Posts Tagged ‘NHS’

By-election Winners and Losers

24/02/2017, 02:18:13 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Winners:

Gareth Snell. Congratulations are due to Snell, having been put the ringer these past few weeks for derogatory remarks he had previously made on Twitter about, inter alia, Loose Women, Janet Street-Porter was why Brexit is ‘a massive pile of shit.’ He withstood the ‘media bomb’ they generated and can now look forward to joining the intra-party tussle for a seat in 2020, as proposed boundary changes scrap Stoke Central.

Jack Dromey. As Snell’s campaign manager, Dromey will take credit for ‘seeing off Ukip’. In reality, Ukip saw off Ukip (see below), but credit where credit’s due: A win is a win in politics and, as captain of the team, Dromey deserves credit.

The Tories. For a government to win a by-election seat from the opposition is a rarity indeed and symptomatic of the state of British politics in 2017, with Labour no longer able to hold what it has. One other point. Like they did in 2015, the Tories are becoming adept at under the surface campaigning. With massively fewer volunteers than Labour, they are plainly making other assets count. Labour needs to be better at reading their game.

The turnout. Despite the noisy intervention of Storm Doris, 51 per cent of Copeland’s voters braved the elements, while 38 per cent of Stokies also made it to the polling station. Both turnouts were better than expected and serve to make the results fairly representative of current opinion. So what’s the message for Labour? The party can hang on in its heartlands (Stoke), but can’t assume it will (Copeland). This will now be interpreted whichever way the high priests of Corbynism and neo-Blairism want it to.

Losers:

Labour’s NHS campaign. ‘It’s the economy stupid’ needs writing on the wall of Jeremy Corbyn’s allotment shed. The Labour campaign team in Copeland played the best card they had and ran a strong campaign on the local NHS. But given the long shadow Sellafield casts over the area, where many of the locals make their living, you can’t expect to prosper when the party leader opposes nuclear energy. Labour’s contract with its voters is that it will look after them economically. (It’s maddening that I need to actually write that).

Paul Nuttall. Ukip has again fluffed the ball over the bar in a by-election it should have won. Worse than that, there was clearly no scenario planning or expectation management in case Nuttall didn’t win. Party spokesmen were left flapping around trying to spin the defeat, while a retreating Nuttall (who didn’t stay for a concession speech) was left surrounded by a media pack when his car wasn’t there to pick him up. Ukip still can’t get out of its amateur hour rut. Until it can, the party is going nowhere.
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Week 4 of the campaign: the good, the bad and the ugly

26/04/2015, 01:27:31 PM

Uncut’s weekly review of the campaign looks at the events of week 4.

The good

Chuka Umunna’s interview in the Guardian

One of Labour’s most visible performers this campaign has been the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna. His polished media performances have ensured that he is on the Labour press office’s speed-dial when the toughest interview bids arrive.

Inevitably in an election campaign, interviews are about the issues of the day. It’s hard to see the person rather than the political position. Chuka’s interview in the Guardian probed a little deeper and offered a glimpse of what makes the man tick.

It revealed a personal biography which is a story of struggle, success, loss and revival. One which shines a light on who he is and the type of politician that he is maturing into.

Chuka’s father’s rise, from penniless migrant to running a thriving business, is clearly enormously influential.

Most immediately, it explains why Chuka is instinctively comfortable with business and able to put businessmen and women at ease with Labour, in a way that other Labour front-benchers cannot.

Yet there is more to Chuka than just being Labour’s business-whisperer.

The duality of being the child of an immigrant and a successful businessman creates a rare perspective. Most politicians lead their lives in a straight line – they are born into a class and remain in that class.

Chuka’s world was one simultaneously of disadvantage and privilege.

It’s why the rhetorical cadences from Ukip on race and identity are familiar to Chuka from his youth, as they are to anyone from a minority who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s.

What Ukip say today about Eastern European migrants was said about Asian and African migrants from the 1950s through to the 1990s.

The manner in which his father faced this and overcame it, informs the direct and robust way that Chuka addresses Ukip.

Chuka’s father’s achievements and Chuka’s upbringing have given him the self-confidence to challenge Ukip in a way that his party colleagues seem to lack.

The subsequent loss of his father when he was 13 was evidently and understandably a pivotal moment in Chuka’s life.

It also places him in a rather unique category of politicians.

The Phaeton complex describes the behaviour and development of children who experience the loss of (or separation from) one or both of their parents. It seems more than a coincidence that this group is so over-represented among political leaders –Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to name just a few.

Whether Chuka’s future will be as starry as some of the other political Phaetons is unclear yet, but in an election of dry photo-opportunities and endlessly rehearsed lines, the Guardian interview with Chuka offered something more than the standard, and increasingly stale, fayre.

Progress in righting some of the wrongs of the past (more…)

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Labour needs to be straight about its plans for the NHS

24/10/2014, 01:38:13 PM

by David Talbot

“The NHS is on the ballot paper in May” declared the Labour leader at Prime Minister’s Questions as he sought to solidify his party’s clear advantage on this most important, and emotive, of issues. That the NHS is set to be centre stage at the forthcoming general election is partly due to naked politicking, and partly due to the dire forecasts for our health service. Both main combatants are well aware of the financial and demographic peril the NHS is in, but both continue to besmirch the debate with clichéd attacks on how the Tories can’t be trusted on the NHS or, a new variant of the same line, Labour are ruining the NHS in Wales.

It is essential that politicians are honest with the public about the scale of the challenges facing the NHS. This is particularly true of the Labour party who are prone to nostalgia and playing on sentiment, invoking the spirit of Nye Bevan and having a nonagenarian address party conference, for instance, but specifically because the party is making pledges which, deep down, it must know will be difficult or nigh on impossible to deliver. The NHS matters too much for short term electoral considerations; it is better that the party is frank, and dare say unpopular, with the public now rather than risk alienation, anger and a disintegrating NHS later.

Ed Miliband’s flagship announcement at the party conference last month was an eye-catching commitment to establish a new £2.5 billion ‘Time to Care Fund’. This unravelled not long after some fairly rudimentary scrutiny; it will be not be implemented in full until 2017/18 and Labour would need to first pass a Budget and then enact legislation before the mansion tax, levy on tobacco firms and tax avoidance levies would yield any income. And even then there are serious doubts the revenue raised would come anywhere near the £2.5 billion quoted.

It is not to say that the party is not coming up with a better vision for the NHS. Labour’s plan for a combined health and care service is unquestionably the right direction of travel, but it is not a cost or pain-free option. Andy Burnham may deny that there will be large-scale reorganisation, but unavoidably, and undoubtedly, there would be heavy financial and structural costs. A messy structural reorganisation of the administration of healthcare would clearly get in the way of healthcare delivery. What is important, what the public should not be fed, is the idea that it is not a reorganisation. It is exactly that.

The King’s Fund Barker report estimated that even after introducing a combined health and care service, spending would need to rise to around 11% of GDP to meet demand. This would still leave our health spending trailing the highest European spenders – but it would require double the spending increase that Labour is currently proposing.

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Unite leverage squads turn attention to private sector providers in the NHS

19/08/2014, 05:54:39 PM

Last year, Unite’s leverage department generated a storm of publicity with its actions during the Grangemouth dispute. Directors of the employer, Ineos, were targeted in their homes, with one executive calling the police after a leverage squad of 25 protesters arrived on his road, complete with banners and a giant, inflatable rat.

Now, word reaches Uncut that the union’s leverage squads will be turning their attention to private sector involvement in the NHS.

In a letter sent to union members, Unite leader Len McCluskey states,

“Our Leverage Department has now turned its efforts towards protecting our NHS…Unite will not stand by as the vested interest groups carve up the NHS for private gain and our Leverage Department has begun work to protect accident and emergency wards in your community, to protect hospitals and GP centres under threat in your community, and to expose and prevent the vested interest groups who tender for NHS work, those groups who have profit before patient care.”

On the Unite website, the work of the leverage department is described as,

“…a process whereby the Union commits resources and time to making all interested parties aware of the treatment received by Unite members at the hands of an employer. Those interested parties may include shareholders of the employer; competitors of the employer; communities within which the employer operates; customers of the employer and the market place of the employer…”

This latest move seems to represent an escalation of leverage activities. While in previous cases, leverage squads were deployed in industrial disputes like Grangemouth, it appears that ideological battles – such as the role of the private sector in delivering health services –  will now be fought using these same tactics.

While many on the left in the Labour movement would support Unite’s expansion in the use of leverage, it is likely to cause the Labour leadership a headache in the run up to the general election.

The inevitable question that will be asked of Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham will be whether they back Unite’s decision to deploy leverage squads over the NHS.

If they condemn it, the story will be about another Labour-Unite spat. If they do not, then the old headlines about Labour being in the pocket of Unite and trade union militancy, will be recycled.

Either way, Labour is about to be put on the defensive.

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If we can’t access GPs, do we really have a health service at all?

11/08/2014, 10:54:08 AM

by Kevin Meagher

As I sit here nursing a nasty chest infection that I can’t seem to shake off, the crisis in the NHS is brought home to me all too clearly. I can’t get an appointment to see my GP before the end of next week, begging the question that if I cannot access basic healthcare at the point of need, do we in fact have a National Health Service in any meaningful sense at all?

As Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has pointed out, the slump in service standards “is more marked in general practice than anywhere else in the NHS: in 2009/10, four out of five people said they saw a GP within 48 hours; now it is just two in five.”

And it’s set to get worse. A recent poll of GPs suggests average waiting times for a basic appointment are going to stretch to 13 days by next April. Apparently, I should have had the forethought to make an appointment after the first cough.

In response, the government’s NHS Choices website (“Your health, your choices”) suggests that people like me should “consider the alternatives” before bothering their GP. Thankfully, this is just a range of staggeringly inane and nannying ‘advice’ rather than an invitation to seek out a consultation with the village wise woman or medicine man.

Instead of seeing the doctor, “[t]he pharmacist behind the counter at your local chemist may be able to give you the help you need, so you won’t have to spend time waiting for an appointment.” Discussing your medical history within earshot of the queue in Boots certainly offers an interesting approach to patient confidentiality.

If, however, you feel compelled to seek out the kind of informed medical support that we pay our taxes to access when we are ill, the advice is not to forget your manners, especially to the support staff. “Be polite to receptionists. They are busy people who often have to deal with unhappy patients. Being polite to them will encourage them to help you.”

What is the corollary of this extraordinary statement? Patients are not busy people and if some receptionist does not consider a patient to be sufficiently ‘polite’ they will not help them?

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Labour needs to talk about the NHS

04/04/2014, 03:28:17 PM

by Renie Anjeh

Lord Warner, the former Labour health minister, hit the headlines earlier this week by calling for a £10-per-month charge for the NHS as part of his report for the think tank Reform.  The reaction from his fellow “comrades” was unsurprising. Some expressed their vehement disdain for the peer by launching a petition calling for his resignation from the party.  Others edited his Wikipedia page so that it included insults and untruths.

Like most party members, I am strong supporter of the NHS and I cherish the principle of free healthcare at the point of use.  However, supporting the NHS is not an excuse for refusing to face up to reality.  The uncomfortable truth, especially for Labour supporters, is that the health service’s finances are not on a sustainable footing.

It is inevitable that due to a rising ageing population and increasing numbers of people suffering from chronic conditions, against the backdrop of tight spending constraint, the funding gap will increase to £54bn by 2020.

As Alan Milburn said in 2012, “the era of big spending is over, fiscal conservatism is order of the day”.  Whoever is in government next year, will undoubtedly have to confront this problem.  Unfortunately, Lord Warner’s report just shows that the Labour party – the party of the NHS – is not sufficiently psychologically prepared for this challenge.  It is important to remember that the monthly NHS charge is one idea amongst many that Warner proposed in his report but the Labour party seemed to reject the report in its entirety.

Rather than braying for his blood, the party should have commended him for thinking seriously about this issue and should have adopted his issues on integrating budgets, investing in community services and efficiency.

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Letter from Wales: What is happening to the NHS in Wales?

21/02/2014, 10:37:18 AM

by Julian Ruck

“But it’s not normal, it’s Wales!”

Do excuse my take on a few words from Atul Hatwal, editor of Uncut, in his column 9.1.14. The fact remains however, that nothing at all is “normal” in Wales, indeed the principality makes Westminster look as normal as a packet  Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts and a ’99 on Southend pier.

Allow me to reiterate the statistics broadcast by BBC Wales in respect of the Welsh NHS:

  • 23,500 patients waiting more than 8 weeks for diagnostic treatment, up from 8000 two years ago.
  • The number of people waiting more than 9 months for hospital treatment has reached its highest level in two years.
  • More than 32% of patients in Wales wait more than 8 weeks for an ultra sound scan compared with 0.1% in England.
  • Death rates now coming into question and the Welsh government is refusing to carry out an investigation.

Mark Drakeford, health minister and master of denial, is blaming all of those nasty people in   Westminster again.

This is what happens when you have professors of social policy (from the Cardiff university crachach madrassa of course) running health services in Wales.

Cathy O’Sullivan, acting chair of the board of Community Health Councils in Wales said on Radio Wales recently about the Welsh NHS, ”It needs a very fundamental shake, around how patients are treated in the 21st Century.”

And here’s the problem.

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For Labour, the “cost of living” debate is dead

17/12/2013, 09:53:44 AM

by Alex Chalmers

A month ago, the next election was going to be decided by “the cost of living crisis”; the electorate would see through the economic growth figures, feel the pinch, and elevate Ed Miliband, scourge of the energy fat-cats, to Downing Street. The government’s response to the energy price freeze was inconsistent and unintelligible, the public seemed to love the policy, and for a moment, the opposition looked like it had a leader. Yet within a few weeks, Labour’s poll resurgence had turned into full-on retreat. Today, YouGov has Labour’s lead down to 2 points.

So what went wrong? On a very simplistic level, elections are not won or lost on one policy. An idea, even a popular one, cannot hold media or public attention for more than a fairly short period of time. Unless it is part of a broader theme or narrative, and is followed by a series of other well-timed announcements, it will quickly become buried under a tide of other news stories. Labour cannot agree on one policy and prepare to collect the keys to Number 10. The public liked the sound of it, some other things happened, and then they moved on. If Miliband truly wishes to define the next election in terms of the cost of living, then he has to say a lot more about it.

Unfortunately, this is something of a recurring theme. At the height of the NHS reorganisation fiasco, the next election was going to be about that, but once the reforms started to be implemented, the party suddenly quietened down. A limp half-hearted campaign based on the Twitter hashtag #dropthebill unsurprisingly made little impact. Retweeting to the converted does not an election win. Nothing was made of the collapsing patient satisfaction ratings, whilst the attempts to focus on staffing levels were wrought with statistical errors and easily batted away by the government. The NHS is now in the headlines again, but Labour appears to be making no effort to communicate its message. In the days of New Labour, the media operation would have been ruthlessly hammering five key pledges home, trying to make sure the issue caught the public imagination. Ed Miliband’s “Zen-like calm” interspersed with cries of, “same old Tories” is simply no substitute.

The party’s strategy of choosing a key issue and promptly forgetting it is going to cost it dear come the next election. For the vast majority of its term in office, the coalition has managed to frame the main debates. It has managed to paint Labour as the public spending bingers and the friends of the scroungers.

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Jeremy Hunt’s response to Francis will penalise patients while protecting the bureaucrats who cover up abuses

21/11/2013, 03:20:56 PM

by Sam Fowles

I really miss the days when the worst we thought Jeremy Hunt could do to the NHS was privatise it. At least you knew what you were getting with privatisation. But what Mr Hunt is doing, incredibly, manages to be worse. It is an act of legislative contortion which would have done credit to Mitt Romney on his most pliable days: In an (apparent) attempt to “get tough” on standards and ensure the high quality of the NHS, Mr Hunt has made certain that it cannot possibly offer anything but a substandard service.

At least one can see a logical argument of privatising the NHS. It may be exceptionally wrongheaded, but the case has a logical progression: Competing providers will force standards up as a result of their competition for consumers. The problem with this is, of course, that demand for healthcare is inherently almost completely elastic. As such, the impact of market forces on quality and price of provision will only ever be exceptionally limited, leading to monopolistic tendencies and, inevitably, substandard service. But at least there is a justification based on some sort of reasoned analysis.

Mr Hunt’s response to the Francis Report is a masterclass in irrationality.

One of the central issues in the report was poor patient care. Beds were not changed, patients were not fed; essentially the care and attention necessary for a decent quality of existence were absent. Unless the nurses at Mid Staffs spent their days playing scrabble and watching repeats of Monarch of the Glen (in my experience, pretty much the only thing on hospital television) one might perhaps assume that neglect is a function of understaffing. Stunningly this was also one of the conclusions of the Francis review.

Much of the review focused on governance issues, particularly regarding oversight organisations and community engagement (which Mr Hunt’s substantive proposals have singularly failed to address). Those sections which concentrated on the day to day running of wards recommended a more labour and resource intensive model. This is hardly surprising. One doesn’t have to be an expert in healthcare management to realise that if, as a patient, you get more focused attention more of the time, you’re going to have a better experience. The logical corollary of this is that, if everyone is to have more focused attention more of the time then the hospital might need to employ more people to provide it.

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NHS: demotivating workers risks lives

30/07/2013, 02:05:52 PM

by Sarah Rabbitts

On Thursday 11 July, the axe of Jeremy Hunt, the Tory Health Secretary, fell on yet another A&E. In an impromptu announcement to the House, Hunt confirmed cuts to Trafford General Hospital which even took Kate Green MP by surprise. The Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), Hunt explained, had finally chosen to downgrade Trafford A&E services to an urgent care centre that will be closed from midnight to 8am everyday.

Labour supporters will always be protective of the NHS. Labour created it in 1946, and it’s one of the most formidable successes of a British Labour government. It’s an even greater success if you look at the backlash Obama faced enforcing public healthcare in the US – despite being popular in his first term.

However, this is not just about protecting something that Labour established. The issue is that reducing the wrong healthcare services puts people’s lives at risk, and no one in Britain really wants to live in a country in which we invoice the under-privileged £150,000 for cancer treatment because they can’t afford healthcare insurance. That’s the reality if we don’t protect the NHS.

Under this government, Lambeth’s funding has been cut by 45% in total. This is damaging local authority provided services, like social care and leisure – the services which help the council keep people healthy and out of hospital. In addition, the government has scrapped minimum nutrition standards in schools leading many “free” schools and academies to feed their pupils junk worsening a health crisis that’s already putting a burden on our NHS.

Lambeth’s NHS specific budget cuts have inevitably lead to longer waits, fewer nurses and midwives. In addition, Hunt approved the closure of Lewisham Hospital’s A&E, despite a passionate local campaign. This is now putting massive pressure on King’s College Hospital in Lambeth, who are accepting more patients.

I have advised a number of companies on employee engagement during periods of organisational change. I’m confident that taking away annual salary increases and intensive training will de-motivate workers and will probably jeopardise employee performance in the NHS, and inevitably patient care. Recent reports, for instance, that Healthcare Assistants are being trained with DVD tutorials are also worrying, especially if it is right that these workers will be expected to take on greater responsibilities.

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