Posts Tagged ‘Dickens’
The met office forecasts completely understated the force of last night’s winds, as a result we didn’t put extra struts on the various hen-run roofs. The result of that was that three of the largest enclosures are enclosures no more, and a horde of hens had made good their escape. Had it not been for Albert’s giant-sized net we would still be chasing them. My pal may on occasions be a silly little man but he has far more uses than his silly little equivalent who is supposedly in charge of schools. Not a happy thought for those with children about to be enmeshed into the process sometimes described optimistically as education!.
Michael Gove is not a popular figure with the teaching profession. And I include those employed at his so-called academies, many of whom were told that they had a choice, either apply to become one or be ordered to do so. An example of this was given on this site a week or so ago after a headteacher decided to go public about the bullying regime of the little man who listens to no opinion but his own.
Yesterday the pompous ass lashed out at all those who question the wisdom of involving companies primarily concerned with profit in the task of teaching. “Change is coming”, he said when visiting Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College, an academy in south-east London. He went on to warn “those who want to get in my way”, for whom he had but two words; “hands off”. They happen to be the same words that teachers and governors up and down the country have been uttering for some time!
According to Gove those opposed to the concept of academies are “ideologues” who are “the enemies of reform, the ones who put doctrine ahead of pupil’s interests”. He poured forth a good deal more abuse at governing bodies who dislike the idea of using unqualified teachers, and worry that once profit enters the local debate the priority may not be teaching standards. The Gove tirade soon brought out an angry response. Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that his comments were “an insult to all the hardworking and dedicated teachers, school leaders, support staff and governors in our schools” She went on to talk of the bullying of schools to become academies by those who have an eye for “the future profits to be made out of privatising schools” . Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said headteachers against academies were not the “enemy of progress” but ” professionals dedicated to improving the lives of young people”.
As a neutral in all this what I find remarkable is that Gove, or for that matter his opponents, never talk about the actual quality of teaching. One of my favourite all time films was ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ in which Robin Williams played the part of a teacher who inspired pupils to great things. In turn he reminded me of a teacher at our Oxford school of long, long ago. Most of the teaching staff were, to us kids at least, boring academics. Mr Plymm taught English literature and he brought it to life. He was popularly known as ‘Wackford’ after the master in Dicken’s ‘Dotheboys Hall’, not because he behaved like him but because he had taken us in our imaginations so often into the schoolrooms of Dickens. I confess to having forgotten most of what the other teachers taught us, but the works of Dickens still hold a very special place in my heart.
As a layman I am in no position to pontificate as Gove, another layman, does. But it does seem to me that all that talk about posh buildings and private sector involvement is an irrelevance. Of course modern facilities are desirable but the ability of teachers to inspire are all that really counts.
I was at one time a school governor and occasionally sat on interview panels. I took it as read that the applicant teachers were qualified, and always found myself transported back to Wackford who drew into his images even the most reluctant Just Williams.
My school report on Gove would read; “Too bombastic, too little concerned with what really creates a lifetime love of learning. Should focus more on the selection of those that teach our future teachers”.
As we tidied up after this morning’s encounter with the hordes of squabbling hens we suddenly realised that the time has come for our charity effort. Each year we try to raise cash for ‘Crisis’, the charity devoted to providing succour for the homeless. ‘Crisis’ estimates that there are tens of thousands of hidden homeless people in the UK. These people never show up on government statistics and exist in hostels, squats and squalid bed and breakfasts. They often lead miserable, isolated lives and often suffer from debilitating mental and physical health problems.
Appalling though that is, it is not new. What is new, and equally appalling, is the plight of vast numbers of the housebound elderly and frail. When the coalition enforced huge cuts in local authority funding it did ‘ring-fence’ the money allocated for social care. However, it did niothing to enforce this and right across the country councils have slashed the amounts allocated for what is laughably described as home-care. The result is that many councils now have reduced the time allowed for a home visit to 15 minutes and axed travel expenses. The result is that paid carers – doing tough and unpleasant work – rush from one house to another, can’t cope, and many are giving up in despair.
A report due this week by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (ERHC) will put flesh on the anecdotal evidence so far available. It will report on evidence of elderly people being left in filthy nightwear and bedding, of being left without a wash for several weeks, of being put to bed at 5.00pm and not helped to get up until 10.00am the next day. The picture that emerges is straight from the darkest episodes of Dickens.
Someone being supposedly cared for, and without family help, can lie for hours in their own mess, cold and frightened. They can be confused and haven’t taken their pills. They feel ashamed. They feel angry. It could be many hours before someone lets themselves in and washes them. The victim – for that is what they are – hopes for conversation but a carer with just 15 minutes to spare is hard pushed to even complete the basics. As quickly as they entered, they are gone. Silence, despair, all hope gone in an age where even the neighbours are often unknown.
Without doubt there is now a huge social problem, yet we hear little of it. These people can’t go out on the streets to march in protest, or camp outside a cathedral, or strike on November 30th. They are rarely mentioned on television, or interviewed on the Today programme. Anyone in a position of authority is much younger, has children at school and is desperately worried about their own job-security and financial survival. Frail old people are not even good vote-winning material. No one cares. Yet even if only for financial prudence they should, because inevitably this new hidden crisis is resulting in more and more elderly and neglected people being admitted to hospital, there to stay at high cost unless a beleagured social worker can find a solution that the meagre budget will facilitate.
I noticed a small paragraph in one of today’s newspapers. It describes how a pensioner spent two nights trapped in a cold garden shed after a fall. he had ventured that far in search of fuel. It was two days before anyone heard his cries for help and ambulance staff said that Ron Rogers from Rednal, Birmingham, was close to death after succumbing to hypothermia. Proud to be British? I think not.
Of course, now that the disgraceful situation has come under a spotlight the political blame game is underway. Paul Burstow, the care services minister and a LIb Dem MP, is demanding to know why councils are failing to pass on the funding allocated for the care of the frail and elderly. They are, he says, “clearly failing to act in the best interests of their residents”. They must, he thundered, “be held to account”. Indeed, two councils already have been. Sefton (Merseyside) and the Isle of Wight lost High Court cases to cut back on care for elderly and disabled adults. But should we really leave our hidden sufferers to the mercy of the Courts and posturing politicians.
At the last election the then Labour Party leadership demanded, during the televised debates, cross-party talks aimed at protecting the vulnerable from austerity measures. They saw the danger in this becoming an exercise in point-scoring. Andrew Lansley and David Cameron refused this. Now Labour is repeating the appeal and it must be heeded.
How can a society that once prided itself on care and compassion continue to spend huge sums on debatable projects, such as high-speed rail, whilst leaving vast numbers of those who, through no fault of their own, now lie forgotten and ignored?
We codgers realise that promoting the welfare of old ‘uns is not a popular activity. We realise too that some old folk can be difficult, and that there are many other vital priorities. But now the situation has been allowed to spiral out of control, and we are all unwittingly allowing suffering on a scale that has not happened in these islands for almost a century.
The only punch-line we can offer to the politicians is don’t just talk, for mercies sake do something!
Since you are reading this the odds are that, like we old codgers on the allotments, you have not yet reached the age at which you require what is laughingly referred to as care. Our theory is that keeping poultry helps to ward off that dreaded time since we have no option, even on foul mornings such as this, to rise from our beds and to put in a hard working session. But the years tick by and time passes quickly and doubtless some of us will one day find ourselves unable to cope. The father of one of our members last month celebrated his 100th birthday but, after a fall, has had to lose his independence. He is blessed with caring children but, in this new age of logevity, even they are approaching eighty.
Some ten years ago I was part of a Health Authority team that inspected nursing and care homes. At that time the prospect of ‘going into care’ was not too daunting. Many of the homes we visited were state owned and manned by professional staff. There were then a large number of private homes and many of them were new and, in some cases, very comfortable. I remember visiting one such and being shown into the en-suite room of a resident. He had his own possessions around him, his hobbies, his privacy and a relaxed atmosphere. I could settle for this, was my verdict.
Today the situation is very different. We have truly returned to the age of Dickens, one in which the prospect of death is a welcome one. We have all seen recent exposes on TV, each portraying cruelty of an extreme kind. Perhaps we reassured ourselves with the thought that these were the rare exceptions and would soon be sorted out by social services and the police, in the unlikely event that they had enough staff to take action.
But these were not the exception, they are the rule. The last government presided over the closure of most state-owned establishments and declared that the flourishing private sector would provide. Unfortunately it also drastically reduced payment rates, and the many companies providing high standards of care either went out of business or cut their costs dramatically. Since most of every enterprise’s costs walk through the doors that meant reduced staffing and reduced pay. The result is that few of the carers have any qualifications, and all earn less than they could pocket by manning a supermarket check-out. And many have English as a second language.
I wouldn’t have ventured this Albert-like tale of doom had it not been for a report published yesterday by charities Age UK and The Health Foundation. I wouldn’t have done so because you might well have preferred not to believe it, we Brits have quite a track record in shutting our eyes to the horrors in our midst. But the report, which is based on in-depth interviews with relatives, describes a general situation in which elderly people have been left crying out in pain, with others given the wrong drugs, while families were not told about the health of their loved ones and actively discouraged fom visiting.
Seven out of ten care home residents are victims of drug errors, with elderly people being given the wrong medication, or not being monitored for side-effects. The report highlights concerns based on snap visits. “People were screaming out for their drugs, people with cancer, all sorts of painful stuff going on. Staff had no time to read crucial information about the medical and welfare needs of residents, with constant interruptions making mistakes more likely”. On one visit there was ” one young girl for 15 residents all in pain, they had had no breakfast”. On another “sleeping pills were given out during the day, leaving residents unsteady on their feet. Creams were shared leading to infections”. Yet another saw a previously independent lady of 94 deprived of her medical prescriptions which she brought with her…”her eye drops for glaucoma, and cream and splints for arthritis were locked away. She became withdrawn and depressed and was forced to take antidepressants which she repeatedly said she did not want or need”.
There is also a good deal about the breakdown of communications between care homes and hospitals. One family reported being shocked when their mother went into hospital where the nurses said that she seemed confused. The care home staff had failed to enter any record of her having dementia. In another case an elderly resident was transferred by ambulance in a serious condition. Instead of daily paracetamol she had been given a high-risk drug and three members of staff had made a similar mistake in the space of one week. Another ambulance case involved repeated doses of codeine despite warnings on her medical records that the drug made her very ill.
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the report is that most relatives and residents were only prepared to be interviewed on condition of anonymity. Almost everyone said that there was a real risk of reprisals against anyone found to have complained. In view of the summary that is less than surprising. Neil Duncan-Jordan of the National Pensioners Convention remarked that when you have a system that has badly paid, poorly trained staff administering to the most vulnerable and dependent people in society, those are the ingedients for a system to fail. “The accounts”, he added, ” are gut wrenching, you would think that in the 21st century we would have moved far beyond this”.
But we haven’t, in fact we have regressed. The elderly of today are receiving treatment barely better that that of Dicken’s workhouses. Times may be hard financially but something has to be done. A Conservative government – I have given up on pretending that the Lib Dems have any influence – is hardly likely to switch from Blair’s beloved private sector. It must therefore increase the rewards and increase the standards.
Can’t afford it? Perhaps we should look again at crazy actions such as those in Libya where we have already blown away, literally, almost a billion pounds. Throw in the huge amounts being paid to the EU, and the equally huge amounts lost through tax avoidance by the rich and the corporates and you have enough to build a thousand top-class care homes.
And in any case there comes a time when humanity must take precdence over money, when care for the vulnerable deserves more of a prime minister’s time than his media buddies and his smooth PR. David Cameron likes to talk of love, it is time that he showed some!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S WEEKEND GENERAL KNOWLEDGE QUIZ; 1. A bear 2. Graham Hill 3. The Booker Prize 4. Reet Petite 5. A fish 6. Cat Stevens 7. Spring 8. Roots Hall 9. Both beheaded 10. Rattlesnakes.