Monday, 5 December 2016

Local Greens respond to Bradwell closure plans.

North Staffs Green Party today made public its response to the ‘My Care My Way Home First’ consultation launched by Staffordshire NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

In October the CCG announced plans to close 63 beds at Bradwell Hospital used to care for frail and elderly patients.

The move came on the back of threats to beds at other community hospitals in Cheadle, Leek and Burslem.

Health and community campaign groups expressed concern over the plans, as did several NHS staff employed at the hospital, the long term future of which is now in doubt.

The response states that the bed closures will have a ‘detrimental impact on the healthcare of the population of North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent.

Local Green Party Coordinator and author of the response Jan Zablocki said: ‘No one should be fooled into thinking it is just about more people living longer with more complex healthcare needs; it’s about much more than that.’

He added that: ‘It is about the future scale and shape of our health service. These bed closures represent a highly political agenda in which the NHS is being bludgeoned between the hammer of Tory privatization and budget cuts and the anvil of Labour’s massive PFI debt.’

The response highlights a number of problem areas in the plan put forward by the CCG, including the pressures likely to be placed on the Royal Stoke University Hospital as a result, particularly as services are transferred from Stafford to the RSUH site.

It also identifies a problem in relation to district nursing services being unable to cope with caring for more patients in their own homes, even though this is a key element of the plans put forward by NHS managers.

Figures obtained under freedom of information by the Green Party show that staffing levels have fallen dramatically between 2012 and 2016.

Concern regarding staffing was expressed in a report conducted by Sedgwick Igoe and Associates for the CCG in 2012 and again in a report by the Care Quality Commission in 2016.

Despite this CCG chief executive Marcus Warnes told a meeting of North Staffs Pensioners Convention in October that nine out of ten people currently occupying beds in community hospitals would have better outcomes being cared for at home.

North Staffs Green Party Campaigns Officer Adam Colclough said: ‘The CCG have not been honest with people about either the motivations for or the impact of these bed closures.’

Commenting on the announcement made earlier this week he said: ‘although any delay to the closure of the beds at Bradwell is welcome the problem of how to provide adequate community care when there aren’t enough staff available remains.’

Adding that: ‘Protecting the NHS is a key theme in Green Party policy and as a member of the Patients Congress I have raised this issue several times and will continue to do so until the CCG gives local people an honest answer.’

In conclusion Jan Zablocki said: ‘For those with their eyes and ears open the sirens are sounding and the blue lights flashing and the patient in mortal danger is the NHS itself.’

Monday, 21 November 2016

Greens back petition to keep BAC O’Connor Centre Open

North Staffs Green Party has backed a petition due to be handed in to Staffordshire County Council protesting against the removal of £800,000 funding from the BAC O’Connor Centre.

The cut comes as part of a package of £8million in savings made by the council following the decision by the NHS to stop funding its Better Care Fund including a £3.4million cut from the budget for drug and alcohol services.

Other areas facing cuts are funding for debt advice provided by the Citizens Advice Bureau, rehabilitative and intermediate care and assistive technology services.

The petition has gathered over forty thousand signatures since being shared online by comedian Russel Brand, if enough of those are from people living locally the council will debate it at their next meeting.

Campaign Coordinator for North Staffs Green Party Adam Colclough said ‘As a volunteer for two local mental health charities I have seen the devastating impact substance abuse can have on people’s lives.’

Adding that ‘The O’Connor Centre does remarkable work helping people regain control over their lives and to work towards recovery. Closing it down will not make the problem disappear, what it will do is force vulnerable people to rely on other services that are already stretched to breaking point.’

Monday, 7 November 2016

We need to fight poverty not waste time squabbling over Brexit.

However cynical you think you’ve become there will always be one story that brings you up short and acts as a welcome reminder that you can still be shocked, I came across just such a story last week.

Newcastle based Alice Charity has 88 families on its books waiting for a bed and 24 where a baby is waiting for a cot. Until these arrive children and parents in the families concerned will be sharing beds and some children may have to sleep on the floor.

The charity works with families in the Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle area who are struggling to cope, providing emotional support along with practical help with budgeting and accessing services.

Fund raising manager Sam Warrilow told the Sentinel last week their role was to help families ‘work out if there is a better way for them to spend their money until they are able to manage without our support.’

She added that they often had families on a waiting list for beds to be donated, but recently the number had risen sharply, this has been linked to figured published recently showing that 25% of families in Stoke and 17% in Newcastle were classed as having low incomes.

The appeal launched by the charity has been supported by several local businesses.

It is hard to credit that such a situation could exist in the Britain of 2016, the go-ahead country populated by hipsters where everyone is fixated on who will win Strictly we imagine ourselves to be; and yet it does.

The shock value of children having to sleep on the floor because they haven’t got a bed makes the news, but poverty, like an iceberg, is nine tenths submerged.
You can catch a glimpse of what is really there in the sad little paragraphs at the edge of the page in any local newspaper, sketches of people brought before the courts for stealing food that belong to Dickensian times; not the digital age.

Everyone knows about poverty and the bitter inequality of our society, but nobody ever talks about it. It is that angry elephant wrecking the drawing room of an ignorance in which we are aided and abetted by the media.

The political class mostly ignore the problem, preferring instead to engage in their favorite pastime of arguing about what, if anything Brexit means.

A media that has dumbed itself down to the point of idiocy helps them by typing judges who ruled that parliament should be allowed to debate how we negotiate our exit from the EU as ‘enemies of the people.’

When the issue of inequality is discussed it is usually through the repetition of hackneyed ideas, what we need is the return of grammar schools, because after all telling most kids they’re failures at the age of eleven is an excellent way to motivate them; not.

Anyway in the brave new world just around the corner we’re all going to drive for Uber or do some other job in the ‘gig economy’ so sparkly and new it hasn’t even been invented yet.
This ignores the fact that to make anything like a living in that sort of situation you have to start with the backing that comes from having inherited money behind you. If you don’t have that then the brave new world rapidly turns into a nightmare of stress and uncertainty.

Add to that the benefits cap and the simmering discontent stirred up by media rhetoric about ‘strivers’ and ‘skivers’ and you have an unwisely ignored problem wired to a ticking time-bomb.

Brexit is no doubt one of the major political issues of our time, but it is only one battle not the war the media make it out to be and so has only a limited influence of wider events.

The real fight is against poverty and it is one we must win; if we don’t the consequences could be disastrous.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Four ways to improve the lives of people living in poverty.

There are 13.5 million people living in poverty in the UK, a shocking figure for a major economy.

Ahead of the chancellor's Autumn statement the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have put forward four ideas that could improve their lives.

The first of these is reinstating annual rises for working age benefits if the price of essential goods rises.

They call for the government to recognise the economic importance low waged sectors not to be overlooked within any industrial strategy and for ministers and business leaders to work together to improve productivity.

It is, they say, important that the government increases funding for shared ownership and affordable housing programmes, with housing associations being able to leverage their resources in order to deliver the right type of housing and support affordable rental schemes.

The foundation calls for the government to use leaving the EU as an opportunity to design a regional policy that is responsive to local priorities and opportunities, recommending the creation of a rebalancing fund to offset the loss of European Structural and Investment Fund money.

These suggestions mirror many of the policies on which the Green Party fought the last general election, polling over a million votes and connecting with a public tired of economic and social policies that put the interests big business first.

The UK is one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, poverty and the social problems that go hand in hand with it are a major drag on our economy.

If we wish to have a secure and sustainable future we need to tackle poverty and improve social mobility, the suggestions made by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation represent an important step towards that goal.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

You can't mothball lives along with hospital beds.

This week NHS commissioners announced plans to make further cuts to hospital services across the city.

Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire clinical commissioning groups (CCG) said that Bradwell Hospital would lose 64 beds. The hospital cares for frail and elderly people, many of whom may now have to go into private care homes instead.

The announcement comes hard on the heels of a decision to 'mothball' all 48 beds at Cheadle Hospital and one ward at Burslem's Heywood Hospital, the future of in-patient beds at Leek Moorlands Hospital is also uncertain.

The decision to close beds at Bradwell has been criticised by local MPs, trades unions representing hospital staff and local health campaign groups.

In a joint statement reported by the Sentinel a spokesperson for the two CCGs said that NHS England would be reviewing its plans for the beds under threat over the next few weeks and that any final decision would be 'subject to formal consultation.'

'Mothballed', 'decommissioned' (another bureaucratic favourite) carefully masks the fact that behind a decision made by a committee lie innumerable real lives. In this instance the lives of highly vulnerable people and those of their carers.

The fear expressed by health campaigners that further bed closures will lead inevitably to higher use of A&E services, piling yet more pressure onto a system that is already struggling to cope is entirely credible. What haunts me though is another, equally frightening possibility.

There is a very real risk that with services at Bradwell Hospital downgraded and, in a worst case scenario, closed at some future date vulnerable people and their carers could simply fall off the radar. Trapping them in a nightmare struggle against odds that can't be beaten without adequate support and with a very real risk of a tragic outcome.

The end result will certainly be people accessing services later when their problems are far more complex and the support they need more costly, cancelling out any earlier savings at a stroke.

The CCGs talk a good game about caring for people at home rather than in hospital for as long as possible. This is a noble aspiration and helps people to retain their independence for far longer, at least it does if home care is properly resourced; but at present it isn't.

What frail elderly people and their carers get is an all too familiar fudge, promises of jam tomorrow and a diet of bread and water today. They and their carers are forced into a miserable obstacle race after support that is never enough to make a difference even though it costs them their savings and maybe their home.

The NHS is a truly great British achievement, even more so when you consider that it was founded at a time when the country was near to bankrupt. Sadly the visionaries of 1948 have long since been replaced by political pygmies who don't understand the value of having a free at the point of use health service.

As a result we are witnessing its slow dismantling through a mixture of endless tiny cuts and managerial meddling from central government. It is telling that Jeremy Hunt prefers picking fights with the junior doctors to sorting out the shambles that passes for elderly care, if he thinks about it at all he probably dismisses the whole thing as a problem to be solved by 'market forces' or some such meaningless twaddle.

There is a very real risk that we could slip backwards to the not so good old days when good health and a long life was a luxury denied to the vast majority. A bleak future that wilfully wastes potential and puts prosperity and social stability at risk.

This is something we should fight against by opposing every bed closure, every attack on the working conditions of hospital staff and every attempt to sneak privatisation in by the back door. The NHS belongs to the people and we should do all we can to defend it.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Watson: stop 'supporters' voting in future leadership elections.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson has called for party rules to be changed to exclude registered supporters from taking part in electing the party leader.

He told a meeting of the party's National Executive Committee (NEC), the BBC reported today, that their participation had been 'unpopular' and called for the reinstatement of the previous franchise based on members, trades unionists and MPs electing the leader.

Last year 105,598 people paid £3 to sign up as supporters, 84% of whom voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election. Ahead of this years race the fee was raised to £25 and it is believed that 129,000 people signed up; there are no prizes for guessing who most of them are going to vote for.

Supporters were given a say in choosing the party leader by Ed Milliband in 2013, although they have been around since the days of New Labour.

Watson, the BBC reports, told the NEC that the change to rules had been 'rushed' and had proved 'unpopular', principally with MPs who felt it had allowed the far left to infiltrate the party.

He said the proposed change to the rules was not intended as a threat to Jeremy Corbyn; allies of the soon, probably, to be reconfirmed leader see them as an attempt to prevent the circumstances that brought him into office ever occurring again.

The deputy leader also wants to see members of the shadow cabinet elected by MPs for the first time since 2011, ending the practice of the front bench team being picked by the leader. This, he said, would help Labour to 'put the band back together' ahead of a possible early election.

Although it is not believed the intend putting forward an alternative proposal supporters of Mr Corbyn want members and party activists to also have a role in electing the shadow cabinet.

On one level almost everything the Labour Party does at the moment seems like rearranging the deck-chairs on a sinking ship. This latest displacement activity though does at least offer the opportunity to watch the Blairites being hoist on a petard of their own making.

Back in the day signing up supporters was the clever wheeze of the moment, they were seen as being more pliable than pesky old fashioned members with their antiquated ideas about having a say in party policy.

The flaw in the cunning plan was that because it was as easy to do as ordering a pizza almost anyone could do it. The left saw an opportunity in this, grabbed it with both hands and inadvertently changed the Labour Party forever.

Tom Watson is a man with sensible instincts and he is right that Labour needs to change its system for electing the party leader, the year long soap opera that will end with Jeremy Corbyn being reconfirmed as leader has been a costly and divisive distraction.

The trouble is he is stuck in the old ways of thinking, he either can't see or won't accept that like it or not, and most MPs very much do not, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader changed Labour forever. However tight they close their eyes and wish the Blairites can never will back into being the old dispensation where party members were seen but not heard.

Although there was a patronising popularism about it Watson was on the right track when he said Labour have to 'put the band back together'; meaning they have to stop being a mob of competing egos and start playing like a team.

That means the keepers of the New Labour flame holding their noses and accepting the brave new world they now inhabit and the Corbynistas growing up enough to realise that idealistic passion doesn't excuse prejudice and always needs to be tempered by common sense.

The alternative is more division, more bitterness and even less influence for a party that is still, even if it hasn't always behaved like it, the official opposition.



Sunday, 31 July 2016

Is a lottery really the answer to funding local good causes?


How does a council go about finding money for good causes when budgets are tight and, thanks to Brexit, could get tighter still?

A three pipe problem and no mistake, or maybe in this non-smoking age a three vape one, either way its enough to give Sherlock a bit of a headache.

Thanks to the Gambling Act (2005) one solution could be the setting up of local lotteries to create a pot from which local charities and community groups could bid for funds. Stoke-on-Trent City Council is set to join Portsmouth City Council and Melton Borough Council in taking advantage of this opportunity.

This could be to the benefit of community groups that have been starved of funding since austerity began to bite and, to their credit, the council do not intend using this as a stealthy way of topping up their coffers.

Punters will pay their £1 for a ticket and have the chance to win the jackpot of £25,000, a car or a range of smaller prizes. Aside from running costs any money raised will go either into the prize pot or to local charities.

The Potto Lotto, an awful name, offers a better return to players with, if it follows the model used by Aylesbury District Council, 60% of the money raised going to good causes as opposed to just 28% of that raised by the national lottery reaching the same destination. There is also no chance of it foisting upon us Mystic Meg or those awful adverts featuring Billy Connolly.

Speaking to the Sentinel council leader Dave Follows said people would be 'more likely to pay a pound for a ticket if they can see where it is going to be spent'

Danny Flynn, chief executive of the YMCA and one of the sharper minds in the local charity sector expressed qualified enthusiasm for the scheme, telling the Sentinel his organisation would 'welcome any attempt to create more resources for local good causes', adding though that the thought 'it would only be part of the solution.'

I hate to be a killjoy but this scheme has all the signs of being something made up to look good from a distance that is rather less attractive when examined at close quarters.

For a start giving punters a list of seventy local charities to which they can donate part of their stake sounds like a good idea, until you think about how people go about making such choices. It is based on the premise that we always make rational decisions; and we just so don't.

When they are picking a charity most people, myself included, are more likely to be motivated by sentiment that common sense. Those good causes that feature kids or cute animals will do well, so will anything that being seen to support confers perceived virtue on the person signing the cheque.

Those charities that support difficult people or unfashionable causes, the homeless or people with mental illness for example will struggle, even though the level of need is equal if not sometimes greater.

In short punters will be offered an invidious choice that invites good people to be unintentionally cruel when they are trying to be kind.

My biggest issue though is that however carefully it is dressed up as a harmless flutter a lottery is still gambling and as such has the potential to cause serious problems. Something that was brought into focus this week by a rise in the number of people reporting an addiction to bingo.

I could at this point make a lot of lame jokes about grannies blowing their pensions down at the local Gala, but I won't, because addiction is no laughing matter. It is usually the outward symptom of a trauma the person experiencing it can't articulate or, maybe, even bring themselves to acknowledge.

Stoke is an impoverished city, there are a lot of people here who are just about keeping their head above water, to them winning £25,000 could look like a lifeline, even if trying to do so proves to be a brass ring they grab for endlessly, but never manage to reach.

I don't of course advocate banning gambling, everyone who buys a lottery ticket doesn't end up stood outside the bookies with three cigarettes on the go and all they own on some nag in the 3:30 at Kempton just as having a drink doesn't automatically lead to chronic alcoholism; but the council shouldn't add to the risk by endorsing it.

They should though be given credit for thinking out of the box when it comes to finding a solution to a problem that is going to get worse before it gets better, even if this time they're on the wrong track.