Buxton & District

Reviews of the Talks

For 'older' reviews please go to Past Zoom Talks Reviews

Monday March 14th 2022

Science fiction v. science fact: Dr. Catrin Rutland

Reviewer: Janette Sykes

Boundaries between science fiction and science fact are becoming increasingly blurred as technological advances transform our lives in areas as diverse as health and horticulture. Dr. Catrin Rutland proved to be eminently qualified to explain the ever-shifting distinctions – including the social, moral and ethical issues that arise – between both disciplines. Not only is she Assistant Professor of Anatomy and Developmental Genetics at the University of Nottingham and the author of respected academic works, she also writes science fiction novels in her spare time. Dr. Rutland’s interest in science was sparked at the tender age of four, when she announced to her parents – also scientists – that when she grew up she wanted to be a professor or a vet.
Her predilection for undressing her dolls and pulling them apart limb by limb alarmed her mother, but amused her father, who joked that she would become either an anatomist or a psychopath.
Fortunately she opted for the former career, and is among an elite band of the eight per cent of women who are currently university professors in the UK, as well as one of the 18 to 30 per cent of women who are science fiction/horror authors.
As well as taking her lead from ancient scientists such as Hippocrates and Herophilus, Dr. Rutland was also inspired by 17th century women anatomists Alessandra Giliani and Anna Moranda Manzolini, when Italy led the way in the subject.
For her, the abiding fascination is that, as scientific advances continually evolve, what becomes possible may not have been so only a little while ago. Science fact, she pointed out, continually copies science fiction.
She highlighted the Midlands’ - and Derbyshire’s - central role in genetics over the years, thanks to the work of Erasmus and Charles Darwin, associated with Derby and Lichfield, and more recently, Leicester University’s pioneering work in genetic (DNA) fingerprinting.
In 1978, when a character in Star Wars wanted to know who his father was, genetic fingerprinting was still science fiction, but it subsequently became fact when discovered in 1984. The technique was subsequently first used to solve a murder in Leicestershire by eliminating people who did not commit the crime.
Nowadays, Dr. Rutland pointed out, genetic fingerprinting is used positively to save lives by proving people’s innocence, as well as their guilt. She cited an example from so-called ‘Death Row’ in Texas, USA, where half the people waiting for the death penalty were black and had DNA tests. Twenty were found to be innocent and were saved.
On a more whimsical note, a character in the science fiction story Outlander came to Earth from outer space and wanted to know if he was an alien or a Viking. The book was written, and the film was made, after the discovery of genetic fingerprinting, so Dr. Rutland joked that if the character had simply taken a DNA test, there would have been no need for either. Again, Leicester University was at the heart of the research, having created a genetic Viking ‘map’ of Britain, and subsequently the world. The test pioneered by its scientists can pinpoint what percentage of someone’s ancestry is Viking, if any.
Dr. Rutland went on to consider the thorny issue of cloning, first used as early as 1952 to reproduce tadpoles. Dolly the Sheep was the first example to hit the headlines and capture popular imagination in 1997, and Catrin pointed out that there are naturally-occurring examples of cloning in the natural world – lizards, sea anemones and even grapes are able to clone themselves, for example.
Ethical questions inevitably arise – the scientific does not condone cloning humans – but, argued Dr. Rutland, the technique is now being effectively used to clone parts of humans, such as skin for skin grafts, to lower the likelihood of rejection.
Similarly, Kew Gardens clones seeds from around the world to store in its seed bank – the second largest on Earth – giving it the potential to bring back plant species from extinction.
In his ground-breaking novel 1984, George Orwell first introduced the concept of personalised medicine, and this has more recently been used to lower mortality rates in diseases such as leukaemia, breast cancer and heart disease.
Dr. Rutland highlighted an example of how this has positively been harnessed in treating cardiomyopathic mutations, using DNA testing to pinpoint who is likely to suffer from the condition. In her own family’s case, her brother has been found to have a genetic predisposition and has had a defibrillator fitted, so if he has a heart attack, he has a greater chance of survival.
The 1997 science fiction film Gattaca is based on the premise that everyone has to give their DNA at birth and potential children are conceived through genetic selection to ensure they possess the best hereditary traits of their parents. Another case of science fiction partly becoming fact, according to Dr. Rutland, who revealed that everyone in South Korea is already required to give DNA at birth, and nearly everyone in Iceland has given theirs voluntarily.
As well as being used to identify someone’s predisposition to particular diseases, in Iceland - which has a small population and so many people are inter-related - it is also used on a dating app to establish how closely related potential partners are. But, suggested Dr. Rutland, there are wider aspects to consider, such as what happens if insurance companies get hold of such information and use it to raise premiums?
And if one day mobile phones are implanted in our hands or credit cards accessed via a chip in our wrists, as some have suggested, what would be the repercussions? If someone was robbed, would the thief cut off their hand or arm to get what they want?
More controversially, should human genes be modified if parents would simply like their child to have blue eyes, or should the procedure be restricted to life or death dilemmas, in which a child could be saved from dying in the womb or at birth or spared from a debilitating disease?
According to Dr. Rutland, progress is being made in educating young people to help them understand and navigate the increasingly complex world in which they live, and many are engaged in debates and workshops to analyse the social, moral and ethical implications of most scientific developments.
She welcomed the fact that films about science and scientists are now more popular, and in her quest to make scientists more media-friendly has done a work placement at Sky News to discover what journalists need from her and her colleagues. She is convinced that getting the right information across to the public is critical, citing Covid 19 as an encouraging example of this challenging art.
Reassuringly, the work of scientists such as Dr. Rutland is governed by rigorous ethics committees and wider ethics frameworks, both in the UK and across the world. She is firm in her view that everyone should have a say in the ethics and morals of scientific decision making, and in her own work always questions why she is doing something and considers what potential benefits it will bring. As the lines between science fiction and science fact are constantly redrawn, it would seem to be an eminently sensible maxim to bear in mind.

Monday February 14th 2022

Magistrates in the Community: John-Charles Tanner JP

Reviewer: Janette Sykes
Plenty of audience participation – including an interactive quiz to start and interesting case studies to finish – ensured a stimulating and insightful experience for all at our latest monthly general meeting focusing on Magistrates in the Community.
John-Charles Tanner JP, based in Chesterfield, took us on a lively and entertaining journey through the Magistrates Court’s role in the legal system across England and Wales – from its earliest beginnings in the 14th century to the current and future challenges it faces. John-Charles is Deputy Bench Chair and Magistrates in the Community Co-ordinator of the North Derbyshire Bench and has just been appointed Diversity and Community Relations Magistrate for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. He became a magistrate after a career in international education and teacher training, and is part of the Chesterfield, Mansfield, Derby and Nottingham Justice Centre, which also includes Derby and Nottingham Crown Courts.

The ten-point quiz revealed some fascinating facts and figures:
 There are currently 13,177 magistrates, though more are needed
 A police inspector cannot be a magistrate (conflict of interest)
 You can become a magistrate at the age of 18 – if you have the necessary
qualities and temperament
 The current retirement age for a magistrate is 70, although legislation is
currently going through Parliament to raise that to 75. The present upper age
limit for training as a JP is 62
 Magistrates do not receive a salary. The work is voluntary, though appropriate
expenses are paid
 No legal qualifications are needed
 Magistrates Courts deal with 95 per cent of all criminal cases. The remaining five per cent are tried by a judge and jury in Crown Courts
 Cases involving young people under the age of 18 are dealt with by specially-
trained magistrates
 The maximum prison sentence magistrates can give is 12 months, or 24 months for two offences
 Three magistrates normally sit in a court. In lockdown, in some cases this was reduced to two because of the need for social distancing, but three are preferred to reduce the risk of ‘split decisions’ Magistrates come from all walks of life and backgrounds, whatever their class, religion, ethnicity, sexuality or disability.

The first mention of Justices of the Peace was in 1361, and their aim remains the same today as it was then, to ensure local justice for local people. The first female JP was appointed in 1919, with six more following suit in 1920. By 1979, the Justices of the Peace Act decreed that magistrates should be appointed by application, not invitation. In 2003, the Courts Act brought major changes to the administration of the courts, while the Criminal Justice Act changed sentencing. Everyone accepted to serve as a magistrate is required to take the Judicial Oath pledging service to her Majesty the Queen and promising to act ‘without fear, favour, affection or ill-will’. The aim is to avoid unconscious bias, and magistrates are encouraged to call this out if it occurs among their colleagues. Among the qualities needed are good character, understanding and communication skills, working as part of a team and communicating ideas clearly, social awareness, sound temperament, sound judgement, commitment and reliability.
In court, the three magistrates consist of a Presiding Justice, who speaks in court, and two ‘wingers’, who do not speak in court but can speak when they retire to reach a decision in private. Other attendees are the defendant, witness, witness supporter, defence lawyer/solicitor, prosecutor, legal advisor and usher. Courts are also open to the public, should they wish to attend, though this was not possible during the Covid lockdowns.

Criminal cases fall into three main categories: careless driving (including dangerous driving and drink/drug influenced driving), shoplifting and assault. Magistrates also deal with environmental and wildlife related issues. Some ‘either way offences’ involving burglary or drugs can be heard at either Magistrates Court or Crown Court. Indictable offences – rape, robbery, manslaughter, sexual offences, drugs trafficking, serious fraud and death by dangerous driving – must be sent direct to Crown Court. The route from crime to court follows broadly the same path: a crime is committed, an arrest is made, the person is taken into custody and charged. If the charge is serious, the appearance in court is within 48 hours; if not, the defendant is notified by post of the date they will be required to appear. At the initial hearing, the defendant will be asked to plead guilty or not guilty. If they plead guilty, magistrates generally prefer to sentence them on the day, unless further reports are needed. If they plead not guilty, a further date is set for trial, and if the offence is serious, magistrates have the power to remand the defendant in custody until they are tried. Magistrates have to abide by sentencing guidelines when making their decisions. More serious crimes – involving vulnerable victims, weapons, group actions, racial and sexual harassment or breach of trust – can be allotted prison sentences and Community Punishment Orders. Less serious ones – involving no damage or injury, low value and acting on impulse – attract fines or conditional or absolute discharges.

Magistrates must always bear in mind that they are not just dispensing sentences, but also offering avenues of rehabilitation, so that, where possible, further crimes are not committed in the future. Conditional discharges last for a set period of time, and if a second offence is committed within that time, both offences come back to court for further consideration and sentencing. Fines are based on the person’s ability to pay, and also include court and lawyers’ costs. Up to 300-plus hours of community service can be given, covering voluntary work ranging from clearing litter and cleaning up churchyards to removing graffiti and working in charity shops. Offenders can be ‘tagged’ so that alarm sounds if they breach the conditions of their sentence, and a new gadget, based on GPS, alerts the police if they visit an area they have been banned from, such as a particular town centre, shop or other premises. Another innovation is an alcohol tag, designed to curb the criminal activities of binge drinkers, that alerts authorities if an offender relapses and starts drinking again. Sentencing takes into account both the seriousness of the crime and the aggravating and mitigating circumstances surrounding it, so that justice is seen to be done. The magistrate’s role is to find a balance between punishment and rehabilitation appropriate to the crime.
The consequences of a court appearance and community or custodial sentence can be serious, ranging from losing a job and public shame to travel/visa restrictions and higher insurance premiums. Other roles assumed by magistrates are issuing warrants, witnessing documents and hearing statutory declarations, and specially-trained JPs sit in Family Courts dealing with the adoption, custody, contact with and protection of children, as well as Youth Courts focusing on ten to 17-year-olds.
The final exercise – two case studies focusing on a 70-year-old woman and a 21- year-old man – put us squarely in the shoes of presiding magistrates and were a salutary lesson in just how nuanced and finely-balanced the path they tread can be.
Anyone who would like to experience the job for real can find out more and apply online at www.gov.uk/become-magistrate. The next recruitment drive for the Chesterfield, Mansfield, Derby and Nottingham Justice Centre will take place from April to June 2022.

Monday 10th January 2022

The speaker was Louise Furmston from Blythe House in Chapel en-le Frith - You can find a link to her presentation on the right side of this page.

Here is the review written by Janette Sykes.

The work of Blythe House Hospice care and Helen’s Trust
Misconceptions abound when it comes to the work of hospices – perhaps the most common being that they are simply places where people go to die.
Though offering people dignity in their final days, including the opportunity to die at home, remains a key cornerstone of their compassionate work, they also provide high standards of support and care for people living with cancer and other life-limiting conditions – including heart failure and respiratory and neurological conditions.

That was the message from Louise Furmston, Community Engagement Lead Nurse at Blythe House Hospice care and Helen’s Trust, who gave a comprehensive insight into the hospice’s wide-ranging role in improving quality of life for people across the High Peak, Derbyshire Dales and North East Derbyshire.
Louise, who has more than 30 years’ experience as a specialist palliative care nurse, explained that Blythe House was founded in 1989 by the late Reverend Betty Packham, and was named after Stan Blythe, who left a £1,000 legacy to launch its work, initially based at Whitestones in Chapel-en-le-Frith.
Blythe House Hospice care later moved to its current premises at Eccles Fold in Chapel, and in 2020 struck up a partnership with Derbyshire-based charity Helen’s Trust because they share the same ethos, including comprehensive support for people wishing to die at home. The symbiotic relationship has enabled the range of services to expand both in quantity and geographically, offering day and home-based support and care for people living from Tintwistle in the north to Alfreton in the south.

Louise confirmed that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Every patient is treated as unique and receives a personalised care plan. Patients’ first port of call are two Care Navigators, who signpost them to the most appropriate contacts, whether at the Hospice or elsewhere.
A Community Hub, including physiotherapy and occupational therapy, was launched two years ago to support patients, carers and families through difficult times, help them live as well as possible through their illness and look at a range of ways to manage practically, physically and emotionally.
Sessions called Therapy Thursday have also been introduced to help patients, carers and families rediscover their purpose, enjoyment and laughter through challenging times. The eight-week FAB course on Tuesdays is aimed at people with heart failure, lung disease, cancer and other conditions if their main symptoms are fatigue, anxiety and breathlessness. Here the focus is on self-help strategies to encourage patients to help themselves. As well as occupational therapy to give practical support and physiotherapy to help control symptoms, complementary therapies including Reiki, aromatherapy, reflexology and acupuncture are available to help both patients and carers to relax. Support groups are High Peak Prostate Cancer Support, which meets on the last Tuesday of every month, and Breast Friends, which meets on the second Wednesday of the month. Both have regular speakers and offer members a forum in which to share experiences and common emotions, discuss treatments and foster mutual support.

A flexible and tailored approach is available to both patients and carers on a one-to-one basis, either as a one-off session or several sessions, according to need. Louise stressed that one of the main aims is to enable people to take control of the illness they are dealing with: “Being ill can take away that sense of control, and that can be very difficult to negotiate for patients, carers, their families and friends.
“We create a safe, relaxed environment where they can share problems and experiences and offload their worries, anger and frustration. As one person who benefited put it: “a place where I can say the unspeakable, and get the help I need to manage the unbearable”.’ Each Wednesday afternoon, information and support sessions prompt people to focus on what matters to them, on topics ranging from finances and benefits to fatigue management. In addition, a regular outpatient clinic offers advice from consultants and nurses in areas such as palliative care, lymphoedema and liver, bile and pancreatic conditions.

One of the most impressive innovations has been the introduction of the Hospice at Home service, both at Helen’s Trust (2001) and Blythe House Hospice care (2016). It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. More than 200 people have received 17,000 hours of care over the past year. Services include end of life care, comfort sits during both the day and night, carer respite sits, hospital discharge support and catering for complex needs.
One-to-one bereavement counselling is available for carers, families and friends of patients during up to 12 sessions, and 200 people have benefited from it over the past year. A partnership has been forged with High Peak CVS to run bereavement support groups in Chapel-en-le-Frith, Glossop and Buxton to help people cope with grief and loss. Bereavement counselling is also offered on a one-to-one basis, and also in small groups where appropriate, for children aged from three to 18. Play therapy is an important tool here, and around 50 children receive help each year.

A team of more than 40 fully trained Community Volunteers provide invaluable practical and emotional support and companionship, providing respite breaks for carers, clearing rooms for hospital beds and practical tasks such as shopping and mowing the lawn. During the last year, they have contributed 4,500 home visits spanning 2,500 hours. All these services come at a cost – the amount of money needed is £1.5 million a year. Blythe House Hospice care and Helen’s Trust receive 21 per cent of their funding from the government, and also from major donors, legacies and fund-raising events. More than 200 patients received help in 2020/21, free of charge.

Support for the wider community is always welcome, though fundraising, donating at www.blythehousehospice.org.uk/donate or by leaving a legacy.
Louise and her colleagues fully understand that people are sometimes reluctant to get in touch if they, a family member or friend needs help. Many people are referred though GPs, community health teams and hospitals, but patients can also self-refer, either on the Blythe House Hospicecare website, or by telephoning Care Navigators Jenny Brooks or Hannah Atkin on 01298 875080.
“We know it’s sometimes hard for people to step across that line and come into the building, so we are always happy to hear from people either via our website or on the phone,” said Louise. “Our services are not just about giving advice – it is also about listening to what people have to say and what they need. And if we can’t help directly, we can signpost them to people, organisations and services that can.” A comforting thought indeed.

Click on Reviews of Past Talks to see what we have done last year.