July 24: Heartbreak of school tragedy

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THE THOUGHTS of all will be with the heartbroken family of Jessica Lawson, the 12-year-old pupil who died during an end-of-term school trip to France.

Her death, following a swimming tragedy, is every parent’s worst nightmare – all they are left with are cherished memories of a daughter who they have lovingly described as “the most beautiful and outgoing girl” in the world.

The immediate priority is the wellbeing of the grief-stricken Lawson family – their eloquent and heartfelt tributes mask their personal torment – and those pupils, and teachers, from Wolfreton School, Kirk Ella, who are having to come to terms with this appalling tragedy. The swift response of both the school, and East Riding Council, offers much-needed support at this most traumatic of times.

Yet, while Jessica’s death has, understandably, led to much soul-searching about school trips, knee-jerk reactions do need to be avoided – the French authorities, and others, have only just begun their investigations and it will be these findings which will integral to any changes in safety protocols which may, or may not, be deemed to be necessary.

Even though one death should be regarded as one too many, such tragedies are, thankfully, very rare. Teachers, and those destinations hosting pupils, have to follow strict rules and there are some who believe that the stringent nature of these guidelines have led to some schools no longer embarking upon those educational field trips – or adventure holidays – which older generations will remember with particular fondness.

At some point, youngsters will reach an age when they deserve the chance to broaden their horizons and school trips are an ideal way of achieving this. However this will be of little to comfort to the Lawson family. As Jessica’s father Antony wrote so poignantly: “This only happens to other people.”

Milestone moment: Heart campaigners vindicated

MORE than two years after children’s heart surgery at Leeds General Infirmary was suspended because of a controversy over mortality rates, the latest NHS England guidelines are a vindication of all those who have been campaigning for at least six years to safeguard the future of potentially lifesaving operations at the hospital.

This is a milestone moment. With Leeds now better placed than other cardiac centres to meet the new standards for congenital heart surgery that are set to be introduced by the National Health Service, patients – and particularly the parents of seriously-ill young children – should now be spared the prospect of having to travel long distances for critical treatment.

There is still work to do – surgeons are now expected to work in teams of four and Leeds needs to recruit another specialist consultant but the outlook now stands in contrast to the despair and despondency of Easter 2013 when operations were suspended abruptly, and amid much rancour and recrimination, over a supposed expert’s interpretation of mortality data which was subsequently proved to be erroneous following a public outcry and the tabling of questions in Parliament.

Yet the most pertinent lessons are for NHS England to learn. If they had looked at this issue from a clinical perspective at the outset, rather than being fixated by a desire to close heart units at all costs, it would not only have retained the confidence of those patients caught up inadvertently in this scandal, but spared them considerable anguish at an already stressful time in their lives.

A rate of return: Banks should reward loyalty

EVEN THOUGH interest rates remaining at a record low have been a boon to those with mortgages, they have not helped savers and, specifically, those who set money aside for their retirement.

In spite of their financial responsibility, they have been left to pay a heavy price and this has not been helped by those financial institutions who have been intent on winning new clients rather than a moral obligation to help their longstanding customers to maximise their returns by providing the most basic of information.

It remains to be seen whether savers will be helped by text alerts which inform them when introductory bonus rates are due to end on new deals, but families– and younger generations in particular – need every encouragement if they’re to make sufficient financial provision for their retirement. If a savings culture cannot be fostered now, the long-term scenario is an ageing society in which today’s living standards cannot be taken for granted.