Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Hunt’
Old King Cole would have been a less than jolly old soul had he joined us for hen-cleaning this morning. Dark clouds and constant rain are not conducive to a party spirit, and there was little evidence of goodwill to all men as we codgers slithered about in our wellies. As ever on a Thursday morning the conversation centred around Prime Minister’s Question Time which usually satisfies our appetite for abuse, proving that it isn’t directed at us.
But even that weekly treat failed to live up to expectations yesterday. Ed declared himself appalled at the proposed Christmas stocking pay award for MPs and Dave agreed with him. Both hinted at plans to take the watchdog Ipsa, created in the wake of the moat houses revelations, to a dark alley and threaten its family. The usual baying mob was strangely silent, the result perhaps of the fact that they are not married to heiresses or high-end lawyers like Dave, Ed or Nick. And when Peter Lilley suggested that the cost be funded by reducing the number of MPs one could have heard a paper-clip drop.
It was of course a trick question. Everyone knew that Dave was hell-bent on introducing a boundaries plan to cut 50 MPs from the present establishment, they also knew that it was Nick that thwarted him in retaliation for his U-turn over Lords reform. But Dave once again showed his ability to spot a trap. It was, he declared, all the fault of the last Labour government. The possibility of a Dave/Ed coalition vanished as quickly as Eric Pickles when the Westminster tuck shop opens.
Of course we all realise that our leaders are not what they seem, not the sincere people’s champions of our first impressions. Those of us who tend to make such snap judgements will have been reminded of the folly of so doing if we watched the coverage of the Nelson Mandela tribute event. Every speaker was accompanied by a seemingly smart geezer providing an interpretation in sign language. In reality he was simply waving his arms about. And judging by the pictures of Dave, Barack and Kinnock’s daughter-in-law fooling around taking ‘selfies’ some of the supposedly mourning celebs were also displaying a false face.
But they at least are harmless fools and Mandela would have enjoyed the funny aspects. Right now there is a far more dangerous false-front merchant to worry about. Jeremy Hunt, the replacement for the hapless Lansley as health secretary, is on face value as sincere and open as any of the Blue Peter presenters that he adores. In reality, as was proved during the Murdoch affair, he is a skilled proponent in the art of deception.
Today he stands accused by 38 Degrees, the national protest giants, of tacking small print to the NHS bill, due to debated on Monday, giving him unchallengeable powers to close hospitals, an activity denied him by the High Court when he attempted to do just that to Lewisham hospital. 38 Degrees, which successfully challenged him then, has spotted the manoeuvre and a visit to its website will show that another massive petition is underway. If you feel, as we do, that such drastic steps should be open to public consultation you would be well advised to add your name. Routine parliamentary debates are poorly attended and MPs need to be made aware of the significance of what they are nodding through.
In the light of evidence that the Stafford Hospital crisis was largely an invention of ministers we would suggest that it is in every family’s interest to keep a close eye on everything that the seemingly transparent health secretary is doing. His previously exposed plan to privatise the BBC is as nothing compared to what he is planning for the NHS. Yesterday a senior hospital consultant told me that the result of the replacement of Primary Care Trusts by so-called commissioning teams is chaos, and the result of the massive ‘efficiency savings’ is far fewer nurses and doctors. His Trust, previously one of the top graded in the country, now has ambulances queuing at A & E, and has breached its 18 week rule for responding to GP referrals.
Deception in the interest of misguided ideology is dangerous enough, but it is compounded by a complete lack of detailed understanding of priorities on the part of the Department of Health and its regulators. This morning we have a perfect example in the shape of a report from the new Care Quality Commission . The headlines tell us that one-third of GP surgeries are failing tests for patient safety and quality. The evidence for this is based on a lack of cleanliness and privacy. Whilst these are important, they are of far less importance than the diagnostic skills of GPs.
They provide a perfect example of the danger of first impressions. As a chairman in the NHS I visited practices regularly. One doctor that I came to know was, on first impressions, scruffy and his surgery had a weary run-down appearance. But when I checked with the consultants to whom he made his referrals I found that his diagnoses were always spot-on. By contrast some other doctors working in prestigious premises frequently missed telling symptoms.
Yes, GPs should be regularly checked out but diagnostic skills and keeping abreast of new clinical developments are the first priority. Any worried patient wants above all else to be assured that he or she are being assessed by an expert. Having the consultation in smart surroundings comes second if you fear the significance of mysterious pain.
The fake interpreter will have done us all a favour if we recognise from this day forth that first impressions should be confined to movie stars!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” Governments need enemies to frighten their people with, frightened people being more easy to lead!”…..Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Nobel Prize for Medicine, 1937.
According to Tom there is a hell and we are in it. My normally reticent colleague was moved to make the claim as we cleaned out the hens this morning under a dark sky, and in what felt like a howling gale encased in a liberal helping of the wet stuff. The overnight wind had ensured a thick carpet of leaves which, combined with the extensive puddles, made walking a hazardous occupation and it wasn’t long before we were heaving Albert to his feet. Could have been worse, it could have been Eric Pickles.
All of which served to darken even further the mood of those codgers who still yearn for a new Bobby Moore age. Losing to Germany last night didn’t go down well with them, and they continue to live in a fantasy world in which they constantly call for yet more foreign stars in the Premiership whilst expecting the few remaining English players to form a team capable of beating the world. Sheer stupidity!
But they are not far from top of the stupidity league table. Last night as usual I laced my Horlicks with a dose of Newsnight. Former Blue Peter presenter Jeremy Hunt made an appearance in the court of Paxman, there to enthral us with glorious tales of the wonders he is working in regard to the NHS. Why, asked the bearded sage, had vast numbers of people been made redundant and handed millions in compensation before being rehired. Hunt switched on the smile that bewitched those who make battleships out of bog-rolls and explained that it was all the fault of Labour which introduced binding contracts.
It was of course nothing of the sort. It was the fault of Andrew Lansley who failed to consider the structure of the new Commissioning Groups before locking the doors of the organisations they replaced, the Primary Care Trusts. Our wide eyed star went on to claim that the nurse shortage was entirely the fault of hospital trusts, choosing to forget that he has imposed a £20 billion funding cut disguised as ‘efficiency savings’. The man’s stupidity knows no bounds.
Fortunately for him our dear leader’s attention was probably focussed elsewhere. Nick Boles, the MP once seen as close to the initial Cameron modernising project, decided to tell the world at large that the Conservatives are still seen as the “party of the rich”. His solution is a sort of breakaway party based on the Liberal ethos abandoned by his arch enemy Nick Clegg. Oh yes, and he believes that only Boris can convince the sceptics out there that the Tories are not looking after “our mates who work for private equity and make a ton of money”. Another contender in the stupidity stakes since he clearly hasn’t realised that his party’s current image is down to policies so unworkable that they would being a sneer to Baldrick’s lips.
Clearly the refusal to tackle tax avoidance is in the lead, but the so-called bedroom tax runs it a close second. Yesterday we read the story of Rivers Pound. He is the younger brother of Stephen Pound, the Shadow Minister for Northern Ireland, who decided to tell his story in words of one syllable to Iain Duncan Smith and the other half dozen members who bothered to attend a Commons debate.
It has been 30 years since Rivers moved into his specially adapted council flat in Earls Court. The 55-year-old has been on and off dialysis since his first kidney failure aged 19, and this flat was one of three in a West London block designed with a built-in dialysis room. In April, when a raft of Coalition welfare policies were introduced, everything changed. Since his body was only in the process of rejecting a third kidney, he did not need dialysis at that moment and the room which housed his equipment was deemed sutrplus to requirements.
According to the inflexible rules of the under-occupancy policy, he should pay an extra £120 a month for this temporarily ‘spare’ room or find a new home. Too proud to ask for help , he decided to sell his only valuable possession: a piano worth £1,500, hoping it would pay the extra rent until he was on dialysis again.
Rivers Pound is of course but one of many victims of this ridiculously inflexible new law. The basic idea of denying taxpayer support for people living in subsidised housing who refuse to move into more appropriately sized property is a sound one. But when alternatives are not available, or when a ‘spare’ room is needed for medical equipment it becomes crass, a stick with which the opposition can beat ministers about the head.
Despite his Murdoch connections and the rest we codgers have a sneaking admiration for our dear leader. But given the motley crew that surrounds him we increasingly fear for his future.
He would be well advised to put Messrs Hunt, Boles and Duncan Smith on a slow boat to China. On second thoughts given that we are keen to win over the Chinese, perhaps he should offer them to the Co-operative Bank as a job lot?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him!”…..Voltaire
The reaction of the allotments codgers to the sudden disappearance last evening of every blog published since November 4th was mixed. As we cleaned out the hens this morning most of my pals were sympathetic, they know just how much research and work has vanished into the ether. Others, led by Albert, view anything related to computers with great suspicion and bore an I-told-you-so air. I contented myself with wondering how such a thing can happen, perhaps Eric Pickles has tired of mockery and has had a quiet word with his fellow pie eaters in the surveillance service?
Perhaps someone up there was less than happy with yesterday’s piece on the treatment of our troops? That wouldn’t be too surprising given that we compared the public image of our wreath-laying ministers with the treatment they are applying to those who attest and swear an oath to serve the crown in wars triggered by politicians. When they do this they surrender employment rights, and place their trust in a pledge – reinforced by the Coalition as recently as last year – to be “valued and respected as individuals”.
The reality is different. More than 4,500 service personnel are being made redundant this year, and are being replaced by raw and poorly trained reservists. A lot more will be receiving redundancy notices next year. Many of those affected are nearing the end of their military career and were looking forward to well-earned pensions. Many are in shock since the M.O.D has been devious in the extreme in nominating the date for their departure.
We quoted the case of Sergeant Michael Anderson, who was made redundant just three days before qualifying for his full military pension. This meant that his entitlement was reduced by fifty per cent. So appalled were his colleagues and friends that a petition was launched. It attracted over 100,000 signatures and, faced with the resulting publicity, the Ministry changed its mind and granted Sgt Anderson his full pension. But in the House of Lords Lord Touhig warned that a vast number of similar examples of “sleight of hand” are underway.
We presumed to describe this as a national disgrace. We stand by that. Large numbers of our troops have been ordered into wars justified by lies, and many have died or been severely wounded. The politicos who condemned them to the impossible task of fighting faceless fanatics mouthing the cause of invented Gods are now covertly robbing them of what would be for a civilian a legal entitlement.
Another of their proposed victims is the BBC. Since time immemorial all of the political parties have at one time or the other accused our state broadcaster of bias, certain evidence that its news coverage is neutral. At the time of the phone-hacking scandal our dear leader and the then relevant minister, Jeremy Hunt, were about to nod through a deal with Murdoch’s News Corp which would have opened the door for their friends to emasculate the BBC, a prospect which had us turning our keyboard red hot.
Our opposition to such a concept was based on revulsion at the thought of news coverage slanted to provide political propaganda plus, we must admit, the prospect of every TV programme being punctuated with endless ads featuring a fat oaf sporting a moustache and selling something we have no wish to sample.
Sadly we have to confess that our long-standing faith in the Beeb is beginning to waiver. The world’s most trusted broadcaster seems hell-bent on self destruction. Having been once thwarted, David Cameron and the rest of the friends of Murdoch in high places are itching to find another way of destroying the BBC and its leaders continue to provide the ammunition.
We had the scandal of the enormous hand-outs given to departing executives, now we learn that there are still 245 – a number not including programme-makers, performers or journalists - who make more than £100,000 a year. Compare that with the Metropolitan Police, where Knacker has almost treble the staff, which has 53!
Today we learn that, almost unnoticed by the media, the Corporation paid £90 million for a controlling stake in Lonely Planet travel books, which once guided an entire generation of backpackers to the cheapest banana pancakes in Chiang Mai. But the company’s young customers were moving online and the market in printed guidebooks was collapsing. Seemingly unaware of this, BBC Worldwide in 2011 paid Tony and Maureen Wheeler, the founders of Lonely Planet, a further £42 million for their remaining stake.
It then spent a further £20 million on developing the acquired company, bringing the total expenditure if public money to £152 million. In March of this year the BBC sold Lonely Planet for just £51.5 million, a £100 million loss. The executive responsible for all this left in December with an £800,000 pay-off.
We take no pleasure in reporting this. Given the alternatiuve we support the concept of an independent state-owned broadcaster. But right now the number of prosecutions for non-payment of the annual £145 licence fee are at record levels. Many people are struggling financially, and the anti-BBC brigade are playing their tune to an increasingly receptive audience. Lords Patten and Hall need to get a grip and quickly before the patience of even the most ardent supporters runs out!
A taste of what could be came this week when government sources took umbrage at the BBC coverage of the Commonwealth Conference in Sri Lanka. The spin-doctors of Downing Street were upset at the inference that there are people who believe that the heir to the throne and prime minister should have followed the example of India and Canada in refusing to give credibility to mass murderers.
Given the elimination of the BBC the views of those of us who believe just that would have vanished in the manner of our missing blogs!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ”We ought never do wrong when people are looking!”….Mark Twain
Don’t hold your breath – there are no breathtaking tales of mad chicken-breeders today. I presume that things took their usual course and that Albert was hauled out of the pond for the zillionth time, but I was absent. I was up at the crack of dawn to travel to an NHS cancer fundraising event. Given the age of austerity such work takes priority over everything, a sentiment with which no family afflicted by this scourge will disagree.
Whenever I find myself involved in discussions with patients and clinicians alike I find myself wondering about the obsession of the government with the private sector. It is, according to Messrs Hunt and Lansley, the answer to every health-related issue, yet I have still to see any evidence that it wishes to be involved in life-threatening conditions. As each month passes I become more and more convinced that our supposed saviours are interested only in ‘cherry-picking’ the easy and profitable treatments. And the more of those that are taken from the NHS, the worse its financial position becomes.
I have also reached another conclusion. There is growing evidence that ministers are involved in a smear campaign against the NHS as a means of selling their privatusation programme to an unsuspecting public. For example? Stafford Hospital! My suspicions were first aroused when I read the diatribe of abuse poured forth by Jeremy Hunt and others about the cruelty, filth, unnecessary deaths and uncaring atmosphere at Stafford. I have been involved in the NHS for many years and have never experienced anything remotely matching these descriptions. I found the claims impossible to believe, and then I read of the march of over 50,000 local people in support of their hospital in Stafford . Something was very strange here.
I published a blogpost asking if we were being misled. I soon found the answer for large numbers of staff, members of the public and patients have sent in testimonies that totally contradict what increasingly sounds like malicious distortion. I already knew that experts had condemned the claims about deaths, and I already knew that tales about patients drinking from vases – a claim repeated by David Cameron at the Conservative Party conference – were pure invention since no vases existed. But I hadn’t realised the extent to which other claims were pure invention.
As someone who led a transition to Foundation Trust status I have no doubt that Stafford was subjected to enormous financial pressures by the regulator Monitor, and that these combined with the imposition of ‘efficiency savings’ – cuts under another name – led to an acute shortage of nurses. Inevitably these led to day-to-day problems. But there is now clear evidence that Stafford was no different to any other NHS hospital. The scandal was, it seems, blown out of all proportion as politicians seized on instances of personal grief which often expresses itself as anger.
With the help of many people in Stafford who treasure their hospital, which is now receiving excellent ratings, I plan to return to this episode in some detail. The vast majority of nurses and doctors are caring and compassionate who do their professional best in the face of an oderwhelming workload. They deserve better than being used by politicians as pawns.
Meantime a word on behalf of another caring profession would not be out of place. Social Workers have become the fall-guys of society. Yesterday Ofsted said that standards of child protection are “unacceptably poor” in no fewer than 20 local authorities. It is, said Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, a “national disgrace”. He is right, but the blame does not lie with the ever-reducing number of Social Workers.
In the wake of high-profile cases such as Baby P, Victoria Climbie and Daniel Pelka the number of children referred to social services has soared from 538,000 in 2008 to 605,100 in 2012. This has coincided with massive cuts in local authority budgets, which in turn have led to big cuts in funding for social services. The result is that each Social Worker now has an unmanageable caseload.
Sir Michael reported that poor leadership and too many changes at the top were contributing to the problem. “The combination of unstable communities and political and managerial instability in our social care services is a dangerous mix”, he said. Writing in the Independent, Joanna Nicholas, an independent social worker and child protection consultant, adds that there are too many newly qualified workers resulting from the rapid turnover of personnel.” It is amazing that people stay in the job at all”, she adds.
The Director of Children’s Services in Birmingham, Peter Hay, is a brave man. Last week he made clear that; “We cannot guarantee to save children in Birmingham”. It needed to be said. The simple truth is that there are now insufficient Social Workers and the experienced ones that are still battling on cannot possibly cope. So long as the national priority is to shield tax avoiders and to offset the income loss by imposing cuts to such as children’s services there will be serious shortcomings. The Social Workers, like the nurses, are not to blame.
This morning’s headlines reinforce the argument that the private sector is not the answer. Read the story of Orchid View!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Neglect stemming from institutionalised abuse at a care home directly contributed to the deaths of five of its elderly residents after warning signs were ignored or missed by managers and watchdogs. There was mismanagement from the top down at the Orchid View home”….Penelope Schofield, West Sussex Coroner
When we lock in the hens at night we no longer do a headcount, the numbers are beyond our maths range. We work on the assumption that every chuck has had the good sense to head for safety, and content ourselves with a cursory sweep of the flash lamps. When we arrived at the allotments this morning we were greeted with the error of our ways, a row of late-night revellers were perched in one of the trees.
No amount of corn-scattering would entice them down, and it was quickly decided that our most agile member should use the ladder. The rest you can guess. Albert was on the ninth rung when the bough snapped. With merely a cry of Geronimo our wee pal returned to earth clinging to the ladder with six squawking hens clinging to him. For all but our hero it was an hilarious start to the day. He refused offers of a lift to our local A & E unit on the grounds that, this being Saturday, he would have recovered long before he would receive attention.
You will gather from that remark that in common with the rest of the country, with the obvious exception of Chipping Norton, our area is not well blessed with medical services at weekends. Such GPs that still practice are pursuing non-medical leisure activities, A & Es are in the hands of less-than-able junior doctors and a call to the 111 service extracts nothing more than a rendering of Beethoven’s unfinished symphony.
Being all too aware of this, we were less than surprised to read of the reception afforded to Blue Peter presenter turned Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt when he reluctantly showed up at the annual conference of GPs at Harrogate yesterday. A few days ago he had warmed the hearts of the Tory faithful by announcing that GP surgeries are to be obliged to open from 8am to 8pm, as well as at weekends.
Dr Peter Deveson, a south London GP, pointed out that such a move would entail GPs working 84-hour weeks which are neither “safe nor sustainable”. Cue an ad-hoc political response which was that 2,000 extra practitioners are in the pipeline. Dr Claire Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs, had done her sums and added 8,000 to Mr Hunt’s fag-packet calculation before asking if the pipeline began in outer Mongolia.
She went on to claim that spending on general practice has fallen by £400m in the past three years – representing a 7% cut for every patient. With other costs incurred as a result of the Lansley reforms the actual shortfall is now £1bn. Dr Gerada went on to warn Mr Hunt, who had by now assumed the resigned countenance of someone who has spent many an hour reading old copies of Readers Digest in A & E, that he was at risk of “destabilising the whole NHS”. She urged that “we put politics behind us and start looking for what is best for the NHS and our population”. Since politics is the only occupation known to Hunt and most other leading politicos that sounded a dubious prescription, but we know what she meant.
Several of us codgers spent many years working in the NHS, and we are appalled at the lack of understanding of medicine shown by a succession of Health Secretaries. All seem obsessed by the idea that diagnosis by telephone or email is the solution to our increasingly dysfunctional GP surgeries. Even the most experienced doctor will tell you that patients are often confused about symptoms and pain levels. To simply take them at their word without examination is dangerous in the extreme.
But the thing that most astonishes us is the enduring belief that because GPs are well paid they should be able to work extra shifts a la Tesco. A GP already sees up to 15 patients in one session. He or she has ten minutes in which to reach a conclusion as to whether there is a serious underlying condition. Take the easy route of referring patients on and expect a severe chastisement from the chosen specialist. Take the even easier option of prescribing a placebo and risk a life and an appearance before the GMC.
A GP has in many ways the most onerous role in the whole chain. How would you like to wake up each morning knowing that before you return to your bed you will have been responsible for dozens of decisions, any one of which could spell life or death. Throw in an ever increasing number of meetings resulting from the imposition of commissioning and an even greater volume of bureaucracy and the picture is a forbidding one.
Some time ago I attended a talk given by an official from the Department of Health. She displayed charts showing the number of patients seen per hour by a cross-section of London GPs. To the astonishment of her audience she concluded that the “best and most productive” doctors were those who saw the most patients per hour. That belief still exists in the corridors of power, the truth is that they are 100% wrong.
Morale of GPs is sinking fast and it is in all our interests that politicains of every colour ask themselves whether it makes any sense to turn a blind eye to tax avoidance, and to sanction money-guzzling schemes such as HS2, whilst penny-pinching on a service that at one time or another is of paramount importance to every family in the land!
When our moment of crisis comes it matters not one jot who is in 10 Downing Street. Dr Gerada is right, politics should play no part in healthcare.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY ; ” GPs are one of the last groups people trust. They don’t trust their politicians, their journalists, their bankers, their priests..in a subconscious way politicians are jealous that we are still held in high regard by society!”…Dr Clare Gerada
It seems that Mrs Albert was not pleased with our gift of a power drill to mark her beloved’s birthday. According to the great – miniscule actually – man she still holds stubbornly to the outdated sexist view that men should look after house maintenance. As we cleaned out the hens on this sunny morning he rather soured the equally sunny mood by banging on about rough justice, and despite our tendency to ignore his every word the term struck a chord.
Our eye was caught by the story in the Independent about the collapse of a series of leading barrister’s chambers. Michael Mansfield QC, whose clients have included the family of Stephen Lawrence and the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, is one such sufferer. It is, he tells us, the result of the government’s reforms of legal aid. Those who can’t afford to hire legal representation will in future have to fend for themselves and the caseload of barristers will collapse. Mr Mansfield believes that the government is trying to undermine the independence of the bar and “its ability to challenge government decisions”. Whilst we instinctively have little sympathy for barristers, we certainly see this as yet another example of what Mansfield describes as “one rule for the poor, another for the rich”.
The Sun has devoted its page 3 to ‘Tina Headturner’ and the rest of the comic to the news that Alan Lewis, a Tory vice-chairman appointed by our dear leader, has been arrested over an alleged rape of a teenage girl 1n the late 1960s. He has been bailed pending “further inquiries”, and no charges have been brought before a court. Why then have the police decided to splash the news? We are always concerned about allegations regarding something that allegedly happened fifty years ago, we are aghast at the police acting as judge and jury.
Another illustration of rough justice lies at the heart of a story featured in most papers. The focus is on a Nottingham hospital where nurses have been “reduced to tears” by their workload and openly tell of patients being left hungry and dehydrated. Down the road at Kings Mill Hospital in Sutton-in-Ashfield nurses are telling a similar story. They this week told inspectors that; “We cannot go on, it’s terrible, nurses are crying because care is so bad”.
Since the coalition took office 5,500 nurses have been axed, and former Blue Peter presenter Jeremy Hunt has openly admitted that many hospitals are “not staffed to safe levels”. It is rough justice for patients and nurses alike. Right now politicians are falling over themselves to promise improvements in everything known to mankind, it is high time that they committed to rectifying the mess they have made of the NHS. Despite what the unworldly Lansley believes, most people cannot afford private healthcare and the wards available to us are being turned into a nightmare.
The Daily Torygraph does little to stimulate hope of action. According to its lead story Messrs Cameron and Clegg are immersed in negotiations aimed at continuing their heavenly partnership after the 2015 election. How that fits with stories in other papers about a secret pact being forged between Cameron and Farage is less than clear. It does all suggest that our dear leader is not as convinced that “Milband couldn’t win an egg ‘n spoon race”, as he makes out.
But just as we wre concluding that its rough justice all round, a dashing Robin Hood character comes riding to the rescue. Well, Friar Tuck really for it is none other than our favourite pie-eater Eric Pickles. He wants to ban parking spy cameras being used by “overzealous” local authorities to maximise income from parking fines.
In an ever increasingly unjust society the man is a national treasure. he could become our version of Chairman Mao. The rest of them deserve to be eaten alive!
THOUGHTY FOR TODAY; “You know what I hate most about being a public figure? The public!”….Howard Stern
One of my fellow allotment codgers suddenly felt as sick as a parrot when we were shutting up the hens last night. Since he isn’t a football manager we had to act and, after listening to a rendering of Verdi on the NHS 111 emergency telephone service, we drove him to the nearest A & E department. Reassured and armed with a prescription we then drove him home to ‘er indoors.
This morning we read the latest diatribe from Blue Peter presenter turned health chief Jeremy Hunt who is somewhat displeased with people who do what we did. Thanks to the Lansley ‘reforms’ , A & E units now have inadequate staffing levels and the dashing Hunt insists that we contact a GP. Clearly he has not attempted that challenging task. Getting an appointment with a GP is now more challenging than climbing the north face of the Eider.
Perhaps we should have mentioned our human rights when arguing our case with the GP receptionist, who suggested that people wishing to gain audience with her masters should discipline themselves to become ill during normal working hours. But it would have been in vain since HR seems to embrace only those who indulge in rather more esoteric activities.
Soon after our little crisis, we learned that a geezer broke into Buckingham Palace whilst Inspector Knacker and his team were playing cards. Just why the intruder scaled the wall and spent time examining Her Majesty’s stamp collection is unclear, but the odds are that any attempt to deport him will be refused by the courts on the grounds that he was merely exercising his human right to poke his nose into a rival collector’s Penny Blacks.
Yesterday the Home Office tried to deport a violent foreign criminal who burned a woman’s face with melted plastic and scalded her with boiling water. Valentine Harverye, a Zimbabwean, was originally jailed for five and a half years for grievous bodily harm after he ” mutilated” and ” humiliated” his 34-year-old victim who was left scarred for life. The law states that any foreigner jailed for more than 12 months should be automatically deported but the 22-year-old brought a human rights appeal, and won.
Immigration judges ruled that Harverye could possibly face “ill-treatment” if he was sent back to Zimbabwe, which would breach Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. A Home Office spokesman trotted out the usual stuff about being disappointed, particularly since the individual is a drug dealer with a dozen or so convictions on his record.
We codgers make no claim to Egghead-like intellects. There must be an explanation for the fact that victims seem to have no human rights, but it escapes us. The only clue we have unearthed is the fact that every attempt by Home Secretary Theresa May to introduce a UK version of the Act is blocked by Nick Clegg. An all-consuming passion for Brussels can play funny tricks on the mind of a former inhabitant of the Planet Zog!
Today our chickens were in a rebellious mood. One of them had caught a mouse and the remaining hundred or so insisted on forming a mass that refused to budge. Perhaps we humans can learn from them?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “The reason modern poetry is so difficult is so that the poet’s wife cannot understand it!”…..Wendy Cope
Two of my allotment pals went to the Oval yesterday, having booked their expensive tickets way before last Christmas. They have been counting down the days to an exciting taste of Ashes cricket peppered with wickets and boundaries galore. This morning they were somewhat disappointed, they claim to have spent more exciting times watching paint dry. England batted at the slowest rate recorded since the fifties and apparently devoted more effort to time-wasting. Perhaps someone should remind the super-stars that cricket is supposedly a form of entertainment.
The fact that this morning’s papers have devoted maximum column inches to Michael Clarke having told Kevin Pieterson that no one likes him, and our South African replied in like terms, says it all. So even ‘sledging’ has lost its cutting edge. On the radio Phil Tufnell recalled arriving at the wicket to be asked if he would donate his brain since Merv Hughes was building an idiot. At least that was capable of raising a laugh!
And we codgers need our regular dosage of laughter, for once you are in your eighties the grim reaper is always hanging around in the background. But to be brutally honest people of our advancing years give little thought to the man with the scythe, the real recurring nightmare is the possibility of dementia. Thanks to tremendous advances in medicine we are all living longer, but as yet few advances have been made in the treatment of problems between our ever-growing ears.
This came to mind this morning when we read about the latest wheeze from Jeremy Hunt, the Blue Peter presenter turned head of the NHS. He has launched a campaign to force employers to allow those they employ to choose their own hours to enable them to cope more easily with what he calls a “looming dementia time bomb”. He tells us that by 2020 the number of people caring for someone with dementia will reach the million mark, and by 2030 that number will double.
Not surprisingly employers have been quick to point out that some businesses do not lend themselves to haphazard attendance. Industry already operates flexible hours, but even so more than two million have been obliged to leave work altogether since it often becomes the case that caring for someone with dementia is a full-time occupation in itself.
But even Hunt can’t be wrong all the time and he is right to press for maximum practical help from companies that can both operate flexible hours and profitable business. But if he imagines that this measure alone will defuse his bomb he is deluded. His talk of loving relatives is somewhat over-romantic in an age where families are often scattered to all corners of the globe. Not everyone is as loving as Mr Hunt’s former nursemaid, not everyone can survive financially without income from employment. And not every sufferer likes the feeling that others are sacrificing everything on their behalf. To all that add the fact that many people have no training in even the basics of coping with complex care needs.
The unpopular truth is that the state is going to be obliged to fund far more care in the community if our hospitals are not to end up packed to the corridors with elderly people who cannot survive without constant nursing care. At the moment we are heading in the opposite direction. The number of district nurse has been halved, the funding of employed carers has been reduced to near extinction, and those that still exist are working to zero-hours contracts guaranteed to deter young people from considering such emotionally-draining employment.
Politicians of all colours are simply burying their hands in the sand. The only way to deal with time bombs is to defuse them, and that means upping the ante on funding both to increase services and to compensate family carers who have the right to a bearable life. Here, we contend, is another potential nail in the coffin of projects such as High Speed Rail. Experts are now putting the cost at over £70 billion. Yesterday Lord Ashcroft and Alistair Darling joined the list of opponents whilst a Downing Street spokesman said that connecting up Manchester and London would transform the economy. In reality they are already connected, all that is needed is improved rail infrastructure even if it does mean that journeys take slightly longer.
As we watch all this nonsense unfold we sometimes feel that we would prefer to be on Mars. And here comes the good news. The organisers of the Mars One mission have been surprised to receive 165,000 applications to become intrepid pioneers for a permanent space colony on the Red Planet. And here comes the bad news. There are only four seats available for the first flight and there is no return ticket. Each applicant has so far paid a deposit of £17 but the prospects of coughing up the rest of the fare are clearly not too good. In fact unless you are of child-producing age the prospects are zero.
The successful applicants must, say the organisers, be healthy, smart enough to learn new skills and have a mind-set that can function in a small team. I guess that rules us codgers out but never mind, we would struggle to live without Tesco, B & Q, the Dog and Ferret Arms, and cricket – although after yesterday we could cope without the latter.
So it seems that we are stuck here on Earth. Perhaps our best hope is that some Martians might consider a job-swap. Great idea, a little green man might well be a better option than Jeremy Hunt!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “I phoned my local cab firm and said ‘Can you please send me a big fat bastard with a personal hygiene problem some time before I have my menopause?”….Jo Brand
Readers of my earlier note will know that I went to great lengths to get out of hen-cleaning this morning. I was up at crack of dawn to be driven to an NHS hospital for a cataract op with a difference. Different because I also have glaucoma, which adds an element of risk to what is normally a routine treatment. Interestingly the option of attending one of the private sector cataract ‘caravans’ was not available since the private providers only cover basic ops. A classic example of privatisation of the easy, and therefore more profitable, work!
As always the nursing staff and doctors were extremely caring and patient-focussed. One told me that they are all extremely angry at the way in which politicians are prepared to throw around such generalisations as cruel and uncaring. I suggested that taking to heart anything that people such as Jeremy Hunt says is not sensible. He has no idea of the intricacies of medicine, and would sell the most dedicated medic down the proverbial river if doing so would win votes. And lest anyone interprets this as a party political jibe I hasten to add that the previous government was much the same, as I learned to my cost when it took a massive public campaign to fight a proposal by Patricia Hewitt to privatise our local hospital’s outpatient’s service, our only source of ‘profit’.
I hadn’t realised until this morning just how wobbly even a local ‘freeze’ can make you. Being unused to being pushed in a wheelchair I found the experience stimulating. The crowd in the foyer usually tests my elbowing skills, but today it parted in the manner of the Red Sea and I gave a series of Prince Charles waves as we glided through.
Now I am back at home and typing this with one eye. Albert has just popped in and has commented that now I am one-eyed in more ways than one. I plead not guilty to that since, on all but one subject, I try very hard to reflect objectively the collective views of what is a fairly representative bunch of folk. But I admit that the NHS is an exception for it seems to me that all of us, whether we admire it or otherwise, are at some point utterly dependent on it.
As if on cue this morning’s paper, which I read whilst waiting, suggests that I am not alone. In a survey conducted by KPMG 87 per cent said that people believe that long-term health care should be paid for by government, as should social care. And a significant majority said that they would be willing to pay more in tax to meet the cost of the population’s long-term health needs. A similar number called for cuts to other public services to provide additional funding.
To me the most interesting finding of all is that few believe that privatisation will add value. Of course many support the concept of competition but few believe that the often complex and costly treatments will ever be covered by a company with obligations to maximise its bottom line.
None of which justifies the sub-standard administration that has always bedevilled the NHS, but Foundation Trusts with their elected governors should be left alone to force action on this. And whilst confusing paperwork and appointment systems may be irritating, the part of the NHS that really matters – the quality of treatment – is something if which we should all be proud. Clean up the admin and return the ratios of nurses to patients to those of yesteryear and all will yet be well.
What our health service doesn’t need is a constant flood of politically inspired ‘reforms’ such as the ludicrous 111 service. That is my one-eyed view for today. Tomorrow the eye-patch comes off, but I suspect that my view will be unchanged!
Meantimehere is a tip for anyone due to undergo this form of operation. As you lie there open the unencumbered eye and gaze at the most beautiful sky you would only see in the tropics. Brilliant blue with slowly drifting white wispy clouds. You can feel nothing of the surgeons work, you can be transported into a timeless paradise. I later established that the illusion is the result of powerful lights shining through the blue face-protection. Enjoy!
Another weekend has come and gone. For hen-keepers such as us, Saturday and Sunday are much the same as any other day, chickens require the same attention irrespective of the day. Of course the same is true for farmers and for anyone whose work involves animals. But in regard to human activity weekends are different, occasions to relax and reduce service levels. Offices close down completely, many shops have traditionally closed their doors on Sundays at least, public transport has reduced the frequency of services, the great British public has caught up on its sleep or headed for diversions.
It has to a considerable degree always been thus. Apart from the tireless super-humans of our age, such as Eric Pickles, everyone needs a break and it makes sense to take it collectively. But the time has surely come to recognise that like animals, emergencies require immediate attention whenever they occur and, inconvenient though it may be for some, the ludicrous arrangement whereby the NHS regards itself as an office that shuts down from Friday to Monday must end. For half a century politicians have regarded the health service as a useful medium for points scoring, but even they should surely find a consensus on the idea that people facing a life-threatening emergency at weekends are equally entitled to the best possible care.
People get ill at any time of the day or night, people are born or die at the weekend as well as on weekdays. Yet if you are admitted to hospital at the weekend, you are more likely to die. It is as simple as that. Mortality rates are 11% higher for patients admitted on Saturdays and 16% higher for patients admitted on Sundays than for those admitted during the week. Why? We all know the answer to that. Like most other people, medical consultants work a five-day week. But only a tiny number remain on call at weekends. In line with that, MRI scans are not usually available, pharmacies are closed, physiotherapists nowhere to be seen.
A friend told me that her daughter’s life-threatening ovarian cyst was not diagnosed for five days, simply because she went into hospital ahead of a long bank-holiday weekend, when the MRI scans were not available and only junior doctors were to be found on the wards.
We codgers have resolutely opposed the ludicrous reforms imposed by Andrew Lansley. They have cost billions, achieved nothing and created a good deal of confusion. But the most ridiculous feature of all is the omission of 24/7 working. There is no other way, and it should be the top priority in the reform stakes.
There will of course be fierce opposition. Consultants will reasonably argue that they are already overstretched, and such as radiographers will talk of unsocial hours. Clearly the existing establishment will not cope with seven day working and politicians of all colours will have to accept that an increase in numbers will be necessary, as will the reversal of training budgets. Equally doctors and medical staff will have to accept that whilst they cannot be expected to work for more than five days in seven, they cannot dictate which days they are.
Somewhere down the line there must also be consideration of the concept of centres of excellence. There is clear evidence that centralisation of this kind can improve the standard of expertise and care. But that refinement, given its inevitable political implications, can wait a while. One step at a time.
And ending decades of weekday hospitals would be a giant step. Lest you regard this as an academic argument picture yourself arriving in an ambulance with someone close to you, imagine the sense of helplessness and the need to believe that everything humanly possible will be done to save that figure on the stretcher. Imagine your feeling on discovering that the people and facilities necessary are ‘off’ until Monday.
This should be an issue on which Hunt and Burnham can agree. Just for once they should stop the pretence that the NHS funding is ‘ring-fenced’. Just for once they should unite in standing up to the treasury and doctors representatives alike.
Of course much of this argument applies also to GP surgeries which, in many areas, literally close down completely at weekends. Once hospitals operate a round-the-clock service they too must change.
Where are the politics in all this? Does anyone seriously disagree? Are any of us satisfied with a lottery that currently kills thousands every year just because they become ill at weekends?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Never trust a doctor whose office plants have died!” ..Erma Bombeck
A vigilant soul spotted torches piercing the darkness on the allotments last night and rang the police. The beat Bobbie arrived and duly discovered that it was us. Together with two of my fellow codgers I was engaged in locking the hens in for the night, somewhat later than is our custom. We had watched to the end the second of two T20 quarter finals on the giant Sky screen in our local hostelry, and had lost all sense of time as we lingered to mull the game over.
But all ended happily. The dreaded foxes had not arrived and the officer contented himself with the comment that he might have guessed that it was “you daft sods”, rather than a clandestine meeting of UK Uncut. In fact he interrupted an interesting conversation on the subject of the games politicians play, perhaps an appropriate theme for debate in the darkness.
We had noticed with some surprise a prediction by the one and only Boris that the Conservatives are now on course to secure a huge overall majority in 2015. As we have demonstrated previously this is a mathematical impossibility given the distribution of seats. So why is the craftiest fox of them all sticking his neck out so temptingly? The answer soon came. Boris is creating an expectation that cannot be met in the hope that Tory party members will decide to dispense with the services of our dear leader, thus opening the door for a new saviour.
This morning Prince Charming received a helpful hand from an unexpected source. some days ago we complained that taxpayer’s money was being shovelled in the direction of an American expert in Healthcare Improvement. We suggested that the Cameron/Hunt motive was to land yet another damning assessment of the NHS to add fuel to their campaign of privatisation. We were probably right to suspect that, but both we and they were very wrong in anticipating that Don Berwick would join the orchestrated chorus of condemnation.
The report published this morning concludes that “NHS staff are not to blame – in the vast majority of cases it is systems, procedures, conditions, environment and constraints they face that lead to patient safety problems”. It suggests that from the government down, leaders must abandon blame and “trust the goodwill and good intentions of staff”.
The report goes on to say; “Neither at Mid Staffordshire, nor more widely, is it scientifically justifiable to blame the staff of the NHS or label them as uncaring, unskilled or culpable. Good people can fail to meet patients needs when their working conditions do not provide them with the conditions for success”.
Some critics have suggested that Berwick is light in regard to specific recommendations but we codgers, several of whom have extensive experience of the NHS, believe that he has focussed on the major problems. He has identified nurse staffing levels as critical, and he has questioned the wisdom of having three regulatory bodies, none of which co-operates with other, and all of which consume hours of every executive’s day with endless forms and bureaucratic irrelevances.
Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs, is delighted by the emphasis of the report. She says that at last we have a report that “tells it as it really is”. Berwick, she says, “recognises that we do not get it right every time but he also acknowledges that a blame and shame culture is not the best way to bring out the best in NHS staff so that they can provide compassionate patient care”.
True to form Jeremy Hunt was quick to claim that this has been his view all along. Really? Just months ago he pandered to the likes of the Daily Mail by talking of “coldness, resentment, indifference, even contempt” when referring to NHS staff. He spoke of “a kind of normalisation of cruelty where the unacceptable is legitimised and the callous becomes mundane”. His words infuriated and demoralised clinical staff whose numbers have been cut to the point where individual patient attention is impossible.
Austerity is one thing, saving lives another. The time has come for point-scoring politicians to stop their endless attempts to use our greatest asset as a political football. They should content themselves with ensuring that Foundation Trusts are properly established and leave the management and publicly-elected governors to get on with it. They should stop pretending that the NHS funding is ‘ring-fenced’ and recognise that imposing £20 billion in ‘efficiency savings’ are cuts by another name. They should regard protecting nurse and doctor numbers as a greater priority than shielding tax-avoiders, even if they happen to be party donors.
I spent many years in the NHS and have never recognised the uncaring staff described by Hunt and his friends. Given the staffing levels needed, and left alone, we still have the makings of a health service capable of coping with the ever increasing demands being placed on it. Of course we must remember that in industry 98% achievement always attracts rewards, in medicine 2% failure is the stuff of headlines.
The government hoped that the findings of a renowned expert such as Don Berwick would finally put the NHS in the dock, thus opening the door for ever more private contracts. Instead he has placed them in the dock and delivered a verdict of guilty!
I was searching my mind for a punch-line and, as I did so, happened to spot a statement issued yesterday by Monitor, the so-called regulator. It calls for a further 4 per cent cut to nursing posts over 2014-15 and 2015-16. Berwick is right, bean counters can damage your health!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ”We support Professor Berwick’s call for patient care to be made paramount and for a culture of support, not blame, to empower staff” …Mark Porter, chair of council at BMA
Even the prospect of the Test Match, about to start at Old Trafford, was driven from our minds by the news that Jeremy Hunt has been defeated in the High Court. Regular readers will recall that every member of our allotments gang responded with a tenner to the appeal from campaigning group 38 Degrees who wished to join with the people of Lewisham in seeking legal redress against the Health Secretary’s decision to downgrade the casualty and maternity services at the successful and highly-regarded Lewisham hospital.
The proposed changes were part of a wider ‘reform’ of services in the capital, after the financial collapse of the neighbouring South London Healthcare NHS trust (SLHT). Hunt appointed a special administrator to the SLHT and suspended the directors. He then took the astonishing decision to close services elsewhere with a view to forcing patients to travel to help offset the financial losses. It clearly escaped his mind that the result would be, to quote Dr Louise Irvine who led the mass protest in Lewisham, that people would have to travel ” a long, long way further to get access to vital services”. And long delays in getting to an A & E unit mean one thing – avoidable deaths.
38 Degrees saw this as the perfect test case, and set about raising £20,000 to establish a legal team. Its advice was heartening, Hunt was acting illegally. Yesterday brought the long awaited hearing at the High Court, and thousands demonstrated outside.
Mr Justice Silber ruled that Hunt had acted outside his powers when he announced to parliament in January that casualty and maternity units at the highly rated Lewisham hospital would be downgraded. The judge went on to say that the Secretary of State had unlawfully breached the provisions of the National Health Services Act 2006.
Dr Irvine paid tribute to the thousands of local people, community groups, GPs, hospital doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who, together with 38 Degrees members, had donated to make this landmark victory possible.
Of course everyone knows that ministers hell-bent on the privatisation of the health service will already be plotting an appeal and counter-moves. But this victory has great significance. It shows that vast numbers of people are appalled by what the government is doing to the NHS and, given support, are prepared to stand up and be counted. Politician’s main concern is for their own skins and they will recognise the political dangers in continuing to destroy local emergency services. What Lewisham did yesterday will act as a precedent.
We all recognise that the NHS faces perilous times and must become more administratively efficient. But services such as A & E are too important to be left to the whims of an ass such as Jeremy Hunt, who clearly isn’t even aware of the limits of his powers. The time for people power has arrived, the NHS belongs to us all and we must take heart from this evidence that if we fight we can win!
The small part we codgers played in this affair has helped to restore our battered sense of pride. We all smirked somewhat when Lord Howell of Poshtown, the father-in-law of Gorgeous George Osborne, told the nation that fracking should be confined to the desolate North East and its equally desolate peasants. Yesterday he apologised and explained that he had meant to refer to us lot in the North West!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “This is a tremendous victory for all who campaigned for this well-run, successful hospital to remain open. The mobilisation of the public has been extraordinary. Real questions must now be asked about the decisions being taken by this government in relation to healthcare!”…..Rosa Curling from law firm Leigh Day
If it ain’t broke why mend it? That slightly modified version of the old maxim sums up life on the allotments pretty well, and we codgers draw comfort from the feeling of calm continuity that comes from a life free of constant, and often bewildering, change. Of course there are examples of taking this to extremes, one such being the fact that Albert’s Christmas decorations hang wearily from the ‘shed’ roof, but by and large there is satisfaction to be gained from the fact that we are still using outdated egg-hatching equipment, egg-washing units and the rest and all continue to function perfectly. In a world of constant updating we remain conservative with a small ‘c’. Not for us the dashing what-shall-we-change world of our dear leader and his supposedly innovative pals.
Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the great game of public service outsourcing. Someone up there is obsessed with the idea that spending an undisclosed fortune on selling off essential services is a worthwhile pastime. The pattern is invariably along the same lines; organise a tender process operated by management consultants on gigantic fees, oblige the existing state-owned operator to bid, ensure that a private concern wins, make the existing experts redundant at great cost, watch the new providers cut corners to boost margins before selling out to another concern who were not party to the original specification, and are set on paying out a slice of the money paid out by the state to shareholders before engaging professionals who will find “tax-efficient regimes” at the expense of the exchequer (us).
Sound familiar? It should do for the format has been applied to everything from forensics to prisons. And now we have the latest example – the so-called 111 service. If any medical service that relies on diagnosis by telephone can be said to be successful, NHS Direct was. Now we learn that the NHS Trust of that name has decided to pull out of the new 111 concept since it cannot compete with the cost-quotations of private companies. The result is that the service now either doesn’t exist at all, or is provided by entrepeneurs that operate a profitable service through the ingenious wheeze of manning the phones with former traffic wardens rather than expensive nurses supervised by doctors.
Channel 4′s Despatch programme last night screened the findings of two undercover reporters who posed as trainee call handlers working for Harmoni, which now runs 11 contracts for 111 provision. It revealed staff shortages, long waits for callers to be connected, unnecessary resort to ambulances, and advice being given by people with no clinical qualifications.
One Harmoni call centre manager was secretly filmed admitting: “We had a very bad service. Realistically, on weekends we still are unsafe. We don’t have the staff to deal with the calls that are coming in!” It also emerged that, thanks to the huge growth in turnover its new NHS 111 contracts would bring, Harmoni was valued at £48 million.
As a result the owners decided to cash in, and the company was sold to Care UK. This means that those who put in Harmoni’s bids for the 111 contracts no longer own or run the company now it is supposedly delivering them.
On last night’s BBC news a GP made two observations. Firstly, the service has been reduced to chaos. Secondly, no one knows just how much taxpayer’s money has been wasted on the enormously bureaucratic tendering process. In this morning’s papers Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of the BMA’s GP committee, calls the planning and implementation of the 111 helpline an “abject failure”. Dr Peter Carter, Royal College of Nursing, warns of “chaos and tragic consequences for patients”.
The service in some regions operated by Ambulance Trusts are excellent,,, but these could have been in place without any tendering whatsoever. Unless you are fortunate enough to live in one of their areas the only safe thing to do is to ring your GP out-of-hours service. Unless of course Jeremy Hunt has also privatised that, as in the case of Cornwall where the sight of a Doctor is rarer than that of a kangeroo.
Why the hell cannot the idiots in charge leave thngs that work alone. We wonder just how many deaths have already resulted from this latest example of stupidity!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY ”The same call-handling computer software used by 111 led to an increase in ambulance call-out and a marked deterioration when it was introduced by private provider Serco to its out-of-hours service in Cornwall”…National Audit Office
Archbishop Welby is very much the flavour of the week amongst the allotment codgers, and this morning there was general delight at the news that Uncle Vince Cable has decided to back him all the way in his fight against the payday loan sharks. It is perhaps significant that both men have onsiderable business experience, and are unlikely to be fooled by the sudden welter of spin being issued by companies given free rein to trick and persecute desperate people.
The same cannot be said for the leadership of our main political parties. The vast majority entered politics straight from university, and will believe almost anything that comes wrapped up in PR verbiage. They will also seize on any isolated fact or figure that can be used to support whatever madness they pursue. Today there is disquieting evidence that they did just that in the case of Stafford hospital which is now branded by the media as the equivalent of hell on earth.
The initial stories of examples of unacceptable treatment became public at a time when the government was under enormous pressure over its plans to privatise the NHS, and was undoubtedly manna from heaven to ministers. Here they implied, was absolute proof that the NHS was in terminal decline, a dangerous place for any patient. Only the likes of Serco, G4S and the rest could restore safe treatment. Given recent evdence that many of the private providers have been involved in fraud has not deterred them, and yesterday they announced the closure of the hospitals A & E unit leaving Stoke or Wolverhampton as the nearest emergency centres.
Now here is a curious development. Throughout the government’s barrage of spin whih led to the now widely used description of Stafford as the “Killing Fields” we regularly saw interviews with Julie Bailey, the woman who led the ‘Cure the NHS ‘ group which used to meet at her cafe in Stafford. Her cafe is now under new management, she claims that she was “run out of town”. The new cafe sports a “Support Stafford hospital’ poster. There has been a mile-long march involving over 30,000 people in support of the hospital, and the number of people attending the A & E unit is up by a third on twelve months ago.
None of which quite fits with the portrayal of a hospital so bad that no patient would risk entering its doors. Then we move to the key ‘facts’ so continually emphasised by ministers. David Cameron himself has made much of the fact that patients were “reduced to drinking from dirty flower vases”. It transpires that the only flower vases at Stafford were kept in a cleaning room and were empty. An inquiry has reported that ; “Only a deranged but mobile patient might go in there looking for water”.
Of greater moment has been the constsntly repeated claim that over 1,200 patients died needlessly. The first inkling that this was a lie came when doctors accusd Jeremy Hunt of “making political capital” out of hospital deaths”. This was quickly followed by the Keogh report which insisted that such numbers were “clinically meaningless and academically reckless”. We now learn that 14 local hospices were closed down and the deaths that would have been attributed to them were incorrectly added into the hospital figures.
Dilip Dacruz, Stafford’s A & E consultant, is fuming at the way in which “a fictitious number of deaths have been produced to crucify Stafford hospital”. Yesterday he went on to say that the hospital is “as good as anywhere else in the NHS”. He also revealed that the figures were used to close Stafford’s overnight emergency service in 2011 and, when the doors open at 8.00am, there is “a queue of people like at a post office”. Mr Dacruz together, with many of the consultant team, describes the situation as “completely unacceptable”.
Heather Gough has spent 40 years as a nurse at Stafford. She says that at the heart of the problem lay an overworked workforce. Nursing staff, she says, had been shrunk to cut costs so that the hospital could achieve Foundation Trust status. I for one entirely believe this. When the hospital I chaired applied to regulator Monitor to become a Foundation hospital it was quickly clear that the only criteria was bottom-line profit. Trusts were placed under enormous pressure to reduce staff numbers irrespective of clinical outcomes.
There is now a very active ‘Support Stafford hospital’ campaign. It is led by Mark Saville, a grade 5 nurse. He too is incensed at the suggestions of many preventable deaths and points to an independent review into 50 deaths in 2009. Only one was classified as ‘possibly preventable’. As already mentioned Saville’s campaign is receiving huge local support.
The Stafford hospital of today is certainly a very different place to the one where the alleged failings occurred. The Health statistics and research service Dr Foster now rates the hospital as one of the best performers in the West Midlands in terms of mortality rates, and the Care Quality Commission has withdrawn all its concerns.
Undoubtedly there were failings, but there is now reason to believe that the crucifixion was unjustified and was triggered for political gain. No one has pointed the finger at the child of the previous government, Monitor, yet the regulator was at the heart of what happened.
Fictitious figures, invented incidents and a smear coampign of unprecedented fury all combine to make the story of Stafford hospital a very disturbing piece of history. Who do we believe? The choice is ours, but the people of Stafford have made theirs!
Make hay while the sun shines for, if the weathermen are correct, it is about to be switched off and replaced with rather large amounts of the wet stuff. In our case substitute the first two words by collect eggs and you have our modus operandi this morning on the allotments. The problem is that we have become so used to glorious Phoebe that, far from living on happy memories of golden weeks, we will quickly return to our old melancholy once the heavenly tap is turned on.
As if in anticipation, a number of my pals were already showing signs of their less than benign side this morning. Over a brew there was a good deal of incredulity over the promise by ex-Blue Peter presenter Jeremy Hunt to investigate the sharp increase in deaths amongst elderly people. We realise that he is somewhat removed from reality, but surely even he knows that the social care system is in total collapse. The government has hacked away at local authority funding, and the cuts have been passed on. Such social workers as remain report case loads so great that crises are not picked up. Even if they were, the number of carers has been halved and it is now entirely possible for the housebound to be left unvisited for days on end. Tackling tax-avoiders might have been a better option!
But all this we already knew, and have reported on. What we hadn’t previously realised is that when ministers urged firms to give priority, when recruiting, to the locally unemployed they were concealing the reality. More than 800,000 vacancies are being offered to workers across the EU as part of a scheme funded by British taxpayers. British firms are given a £1,000 bonus for every foreign worker taken on.
The EU scheme offers foreigners hundreds of pounds of funding to pay for interviews in Britain, relocation costs, and even English lessons. The website known as EURES, which is operated by Brussels, currently offers 1,450,490 vacancies, of which 808,659 are in the UK, more than the total number of positions in all the other member states put together. More than 2.5 million people in Britain are currently unemployed.
Examination of the website reveals that the next highest job offers are in Germany with 267,517 vacancies, at the other end of the table lies Poland with just 120. It also reveals that the EURES site has specialist employment advisers across Europe, 16 of which are based in Jobcentres in the UK.
This story has emerged just days after Matthew Hancock, business minister, called on bosses to stop taking the “easy option” of filling jobs with “foreigners” when they could “train local workers instead”. It has prompted leading Conservative MP Douglas Carswell to rage that in his constituency there are lots of young people competing for a limited number of vacancies. He went on to say that ; “Yet here we have a website funded by the British taxpayer flagging up opportunities to poeple who have absolutely no connection with this country. What Ministers need to do is stop talking and act”.
More predictable was the attack from Nigel Farage of Ukip: “The fact that unemployed Brits are being pitted aginst 500 million people across Europe to get jobs in their own country is ludicrous. With 2.5 million unempoyed here every job vacancy counts. Yet here we have the EU, which we grossly overfund, advertising our jobs and giving others the upper hand by providing financial support. We are essentially paying the EU to give away British jobs”.
It truly is an astonishing situation, and explains the significant rise in the flow of people from mainland Europe. It also helps to explain why jobs created continue to rise whilst the level of unemployment amongst young people remains unchanged.
Presumably the Lib Dem and Labour Parties see this as a price worth paying. If we codgers are in any way representative of opinion they are out of touch with the public view. And what of the Department of Work and Pensions?
It said yesterday that under the European Treaty all EU countries are “obliged to share their job vacancies”. Perhaps they should explain that to Mr Hancock!