Are Southend Conservatives in health service distress?

Flying a flag upside down is — as any good Boy Scout will tell you — internationally recognised as a sign of distress. How, then, to read the above photo from Southend Conservatives, published in today’s issue of the Southend Echo?

One could argue the wisdom of launching your local election campaign with the Secretary of State for Health, at a time when the NHS is in crisis and thousands of local residents are flocking to the Save Southend NHS banner and marching against health service cuts. Particularly when the very voters who you are going to be calling on in a matter of weeks have been systemically denied consultation on costly and dangerous local NHS reorganisation, which seems designed to cover up budget cuts and poorer services. Indeed, your blogger was one of many who were denied access to a “consultation” event after the Sustainability and Transformation Partnership required tickets late in the day, and refused to allow people in even though there was space.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the local Conservatives, chaining them to an unpopular and failing Health Secretary, have taken leave of their senses. But perhaps there is one small voice of sense, crying out in distress from the back of the group photo?

Who can say…

NHS crisis comes to Southend

david cameron nhs cut

Well, I hate to say we told you so…

The Southend Echo were yesterday evening reporting that Southend Hospital has run out of beds, entering the ominously named “black alert”. Whilst I don’t wish to be alarmist, and it does seem that non-emergency services are functioning to take some of the strain. But this is still terrible news for Southend.

SOUTHEND Hospital has run out of beds for new admissions after going into “black alert”.

Due to a higher than usual number of acutely ill patients requiring a hospital bed, the hospital is urging people to stay away from A&E unless they are seriously unwell or critically injured.

Read on…

You can’t trust the Tories on the NHS

nhs bill debate

I know, I know, it’s a pretty tired old refrain.

Usually I avoid this sort of a blog for that exact reason. Trouble is, the Conservative Party will keep conspiring to prove the old adage true.

On Friday in the House of Commons, Clive Efford’s National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill received its second reading. The bill would mitigate the damage done to the NHS by the Health and Social Care Act 2012 (also known as “The Lansley Act”) and protect it from being picked apart by privatisation, especially from the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Pact (“TTIP”).

The bill passed, by 241 votes to 18.

The low number of votes against, though, is not suggestive of support from all parties, but rather of the failure of Conservative MPs to turn up to the debate. As reflected in the above picture. I particularly note the absence of both of Southend’s Conservative MPs; James Duddridge and David Amess. I wonder what things they found which were more important than discussing the future of our National Health Service?

It’s worth remembering, then, as the election comes around just how little the Tories care about one of this country’s proudest institutions, and one of the most important concerns in modern politics.

Kipperwatch! UKIP thugs trash Labour street stall in Corringham

corringham labour street stall trashed
The image above shows the state of a Labour-run NHS street stall in Corringham, run today by Labour candidate for South Basildon & East Thurrock Mike Le Surf, after a group of thugs identifying themselves as from UKIP attacked it.

The group apparently came out of nowhere, shouted insults, trashed the stall, and disgracefully kicked an elderly woman on a mobility scooter. Interestingly, they were reportedly recording the whole thing; a classic BNP tactic from their heyday.

I have always thought that the Kippers who claim that they exclude far-right BNP/National Front/etc elements protest too much. Certainly there should be no place in modern politics for this sort of base, violent intimidation and thuggery.

Today South Basildon & East Thurrock UKIP have utterly disgraced themselves, and given voters another reason to steer well clear.

UPDATE: The chairman of Eastern Region UKIP has apparently disavowed this, and claimed that he:

…cannot believe they were representing UKIP, we do not promote this kind of attitude.

I am 100 per cent sure it has nothing to do with our party members – who have had very good discipline through very tough circumstances themselves.

100% sure is a bold claim. For myself, I can’t see how anyone can be certain of this. It seems unlikely that it’s a frame job, as some kippers seem to want it to be, and I struggle with the idea that this is not connected to UKIP in some way. I just don’t see who would try to frame UKIP, and why.

John Redwood Wants Your Letters

John Redwood, MP for Wokingham, would like residents to email him to tell him that they oppose the Health and Social Care Bill.

It may surprise readers to learn this, but I don’t always watch the BBC’s flagship political debate show, Question Time. I enjoy it (most of the time) and with the advent of twitter and the #bbcqt hashtag it makes it all the more interesting to be able to interact with and contribute to the debate as it’s unfolding. Of course, the counterpoint of this is that it can sometimes be a little trying as an experience.

Last week, however, I did watch it. I had debated whether or not to, with the excellent Rachel Reeves being a mark in the plus column, and the increasingly barking and offensive David Starkey a reason against. I didn’t actually know that Wokingham’s own John Redwood, a man not-undeservingly called “The Vulcan”, was representing the Conservative side of the argument until I turned on.

When John was asked by an audience member why, if the Health and Social Care Bill is so good, it is taking so long to pass, he predictable blamed that old red axis of the Labour Party and the Trades Union. He then went on to make this statement:

“I don’t find, as Rachel does, that this is a matter of great controversy in my constituency. I’ve had very few letters and emails about it, and my general practicioners are just getting on and implementing it because they like it and they want to make a success of it.”

At the time, I took the route of the cynic and simply tweeted this:

I didn’t think much beyond that, to be honest, but John decided to make his own digital response- not to me specifically, but tweeters in general. This is something of a pleasant surprise, as since Mr Redwood’s twitter account only tweets new posts to his blog, I hadn’t thought it was manned by him or even a real person. But clearly someone checks tweets directed at it, so I guess they aren’t in vain. Hope springs eternal.

On his blogged response, John further claims that the emails he has received to date have had no addresses attached, so he concludes that they were not from constituents. I don’t think this is a particularly unreasonable conclusion, but I do stand by my tweet. I am convinced there is opposition to this inherently flawed bill, even within Wokingham. I don’t, however, expect John “heir to Thatcher” Redwood to find any problem with the privatisation and fragmentation of the health service.

John goes on to say this:

“If any constituent does wish me to consider objections to the Bill or wants me to take matters up with Mr Lansley, I remain as always very happy to do so and will reply personally to you as I always do. I would be grateful for you to include your address so I can see you are a constituent.”

Which, as they say, sounds like fighting talk. So, if you live in Wokingham constituency and want to let your MP know your feelings about the Health and Social Care Bill, why not drop him a letter or an email (with your address included) to the below address(es):

The Rt Hon John Redwood MP
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA


And just as an explanatory note, I haven’t (and won’t) write to Mr Redwood, as I’m not a constituent of his. By a quirk of electoral boundaries, whilst lying within Wokingham local authority Wargrave is inside Maidenhead constituency; so my MP is the Rt. Hon. Theresa May. I will, however, be writing to the Home Secretary to outline my opposition to the bill, because according to John that’s what counts. I would have thought that my letter to the Maidenhead Advertiser the other week, signing the e-petition against the bill, and previously holding forth against it in all manner of media would have been enough, but there you go.

If any of you are interested, I may post my letter to Ms May on this blog, so you can use it as a template.

Standing up for the NHS

The Health and Social Care Bill is probably the biggest threat the NHS has faced since its conception.

Nye Bevan is a personal hero of mine. Aside from being a lifelong devoted socialist, and a staunch enemy of the Tories, he was the man who brought the NHS into existence in this country. In a very real sense, Bevan left the world a better place than he found it. Whenever I think of Bevan, one quote in particular springs to mind:

“The NHS will last for as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it”

These are dark times for the NHS. The Health and Social Care Bill threatens the very fabric and purpose of the NHS, far beyond anything ever proposed by the Blair and Brown administrations. The expansion of the private sector to up to half of a hospital’s income will be the first major step to a two-tier health service, and the massive reorganisation at the same time as £20bn savings will cripple it.

But through all this, I have not lost heart. Why not? Because of the response of the British public. You see, those with the faith to fight for the NHS are alive and well across the country. Just look at the official e-petition calling on the government to drop the health bill: it hit the magic 100,000 signatures last week, and at present it’s standing at 160,394. It is the most popular petition on the site. All across the country, people are standing up to protect what Nigel Lawson once called the closest thing to a national British religion.

This includes me. Tomorrow, at 10am, Maidenhead Labour Party will be holding an NHS-themed campaign stall in the high street. Outside Wilkinsons, we will be handing out flyers and asking people to sign petitions. We’ll be campaigning on both national issues, and local health matters such as the already announced closure of Charles Ward.

If you’re in the area, come and see us. If not, you can still help. Every signature on that petition, ever letter to an MP, every word we say against the dismantling of the NHS is a step forward.

Tits-Up for Private Healthcare?

The scandal surrounding the PIP silicon breast implants is a result of money taking precedence over patient welfare. Surely this should make us rethink the role of the private sector in healthcare?

(Sorry about the title, sometimes you just can’t help yourself)

The last couple of weeks, there have been two unrelated stories in the news. The first has been the tragic scandal around PIP breast implants, which are accused of rupturing and possibly causing cancer. This has rightfully caused a lot of public concern about whether peoples’ health was at risk. The second hasn’t caused quite so much of a buzz outside of political circles; Andrew Lansley’s plans to raise the amount of income NHS trusts can make from the private sector to 49%.

Like I said, these stories are unrelated, but as I’ve been mulling them over they’ve grown some very definite links in my mind. The thing is, they’re both related to the private sector’s involvement in the healthcare industry. In the PIP scandal, most of the operations were done privately, at private cosmetic clinics, rather than on the NHS. And as the risks (which are still unclear) have been investigated, Lansley has criticised the unwillingness of some clinics to cooperate.

You can hardly blame them, really. There’s a lot of money in breast implants. I imagine there will be a lot less if people think that they are in fact ticking time-bombs. The whole issue is one of money, which sadly seems to be taking precedence over the welfare of 40,000 – 50,000 British women. The French government have offered to pay for the suspect implants’ removal. Lansley has not.

The reason these implants are thought to be dangerous is because they used industrial-grade silicon, rather than medical-grade. You don’t need to be an industry expert to figure out the reason behind this- it was cheaper. PIP could make cheap implants, and sell them to private clinics, who could put them into the chests of women whose self-images have been destroyed by the media. And everyone- baring the unfortunate women now carrying the implants around- was rolling in the money.

And since the present government is all about the expansion of the private sector within the NHS, this should really be more of a concern. I’m not against the private sector at all, but there’s no escaping that it’s primary motivation is profit. Whilst usually this isn’t a problem, I have serious reservations about that being the driving force when it’s people’s suffering we’re talking about.

It’s still early days, but the presiding image of the PIP scandal at the moment is one of private companies cutting corners to make money, and ordinary women paying the price. Since I believe healthcare should be universal and a fundamental right (something I know not everyone will agree with me on), this gets my back up a little.

The private sector most certainly does have a role to play in the NHS. But what we seem to be seeing at the moment is a rapid expansion of its involvement, without any apparent concern. As things stand there is a strong possibility of the taxpayer (through the NHS) having to pick up the bill for fixing mistakes of private clinics- which isn’t wrong, as the NHS should be there for anyone and everyone when they need it, but it seems a unfair for the private clinics to make money off the dodgy implants and face no consequences.

My advice is basically caution. The hallmark of the Health and Social Care Bill has been haste, with little consideration for the risks of the changes it seeks to make. This has tripped the government up already several times, and they should take the hint, before widespread privatisation really does send the health service tits-up.


Or, as is becoming apparent, vice versa.

Does anyone remember that poster that the Conservatives plastered over billboards up and down the country in the lead up to the 2010 General Election? The one with that airbrushed picture of Cameron saying that he’d cut the deficit not the NHS? Or maybe you remember the part in the coalition agreement where the government promised to “stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS”?

Well, the first pledge has been broken; the NHS is being cut in real terms under the present government. And the second is being broken by the Health Bill currently going through parliament. Since it’s introduction, this bill has been one almighty headache for the government. There seems no end of problematic clauses within it, but the one which grabbed headlines first of all was the plan to allow “any willing provider” to bid for NHS contracts- essentially opening the NHS up to European competition law for the first time in the history of the health service.

This was diluted down to “any qualified provider”, after the Lib Dems found their backbone (only temporarily, and only after another slating by the media and pollsters). But the Bill is still dangerous. Between the plans to put hospitals in competition with each other, open the service up to privatisation, and turn your local GP into an administrator rather than a physician.

The NHS is, to my mind, the greatest achievement by any post-war government. It was introduced by Clement Attlee’s Labour government, over the staunch opposition of the Conservative Party of the day. It seems that nothing has changed. Despite Cameron’s attempts to “detoxify” his party, it has only been a superficial change. The Tories still can’t be trusted on the NHS.

So today I joined other Labour activists (including a contingent from Maidenhead CLP) and trade unionists in Reading town centre, to

Maidenhead CLP defending the NHS, in Reading town centre. Myself with (left to right) John Healey MP, Patrick McDonald and Nigel Smith

try and raise the profile of David Cameron and Andrew Lansley’s devastating plans to destroy this British institution. We handed out informative flyers, and gathered signatures on a petition. We were even joined by John Healey, the shadow health secretary.

This is a very real threat. I am, like most people, firmly of the opinion that health is a fundamental right. I believe that healthcare should be available to everyone, not just the rich. This legislation is the first step in a conservative (big and little c) plan to privatise off the NHS, and move towards a situation similar to that in the US- where doctors will look for your wallet before your pulse, and where the poor suffer a vastly inferior standard of care.

If you agree that the NHS must be protected, if you want to do something to stop this bill, then please sign this petition. Beyond that, the only suggestions I can make is to write to your local MP, and to never trust a Tory on the NHS.