Showing posts from October, 2006

Save our hospital - watch the PFI Costs

Part of the financial burden which may be contributing to the threat to the West Cumberland Hospital is the cost of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme at Carlisle. The new hospital in Carlisle actually cost £67 million to build but over the next 30 years the NHS will have to pay £600 million in interest and running costs. This information comes from the government answers to parliamentary questions tabled by the shadow health secretary, Andrew Lansley MP. I must stress that I am not against the principle of using private finance to help fund public projects. Both this government and the last one have done it. But whoever is in power must try to make sure that the taxpayer gets good value for money. We need an audit of PFI schemes to see whether they are providing facilities in the most cost-effective way. An essential part of the campaign to defend hospital services at the West Cumberland Hospital, Millom Community Hospital, Keswick Hospital, and all the other threatened hosp

When vandals strike ...

Yesterday and today, special arrangements have had to be made at Garden Fields school, where I was an LEA governor for 16 years and am still an associate governor, to get the children into the school after vandals burnt down a shed on the school site, creating a hazard. For the rest of this week, both Garden Fields and the adjacent St Albans Music School will have to be closed while the damage is cleared - resulting in the cancellation of a special event at the music school for which a lot of work had been done. So the firebugs, whoever they are, have ruined the week for several hundred children. It is absolutely infuriating. The police will never be able to have enough people to solve every crime but we do need to take some of the burden of administration and regulation away so they can spend less time on trivial issues and paperwork and more on solving crimes that matter. And we must make sure that sentences are sharp enough to provide an effective deterrent.

Save Our Hospital - March on 9th December

There will be a march in support of the West Cumberland on Saturday 9th December in Whitehaven. Further details in the Whitehaven News. Please put this date in your diary it is very important that we campaign hard to keep our hospital services.

Save our hospital - where the money is going

It is extremly strange that when such vast amounts of money are being extracted from taxpayers, and a large proportion of it earmarked for the NHS, that hospitals such as the West Cumberland Hospital, Millom Community Hospital, and Keswick Hospital are under threat because of lack of funding. One part of the explanation is the bureaucracy required to operate Labour's 400 NHS targets. Most of the people taken on by the NHS since Labour came to power were administrative staff rather than doctors or nurses, and the NHS now has more estates and administrative people than beds. But another problem is the ghastly failure to manage PFI contracts properly. Let me be clear on what I am and am not saying. Both Labour and Conservative governments have sought to obtain private money for the NHS and there is nothing wrong with the principle of this. However, it must be managed, whoever is in government, in a way which is good value for the taxpayer. And that is not happening. Replies by the gov

Save our Hospital continued

The future of West Cumberland Hospital is still the subject of a great deal of controversy. It does appear that the report by the management consultants Gibson, Freake and Edge, who suggest that retaining two Acute hospitals in North Cumbria is "unaffordable" has not yet become the policy of the NHS trusts. However, if we sit back and do nothing, there is every chance that it could. It has not escaped campaigners for the Community Hospitals in Cumbria, such as those in Millom and Keswick, that they are also still in jeopardy. There are a number of reasons for this: one of the main ones is Gordon Brown's budget controls. Another is that too much of the money given to the NHS is going on administration - most of the jobs taken on in the NHS in the past nine years have been administrative rather than medical staff. The NHS has more estates and admin staff than beds and is taking on managers even while it is making nurses redundant. If we scrapped most of Labour's 400 NHS

When clever people do stupid things - reprise

Prior to the recent post on devolution which touched off an absolute flurry of comment, the highest level of response I had to a post on this blog was to an item called "When clever people do stupid things" which pointed out that mistakes by clever people can do a lot more damage then less eminent individuals are ever given a chance to do. This week the case which inspired that article was in the news again, and demonstrated the way that we are far too ready to tolerate an inability to understand numbers where we would never find acceptable equivalent consequences caused by, say, the inability to read. My original article was inspired by Professor Sir Roy Meadow, who was one of the most eminent paediatricians in the country, but whose knowledge of statistics, and particularly of conditional probability, was so poor that it would have been disappointing in a V former reading Stats O level and grounds for disciplinary action in a VI former studying the statistics part of Maths

Save our hospital - now the acute trust comments

It is increasingly clear that there is indeed a serious threat to local hospital services in West Cumbria and we need to start campaigning NOW if we want to keep the service we need. Two further developments in respect of the future of hospital services in West Cumbria. The Chief Executive of the Nuclear Decomissioning Authority Dr Ian Roxburgh, has spoken in the strongest possible terms about the need to retain an acute hospital in West Cumbria. As he rightly points out, it would be totally unacceptable if the nearest acute hospital to the Sellafield site were in Carlisle. In his words the need for the hospital is "absolutely fundamental" and he added that he has arranged for a presentation from the trust to the NDA board. Meanwhile the Acute Services NHS trust and PCT still maintain that they will "provide a new hospital in West Cumbria." Marie Burnham, chief executive of the North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, made the following joint statement with Alan Hor

Save Our Hospital - continued

As explained yesterday the Whitehaven News has a front page story about a management consultant's report for the "Whole Service Review" by the PCT which appears to suggest three options for the future of West Cumberland Hospital. The report apparently describes the status quo option as "unaffordable" and puts forward two other options either of which mean that we would lose an acute hospital in North Cumbria, presumably the West Cumberland. No explanation yet of how this squares with the parliamentary answer by the junior health minister, Rosie Winterton, that the "Whole service review" will develop proposals for a new acute hospital in Whitehaven. It will be interesting to see what answer the trusts come up with next week. In the meantime anyone who cares about the local health service in Copeland needs to watch this situation like a hawk.

Local Government - here we go again

About six months ago, the government was dropping strong hints that they were about to propose the creation of Unitary authorities replacing the County and District level of government with a single tier of government, and that the May 2007 council elections would be cancelled, with elections to new unitary authorities in 2008 instead. They then got cold feet, and the window for legislation to carry out such a change on that timescale passed with no announcement. Now Ruth Kelly has come forward for consultation with further ideas to reorganise local government, which include the option that authorities which want to make a case for Single Tier councils can do so. There are some major advantages for single tier councils if it is done properly, and when the last Conservative government gave councils a similar opportunity I was in favour of replacing both counties and districts with single tier authorities which would be significantly larger than most existing districts but significantly

Save our Hospitals - the plot thickens

The following parliamentary question was asked at the same time that the Whitehaven News was putting together a story based on information from a source inside the North Cumbria NHS, that a report for a "Whole service review" recommends that the keeping two acute hospitals in North Cumbria is "unaffordable." Question from Jamie Reed (Copeland, Labour) "To ask the Secretary of State for Health what progress has been made on the provision of a new acute hospital in Whitehaven." Reply from Rosie Winterton (Minister of State, Department of Health) "North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust is currently developing proposals for a new acute hospital in Whitehaven in the context of the whole system review of health services in Cumbria. The North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust expects to carry out public consultation on the new hospital early in 2007." So we have two apparently diametrically opposed statements coming out on the same day, though both ref


READ THE WHITEHAVEN NEWS TOMORROW! I learned today that the threat to the future of West Cumberland Hospital is even more serious than we had feared. Anyone reading this who has any interest in the future of health services in West Cumbria should make sure you get a copy of the Whitehaven News tomorrow (26th October) as they will have more detail. I am advised that the Whitehaven News have been told that the Primary Care Trusts for North (and West) Cumbria have brought in a firm of management consultants called "Gibson, Freak, and Edge" to prepare an analysis called a "Whole Systems Review." This analysis considers three options: the first, which keeps two acute hospitals (at Carlisle and in West Cumberland) is regarded by the consultants as "unaffordable." It appears that both the two options which they do consider affordable would involve Whitehaven losing our district general hospital, and it would not be replaced by an equivalent acute hospital in West

The Labour Headline Competition

A headline in The Times today has inspired me to run a competition on this blog over the next two weeks. The headline was "Iraq war could be judged a disaster, Beckett admits." So I challenge anyone who wants to take part to submit similar headlines consisting of a statement of the blindingly obvious with an appropriate Labour minister or former minister admitting that things could be seen that way. You can send me an entry by putting down a comment or at The funniest entry sent to me by 4th November will win a prize, details to follow, Some suggested examples to set off your imagination ... "Taxing pension funds by an extra £5 billion a year could be judged to have left them with less money, Brown admits." "Claiming that your communications officer has resigned when he hasn't could be called 'lying', Byers admits." "Telling students that you won't introduce student tuition fees or top-up fees, and then do

Celebrating the abolition of the Slave Trade

I was pleased to see that David Cameron and the Bishop of Liverpool will be attending an event next spring organised by the Conservative Christian Fellowship to hold an event to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the vote to abolish the slave trade. I have some sympathy with those - including Copeland council - who feel that the best way to make the point that slavery is so wrong that we should apologise for the role our ancestors played in it. But I personally think it is important to make the point in a positive way by including a celebration of those like William Wilberforce who fought to bring an end to slavery. Oh, and I would have left out this point had not Gordon Brown and John Prescott implied to the contrary, but Wilberforce was not a left-winger fighting against Conservatives for the abolition of slavery. Wilberforce, an independent MP, was a close friend of Tory prime minister William Pitt, and was supported by him. At one stage when Wilberforce was ill, Pitt stood in for h

We're not dead yet !

Much soul-searching on Conservative Home over a report by the "Unlock Democracy" campaign which was reported as saying that the Conservative Party has "died off" in the north of England. (The actual words used were that the Conservatives "barely exist" in the North based on membership figures - although there were similar challenging comments about Lib/Dem and Labour support in many areas of the country. I would like to see a wider range of people taking more part in politics in all three political parties. One of the things which I like about David Cameron is that he has tried to open up the Conservatives to a wider range of new blood, and although this has unfortunately sometimes been taken as an attack on the existing membership and on those people on the candidates list who happen to be white males, it is quite possible to try to bring in more new blood without wanting to devalue the contribution of those we already have. We want more people involved,

The law of unintended consequences strikes again

I wonder to what extend those who promoted the new Child seat law have thought through the likely consequences? I am not against the principle of encouraging child seats: my children have always had them and always used them for the vast majority of journeys including all long or motorway journeys. However, there are a certain number of instances where insisting on using child seats forces you to make extra journeys, use a second car, or leave someone behind. Since the law came in, it has had no effect on the majority of our journeys because we would have used a child seat anyway, but on the two exceptions, we had to make a second journey once, and choose between taking a second car, or leaving a family member behind on a local outing on the other occasion. I suspect that a likely consequence of the new law is that there will be pressure on some families with children to get a bigger car, while others will have a greater number of car journeys as the parents have to make two round trip

A quote from Keynes

I had occasion during a recent thread on this blog to quote from John Maynard Keynes in response to Paul Newman from Islington, whose blog Islington Newmania I can recommend here . Obviously I do not share Keynes' political views - he was a Liberal. And the "neo Keynsian" system of economics which is associated with him, though in fact it was mainly the work of an economist called Hicks, had some success in the 1950's and early 60's but ceased to work effectively after that. Of course, Keynes' work influenced many economists other than just the neo-Keynsians - no less a monetarist than Professor Milton Friedman once said "We are all Keynesians now." Two ideas of Keynes in particular will last longer than any particular system of economic thought. His famous saying that "in the long run we are all dead" will undoubtedly be remembered, mostly by those who forget the context. He also wrote a brilliant passage at the end of his book, "The

Livingston: a judge gets it right

There are times when I am reminded to be very grateful that we still live in a country with an independent judiciary. From time to time our judges manage to display that rarest of qualities - common sense. The judgement quashing the suspension of Ken Livingston as Mayor of Longon was right. The judge responsible correctly pointed out that Ken Livingston's remarks comparing a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard were foolish and that the Mayor should have apologised. He added that Ken Livingston had brought himself into disrepute. But since the remarks were made when as Livingston was leaving a private party in the evening, and quite clearly "off duty", the judge ruled that it was not proven that he had brought his office as Mayor into disprepute. His suspension was disproportionate and was therefore quashed. Let me make clear that I do not for one millisecond defend what Ken Livingston said. Comparing a journalist to a concentration camp guard was tasteless an

A Big Thank you to West Cumberland Hospital

My Mother-in-law is now back at home having spent a couple of days in the West Cumberland Hospital following a nasty fall outside our house in Whitehaven. We are full of praise for everyone who helped with her treatment, from the paramedics who arrived within 5 minutes to perform emergency first aid, to the doctors and nurses at the A and E and at Jenkin Ward. My in-laws described the staff at the West Cumberland as the friendliest hospital staff they had ever met. We are very fortunate to have such a good hospital in Whitehaven with friendly professional and caring staff. It is very important that the changes currently under consideration both to the Cumbria Ambulance service and our local hospitals do not interfere with the ability of the NHS to respond to emergency calls in West Cumbria so quickly and to provide such a good service overall.

Afghanistan is not Iraq

One extreme irony in the reaction to General Sir Richard Dannatt's comments concerns the differences between our position in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to sources in the ministry of defence, the intention of Sir Richard's interview was to defend Britain's role in Afghanistan. What caused the uproar was that he made a number of distinctions between Afghanistan and Iraq - and of course, the Mail was able to turn these distinctions around, without seriously misrepresenting the general, so that what was intended as support for Britain's role in Afghanistan became by implication criticism of our role in Iraq. The irony is that this has been taken as support by those who criticise our role in Afghanistan as well as those who, on far stronger grounds, criticise the conduct of British policy in Iraq. A major part of the problems facing our troops is that following the defence cuts of recent years we are in danger of overstretching ourselves trying to take on our present ro

Support our local Ambulance service

I had reason today to be extremely grateful for the efficiency and professionalism of staff at both the Cumbria Ambulance service and West Cumberland hospital. An elderly member of my family suffered a nasty fall outside our house today, and hurt herself sufficiently badly that I called 999. The paramedics were there in at most five minutes, did an excellent job of initial first aid, and took her to the West Cumberland A&E. She is being now being very well looked after on one of the wards at the West Cumberland, which she described to me this afternoon as the friendliest hospital she has ever been in. Thank God we currently have a hospital somewhere much nearer than Carlisle, an efficient ambulance service, and excellent people working in both. I suggest that all residents of West Cumbria should look very carefully indeed at both at the proposals for our local ambulance service which were covered in the Whitehaven News this week and at the future of our local hospital services, and

Trick or Treat - Jumping the Gun ?

Is it just Whitehaven, or have children througout the country started making "trick or treat" calls ridiculously early ? It is still more than two weeks to Halloween. Yet we have just had our fourth knock on the door from children saying "trick or treat." Personally I rather regret that the traditional British "Penny for the Guy" request from children at this time of year has been driven out by the American "Trick or Treat" import, but it's a waste of time for adults to try impose our tastes on children. However, one thing we really ought to stand up against is allowing traditions which are acceptable on one night in the year to extend until they become a thorough nuisance over a period of weeks. I would be very interested to hear from anyone reading this from other parts of the country whether this plague of premature "trick or treaters" is a wider phenomenen or limited to Whitehaven.

General consternation

The new chief of the Army staff has caused some consternation in the political world by suggesting that we need to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible - which has widely been interpreted as denouncing government policy. General Sir Richard Dannatt is quoted as saying that he thought UK troops "exacerbated" security problems and should withdraw "sometime soon". Tony Blair has cleverly moved to reduce the tension by stating that he agreed with everything that the general said. I don't find this completely convincing, but to be fair, Sir Richard did not say that we should pull out tomorrow and I thought his comments were within the range of opinions which a mature democracy ought to be able to tolerate from the head of a public service without the roof falling in. The most interesting thing is that serving soldiers and military personnel, especially those who actually have experience of Iraq, appear to have been flooding internet comment pages with statements of

A further Digital TV update

Some more points about the forthcoming Digital TV switchover were raised at this week's Bransty and Harbour ward forum, and also at a recent meeting with Copeland councillors. A map has been issued by Digital UK showing which parts of Copeland will be affected by the Digital Switchover in September to October next year when the Bigrigg and Gosforth transmitters and the "self help" transmitters stop broadcasting analogue TV signals. According to the map, small areas around Parton and St Bees, and a larger area in the South of the Borough from Haverigg and Millom to Duddon Bridge, will not go Digital until 2009 when the signal from Caldbeck changes over. The transmitters at Parton and St Bees are re-broadcasting the Caldbeck signal. However, the point was made at the Bransty forum, and by Copeland councillors, that a lot of homes in the north of Whitehaven have their TV aeriel pointed at the Parton transmitter rather than the Bigrigg one. My contacts in the industry locally

Spotting a Stroke

Most information circulated in chain emails is rubbish. Very occasionally you get one which does appear to have some potentially useful information, although spam emails are probably not the best way to spread it. If someone has either a stroke, or a heart attack, identifying what has happened and getting medical help promptly can make a huge difference to their chances of survival and subsequent quality of life if they do survive. So it is not surprising that some of the chain emails flying around cyberspace have been on how to survive a heart attack or identify when someone you are with has had a stroke. While it has not been officially endorsed, there is some evidence based on reputable research at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Medicine, on a small study, to support the advice which has recently been circulating in chain emails with titles like “How to spot a stroke”, or “A simple test for stroke.” These obviously originated in the USA – there is a referenc

A fairer system after devolution

It is accepted by most impartial observers, including those who support devolution, that the manner in which the Labour government set up the Scots Parliament and Welsh Assembly made a complete dog's breakfast of the UK constituion. The system we currently have may be politically convenient for the Labour party, but it is neither a proper federal system nor a proper unitary one. Injustices towards Scotland have been replaced by a worse injustice towards England. An extreme example of a totally unacceptable and undemocratic outcome under present arrangements was the imposition of Top-Up tuition fees on English students. It was bad enough that this was a flagrant breach of Labour's election promises, but what made matters even worse was that this measure would have been defeated if it had been put to a vote of the MPs representing the area affected. Top-up fees for English students scraped through by five votes with the help of most of Labour's MPs from Scotland, for whose ow

An example of the new child seat law

To get the family to church this morning I had to make two trips. My children, who are currently five, have always used appropriate car seats for the vast majority of journeys and all long or motorway journeys. However, there are occasionally circumstances when for short journeys we could fit people in better without them. This morning was a case in point. My children's grandparents are with us, so we needed to fit four adults and two small children in the car. It is just possible to fit them into my car without excessive crowding, and so that everyone is wearing a seatbelt (and avoiding dangerous practices like having a child on an adult's lap with the same seatbelt round them both.) The journey is five minutes by car, none of it above 20 mph, and it was a grey, wet morning. However, it is not possible to fit six people in the car appropriately when the children are in car seats. I ended up making two journeys to the church: after the service we had a "modal shift"

Digital TV Switchover - the professionals are not happy

Spent some time this morning talking to one of the people in West Cumbria who knows most about televisions. No names, no packdrill, but anyone who talks to the installers and local TV/electrical business professionals who know a great deal more about TV signals in West Cumbria than most of the rest of us, is likely to be told that they are worried about how well the digital switchover is going to work and what the area will get out of it. If you live in most of Copeland, and watch terrestial TV, this affects you from September next year. (Sky viewers who never watch TV through a normal aerial will not be affected.) If you are in the rest of the country, this will hit you by 2009 - though if we have serious problems it is likely that the TV authorities will learn from them and sort things out before putting the rest of the country through switchover. One of the statements made at the public meeting on 21st September was that there would be a meeting with the installers the following mor

West Cumberland Hospital's future is not safe

The following letter from a senior health professional was published in the Whitehaven News today. This is so important to the Copeland area that I have printed the letter in its entirety below. SIR — The inhabitants of West Cumbria need to be aware that the threat to hospital services, as described in the press, is almost certainly underestimated. Within the North Cumbria acute trust, WCH plays second fiddle to Carlisle by quite a margin. Given the tight finances that in itself constitutes a threat to our survival. Add to this the politically-motivated “reforms” which tumble out of Whitehall and one has to wonder, not what will we have in a “West” hospital, old or new, but will we have a hospital at all? As just one example, take the latest Labour gimmick, the new diagnostic/treatment centre for which the contract has just been signed, we are told. It will take a significant slice of income from the acute trust. It may also result in the loss of medical staff. The labour politicians

Bournemouth Diary – Part II

More notes on the 2006 Conservative Party Conference An unusual experience as I pass the barrier on my way into the conference – a Lib Dem prediction of Tory victory. I am handed an account reprinted from “Freedom today” by a Lib/Dem county councillor describing some problems with the Spanish justice system. A handwritten addendum, apparently by the same gentleman, refers to David Cameron as “our future PM.” Today’s sessions and fringe meeting include a number of sessions on the economy, including a barnstorming performance from George Osborne. Perhaps the most powerful expression I take away from the various discussions on economics is “fixing the broken rungs at the bottom of the ladder”. The point being is that as the economy grows most people get better off but some do not, and many of these are those who start from the worst position. Hence measures to ensure that these people get a share in the fruits of growth are “fixing the broken rungs at the bottom of the ladder.” After Will


An interesting and amusing piece in this week’s “Spectator” magazine describes the battles between Francis Crick, the discoverer of DNA and colleagues at Cambridge over the construction of a chapel at Churchill College. Crick, like a number of distinguished scientists of atheistic bent before and since, was under the impression that his work destroyed the need or justification for religion and was convinced that religious faith was doomed. Crick’s biographer Matt Ridley, who appears to share Crick’s view that all religion is ridiculous superstition, laments that “the discovery of the genetic code had virtually no effect on religious belief or any other form of superstition” and that “religion can be repeatedly contradicted on its factual claims and still claim people’s intellectual loyalty.” (The article is called “The genetic code genius who failed to kill faith” in the 30 September issue of the Spectator.) The dichotomy between religion and science is, however a false one. Like peopl

Bournemouth Diary

Some notes on the 2006 Conservative Party Conference I arrive and, like thousands of others, both this week and last, have to spend hours in a queue to collect my pass. Last year the person present in every speech was Walter Wolfgang – the 82 year old refugee from Nazi Germany who was thrown out of the Labour conference the previous week and even briefly arrested for shouting “Nonsense” (or words to that effect) at the Foreign Secretary. At this year’s conference the equivalent subject in every conversation has been the queue to collect your pass. Part of the problem was a 20% rise in the number of people at the conference but the main reason appears to have been delays with security checks by the police: apparently Labour had exactly the same problem in Manchester. A police spokesman told the press that late applications were a factor, but I had sent my application in on time a couple of months ago, and so had lots of the other people who were queuing with me. Some people got their pa