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Letters: how your medical data can save lives

·5-min read

Kenan Malik entered an argument with many facets (“Tell me how you’ll use my medical data. Only then might I sign up”, Comment). The truth is that smaller, but substantial, de-identified health datasets have existed in the UK for years and have contributed appreciably to clinical knowledge that saves lives. They are a major resource to ensure that pharmaceuticals are used safely and effectively.

It is right to ask if such data will be protected. Re-identification by resourceful people is probably impossible to prevent, but the likelihood that it could be done reliably on a large scale seems remote. On informed consent, it is impossible to retrospectively obtain consent from all people in a dataset for the thousands of questions raised. Hence we need to accept a general commitment that our data will be used to improve public health and ensure that a mechanism is in place to enforce this. Readers will be aware of the rare cases of thrombosis attributed to the AstraZeneca vaccine and the problems this caused for the vaccination programme. The planned national database would be a vital resource in investigating and quantifying such risks.

It is easy to be swayed into a natural distrust of all big data collection but we should remember that, for health datasets, the benefits are already well established.
Jim Slattery

Landlords should foot bills

There is an easy solution to the problem leaseholders face for the cost of necessary fire safety work in buildings that have been clad with flammable material before the Grenfell Tower tragedy (“£100,000 bill for post-Grenfell fire safety costs will destroy me”, News) – landords, not leaseholders, should pay for the cost of this work.

Leaseholders do not own their property, the freeholder does. Why should leaseholders pay to maintain the structure of a building they do not own? A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said “it is the responsibility of buildings’ owners to make their buildings safe – and we have been clear that owners should do this without passing on costs to leaseholders”. If it wants to be able to enforce its advice then the law needs to be changed.
Dr Kenneth Smith
London E2

Global tax plan won’t work

I bet the tech giants are laughing their socks off. Even if they pay the 15% to any country, it’s still a fraction of what their land-based competitors pay (“G7 nations agree landmark global tax plan”, News). Most will find loopholes and still avoid paying taxes even at this low rate and they will continue to underpay and overwork their employees. We can’t deny the efficiency of their operations, nor their greed and utter ruthlessness.
David Reed
London NW3

Royal links to slave trade

David Olusoga’s article (“A year on, the battered and graffitied Colston is finally a potent memorial to our past”, Comment) about Edward Colston’s statue doesn’t refer to his link to the royal family.

Although Colston was described in official records as “a slave trader”, his appointment as deputy governor of the Royal African Company placed him second only to its founding governor, the Duke of York, later to be King James II. For decades, the company shipped more than 200,000 men, women and children to the Caribbean, many branded with the duke’s initials “DoY”.
Brian Waller
Newall with Clifton,
Otley, North Yorkshire

Good flows from fountains

Dalya Alberge’s article (“Nor any drop to drink: why Victorian fountains are filled up with cement”, News) is a reminder that from 1859 drinking fountains offering free water were installed throughout London, including public parks and gardens. Of those that remain, the majority are broken and dry. Rome, Paris and Zurich keep their old drinking fountains in working order, recognising the value they add to life in a modern city.

The Victorian drinking fountain movement, with its origins in Liverpool, installed fountains from Lerwick in Shetland to Penzance. Using less plastic bottled water is one of the easiest ways to reduce our carbon footprint. How much easier would it be if our fountains worked?
Sebastian Bulmer
London W2

Penalise frequent fliers

Your report about long-haul travel (“From bear-watching to safaris, bookings surge for 2022 long-haul trips”, News) underlines the urgency of a frequent flyer levy for the small proportion of the population who take most flights, enhancing the UK’s aspirations for a leadership role at Cop26.
Tim Root
Muswell Hill & Hornsey Friends of the Earth, London N4

End primary school boarding

As a survivor of English boarding schools aware of the plight of the children of the First Nations incarcerated in residential schools in Canada, I welcome your extensive coverage of the cultural genocide at Kamloops in British Columbia (“The school took away my brother at five. A year later, he was in an unmarked grave”, News).

The plight of children in British boarding schools was not of the same order but nor was it negligible. I was sent off at seven and abused by the school doctor. Similar awful details are being revealed at Scotland’s national child abuse inquiry, now looking at boarding schools. Children of seven are still being sent off to board, which no child deserves. The time has come to phase out primary school boarding.
Simon Partridge
London N2

Extend settled status deadline

In relation to Mark Townsend’s report (“Fears for rights of EU citizens still waiting for settled status”, News), the Federation of Poles in Great Britain has asked the prime minister to extend the deadline for applying for settled status by six months. Hundreds of thousands of hitherto legally resident EU citizens and their families, whose applications have not been made or languish in the Home Office, are likely to face a future of rejection, exploitation and blackmail after 30 June.
Wiktor Moszczynski, spokesman, Federation of Poles in Great Britain
Brentford, London

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