a lot of eggs, it is less likely that the treatment will take, so unfortunately she would not be a good candidate and we would not offer her this treatment. Obviously, when it does work, it’s fantastic and is the neatest solution to the problem of couples at risk of passing on a genetic condition.”

The Cork centre has a number of couples going through PGD at the moment and one other couple with a rare genetic disorder are expecting a baby. The treatment is also being offered by Beacon Care Fertility in Dublin, part of the Care chain in the UK, where some 23 couples have been through PGD to date but there have been no successful pregnancies yet.

HSE ups number of executives by 10% despite cuts

  

Increase in numbers took place as figures for nurses and support staff fell.

The number of senior mangers in HSE hospitals has increased by more than 10 per cent over the past 3½ years despite significant retrenchment in budgets over the period. The increase in numbers took place at the same time as nursing and support staff levels fell, according to an internal HSE report.

The report, obtained by The Irish Times under Freedom of Information legislation, indicates that overall the numbers of senior mangement staff (grade VIII level and above) in acute hospitals have increased from 273 in 2011 to 303 in 2014, a rise of 10.9 per cent.

The number of directly employed middle management personnel in the acute hospital sector also rose in the same period but there was a fall of about 4 per cent in the number of lower-level administrative personnel.

Officials: The figures were set out by the HSE in an internal report to the Government’s joint monitoring committee for the health service.

The committee comprises officials of the Department of Health, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and the Department of the Taoiseach.

It said the numbers in staff nurse core grades had fallen by 744 since 2011 although there had been an increase of 121 in the number of staff midwives.

The number of general support staff such as cleaners, caterers and porters fell by 468 between 2011 and 2014, according to the HSE figures.

Numbers of health-care assistants/nurse aides fell by 2.9 per cent (the equivalent of more than 100 staff) in the same period.

The HSE told the monitoring committee that the increase in the number of senior managers was due mainly to a “regularisation process” set out in the Haddington Road agreement on public service pay and productivity which came into effect in mid-2013. It said the vast bulk of the increase in numbers at senior mangement level had taken place last year and this year.

It stated there had been an overall reduction of 8.4 per cent in the number of senior managers in acute hospitals since a peak was reached in 2007.

The HSE also said the increase in the numbers at middle mangement level (grades V, VI and VII) in acute hospitals was due to the Haddington Road deal and “general progression of staff from lower grades”.

It said the middle management cohort had fallen since the Government’s recruitment moratorium was introduced in 2009.

The HSE argued that the number of managers was not excessive when it was considered that in terms of budgets and staffing levels the hospital sector was equivalent to about 250 medium-sized enterprises. The hospital sector employs 48,000 personnel and has a pay bill of over €3 billion.

Paying for sex to be made illegal under new laws

  

The legislation is being brought forward by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald

PAYING for sex will be made illegal under draft laws coming before the Cabinet today.

But the proposed legislation will not criminalise the prostitute.

The Criminal Purchase of Sexual Services legislation is expected to be approved by ministers and will be finalised over the coming months.

The proposed legislation will specifically penalise the ‘buyer’, but not the ‘seller’.

The legislation is being brought forward by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who is also proposing that sex offenders be electronically tagged in exceptional circumstances. The Sexual Offences Bill, drafted by the Department of Justice, will result in a major expansion of the Irish Prison Service’s capacity to roll out electronic tagging.

Under the proposals, probation officers attached to the prison service will make an application in court for a prisoner to be tagged.

Antarctic sea ice could be thicker than thought,

A robot submarine finds

  

Political situation has made submersible surveys tricky

The floating sea ice surrounding the South Pole may be thicker than previous estimates have suggested, according to a study based on a submersible robot that has mapped the sea ice in three key regions of the Antarctic.

Past estimates of Antarctic sea ice were based on satellite measurements from space, which can measure its overall surface area, and ice cores drilled through the sea ice from ice-breaking ships to measure its thickness, which have tended to concentrate on thinner ice regions.

However, unlike the Arctic sea ice, there are no military submarines allowed under the Antarctic Treaty, which means that large regions of thicker sea ice have effectively remained unexplored from below, scientists said.

With the help of a 2m twin-hulled autonomous underwater vehicle, scientists from the United States, Australia and the British Antarctic Survey have drawn up the first detailed, high-resolution 3D map of Antarctic sea-ice in areas that were in the past considered too difficult to study.

Stunning images of Antarctica

“The AUV missions have given us a real insight into the nature of Antarctic sea ice, like looking through a microscope. We can now measure ice in far greater detail and were excited to measure ice up to 17m thick,” said Jeremy Wilkinson of the BAS.

“It gave us a really good basis for what the ice thickness is at present. Over time we hope to make repeat measurements and build up a time series to see how it is changing,” Dr Wilkinson said.

The robotic submersible used upward-looking sonar to map the thickness of the sea ice over an area of 500,000 square miles equivalent to about 100 football pitches, in three locations – the Weddell, Bellinghausen and Wilkes Land sectors of Antarctica.

While the sea ice in the Artic has decreased in surface area by about 40 per cent over the past 40 years, the sea ice in the Antarctic has increased for reasons that are still under debate. Dr Wilkinson said that one cause could be a change in wind patterns that is blowing sea ice further out to sea.