In an extraordinary few hours on Wednesday night and yesterday morning the reputations of two prominent public servants were put on the line and a third had to intervene to clarify the situation. As is well known, Mike Tomlinson, the former Chief Inspector of Schools, is conducting a rapid independent enquiry into why so many students in this year's A–level examinations received unexpectedly low gradings.

The government's examinations watchdog Sir William Stubbs has stoutly defended his Qualifications and Curriculum Authority against accusations that it deliberately sought to mark down some gradings. On Wednesday evening he accused the Education Secretary Estelle Morris of having instructed her officials to talk with the examination boards concerned and to some schools and universities while Mr Tomlinson's enquiry was still in progress; Sir William said that this gave the impression that the minister was interfering with the enquiry; Ms Morris replied that she was merely preparing various options for fast action following Mr Tomlinson's delivery of his report so that the students affected would know the outcome quickly.

Sir William said this showed she was prejudging the report's findings. Yesterday morning Mr Tomlinson intervened to say that his investigation had not been compromised in any way and that he would deliver his report as promised this, Friday, morning. It is an unprecedented situation, with the career of either Sir William Stubbs or Estelle Morris on the line. From what I have heard I would back Ms Morris, despite Mr Duncan Smith's call for her resignation.

Ray Fleming

Pill popping

The tour of European health services undertaken by Britain's Conservative party to glean new ideas for the NHS at home will presumably not have spent much time in France.

New official figures show that the French take, on average, twice as many pills as the Germans and five times as many as the Danes. They consume 70 per cent of the world's venotonics which alleviate the feeling of heavy legs – although there is no evidence that French legs are heavier than anyone else's. They use twice as many antibiotics as any other European nation, including nine million for sore throats in the past year alone.

Almost all these medicines are available free on France's welfare state health service and as a result its budget has a deficit of ?3.3 billion which is expected to rise to ?4.6 billion next year.

So the newly installed French government is looking for economies. annually.
Some 835 medicines which experts have declared to be more or less useless have been removed from the list of reimbursable items and if patients insist on a brand medicine when a generic version is availble they will have to pay the difference in the price.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusions that the French are a nation of hypochondriacs: the figures show that the average person is prescribed 33 boxes of pills (including one of anti–depressants) and has seven doctors' appointments