Posts Tagged ‘NHS privatisation’
On dark mornings such as this we find ourselves wondering why anyone in their right mind would elect to come here. Of course we know why but as we performed our imitation of drowning rats whilst cleaning out the hens it was easy to imagine that even easy hand-outs must be scant consolation. Having said that it must be admitted that we have had a decent summer this time around. Sadly it appears that Bert the God of Weather has decided to dampen our blue skies optimism.
It seems that, unlike us codgers, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is hanging on to his optimism. Today’s headlines tell us that he has warned the political classes that economic growth is not enough to make Britain a “healthy society”. He welcomes the indication that the Osborne austerity plan may be yielding fruit, but he emphasises the need for the creation of a “more caring society”. God bless the man, he clearly still imagines that politicians care about caring.
They don’t and never have. Providing that a majority of the population promises its support at the next election, they are perfectly happy to leave the rest to their fate. And right now that is a grim prospect given that any attempt to balance the books without collecting taxes must lead to cuts in services that hit those at the bottom of the income table with all the force of a sledgehammer.
There are still many caring people and organisations who perform valiant charitable deeds, a perfect example being all those who giuve oif their time to run the ever-increasing number of food banks but even amongst their ranks it is possible to sense a growing anger as they witness scenes that according to our crowing politicos simply don’t exist.
Brits are not given to protest but we are now witnessing an increasing number of public expressions of rebellion at misrepresentation covering many aspects of our daily lives. Even Nick Clegg has been moved to protest at the concept of free schools which employ unqualified teachers. Perhaps he will soon notice that the same dangerous cost-cutting philosophy is being applied to health.
Over the past few days I have been inundated with comments from supporters of Stafford Hospital where, in attempts to ‘sell’ the idea of privatisation, politicians and activists created an impression of a cruel, incompetent NHS which can be saved only by transferring services to private companies. If you turn to the comments attached to my piece about the possibility if our having been misled you will, I suspect, be shocked. Over 50,000 people took to the streets to condemn the web of lies.
We now have evidence that not only are politicians going to great lengths to exaggerate NHS failings and the virtues of private healthcare providers, they are enabling their pals to avoid the payment of taxes. Companies receiving lucrative Government contracts to run care services looking after tens of thousands of vulnerable people are avoiding millions of pounds in tax through a loophole nodded through by ministers and condoned by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
More than 30 companies, including some of the UK’s most recognisable brands, benefit from what is known as the quoted Eurobond exemption. The firms cut their taxable UK profits by taking high-interest loans from their owners through the Channel Islands Stock Exchange. By racking up large interest payments to their parent companies, they reduce their bottom line and cut their tax bill.
An example is ‘Partnerships in Care’, several of whose mental-health facilities have recently failed inspections. Examination of Companies House records shows that it ‘owes’ £321.9m to its owners, Cinven, a European investment firm. By paying interest of £29.7m on these borrowings in 2012, it helped to turn a healthy operating profit of £31.7m into a pre-tax loss leaving the group with a tax credit of £629,000.
Or take Tunstall, another favourite of ministers. It is ‘paying’ a 16% interest rate on its borrowings from its owners, the Charterhouse and Bridgepoint private-equity funds company. The firm, which provides services for the newly formed clinical commissioning groups, avoided up to £19m in UK corporation tax in 2012, after £76.1 m in interest on the ‘loans’ from its owners virtually wiped out its operating profit, leaving it with a tax bill of only £548,000.
The same practice is now being used by the vast majority of private companies awarded former NHS work. Many if them report that their arrangements have been approved by HMRC.
Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts committee said yesterday; “Companies have a duty to pay their fair share of tax relative to the profits they are making in this country. Yet it seems every week brings a new revelation of another business who is using artificial structures to move their profits out of the UK, seemingly for no other purpose than to avoid tax”.
The Archbishop’s dream of a caring society will remain just that so long as treasury income excludes a substantial part of tax due!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “I find the case of these private health companies particularly depressing. They get their income overwhelmingly from taxpayer’s money, for the purpose of providing vital public services, yet do not appear to be making their fair contribution”…Margaret Hodge
The natives were restless this morning. As we cleaned out the hens in the seemingly chilly sunshine there was a good deal of hilarity at the antics of the Halifax, but this soon turned to incredulity at the latest nonsense from Monitor, the so-called NHS regulator.
The Halifax story appeared on last night’s consumer programme on the Beeb. A young mum, clutching her 6 months-old baby, related her experience when she rang the bank to adjust her monthly payment into the infant’s savings account. A member of staff insisted that he could only discuss the matter with the account-holder and insisted on James coming to the phone. James made a few gurgling noises and the official was satisfied. When confronted by Watchdog a PR spokesman said that working to the letter of the laws was sometimes ill-advised!
But the utterances from Monitor, although equally loopy, are rather more serious since the NHS regulator is supposedly responsible for steering our hospital services in the right direction. My own experiences of Monitor were less than reassuring. Time and again the entire Foundation Trust board was summoned to their plush offices in central London to be lectured on various supposed breaches of our numerous targets. The Monitor team invariably included no clinicians and ours found themselves having to explain such matters as why it was not always possible for an ambulance to immediately drive to the hospital with patients who must first be stabilised. As we travelled back the doctors would invariably talk of amateurs in charge.
This morning Monitor has excelled itself. It has announced that vast savings can be made by contracting out services to companies from India and Mexico where minor operations such as cataract surgery are delivered at one sixth of NHS costs. In India a suitably equipped train travels the country performing local ad hoc cataract procedures. There are no hospital costs, wages are low and, frankly, the standards of infection control are iffy. I haven’t been to Mexico but imagine that things there are very similar.
Andy Burnham responded by remarking that such proposals will “send a shiver down many a spine, they confirm the suspicion that the government is softening us up for NHS privatisation”. Ideas as stupid as this hardly merit troubling our spines, but he is right in principle. However he does seem to have forgotten that the Labour government started the trend via Patricia Hewitt who is now a director of a private health care provider.
Her proposal to privatise outpatients service in the North West met with mass protests and was withdrawn. But some services were outsourced, including cataract operations. These were awarded to Netcare, a South African company which used a visiting trailer. That meant a loss of revenue for the hospital, but we were quickly instructed that we must handle complex cases and patients experiencing problems during the operation.
That example sums up the NHS hospitals nightmare. They have to incur the cost of all complicated – and therfore expensive - procedures whilst losing the mass of routine ‘profitable’ ones. It is a recipe for disaster presided over by amateurs in medical terms.
The same seems to apply to much being done to education by the dashing Michael Gove. Today we learn that one of his ‘free schools, has exercised its right to appoint teachers who have no teaching qualifications. Pimlico primary in central London has felt obliged to wave goodbye to one such, its 27-year-old headteacher Annaliese Briggs who “was not happy because she couldn’t cope with the workload”. Hopefully Monitor won’t seize on this idea, we do not fancy being operated on by unqualified doctors!
But we can at least give three cheers for the new Help to buy scheme announced by our dear leader. It seems that on a property valued at £600,000, using Help to buy to secure a 95% loan instead of borrowing 90% cuts the deposit from £60,000 to £30,000. Sandy Chen, banking analyst at Cenkos Securities, reports great interest on the part of bankers. “Bankers are speculative types and are attracted to the possibility of making lots of money”, she tells us. Nice to know that the bankers are being cared for!
You can of course ignore all of these bleatings. We codgers have to confess to being old fashioned and set in our ways. We even agree with Jack Wilshere who has incurred the wrath of such modern thinkers as Kevin Pieterson by suggesting that the England soccer team should comprise Englishmen. Like us it seems that Jack is behind the times. As any modernist will tell us, the England team should be a micro version of the United Nations.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY ; ” When you give a child a hammer everything becomes a nail!”……Leo Kaplan
There was a ripple of ironic applause when I appeared on the allotments this morning. My frequent absence for hen-cleaning of late has left me as popular as a boil on a boundary rider’s bum, but hopefully a few weeks of regular attendance will restore my reputation. My explanation does not sound plausible but it is true – I have attended umpteen NHS clinics for investigation of the ‘shadow’ on my lung shown by XRay which has proved to be the result of a plastic cash card in my shirt pocket. Perhaps I should have claimed that I was indulging in trysts with Zsa Zsa Gabor.
But the codgers soon switched their attention to a somewhat younger target. Almost everyone had watched the performance of Ed Miliband at the Labour Party conference and, inevitably, people whose memories now resemble colanders were full of praise for his ability to memorise a one hour speech. How will our dear leader beat this? He could try performing whilst standing on his head, but that would serve only to turn his face even ruddier and who will want to vote for a beetroot?
Predictably the predominantly right-wing papers are wheeling out the Red Ed taunt. Hardly. For those of us whose early years were dominated by such as Nye Bevan he is at best pale pink. But he is shrewd. Although the polls show that the county as a whole is less than impressed with the idea of the two Eds being in charge of the bean-counting, the reading in marginal seats is somewhat different. There the Labour Party leads the Tories by 44% to 33%, and these are the seats that Miliband needs to win to gain the right to select the number 10 curtains. And the policies rattled off will have gone down well there.
Not least amongst these was the attack on the utilities. The announcement of a proposed freeze on prices will in reality draw few critics from any household. Prices have been rising at around 9% annually for several years and it has long been apparent that the big six are operating what is effectively a cartel. British Gas owner Centrica, EDF, Npower, SSE, E.on and Scottish Power have raised bills quickly when wholesale prices have risen yet shown a united reluctance to reduce them when they fall. Over the same time, multibillion -pound profits have soared as have dividends and bonuses.
Of course Miliband is playing the populist card, but he has chosen a good one. Most of the companies on whom we rely for our power are foreign-owned, and their commitment to the people of this county is minimal. The system is bust, there is no real competition. The tycoons will of course threaten blackouts and plague. The answer to that is to introduce new truly competitive suppliers plus real regulation.
Please don’t interpret this endorsement of the thoughts of Ed the geek as an indication of total endorsement. We were concerned at things he didn’t mention. The destruction of the NHS, HS2 and Europe were hardly mentioned and that worries us. Maybe our new stage star reasons that such things are best left to Ukip, who could do Labour a power of good in constituencies held by the coalition? But if we codgers are any guide failure to address these momentous issues will lose Ed a lot of votes amongst those who once voted Labour.
Having said all that we must express delight at the discomfort of all those who described Ed Miliband as weak and non-confrontational. He certainly demonstrated that he is not so, he even lashed out on the Murdoch-Cameron link. He also made clear his determination to be master in his own house and it was amusing to see John Prescott looking as happy as a walrus with a gastric problem. Mind you, we couldn’t help noticing the carefully placed ranks of young and televisual persons who appeared to be transfixed with the delight once associated with a Tom Jones concert.
Funniest of all were the coalition stooges who appeared on last night’s Newsnight. Miliband, they sneered, looks anything but a Prime Minister. Do we conclude from that that they believe that Mssrs Cameron and Clegg do?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” If, one morning, I walked over the River Thames, the headline that afternoon would read ‘Prime Minister Can’t Swim!”…..Margaret Thatcher
If politics were conducted in the manner of Premiership football, we codgers would be urging the owners of Team UK, whoever they may be, to make a record bid for Angela Merkel. Here we have a leader whose acting skills would rule her out of one of those turgid B movies of old, who has no truck with spin-doctors and is a stranger to make-up in any interpretation of the term. She is just what she appears, honest and down to earth.
As we cleaned out the hens this morning we played the game of ‘what if”. What if Mutti was running Britain. We wouldn’t have to discount almost everything our leader said, we wouldn’t have to suffer endless reckless cock-ups, we wouldn’t have to endure endless revelations about highly questionable links with leading business and media tycoons.
But we are where we are, and that is not a place encased in an air of calming caution. For some time now we have banged on about the privatisation of the NHS and today brings the frst indication that the wheels are coming off the Lansley bandwagon.
Briton’s biggest private hospital group, BMI Healthcare, is one of the supposed saviours of the NHS. As a result of the so-called reforms one in three of its 276,000 patients, at its 64 hospitals, are paid for by the NHS which has been forced to outsource. Five years ago the group’s patients included only 3% from the health service, now the total stands at 33%. And the Competition Commission is extremely concerned at the Group’s dominance in the market, a monopolistic situation looms. Worse still the group is now under huge financial pressure as it stands accused of extracting excessive profits from insurance firms and patients.
Since the failure of nursing home group Southern Cross two years ago, regulators have become increasingly concerned about the impact on vital services of aggressively financed private providers loaded with unsustainable rent or debt commitments. BMI are likely to be obliged to reduce its market dominance by selling off some of its largest hospitals, but even this may not be enough. The financial liabilities now exceed £2 billion and ownership of most of the BMI hospital buildings will next month transfer to lenders, who will act as landlord to the rump operating company, which will continue to trade as BMI Healthcare.
Without boring the pants off every reader let us sum up in simplistic style, a touch iof the Merkels if you like. Companies now being given work previously carried out in NHS hospitals are seeking capital from backers whose motive is, understandably, to maximise their return. The result is that their own profits are severely curtailed and work undertaken must be confined to the easy, more profitable treatments. This in turn leaves NHS hospitals with only the more complex, and therefore least ‘profitable, clinical work. This in turn leads to demands from Jeremy Hunt and his motley crew to merge NHS hospitals, meaning that there is no capacity to take back services transferred to the private sector.
Once profit-making is introduced to healthcare there can only be one outcome – disaster for those who depend on the service, and that means all of us at one time or another. Already services such as the vital cancer network are being scrapped, many more will follow. Most people are less than surprised, this is what one had to expect from a Conservative party obsessed with the supposed power of market forces, what is really depressing is the reluctance of the opposition to take issue with it.
Since this is our Merkel day, it is perhaps also worth wondering if she would have allowed so much money to be committed to a project such as HS2 without proper cost analysis. And what about the result of ill-spent money on such services as libraries? Already 347 libraries have closed their doors snce the coalition took over. The 1964 Libraries Act rules that very authority must provide a “comprehensive and efficient’library service”, but cuts to local authority budgets have led to councils turning a blind eye to their responsibilities.
The children’s laureate, Malorie Blackman, has rightly pointed out that the result of the library massacre will be that literacy will become “the province of a lucky few”. We hear much of discrimination in its various forms, we should add to the list the loss of an equaliser that allows every child, regardless of family circumstances, access to books, storytelling sessions, homework clubs and warm and safe environments within which to discover and explore the world of literature.
It is not in our nature to envy things German, but today as we observe the pointless posing at the various party conferences it is impossible to avoid doing so. It is said that those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. In our case the strategy of the Gods is clearly to land us with leaders whose only experience is more appropriate to the stage!
Perhaps we could borrow ‘Angie’ on a job swap with Eric Pickles?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “I’ve decided to take up a life of crime, but I can’t decide which political party to join!”…..Roy Chubby Brown
Make the best of today! If the forecasters are right Albert must prepare to abandon his string-vest and resume ark-making. But we musn’t complain, this summer has already beaten last year. That of course was, like beating the Australian cricketers, not difficult.
Talking of which some of my fellow codgers went down to Lords on Saturday. It perhaps says everything about the quality of the opposition that their feedback was primarily about the Tube. Apparently it was akin to a hot sardine-makers outing. Fred told us that he was squashed between two young women, one of whom remarked that it was a relief to not be forced upon the usual ogling male. It seems that many women have good reason to feel intimidated when travelling at peak times!
However, there are signs that the authorities are at last preparing to do something. From tomorrow morning the police and website ‘ Everyday Sexism ‘ will launch a week-long Twitter chat using hashtag #ProjGuardian to encourage passengers to share and report incidents. All 2000 officers who police transport in the City have been trained to deal with sexual offences and up to 180 officers at a time will be deployed at stations. It is time to abandon the usual British practice of suffering in silence!
Meantime it is not only the long-suffering Underground users who are unhappy. Unless he has a skin to match that of a Rhino our dear leader must be feeling likewise. In his case it is self-inflicted. For the second time he stands accused of appointing an inappropriate adviser to whom he has granted powers of influence far greater than that of the massed ranks of backbenchers.
First time around it was Andy Coulson, and we all know that story. Eventually the Murdoch link was becoming a big issue and David Cameron was forced to show the soon-to-be- prosecuted adviser the door. Seemingly unchastened by the experience our favourite Old Etonian has appointed Lynton Crosby, whose company Crosby Textor advises tobacco giants Philip Morris International. Many MPs of both major parties believe that Crosby was instrumental in bringing about the U-turn on the government’s plan to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes.
Now their suspicions are multiplying. The Guardian newspaper has obtained a copy of a presentation by Crosby Textor to the H5 Private Healthcare Alliance, an umbrella group for private healthcare providers hoping to take over the simpler and more profitable medical services from the NHS. The presentation consists of slides which analyse public perceptions of the NHS and advises providers on ways and means of gaining a foothold.
The presentation was made by Crosby Textor, known as CTF Partners in th UK, at the end of 2010. This was just months before the health and social care bill was given its second reading in the Commons in January 2011. The publication of the bill was delayed from late 2010 – the time of the Crosby presentation – amid concerns that Andrew Lansley had failed to think through his plans to devolve commissioning powers to GPs.
After Crosby began again to officially to work for the Conservatives in November 2012, the government appeared to try to reverse some of the changes resulting from the ‘pause’. Labour reacted by depicting these as a backdoor privatisation and some were watered down. But what was undeniable was the fact that shortly after Crosby started work the government shifted its position in favour of private health companies. At the time independent experts expressed surprise at the sudden shift in position. Most now believe that they see the hand of Crosby in what happened.
Inevitably opponents of the government will make much of all this and one can only look on in astonishment at David Cameron once again leavng himself open to accusations of allowing conflicts of interest on a huge scale. He has just enjoyed a few good weeks, as demonstrated by his party’s climb in the polls. Now he has yet again tainted himself with the stench of corruption.
One can only conclude that the man is a fool. Not long ago he had to defend himself from claims that Samantha Cameron had persuaded him to drop his plans to arm the Syrian rebels. Since she visited the tortured country it is obvious that the couple would have discussed it, but the accusation of influence seemed tenuos at best. But clearly the PM didn’t notice that influence is a toxic issue, and the Crosby affair is in an altogether different league!
With damaging revelations likely to resurface once the trial of his friends in the Murdoch clan begins, the last thing the prime minister needed was another scandal. Arrogance or naivety? We don’t know but one thing is certain. Our dear leader will need the powers of Houdini as this latest row escalates!
But let us end today on a positive note. As I type I learn that Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, has gone into labour. We, who once paced the floor as the midwife sat upstairs with our wives, wish her well. We wonder what sort of society her baby will one day ‘reign’ over!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY ; ” We hope this will send a message to everyone that we will not tolerate sexual harassment. We want women to feel confident that their complaints will be taken seriously”…Ricky Twyford, an inspector and manager of the campaign being launched on London’s transport.
PS KATE LABOURS NO MORE…IT’S A BOY!
Today’s headlines about the collapse of NHS Accident & Emergency departments are, to say the least, worrying. Patients who arrive at hospital needing emergency treatment are increasingly having to spend the night in units designed for people undergoing heart surgery or having broken limbs plastered because A & E units are now under massive pressure, and have neither the beds nor staff to cope. According to the Daily Torygraph patients are being housed in cupboards, but we can probably discount anything quite as extreme as that.
Probably more factual is the widely quoted report from Karen Webb, the east of England regional director of the Royal College of Nursing. She reports that “patients are being scatterd around hospitals like confetti”, because A & E staff have nowhere else to put them. Growing numbers are being left in corridors and areas used during daytime hours. The result is that doctors have to form what they call “safari teams” to track them down.
Dr Clifford Mann, an A & E consultant in Somerset, said yestetday that; “The pressures on emergency departments are unprecedented. They have been building steadily but have now come to a tipping point where the number of incidents of concern have started to significantly take off. There are now examples of patients who need to be resuscitated because they have collapsed whilst waiting attention”.
Incredibly the Department of Health claims that local GPs are already leading great work to prevent patients having to go to A & E. The exact opposite is the case. In many parts of the country the waiting times to see a GP are now such that patients are going to their nearest hospital.
None of this is any surprise to we allotment codgers. From time to time we suffer minor injuries and, over the years, have used our local A & E to good effect. Now we dread having to go and, when we do, spend many an hour watching harrassed staff skidding around like Keyhole Kate. The service is in meltdown.
All this has drawn attention on the day the Lords takes a last look at the Health and Social Care Act 2012. This provides a legally enforceable basis for opening up the NHS to competition, contrary to minister’s stated objctives of allowing commissioners to decide if and when it should be used. Once again, and for the last time, the Lib Dems will support the move.
Many of the peers who vote have commercial interests in private healthcare providers, and have doubtless noted health minister Earl Howe’s remarks that private providers now have “huge opportunities”.
Expect to see many of the routine, and more profitable, services transferred from NHS hospitals. The result will be yet more cuts to clinical staff. A & E units will be hit hard given that they receive funding of £75 per patient irrespective of condition and treatment required. If they lose the ‘easy’ cases, their funding will collapse and the serious cases will be dependent on lower-cost junior doctors.
Deep down every family rests content in the knowledge that should a crisis occur an ambulance and skilled clinicians stand ready on a 24/7 basis. Those days are about to end and everyone of us should be extremely concerned.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “These are the actions of people who intend to turn the NHS into a kitemark for private profiteers!”…Geoff Barr
A beautiful morning! Apparently the monsoons are on their way back, but right now all is well in our little sunlit world. The spell of decent weather has enabled us to make progress with our new pond, and some of the hen-runs have been re-roofed. To be honest our problem is that many of the tasks we undertake are way beyond our skills levels, most of us were supposedly professional people before our retirements, we now realise that learning a trade such as joinery or plumbing would have stood us in better stead.
But at least we don’t all fall into the health-risk categories which regularly find themselves on the front page of the Daily Torygraph. Today it is the obese that provide the target for the, presumably, slimline hacks who pour forth their venom. In reality it is not the overweight that the disciples of our dear leader wish to shame, it is the NHS. Despite enjoying millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money our health service has failed to deal with obesity – what better reason could there be for privatisation?
We can of course reasonably ignore the heaps of cash argument for, in reality, the coalition has imposed cuts of £20 billion at a time when the number of patients is rocketing. That leaves the contention that the NHS is, in some mysterious way, culpable in the matter of body weight. It does all the obvious things such as brochures and TV ads, but the simple fact is that many people now live in circumstances so dour that they care not. And even if they did, they lack the income to buy other than the cheapest food.
It is unlikely that many of them read the Torygraph so why is so much trouble taken to offer sermons? The real agenda is of course to counter the growing wave of anger as people realise at last that privatisation of the NHS is underway. The service, already torn apart by top-down reorganisation on a grand scale, will soon be fragmented and treatment determined by profit margins. If you doubt that flick back a few days to our piece about the tragic death of baby Axel and the response from a reader who laments the destruction of our family doctor service!
But there are still a few days left in which the refreshed Lib Dems can do what they should have done long since. They nodded thrugh the Conservative Health and Social Care Act, perhaps little realising that the statutary regulations attached to it place an absolute obligation on the new Commissioning bodies to put every service out to tender. If they fail to do this they will be in breach of EU competition rules.
Over the weekend the medical royal colleges finally woke up and erupted. At the same time the protest group 38Degrees launched a national petition, which has already attracted hundreds of thousands of signatures. Sensing a last minute threat our dear leader ordered health minister Lord Hunt on to our TV screens. We will not privatise, he declared. Any such action will be down to the GP-lead commissioners. It was a lie, they have no alternative.
Suddenly the Lib Dems have a spring in their step and yesterday they demanded a promise to withdraw all the relevant clauses before the end of this week. President Tim Farron said that it is “critically important we make sure there is no privatisation of the NHS”. If his party now acts as he promises the disaster will be throttled at birth. Yes there will still be a shambolic disorganisation aimed at commercialisation, but it wouldn’t actually happen.
Always assuming that Clegg doesn’t yet again roll-over, the Liberal Democrats will this week demand a withdrawal of the relevant clauses. If not, an emergency motion will be tabled and the party will line up with Labour to defeat the Lansley/Hunt plan. It should be an interesting few days, not least because Farron yesterday said “we can collect 25 to 30 Tory seats in an election”!
Suddenly there is a ray of hope, not just for the NHS but for the coalition. The Lib Dems have made a mess of things so far, mistaking coalition for subservience. Eastleigh seems to have brought them to their senses.
None of which suggest that all is necessarily well with the NHS. But bringing in incompetent profiteers only serve to make things worse.
Who knows, this could be an historic week, one in which both the Liberal Democrats and the NHS win a stay of execution!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY : “Hospitals are like convents. You leave the world behind and take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience!”…..Steven Wright
Ever the fantasist, Harry disturbed our concentration on the chickens this morning when he outlined his cunning plan. At present Waitrose supply Columbian Black Tail eggs to government departments. He suggests we put in a bid to take over the service. Government advisers would then fail to check the numbers and award the contract to Scruffy Codgers Ltd. Waitrose would threaten court action, the advisers would realise they had cocked-up big time and we would receive bounteous compensation for costs we didn’t incur in the first place. Harry was subsequently calmed down by a well-aimed bucket of water.
Joking apart, it has to be said that when it comes to incompetence this government woiuld take some beating. The Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, appeared on Newsnight yesterday and explained that, once the department learned of the impending judicial review it had to check its numbers carefully. It occured to us plebs that maybe they should have done that earlier. As it is there is likely to be a bill of around £100,000 by way of compensation, not to mention the effects on passenger services of a long period of uncertainty.
Attacks on governments usually centre on ideology. With this one the rows are focussed on implementation. The train franchise fiasco is but the latest in a succession of them. Today we learn that the next act is about to hit the stage. Lansley’s reforms have pulverised the health service and the hapless Jeremy Hunt, fresh from his less than glorious handling of the Murdoch affair, is racing around cancelling bits of the plan not considered to be vote-winners. But it is too late for him to cry halt on the biggest act of privatisation in NHS history.
This week 398 contracts are to be signed. Some 37 private healthcare companies are bidding for a wide range of services including musculoskelal, hearing and physchology. In many cases those bidding have already failed to deliver the standard required after earlier successful trial bids. A perfect example was provided in Cornwall where Serco was awarded the out-of-hours service. It has been shown to have falsified data to cover inadequate night-time cover.
The biggest worry of all is the fact that one national service could be provided by a large number of different companies, each focussed solely on their patch. Postcode medicine is not to be yearned for. And how have the costings been arrived at given that cross-boundary cooperation will be essential. And how can bids be compared given that different suppliers have based their numbers on differing levels of clinical expertise?
In the hospitals themselves the NHS Foundation Trusts are being pressed to increase the number of ‘private’ beds up to 50%. How has this been costed, how will it effect those who cannot afford private insurance?
Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the council of the Royal College of GPs, said yesterday that as a result of all this the NHS is “in distress – and so are we”. This, she added, is “the mother of all top-down reorganisations”.
The Labour Party is in no position to criticise. Under Blair it made numerous attempts to outsource outpatient services, and when the outcry became overwhelming, paid out millions to companies such as Netcare to cover the costs of bidding and, in some instances, of actually acquiring buildings.
But someone needs to blow a whistle. In the north-west the bus company Arriva is taking over ambulance services, and Parkwood Healthcare is taking over patient advocacy groups. In each and every case there is need for detailed cost studies, the effect on the NHS should be carefully calculated.
Many believe that profit targets and patient interests will prove a deadly combination. But the coalition is hell-bent on privatisation, and the enabling act is now law thanks to the Lib Dems. But huge unanswered questions remain about the supposed financial benefits. Costing specialities such as surgery is a notoriously difficult task. How can it be that the private sector, which will employ surgeons at NHS pay levels and has to make profit for its shareholders, is claiming to be able to undercut NHS costs?
Based on the government’s record the probability is that our whole health service is being put in jeopardy for the sake of savings proposed by private companies using logic and numbers which have not been carefully scrutinised.
The government insists that every bid has been checked out to the umpteenth degree. That is exactly what Justine Greening and Patrick McLoughlin said when Richard Branson launched his attack!
A sunny morning usually lifts spirits on the allotments, but not today. Our group of chicken-keepers includes several former NHS employees, a retired GP and yours truly, a former chairman of a Foundation Trust. Even the brilliant performance by David Weir in the Paralympics could not lift our spirits for the news that Jeremy Hunt, of all people, has taken over the role of Health Minister has appalled us.
The removal of Andrew Lansley was inevitable. His so-called reforms have created chaos and the imposition of £20 billion of cuts – efficiency savings in Lansley-talk - at a time when demand is rocketing have combined to send the service into crisis. In pursuit of the introduction of the private sector, Lansley came up with the wheeze of transferring commissioning to GPs. Before waiting to establish whether they would, or could, take on the burden he closed down the existing commissioners, the Primary Care Trusts, and handed out many a £100,000 in redundancy payments.
The GPs subsequently made clear that they could not undertake what would have been not only been a system guaranteed to create postcode medicine, but also one to open up conflicts of interest. The result is national adverts for expert commissioners at salaries of, er, £100,000. Those applying are those made redundant just months ago. Right now chaos reigns, different areas are cutting different services, cancer networks are being scrapped, key services are being obliged to employ senior clinicians on an on-call basis. And the private sector is setting about its ambition to cherry-pick.
So a change was desperately needed. The situation is crying out for an honest, experienced leader capable of restoring relationships with the medical profession and, with it, establishing the real short-term priorities. Restoration of waiting time targets would be a good start, recognition that using profit as a key criteria in medicine is dangerous a close second. But instead the service that means so much to so many gets Jeremy Hunt!
Regular readers will need no reminder of the part that Hunt played in the Murdoch affair. His department provided a constant stream of inside information to News Corp during their bid for BSkyB. Hunt sacked his adviser, Adam Smith, and claimed to have no knowlege of the clear impropriety. He was subsequently found to have held secret meetings with members of the Murdoch clan. Only the phone-hacking scandal prevented eventual emasculation of the BBC.
As Lord Leveson may well confirm honesty does not come easily to Jeremy Hunt. But what of his commitment to the NHS? Some years ago he was a co-author in a book calling for the privatisation of the NHS. More recently he attempted to exclude scenes celebrating the work of NHS nurses from Danny Boyle’s much-praised Olympic opening ceremony. He does not support the service’s core values and disliked the implication of approval.
Above all Hunt believes in competition based on bottom line profit. Even he was forced to concede that his G4S fiasco had given him “food for thought”. No such doubts about the NHS, he genuinely believes that setting NHS and private health providers at each other’s throats will improve patient care. It may do for those able to buy private health insurance, for the rest of us it will spell disaster.
Like mad Boris we believe that the cabinet reshuffle is driven by political expediency. In the case of Jeremy Hunt it is a case of send for the millionaire spin-doctor. Because we regard the NHS as vital we wish him well. But we suspect that our dear leader has just made his greatest mistake.
If by the time of the next election people are waiting months for treatment, and the ever reducing number of nurses are cleaning the toilets, it will take more than the unswerving support of Nick Clegg to save him!
If you care about the NHS do go to the 38 DEGREES website to sign the warning to Jeremy Hunt! Total already approaching 100,000 and full-page press ads planned.
Some of this morning’s columnists seem surprised by the inept performance of Nick Buckles, head of G4S, when he appeared before a select committee yesterday. He came across as someone who couldn’t organise a pig-out in a pie shop, like Manuel knew nothing, and babbled about the need to protect his comapny’s reputation. But we codgers were not remotely surprised. What did they expect – someone like the head of Tesco? Mr Buckles pockets the best part of million each year and made clear that he intends to hang on to the £57 million management fee for ‘running’ the Olympics security. So hostile was the reception to Mr Buckles, and his false tan and silly mullet hairdo, that one almost felt sorry or him were it not for the fact that he became a multimillionaire by paying peanuts to people who can’t get any other kind of work. Yet he is not the real villain of this shambolic affair.
That dubious honour belongs to politicians. Both the Blair administration and this one have become obsessed with the need to “learn from the private sector”. Had they been talking about retail giants such as Tesco it would have made sense. Yes, they too are driven by profit but they have to win it in the face of fierce competition. But giving monopolistic contracts to fly-by-night profiteers is another matter altogether.
Yesterday former Thatcher minister William Waldegrave warned Conservatives in The Times “never to make the mistake of falling in love with free enterprise”, adding that “people who believe private companies are always more efficient than the public service have never worked in real private enterprise”. How right he is. Any concern facing no competition and the chance to make a fortune will always opt for low-paid staff and maximum prices.
The amount awarded to G4S for this latest fiasco would have paid for 1500 police officers for two years. The decision to take the responsibility away from the police was crass. And there have been plenty of warning signals. The company is already under investigation after a prisoner was found collapsed in a police custody suite it was managing. A crucial record had been falsified, claiming the vulerable prisoner had been visited every 30 mintes as ordered by a police doctor. A CCTV recording has shown that no visits were made.
The incident happened at Swansea and police there have referred to “failings by G4S detention officers”. Officers? Untrained people grateful for a minimum wage rarely merit such a title. How can it possibly make sense for routines in police stations to be contracted out to companies such as this?
Companies such as G4S have made fortunes by wooing gullible ministers. Even better they have recruited them. The New Labour Home Secretary, now Lord Reid, walked out of government to become a G4S director. Doubtless he proved a good buy, given his contacts. G4S have already taken over prisons and key police control rooms. And G4S are not alone. Other similar money-making racketeers are landing contracts to run NHS services, part of the loopy Lansley’s privatisation agenda.
There are many examples of the damage this is doing to patient care. One such is the awarding of the GP out-of-hours service for Cornwall to Serco. An investigation by the Care Quality Commission, which was alerted by whistleblowers, has condemned the company for not providing enough staff, lack of proper training, falsifying records, lack of monitoring and few doctors. And Lansley has ruled that every NHS commissioner must identify at least three NHS services to be put out for tender!
In both Germany and France there has been a major reversal of the policy of contracting out essential public services, even water is back in public ownership. Now some of our politicians are beginning to sense that we are on the wrong track. MPs such as Maria Eagle and Jon Trickett have started to float the case for even rail services to be returned to public ownership. That may be a bridge too far, but many fervent privatisers are starting to question how running such services as security and health on a basis of profit first-and-last can possibly be right.
During the recent drought in southern England one leading politican actually cottoned on to the fact that the privatised water company had sold off 25 reservoirs while rewarding shareholders with £5 billion in dividends. They were just doing their job which is primarily to make profit. Water provision? No competition, no worries!
I never thought I would live to say this, but every member of the present governmnet would be well advise to listen to William Waldegrave!
QUOTE OF THE DAY: ” Blair is a pariah for a good reason. He colluded in an act of abundant wickedness, and untold hundreds of thousands died and millions more suffered. In lionising the fallen leader and in their wide-eyed admiration for his admitted genius for tactical manoeuvring David Cameron and George Osborne show that power to them is fundamentally a game..one of multi-dimensional chess perhaps, but just a game for all that”…..Matthew Norman (Independent)
None of our allotments gang are in the desperate financial straits now afflicting many. Most of us retired many years ago when pensions were more secure than is the case today, we count ourselves lucky. Having watched this week’s BBC series about the impossibility of people over 70 coping with a working day we also wonder if we are Rip Van Winkles, since we are in our eighties and all cope easily with just that. Having said that we could easily qualify for an England moaning team should one exist.
But even now many of us still buy lottery tickets. I guess that the theory is that we could shuffle off this mortal coil in a blaze of goodwill, not to mention plumed horses outside a packed church. But the truth is that we have become fantasists, codgers dreaming of untold riches gained the easy way. Perhaps we should form a security company or one happy to take profitable chunks of the NHS off Andrew Lansley’s hands.
Such a thought is prompted by the story of G4S. Yesterday we learned that the company has suddenly realised that it can’t after all provide the impressive security for the Olympics portrayed in its glossy presentations to gullible ministers. Today we learn that it is being paid £53 million extra for its less than impressive arrangements after London 2012 organisers increased its “management fees” almost tenfold. G4S has had its fee for managing civilian security staff for the Games increased from £7.3 million to £60 million.
Dig into the figures and you find that the fee the company takes for running its Olympic office has risen more than ten times faster than its spending on recruitment. Yesterday the company admitted that it has so far trained and deployed only 4000 of the 10,400 gurads it is contracted to provide. A further 9000 are being trained, leaving a shortfall of at least 3200. If youngsters – most of the ‘guards’ are teenagers on minimum wage – can be trained in such a short time one wonders just how strenuous the training is. Yesterday we gained an insight from a whistleblower.
He is involved in the training, and says that there is a “50 per cent chance someone could carry a bomb into one of the Olympic venues. He told Sky News that because of pressure to recruit at the last minute “corners had been cut and some of the staff are not up to the job”.
It all sounds lke a wizard way to make a fortune. Call yourself a specialist, negotiate a large fee and take people desperate for work off the streets and dress them up. If past experience of G4S is any indication, you might also be able to save on accomodation by having them sleep under bridges. But you would need to pay lobbyists. Former Home Secretary John Reid has intervened most helpfully to raise the issue of ID fraud, something G4S has wheezes to combat. Former Met Commissioner Lord Condon has done his bit to help by raising the question of illegal immigrants from the Calais region. Who is the main provider of immigration removal centres? G4S of course.
We need only envy the company’s financial bonanza. Ironically their failure to perform will remove worries about the Games’ safety given that troops just back from Afghanistan, many with a P45 in their back pockets, will give up their leave to do a professional job. And envy we do, since co-operating with the coalition’s obsession with privatising everything is clearly the route to financial heaven for entrepeneurs.
Meantime Andrew Lansley continues to hive off large chunks of the NHS. You have to admire his cunning. By common agreement he is tugging the health service in the wrong direction but, slowly but surely, he is privatising it without encountering protest from other that clinicians. Yesterday we learned that Richard Branson’s Virgin Care has been named preferred bidder for a £130 million contract to run core NHS and social care services for children and young people in Devon.
Virgin has already landed a £500 million contract with NHS Surrey to run community health services. In both instances it beat off competition from NHS trusts and local councils. They do not feature on the Lansley agenda. Let us hope that users of the service, with include the most vulnerable, have no reason to suffer as a result of the need to make a handsome profit. Meantime it’s champagne all round!
So there is your formula for near-instant riches. Offer to take over anything currently run by the state, establish some good lobbyists, and hey presto! The public, the patients? No worries, their interests are far from minister’s in-trays.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY ; Readers of the Guardian were recently asked to imagine how they would cope if fast-forwarded to the year 3012. Could they cope given the rate at which technological developments are speeding up?
Tim Gossling, from Cambridge, said “By that time the human race will have wiped itself off the face of the planet. Unfortunately, it will probably have wiped everything else off the face of the planet as well. Earth will by then be lifeless, sterile – all too literally Third Rock from the Sun”
Joseph Webber, Haywards Heath, said “You will find the earth empty of human life. Either because scientific and technological development will have taken us through the singularity, and transhumans will have gone off to play in the cosmos; or because catastrophic climate change will have wiped out human civilisation.”
J Heather, e-mail, said “You might not see much in 3012 because everyone with any sense will have left this decaying wreck of a planet. But for those that remain The Archers will still be running!”
With a number of us in our eighties, it is no surprise that we codgers wince each time we read of appalling examples of the standard of care provided by Lansley’s beloved private sector. As if to counter that impression Bupa, the largest provider, has recently been running a huge national advertising campaign portraying life in a Bupa care home as the next best thing to lodging with Donald Trump. It has also linked in to a campaign urging everyone to take out private healthcare insurance as, to quote the ads, the NHS waiting lists lengthen.
On various occasions we have mulled this over after sorting out the hens. We invariably concluded that we cannot afford insurance, and must accept our fate now that Clegg and his lapdogs have nodded the NHS reforms through. But we usually concluded that, if we had the means, Bupa would be our choice, it after all is usually held up by Lansley as an example of what competition can provide. How wrong we were!
Yesterday Judge Mark Brown rounded on Bupa after a jury at Liverpool Crown Court convicted the manager of the Dalton Unit of Stonedale Lodge in Croxteth, Karen Southern, of wilful neglect. The Judge told her : “Bupa hold themselves out as being the leading UK providers of dementia care…yet the nursing home was run very badly and there was a great deal of cost-cutting. There were often inadequate staffing levels, the unit itself was filthy, and the premises were in a tired and dilapidated state”. The court heard how Southern was under “great pressure” to maximise profits. There was, the Judge said, a financial interest to fill beds yet keep costs down and added that: “The public will be appalled to hear the way that Joyce Farrow, 90, was looked after at this Bupa home”.
Earlier the court had heard of an appalling regime in which the elderly lady was left unsupervised to such an extent that she tumbled out of bed and crawled naked along the floors. Staff failed to keep her clean and she was often left hungry and thirsty. The pensioner endured two months of torment before being transferred to an NHS hospital. But it was too late and she died a few days later.
We take no pleasure in using this case to support our repeated attacks on Lansley’s bill which will, without a shadow of a doubt, bring private companies such as Bupa into the NHS. But it illustrates vividly what can happen when profit is more important than patient care. Minimum wages are paid as a result of which the ratio of unskilled to skilled is far below NHS guidelines, and the number of staff is kept to an absolute minimum.
There is one consolation. By the time of the next election the standard of NHS performance will have sunk to an all-time low and, for the first time, the public will have its chance to pass a verdict on politicians who, without any mandate, destroyed the service that for so long has meant so much to so many!
WHAT PEOPLE SAID ABOUT HOBBIES; “They called me a fatalist , but I’d never collected a postage stamp in my life!”…..Yogi Berra ”My only hobby is laziness which naturally rules out all the others”…..Granni Nazzano “I’ve got a big scab on my leg. I’ll save it until tonight when I’m in bed”……Victoria Wood “All the things I really like to do are either illegal, immoral or fattening”……Alexander Woollcott “The trouble with incest as a hobby is that it gets you involved with relatives”…… George S Kaufman “Incest – the game the whole family can play”…..James Agate “No hobbies. There is not enough time to do all the nothing we want to do”…….Bill Watterson “It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work”…….Jerome K Jerome
We codgers love a bit of fantasy to lighten our mood as we ‘muck-out’ for the zillionth time, and Andrew Lansley matches Dick Francis in providing a steady supply. Yesterday we read Lansley’s claim, as his greatest ever achievement, to be the conversion of public opinion to one of warm regard for the changes he proposes for our health service. Yesterday, one day after the interview, YouGov published the findings of a poll. Just 18% of people said they supported the NHS changes!
In fact our arch enemy had a bad weekend all round. Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Lib Dems, said that; “My political judgement is that in the second half of parliament it would be better for Lansley to move on”. At least that was marginally kinder that the No 10 official who suggested the health secretary be “taken out and shot”. Meantime, in a paper published in ‘The Lancet’, Nick Black, professor of health services research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has contradicted Lansley’s claim that NHS productivity is declining. Black confirmed that it has risen and suggests that the Lansley claim was merely to justify his reforms.
Perhaps most damaging of all is a letter pubished today by Prof Christopher Cordess of Sheffied university. As a psychiatrist Prof Cordess has worked with teams in the NHS. He believes that the consquences of trying to force the heath bill – with its “alien ethos of financial competition” – upon resistant, demoralised staff will be disastrous. He contends that the destruction of a healing and earning culture is already in full swing, and that the bill, if passed, will be the end of a fair and universally available NHS. He goes on to scorn claims by ministers that staff morale being at an all time low is a sign that “you are doing something right”.
And so the nonsense goes on, with every professional health body now ranged against the plan. But, for me, something far more significant is happening. Every daily newspaper today carries full page ads for Bupa. Take out private health insurance and all will be well. At the same time every email user is being bombarded with even more precise advice. Insurers are warning that NHS waiting lists are lengthening by 50%, but there is a way of jumping the queue.
If we have deep enough pockets we can do that since Foundation Trusts are now being encouraged to allocate up to 49% of their beds to private practice. This would of course be provided by NHS consultants who will then extend their NHS lists. If this isn’t privatisation, what is?
After sensibly reserving his position, David Cameron has now aligned himself with the plan. It is an enormous poitical gamble, by the time of the next election NHS waiting times will be at their worst ever levels and all those who can afford health insurance will have jumped ship.
The You Gov poll will have come as a nasty shock to our dear leader who, it would seem, was assured by Lansley that the public were “very much on board”. Clearly Mr Cameron didn’t read Alice in Wonderland!
THINGS PEOPLE SAY ABOUT HISTORY; “Hadrian was interesting. He had a wife and a husband. And he built this enormous wall. I’d never thought of him as a gay bricklayer before”….Billy Connolly “After you’ve heard two eyewitness accounts of an accident, it makes you wonder about history”…….Dave Barry “During the Middle Ages the biggest mistake you could make was not to put on your armour because you were just ‘popping round the corner’ “……Jack Handley “Over 90% of high school students think BC means before cable”……Argus Hamilton “I think we agree, the past is over”……George W Bush “What woud have happened in 1963, had Kruschev and not Kennedy been assassinated? With history one can never be sure, but I think it can safey be said that Aristotle Onassis would not have married Mrs Kruschev”……..Gore Vidal
You probably imagine that when we old codgers gather each day on the allotments, we exercise our vocal chords by mulling over such weighty matters as Rooney’s new hairstyle or Pieterson’s latest flop. Some truth in that, but of late we have become preoccupied with quantitative easing. Few understand the principle of printing new money, and no one understands why so little of it leaves the banks once they have their hands on it. But if, like us, you are dependent on pensions you should worry.
The strategy itself is very high risk, and there are sections of society being hit very badly by its affect on the thrifty and those drawing pensions. By suppressing interest rates, while fuelling inflation, the policy has already rendered those who live off interest from their savings near penniless. And QE has had a devastating effect on annuity rates which dictate how much a newly-retired person will receive for the pensions they have paid into for most of their lives. Some 20 years ago a £100,000 pension pot bought £15,600 for life, now it buys just £5,800. Mervyn King says that hardship for pensioners is a “price worth paying”. But you can bet your overdrawn credit card on the fact that he will not suffer hardship when he hangs up his pen.
But compared to those being granted government contracts, as part of the coalition’s privatisation of public services, he will be a pauper. Take the case of Emma Harrison who created ‘A4e’. Mrs Harrison was made ‘families champion ‘ in December 2010. Her boast that she could find jobs for the long-term unemployed won her a string of lucrative Whitehall contracts. David Cameron hailed her as “an inspiration”, and went on to say ”I know we can count on her to help drive our campaign forward”. A target was set of A4e getting 30% of people on the previous ‘Pathways to Work’ programme into a job.
MPs were told yesterday that the firm had in fact achieved only 9%. MPs demanded to know why the firm had continued to land a whole series of additional contracts having failed abysmally on its initial one. Then it was revealed that Mrs Harrison pocketd £8.6 million last year, most of it from the taxpayer. In fact the government’s generosity knew no bounds for the company even received a share of £63 million when the coalition ended the previous back-to-work programme.
The chair of the Commons public accounts committee, Margaret Hodge, described the fees as “an outrage”. She said that the dividend payment contrasted sharply with the “meanness” the company displayed toward the charities that carry out much of its work”. She pointed out that the profits made come from the taxes of “ordinary, hard-working people”. Tory MP Steve Barclay said the size of the payment raised serious questions about whether the public is “getting value for money”. He went on to ask why the government continues to pay fees that are not linked to performance.
Mrs Harrison lives in a 20-bedroom mansion in the Peak District. She is now worth an estimated £70 million, and also owns a £3 million mews house in central London, and a £75,000 holiday home near Skegness. And good luck to her. As Steve Barclay remarked, it isn’t her fault that the government is so lax with taxpayer’s money.
Being an entrepeneur it may have occurred to Mrs Harrison to branch out into private medicine where there is even more taxpayer’s money on offer. Yesterday the website ‘Web Doctor’ released a general email urging people to sign up now for private medical insurance. It warned that NHS waiting lists are lengthening by 50% and the private route is the only one capable of caring for your health.
Sadly, wherever you look private companies are rubbing their hands with glee. And, it seems, they are not even held to account for their performance.
THINGS PEOPLE SAY! ; “A man has to be Adolf Hitler to be called ruthless, all a woman has to do is put you on hold”………Marlo Thomas “Feminism is a wonderful idea – until the car goes wrong”…..Nicola Zweig “No man has ever tried to look up a woman’s nostrils. You don’t unhook anything to get to a nose”……Jerry Seinfield “Sex appeal is 50% what you’ve got and 50% what people think you’ve got”……..Sophia Loren “According to a recent survey, men say the first thing they notice about a woman is their eyes. And women say the first thing they notice about men is that they’re a bunch of liars”…..Jay Leno “Until I was 15 I was more familiar with Africa than my own body”….Joe Orton “I don’t know if my first experience was heterosexual or homosexual because I was too polite to ask”….Gore Vidal “Always buy a good pair of shoes and a good bed, because if you’re not in one you’re in the other”……Joan Collins
The monsoons are back. So are the muddy hens and trousers in a Compo-like state. But we quite enjoyed our work this morning, punctuated as it was with ribald humour regarding the latest madness of King Gove. Over the past few days he has made Andrew Lansley look sane by comparison. Today, fresh from his royal yacht triumph, the education secretary has purchased sufficent copies of the King James bible to send one to very school in the land. Cost to the taxpayer is over £400,000, and each copy will include a personal message from Mr Gove himself!
But once we had completed our “what world does he live in” routine, we turned our thoughts to a rather more serious matter. Jack is related to a social worker in the north-east and regularly tells of the horrendous situation there. Government cuts to local authority funding have resulted in cuts in social worker numbers. An already overloaded team is now sinking fast under the weight of a huge and ever increasing caseload. This means that really difficult cases cannot be given the attention they deserve and, in the case of mental health assessments, the social workers are being put in great danger.
The most important thing that social workers do is listening to and supporting vulnerable people and making decisions after considered discussion and reflection. But this cannot be done if the caseload is too big, and it cannot be done in a culture of fear and persecution. And that is exactly the situation that faces most social workers, they have become the nation’s punchbag. Cuts in numbers are bad enough for hospital nurses but at least they are working in a secure environment. Most of us know little about social work, all of us line up to condemn when things go wrong. As they already have in cases like that of ‘Baby P’, and as they assuredly will continue to do unless ministers intervene in local authority culls. Should they do so – and politically they may soon have to – they would do well to ask themselves why such a vital service is left to the dubious administration of local councillors.
Until now social workers have lacked a champion. It is not unusual for them to be summoned to court which involves hours of preparation, and to spend long days racing from house to house at some of which those qualified to do so have to make key decisions and to involve police and GPs. And it is not unusual for them to spend their entire evenings writing-up. And all this in an environment where they are more likely to receive abuse and threats than any other profession in our society. But now a champion has emerged and he is himself a social worker of 20 years experience.
Chris Lee has been on the social work front line for a long time and is very aware of the fact that “social services is something on to which an awful lot of society’s guilt is displaced”. He looks back on the ‘Baby P’ case and remembers “genuine tremors through the profession”. He regrets the fact that Lord Laming’s 2009 report did nothing to raise awareness of just how challenging the day-to-day job of social work is. And the case undoubtedly influenced the new play by Mr Lee called ‘Shallow Slumber’.
Lee believes that theatre is a force for change. In the spare time that he has, he has become a prolific writer and has over 30 plays to his name. He sees himself as a radical writer whose work deftly deconstructs harsh social problems, from addiction to disability and mental illness. ‘Shallow Slumber’ opens in London next week at the Soho Theatre, Dean Street, and is already assured of a run from January 24 to February 18. What does he hope ‘Shallow Slumber’ will achieve? He hopes that it will bring home to a wider audience the travails of social workers and that audiences will leave “simply saying that it’s much more complicated than I thought!”.
What does the new champion make of the UK’s current woes – in particular the impact of the swingeing cuts facing the NHS and social care? He speaks passionately from the perspective of someone who has been in the system long enough to observe numerous attempts to restructure services as governments have come and gone. “You never get to the end of the bedding down and the full working of a new system before another system comes into play” he reflects. “It’s doubly difficult when you have a restructuring and a financial contraction happening at the same time, and right now things are tougher than they have ever been”, he adds and then wonders about the whole existence of the welfare state.
He has little time for politicians who claim they are protecting the NHS and social services; “Despite all the denials there is no doubt that from the previous Conservative administration through the New Labour years, into the coalition, there has been a gradual privatisation”.
Hopefully the new West End play will serve to increase public awareness of a service that for so many remains a mystery yet is pilloried when something goes wrong. Every social worker I have ever met shows sympathy for those they help. It is high time society reciprocated!