The betrayal of tragic Hamzah

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THERE comes a point where we – as a society – must ask how many more times we can bear to be told that “lessons have been learned” following the authorities’ scandalous inaction in the face of children being systematically starved or beaten to death by their parents.

Hamzah Khan was killed by his mother, Amanda Hutton, who left him malnourished to the point where his four-year-old body fitted in a babygrow meant for a six-month-old.

It was neglect of the most wicked kind. Yet while Hutton must bear ultimate responsibility for her son’s death, she was not the only person who failed him.

As is almost invariably the case in such tragedies, there were a number of opportunities to save his life that were inexplicably missed.

Hamzah was just two weeks old when he was last seen by a health professional. Because he was not taken to GP appointments, he was struck off the local surgery’s register. After that, his short life was “a blank page”.

Police responded to six reports of domestic violence in the family home, while social services were involved on no fewer than five occasions.

Yet still there was an abject failure to identify the level of risk that Hamzah was exposed to. When the various agencies finally got together to discuss his case, no decisive action followed.

Time and again the authorities insist that guidelines and procedures have changed in the wake of such tragedies. There is little sign, however, that they are proving effective in terms of preventing history from repeating itself.

In the last few weeks alone, traumatic details have emerged of the short, violent lives of two other children who perished at their parents’ hands.

Four-year-old Daniel Pelka was starved and beaten to death, his abuse going unnoticed despite him being treated for a broken arm, arriving at school with bruises and facial injuries and being seen scavenging for food from bins.

Keanu Williams, two, died at the hands of his mother after the “collective failure” of police, social services and health workers to intervene.

Is it too much to ask that Hamzah Khan’s death – and the resulting serious case review that will follow – now proves to be a watershed moment?

The country should never again have to hear the well-worn line that lessons have been learned, only for yet another youngster to slip through the net and suffer such an appalling fate.

Put patients first

THE arguments advanced at yesterday’s Royal College of General Practitioners annual conference were familiar themes at the end of a week in which David Cameron challenged doctors to introduce longer opening hours.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was resolute in his belief that GPs have a crucial role to play in helping lessen the burden facing cash-strapped hospital A&E units who have received emergency funding in order to reduce the likelihood of a winter beds crisis.

Yet family doctors, headed by Dr Clare Gerada, claim that they receive just nine per cent of the entire budget of the NHS – even though their profession is responsible for handling 90 per cent of all ‘patient contacts’.

A glib response would be to suggest that the GPs can remedy this funding imbalance because they now have a key role to play in the commissioning of local services – and that they should never have been allowed to effectively wash their hands of out-of-hours care when they negotiated their contracts with the last Labour government.

However the worry is that these differences escalate into a protracted stand-off between the medical profession and Mr Hunt who will be expected by the Tories to become more forceful on this issue ahead of the next election.

This would be regrettable. As Dr Gerada sets out on the opposite page, GPs do accept the need for change and she calls for the pooling together of resources to provide more effective cover at night-time, and at weekends.

As such, it would be regrettable if this could not be used as a starting point for discussions with the Department of Health. There’s just a chance that there is more common ground than both sides contend.

An English lesson

WHAT chance do teachers have of raising academic standards when nearly one-third of six-year-old pupils across Yorkshire cannot pass a basic reading test after a year in class?

It would be wrong to blame schools for this failure – questions need to be asked about the failure of so many parents to engage effectively with their children in the crucial pre-school years.

The scale of this social failure is illustrated by the fact that a greater percentage of children without English as a first language passed this test nationally in comparison
to the Yorkshire-wide average for pupils who speak English as their first language.

Once again, the abiding lesson from these results is that Michael Gove’s reform agenda will only succeed if standards are raised at primary levels, and that this requires a more effective partnership between teachers, parents and pupils. How many more times does this question need to be posed before the Education Secretary takes note?