Negligence, amnesia and epilepsy: remembering Labour’s NHS truthfully

Lets start by saying I love, respect and am deeply grateful to the NHS.

I’ve watched one partner progress from medical student to senior consultant, other friends journey to many different medical destinations – and all of us ending up as NHS patients.  I’ve had three children (one by crash caesarean), and an arm reconstructed with 32 pieces of metal during the Winter of Discontent. I’ve supported most of my family in hospital one time or another. When my brother died of cancer, I’ve devoted time  to replacing the countless pints of blood he needed (currently 130plus donations, and rising).

So, yes, like 95% of the people in the UK I love, support and am deeply grateful to the NHS.

But this doesn’t mean I buy into the current myth being foisted by those who know better onto those who don’t. That there was a glorious golden age of unprivatised efficiency in the NHS, brutally drawn to a close by the last election. That the only people to be trusted to run the NHS are the Labour party. Oh no.

A good friend – a retired and leftward leaning hospital consultant -said to me last week,”there hasn’t been any time in the last 20 years when I haven’t been very depressed by where the NHS is heading”. He has a point.

These days the opposition, with consummate hypocrisy, bangs on about the prospective horrors of Tory privatisation. Do they think we’ve forgotten? Lets not talk about all the services that WERE privatised under the last Labour government (GP Out of Hours Services, and Sexual Health are two ones that come immediately to mind). Lets not talk about buildings in hock to PFI and how much they are used/how long they will take to pay back. Lets talk instead about the huge gap between rhetoric and reality that underpinned so much of this untruth.

In 2007, during a period of supposed national wealth, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Epilepsy published Wasted Money Wasted Lives: The human and economic cost of epilepsy in England.

The statistics they quoted were – and remain – shocking:

• 990 epilepsy related deaths annually (365 being children/young people). This does not include eg drowning and RTAs
400 avoidable deaths per year
• 69,000 people living with unnecessary seizures
• 74,000 people taking drugs they do not need
• £189 million needlessly spent supporting this tragic state of affairs each year.

Most shocking of all is that these statistics have not altered since this time. It as if that report never existed. So what did it say? (italics mine):

“ During the course of this Inquiry, it has become clear that the National Health Service (NHS) is failing people with epilepsy and that a much improved service can be delivered at the same time as making significant cost saving.  The All Party Parliamentary Group on Epilepsy therefore calls upon the [ then, Labour] Government to recognise the benefits of change, accept the political, administrative and ethical duty to implement these changes, and to take positive action for the benefit of both the patient and the taxpayer.
Government has devolved much decision making to local Primary Care Trusts. It was not the purpose of this Inquiry to examine that policy. It does, however, sometimes give rise to a gap between stated Government policy and actual delivery. It can also lead to a postcode lottery, abhorrent to Government, where patients in one part of the country receive a significantly worse service than elsewhere. Again, this will be clearly shown to exist in the case of epilepsy.
Government must take care to avoid the criticism that admirable policy developments on paper without targets for implementation or powers to roll out the policy are seen as no more than Government “wish-lists”, and of little use to patients facing critical service failures on the ground.

This report concluded

“ the numbers experiencing seizures unnecessarily and the numbers taking anti-epileptic drugs for which they have no need is a national scandal… It is about time that people with epilepsy received for the first time ever a health service that meets their needs, at least to the standard available to patients with other conditions. ”

Four years on, it is as if these words had never been written. It shocks me to the core that our current Labour opposition use every opportunity to imply that the NHS was safe till it left their hands and yet the ‘national scandal’ to which Health Secretary Alan Johnson was alerted and Andy Burnham inherited was as nothing to them. This was heralded as a time of economic prosperity – a time when government increased GP salaries to double their French equivalents’ while cutting their responsibilities. Clearly the notion – of decreasing cost while increasing the standard of care at least to the standard available to patients with other conditions – was unimportant to health secretary Alan Johnson, and his successor Andy Burnham.

Forgive me if I write about this bitterly. I feel very bitter. In the same year in which this report was published my adolescent child faced damage and death over and over again because she lived in a county with no specialist provision and no expertise or interest in managing difficult epilepsy. And no steer from a disengaged and totally uninterested central government to provide it. Epilepsy isn’t sexy, is it, Mr Johnson, Mr Burnham, you Labour amnesiacs and apologists one and all? And its not insurable either.

When I talk about facing damage and death this did not mean she fell over occasionally.

During 2007 she had 200 major (damaging) seizures, and innumerable minor seizures. On 90 occasions these developed into status epilepticus (results in brain damage/fatality if not stopped). Over 2007 she was taking 9 separate drugs in various suck-it-and-see combinations (many of them with toxic side effects) in an attempt to control her epilepsy or rescue her from status epilepticus.

(Can I repeat a sentence from the report ‘the numbers experiencing seizures unnecessarily and the numbers taking anti-epileptic drugs for which they have no need is a national scandal‘ . Quite).

Over 2007 she spent 45 whole days as emergency admission in 4 separate hospitals in 4 separate parts of the country. 67 further days were spent in a state of confusion so extreme she couldn’t string two words together.

Imagine what an effect this had on her life! On her social life! On her education! On her self esteem! On the life of me, her sole carer 24/7. On the life of her siblings.
And 2007 was a doozie in comparison with the horrors of 2008.
I cannot describe what it feels like to cope hourly, daily, monthly, yearly with this level of anxiety, difficulty and stress and then discover that those running the NHS – that was YOU Alan Johnson and YOU Andy Burnham knew about it, and just couldn’t be bothered to act.

So when I now hear you and your apologists complacently posing as the protectors of the NHS and those who use it, I have to remind you that you cannot expect to win the hearts or minds of those half million you failed. Or the families you wracked, and the education and careers you ruined in the process.

Alan Johnson, Andy Burnham, 他们的良心被狗吃了! (Though I don’t suppose you’ll think of checking out the meaning of this , either)

New SCC chief exec: Deborah Cadman

Yesterday Suffolk County Council appointed Deborah Cadman  as  Chief Executive, a unanimous decision by the multi-party Staff Appointments board. Ms Cadman is the chief executive of the (shortly-to-be-wound-up)  East of England Development Agency, and a former chief executive of  St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

At £155,000,  her salary is  £63,592 less than Andrea Hill was paid, with no bonuses or annual pay increments.  At a time of belt-tightening, this is laudable and appropriate.

According to Council leader Mark Bee, ” I want to continue the work we’ve started to restore public confidence in Suffolk County Council and allow our staff to get the recognition they deserve. Deborah is just the person to help us do that.”

Smoke, mirrors and ‘average’ pay

On Radio 4s You and Yours programme today*  there was an argument between pro- and anti-union speakers as to whether the average salary for a full-time UK public sector worker was £22,000 (as the ‘pro’ asserted), or higher (as the ‘anti’ suggested).   The ‘anti’ spokesman declared that the £22000 average included  part-time workers – which the ‘pro’ spokesman absolutely denied.

This statement can be easily checked, so I checked it.

It  turned out that the pro-union speaker was not telling the truth.   Google  confirmed that the average fulltime UK public sector salary was £28,808 last year – £3000 more than the private sector counterpart ( this, according to the ONS)

Such wilful disinformation does no good at all to the argument.

Now,  as a county councillor, I don’t know whether I count as a public sector worker or not. Certainly no public sector union chooses to represent  me and my  low-paid work.  (Work paid for by an ‘allowance’ which puts me and my family below the official poverty line,  allows me a ‘career average’ (hah!) contributory pension that doesn’t kick in until I am 70 and has no problem with the degree to which  my working hours exceed the European Working Time Directive.  Unison – represent me, why don’t you!)   However, I am temperamentally much much more on the side of a union, trying to represent others and address low wages, than on the side of  “the bosses”,  stereotyped as looking after number one.

But we all need to recognise that the split between private and public  sector is no longer the argument of entitlement versus exploitation, or of equality versus inequity which too many on the left are old-fashioned enough to parrot, and which too many on the right are old-fashioned enough to agree with.  One side bangs on about the ‘average working godger’ selflessly working for less than they would get in the private sector, the other side bleats about the politics of envy.

Neither side is telling anything like the whole truth. Which is that both sides are supporting a have and have-not system that neither wants to acknowledge in its entirety.

In the private sector there all too many people that we need not envy. Plenty of private sector workers earn poor salaries with deeply unenviable terms and conditions. Also, let us never forget that many people in the private sector are doing jobs which were once public sector until both left- and right-wing governments decided to privatise them. For reasons of economy.

On the other side, unions are disingenuous when it comes to the nature of the ‘working godgers’  they represent.  In making a case for pensions they mention frontline staff : teachers, nurses,  firefighters.  They do not mention the Civil Service mandarins, the  senior council executives, the senior doctors, educators and officials who they also represent and whose eye-watering salaries – and unduly generous pensions – are also included in these negotiations (and hidden away in these ‘averages’). Yet the extraordinarily generous pay and conditions  at the top  of unionised sectors may well be the very reason why the average pay for a public sector worker is higher than their private counterpart.

I would suggest both private and public sectors have an elephant in the room. The private sector elephant is the number of very badly-paid workers who support the enviable few; the public sector elephant is the large and unacknowledged number of unduly well-paid workers, hiding behind the union concern for the have-nots.  It doesn’t make either system any fairer, though, does it? Each is an aspect of ‘jobs for the boys.’

In the case I mentioned above, both protagonists seemed to be quite charmlessly and ruthlessly  picking up on the notion of ‘average’ to support their side of an argument, without any care (or interest) in the truth that lay behind. Statistics were being used as weapons rather than as tools for forensic investigation.  What use is that to anyone?

Unless the meaningless drivel  and point-scoring about ‘average earnings’  can be done away with across the board, and unless we can look instead at the differential between the top and bottom salaries in each sector, we will never get rid of the horrible inequity which has for many years existed  in this country – where an administrative assistant works for £14000 a year – with anxieties about economic survival in old age – to support a chief executive ‘making do’ with a salary of £250,000 and a massive pension pot .

This continues to occur in unionised and non-unionised situations alike.

* 18-10-2011 ‘Do Strikes Work?’