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More people are lonely following changes in social services

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – While the quality of life of people reliant on social services to survive has not gone down since local councils took over responsibility two years ago, more vulnerable people say they are lonely than before, according to a new report.

The government’s social policy unit SCP found that 22% of people who rely on care workers to live at home say they are lonely, compared with 17% before responsibility for home helps and other services was decentralised.

In particular, people say they miss having someone to confide in or an intimate relationship, the SCP said. There has also been a drop in the amount of work done by professionals and it is unclear if family and friends have taken over tasks as the government intended.

The previous government shifted responsibility for organising home nursing and other services to local councils and slashed the budget at the same time. The aim was to encourage friends, family and neighbours to do more to help the frail elderly in particular.

‘The report shows that councils need to support people in strengthening their networks,’ Liane den Haan, of elderly lobby group Anbo said. ‘It is a shame that community centres are being cut back.

More people are experiencing loneliness and the government can be too quick to assume people will make it on their own.’ The report also highlights the problems facing parents with children who need specialist support, particularly in the form of long waiting lists. (DutchNews)


Man who helped mother (99) to die should be jailed, says prosecutor

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – An elderly man who helped his 99-year-old mother to die seven years ago should be given a three-month suspended jail sentence, the public prosecution department said on Monday.

Albert Heringa (75) was earlier cleared on all charges but the Supreme Court in March said there should be a retrial because euthanasia carried out by someone other than a doctor must be subject to ‘very strict rules’.

In addition, his earlier appeal was ‘granted far too lightly’, the court said. Heringa decided to help his mother die when doctors refused her request to administer a lethal dose of medication.

He filmed his mother, who was almost blind and suffering from crippling back pains, as he helped her take the pills that would kill her. The footage featured in a documentary called De laatste wens van Moek (Mum’s final wish) which was broadcast in 2010.

The public prosecutor told the court in Den Bosch that while it did not doubt Heringa had the best of intentions, he should be punished for going his own way. ‘Assisted suicide can only be carried out without punishment by a doctor,’ the prosecutor said.

‘The suspect is not a doctor and cannot therefore claim exclusion from prosecution on the grounds of the euthanasia legislation.’ In 2013, Heringa was found guilty but went unpunished and the appeal court in 2015 found him not guilty. The case was then referred to the Supreme Court which this year called for a retrial. (DutchNews)


‘Healthy’ smoker, 25, joins criminal case against big tobacco companies

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A 25-year-old ‘healthy’ woman who has smoked since the age of 15 is the latest person to attempt to sue the big tobacco companies operating in the Netherlands for causing her serious physical harm.

Charlotte Pelt says she has been addicted to smoking for 10 years and that this is not her fault because ‘addiction is an illness,’ the AD reported on Friday. ‘It is not my fault that I am addicted,’ the law student said.

‘If you are young, you are not concerned about what it is doing to you. I started at a school party when I was 14 or 15. Lots of older pupils were already smokers… the tobacco industry wants to make people addicted to earn money.’

The mass action law suit aims to prove that the big tobacco firms have deliberately tried to get people addicted as quickly as possible – which is a criminal act. It was launched in 2016 by lawyer Benedicte Ficq and cancer victim Anne Marie van Veen, who argue that tobacco firms have lied to smokers about the damaging side effects of their addiction.

This is partly due to the use of cigarettes that give false readings in test results through the use of tiny ventilation holes in filters. Dutch cancer charity KWF has also joined in the campaign.

‘Experts say that that addiction bears all the hallmarks of a disease,’ Ficq told the AD. ‘Charlotte Pelt is not healthy because she is addicted. Smokers seldom admit this, which makes her complaint all the more notable.

Smokers usually agree with the tobacco industry line that smoking is a choice and that you can stop when you want to.’ The public prosecution department has not yet decided whether the tobacco firms have a case to answer to in the Netherlands.

Although there have been several prosecutions for damages in the the US, the Dutch case would be the first involving a criminal prosecution.  (DutchNews)


Ban rockets and firecrackers on New Year’s Eve says Dutch safety board

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Firecrackers and rockets should be banned during the New Year’s Eve celebrations in order to cut back on injuries and damage to property, the Dutch safety board OVV said on Friday.

Some 500 people end up at accidents and emergency departments with serious injuries during the New Year’s Eve firework frenzy, making it the most dangerous time of the year in many places, the board said.

This means more effective measures must be taken at a local, national and European level, the board said in a report out on Friday. The report also accused the authorities of complacency, citing police reports about ‘a quiet New Year’s Eve’ in spite of the number of victims.

This is a vicious circle that needs to be broken, the board stated. Rockets are the main cause of injuries, often because they are not set off properly while firecrackers are often thrown at passers-by or emergency services staff.

Police must also consistently crack down on illegal fireworks, the board said, and the production of professional fireworks without a legal market must be banned on a European level.

Formal shows

While the board is not recommending a ban on ‘decorative’ fireworks, it is urging the government to continue to monitor the connection between the kinds of fireworks on sale and the injuries reported.

The board also recommends that mayors of towns and cities organise an official New Year’s Eve party and bring in professionals to mount a fireworks display. Earlier this month, broadcaster NOS reported that just eight Dutch councils are organising communal fireworks shows at New Year.

Justice minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus said in a reaction that the board’s recommendations would not have an impact on this year’s festivities because it is too late to take steps. However, the report does include a number of ‘serious observations which should be taken to heart,’ the minister said. Fireworks may only be set off between 18.00 hours on December 31 and 02.00 on January 1, rather than from 10.00. (DutchNews)


Plastic surgeon who used DIY tools on patients guilty of assault

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A doctor whose plastic surgery clinic was shut down after attracting more than 100 complaints has been convicted on appeal of assaulting and mutilating his patients.

Rock G. carried out three cosmetic operations a week for more than a year, including breast augmentation surgery. Patients later complained of leaking or wrongly fitted implants, scars and skin irritations.

His Citykliniek was shut down by inspectors in 2009 after other surgeons reported cases of infections and botched operations. G. used a device called the ‘mama-navigator’ which his colleagues did not recognise as a medical instrument.

Prosecutors said it appeared to have come from a DIY store. Prosecutors received 121 statements in response to an appeal for witnesses and filed charges on the basis of 10 formal complaints.

G. was originally acquitted by a district court that decided there was not enough evidence that the women’s injuries were the result of surgical negligence.

The prosecution service appealed against the verdict, arguing that ‘the victims’ suffering should not go unpunished.’ They said G.’s actions had damaged trust in the medical profession.

G., who was qualified as a gynaecologist rather than a cosmetic surgeon, was struck off as a medical practitioner in 2010. (DutchNews)


Rotterdam care home worker investigated for more insulin murders

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The 21-year-old nursing home assistant suspected of killing an elderly patient with insulin may have committed two more murders, the public prosecution department said on Thursday.

The man, who comes from Rotterdam and has worked at several nursing homes in the region, was arrested two weeks ago. The public prosecutor says he is now suspected of killing two more elderly patients.

Four other suspicious deaths are under investigation as are six cases in which the patient survived. The 12 new cases were reported by two nursing homes in Ridderkerk and one in Rotterdam.

The investigation began earlier this month after a woman at a nursing home in Binnenmaas became unexpectedly unwell. She was taken to hospital, where medical staff said they suspected she had been given a dose of insulin.

Nursing home officials then called in the police. She survived the incident but investigators identified two other suspicious incidents involving the suspect. In one case, at the same nursing home in Binnenmaas, a nursing home resident died.

In the other case, in Rotterdam, a female patient also became unwell. The man was remanded in custody for 90 days while the investigation continues. (DutchNews)


Dutch police launch investigation after tribunal suspect takes poison and dies

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch police have begun an investigation into how a defendant on trial at the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal in The Hague managed to take poison and kill himself after hearing the verdict.

Slobodan Praljak, 72, died in hospital, after swallowing liquid from a small bottle after hearing his 20-year jail term for war crimes had been upheld.

The ex-commander of Bosnian Croat forces, who took the poison in full view of the cameras, said he was not a criminal before drinking from the bottle. As the judge continued reading, he then said: ‘I have taken poison.’

In 2013, Praljak had been sentenced for crimes in the city of Mostar during the Bosnian war from 1992-95. How Praljak obtained the poison is so far a mystery. 

Praljak has been held at a special unit in Scheveningen for tribunal suspects and is allowed free access to visitors and his legal team, broadcaster NOS said. Visitors have to go through security checks similar to those at an airport. Visitors to the court itself have to go through a similar security procedure.


A Serbian lawyer who has represented suspects at the tribunal told news agency AP that it would be easy to smuggle in a liquid. ‘They check you for metal objects. Pills or small amounts of liquid would not be discovered,’ he said.

Wednesday’s session was the final one to be held at the court since it was established by the United Nations in 1993, two years after the end of the war. Dutch justice minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus told reporters later that he did not think the Netherlands’ reputation as host of the tribunal had been damaged by Wednesday’s shock death.

‘The Netherlands has always had a very good reputation and has acquitted itself well,’ he said. The court room has now been declared a crime scene. Dutch lawyer Erik Kok, who worked at the tribunal from 2006 to 2011, told RTL Nieuws it is strange that Praljak took his own life now.

Although he had been sentenced to 20 years in jail, most people are released after serving two-third of their sentence. Given that he had already been in jail for 13 years ahead of the trial, he would have been released in the very near future, Kok said. (DutchNews)


Police trace woman who abandoned boy at Amsterdam station

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Police in Amsterdam have traced a young woman who is thought to have abandoned a small boy at the city’s main railway session on Sunday afternoon.

She was picked up in central Amsterdam following tip-offs, they said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon. Police said she is still being questioned and they are releasing no further information at the moment.

The boy, aged four or five, was found wandering around the station alone and no-one came forward to report a missing child. The boy, who is foreign and in good health, is being looked after by a foster family. (DutchNews)


Surrogate mother bank proposal to help childless couples

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Fertility experts have called for a register of potential surrogate mothers in order to help people trying to have a baby, writes the Volkskrant.

The FIOM pregnancy and genetics organisation and a fertility expert told the paper they believed a surrogate bank would be helpful. Currently, if people want to find a surrogate to carry a fertilised egg to term, they must find her themselves.

Roel Schats, a gynaecologist at the VUmc teaching hospital in Amsterdam, told the paper: ‘Couples who cannot find a surrogate mother themselves cannot be referred or helped.

And if women are prepared to be surrogates themselves, they cannot register this anywhere. It would be good if this changes.’ The FIOM added that if it were easier to find surrogate mothers in the Netherlands, people would be less likely to look abroad, where women were at risk of being ‘exploited’.

Policy officer Hans van Hooff reportedly said: ‘The foreign route is not in the interests of children, who later sometimes don’t know who has brought them into the world.’ (DutchNews)


Handyman and visitor at crèche will also be registered

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – More people will be screened at crèches and after school clubs in an effort to step up child protection, broadcaster NOS reports.

Nursery staff and people who run daycare facilities from their own homes, as well as the people who live there, are already required to register and have a certificate of good conduct.

The register is a tool to make sure childcare staff have not committed criminal acts that would make them unfit to be around children.


From March 1 2018, the register for day care centre staff will have to include the names of everyone who comes into contact with the children in any way. This means temporary staff, trainees and volunteers should register, as well as people who visit or do building work at a crèche.

Registering is on a voluntary basis but anyone who refuses will not be allowed into the presence of children, NOS writes.

According to the social affairs ministry, the current system of screening has flagged up people in around 225 instances. Parent’s organisation BOINK said the extended registration is ‘a small step in the right direction’.

Robert M

‘We have come a long way since the Robert M abuse case,’ BOINK spokesman Gjalt Jellesma told NOS, referring to a nursery worker jailed in 2013 for abusing dozens of young children.

‘But the register is a passive instrument at best. Let’s not forget that that safety really has to be provided by the staff. ‘They have to be critical of their own conduct and each other’s and create an atmosphere in which they can call each other out on their actions.

That is the only way the net will close around an abuser.’ Jellesma also wondered where the line would be drawn as far as registering was concerned. ‘I can see the logic of registering someone who is a regular handyman at a crèche but if it’s a person who does some work occasionally, I can see that things might become complicated,’ NOS quotes him as saying. (DutchNews)

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