Cooking the books !

Wellies on! After several days of real winter weather, the monsoons were back this morning and squelching and cursing disturbed the tranquil air on the allotments as we wrestled with the double act of herding the stubborn hens away from the miniature lakes whilst covering them with sand before the chooks decided to take a second swimming lesson. Such patience as we codgers ever had is being sorely tested, and it is only our prolonged sessions in the hut that dissuade us from heading off to dwell amongst those wonderful allies of whom Prince William spoke so movingly yesterday. We did pause to wonder just who he had in mind, and why he chose this moment to bang on about them, but given our belief that the unelected should keep out of politics we quickly moved on to other issues.

We also moved on to the comforting shelter of the less-than-Royal hut to seek consolation in the way that our patron saint Eric Pickles taught us. But our flirtation with levity was a brief one, for our thoughts and prayers were with the family of 25-year-old Rose Polge who a few days ago walked out of Torbay Hospital in Devon having, according to friends, become “stressed” by long hours as a junior doctor. Her car was found parked at Anstey’s Cove near Torquay, and her hooded top has been washed ashore nearby. Sources say that a note to her family left in the car makes reference to Jeremy Hunt and the recent NHS strikes.

Once again we have to question the wisdom or morality of placing the control of healthcare in the hands of people who have no experience or understanding of its enormous pressures. Young doctors are subjected to unceasing life-or-death decisions faced repeatedly over long and exhausting shifts. Tired minds play cruel tricks and a combination of compassion and a feeling of being overwhelmed combine to depress even the hardiest soul. Throw in the recent political claptrap about lazy, uncaring clinicians and a tipping point is never far away. Anyone aho has ever been a hospital in-patient knows only too well just how dependent we all are on junior doctors and nurses in times of crisis, and it is no surprise that hundreds of thousands have lined up to sign the petition of sheer disgust at the treatment they have received.

And now we learn that it is not only hospital doctors that are being put under dangerous and unacceptable levels of overwork and resulting stress. A leaked NHS document has revealed that on some nights last month one GP was providing emergency out-of-hours cover for more than 900,000 people in East Anglia. Such are the worries about the standard of care provided by ‘Integrated Care 24’ that MPs have written to the health watchdog to demand a surprise “stormtrooper” inspection. This situation is not unique to East Anglia. It is the direct result of meddling on the part of politicians who unravelled a service that was working reasonably well. Competition is what we need, they said. What we have as a result is GPs placed in impossible situations, and families being obliged to resort to A & E departments manned by an inadequate number of junior doctors not trained to GP levels in diagnosis.

And meantime a whistleblowing Finance Director has given anonymous evidence to the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee regarding national regulators who are “pressurising NHS providers to potentially mislead the public over their true, underlying financial position”. In his evidence the Finance Director warned that the real overall deficit for the current year is approaching £3 billion. Given that the Department of Health has said that trusts must eliminate their deficits by the end of the next financial year or receive no new funding, trust executives are being pressed to exercise “creative accountancy” involving questionable adjustments to their projections and unrealistic forecasts for so-called ‘efficiency savings’. It says much about the leadership of the NHS that the committee agreed to allow its witness to remain anonymous for fear of “victimisation”.

The stark reality is that the NHS is being driven into the ground. Yes there is scope for streamlining of the cumbersome bureaucracy resulting from the clumsy Lansley reforms. But with an ever increasing number of patients, and the availability of more clinical procedures, the clinical staff are losing the battle to provide a safe and rapid service. There is only one solution – a significant increase in funding to at least bring our health investment up to the percentage of GDP that applies in almost very major European country. Why not consult RBS who have conjured up over £1 billion in tax breaks on “sale or leaseback” arrangements!

Impossible? Not if we rethink priorities. Tax avoidance by almost every bank and large company, Westminster lavish lifstyle, HS2. Trident, a House of Lords costing more than the Commons, EU contributions – all sound to us as rather less sacrosanct than the comfort of knowing that emergency help is available when we need it most.

If our dear leader loses his EU referendum it will not be down to the decidedly dodgy deal he has concocted. It will be due to the unprecedented level of anti-establishment feeling that pervades our society. And the NHS and the treatment of its practitioners lies right at the heart of it.
QUOTES FOR TODAY: “The fact that NHS funding is inadequate leads we to the conclusion that the Government wishes to wash its hands of it and instead encourage private companies to take it over” ….Elizabeth Counihan, Southampton/ “If George Osborne had any decency he would be doing a check on all property owned by the Government and selling anything that is unnecessary. Yet he continues to hold on to Dorneywood”….Peter Tyzack, Bristol.

There are many final curtains !

This morning brought the first solid ice of winter, and the mythical man from Mars would have been puzzled by the sight of old codgers scurrying around with buckets of steaming water. But the hens had been threatened with thirst, and the fish in the big pond suffer from concussion if the ice is hammered. It was a timely reminder that, despite all the premature signs, Spring is not yet with us. For me evidence of that is only provided by birdsong – in our case that provided by the resident blackbirds. Robins sing throughout the winter, but so far I have only heard our favourites emitting their “chuck-chuck-chuck” alarm, usually a signal that cats are on the prowl. Until I hear those effortless, gentle sweet notes, clear on the air, pouring from those birds of black plumage and bright yellow beak on the rooftop or in the allotments trees I will know that, whatever the magnolias may imply, Spring still lies in the future.

By the time we reached the warm hut such teeth as we still have were chattering. But we had no complaints for we prefer crunching to squelching as we lumber around. As we settled for our undeserved brew, talk focussed on the fate of local sheltered accommodation which is now suffering the effects of ‘cuts’. Statistics on funding reveal that the north is being treated rather differently to the leafy suburbs of Surrey which have received ‘compensating payments’ some twenty times that of less-leafy Lancashire and its neighbours. Perhaps there are plans afoot to move the ‘northern powerhouse’ down to the south-east? Who knows, but at least we have the comfort of knowing that Gorgeous George Osborne’s sheltered accommodation has survived his passion for austerity.

We taxpayers fund his grace-and-favour pad in Buckinghamshire and every pound helps. His weekend Dorneywood home boasts 22 rooms and stunning gardens for the delight of his many guests. But fear not, we are told that they comprise only guests of the Conservative Party, which pays the bills. Amongst those identified Party Donors and MPs prepared to back the Chancellor in his leadership bid dominate. Sorry to nit-pick but doesn’t that mean that the taxpayer, who meets the cost of party funding, is paying for party political activities? We shall never know – yesterday the treasury spin-doctors assured us that transparency now is much improved since the days of the Blairites. So that’s all right then.

But at least our chief bean-counter is not the most unpopular politician in the land. A new poll from YouGov tells us that that dubious honour falls to none other than our old nemesis Jeremy Hunt, who has a minus rating of 48, and beats the bearded one and our dear leader by a distance. The poll tells us that Mr Hunt is considered to be as useful as a rattlesnake in a lucky dip by 65 per cent of the great British public, hundreds of thousands of whom have signed a parliamentary petition calling for him to be posted to the Outer Hebredes. So all those junior doctors thinking of hanging up their stethoscopes should perhaps wait a while. Should our dear leader win his EU referendum the subsequent reshuffle just might sooth their troubled spirits.

Of course whether he does win is still in the lap of God – or what passes for God in Brussels, Aunty Merkel. And with 2.5 million refugees packed into Turkey’s ‘buffer zone’, she has problems of her own. Yesterday Liam Fox (minus Werrity) finally torpedoed his chance of ermine robes by claiming that an ‘In’ vote will mean In for one hell of a lot of new citizens. So maybe that reshuffle will never happen and Jeremy Hunt will move into Downing Street. Better the Boris we know, but he seems to be keeping his cards close to his chest as he plays his favourite game of Wait-Until-the Cat-Jumps.

All of this sums up the morning gossip in the codger’s parliament. But I felt detached and pensive. Yesterday I attended the funeral of a former colleague and later close friend. He died suddenly at 83 – my age. In a moving service a friend gave a review of a life lived to the full, ever mindful of others and enriched with kindly humour. Frank’s creed was to live each day to the full and to always remember that it could be ones’ last. As the final curtain closed silently we all felt a profound sense of loss. But we also gave thanks for a life that made such a positive mark on so many other lives.

As I drove home I remembered so many hilarious days spent with the man I shall never see again and resolved, albeit late in the day, to follow his example. It was then that I reflected on other final curtains, particularly the one of my own Dad. I like to believe that he too would have left an inspiring story, but sadly he died during World War 2, little more than a very young man. It was an episode of my childhood from which I have never fully recovered. And it is immensely sad that I never knew whether he too treasured each day, or even knew how much we loved him.

And that is why today I realised that all the things that worry or infuriate us on a cold February day are transient, not even worth thinking about. I suspect those blackbirds know this and waste no effort or emotion on irrelevant nonsense.

QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” One dies only once, and it’s for such a long time”….Moliere, 1622-73.

Practice what you preach !

For the first time in this peculiar winter we were engaged in the art of ice-breaking this morning. Returning to the once regular practice of lugging buckets of boiling water around reminded us that Jack Frost is still alive and well, which is more than could be said for us by the time we had completed our visits to a dozen hen-runs and several ponds. But given the choice we still prefer this to the new age of monsoons and howling gales. However, either way, it was a blessed relief to reach the warm embrace of the allotments hut where such teeth as we still have stopped chattering and our tongues took over. Our taste-buds too for nothing beats the Monday blues like a re-enactment of Eric Pickle’s last supper.

We did notice in passing that research by the University of Washington has revealed that the Moon influences weather on Earth. Years of study have shown that when the Moon is directly overhead, its gravitational pull creates a bulge in the Earth’s atmosphere, changing the air pressure enough to make rain lighter. Call us nitpickers if you must, but this does strike us as particularly useless information. So much research seems this way – nerds spend half their life bent over laboratory tables and eventually tell us something that we can do nothing about.

But occasionally research does prove fruitful. This morning we learn that the BBC has been doing a bit of its own into the subject of the funding of mental health care, and the government will not be grateful. Strip aside all the spin from Department of Health and we learn that the funding has been drastically reduced. It was the cue for Jeremy Hunt and his team of whirling Shane Warne emulators to rush out an announcement that billions are now to be poured into the task of eliminating the nightmare of patients being transferred to hospitals hundreds of miles from all that is familiar. Considering that only last week they were denying that such things happen that is quite a turn around. In reality they will of course do absolutely nothing, and an illness that many consider even worse than cancer will continue to blight the lives of thousands.

Perhaps we need a petition said Tom, now on his third pork pie. Then followed a heated debate about their effectiveness which often feels on a par with revelations about the Moon. The current one at the top of the petition pops concerns the fate of the ever-smirking Jeremy Hunt, and as at this morning has hit the 300,000 level. The only consequence seems to have been a declaration of “war” on the medical profession – hardly a term likely to reassure all the overstressed doctors expressing a desire to beat their patients to the exit doors.

Of course the Hunt family and most of his cabinet colleague’s tribes tend to give the NHS a wide berth when their thermometers show red, so the fate of Nye Bevan’s creation is low on their priority list. As with many things, as in the case of schools where our dear leader has “regretfully” decided to send the young Cameroons to private institutions, our leaders continue to fail to practice what they preach.

Take austerity, the banker-triggered way of life that has adversely transformed the life of millions. We must, says Gorgeous George Osborne, pull in our belts and recognise that every penny counts. We are, after all, “all in this together”. But not quite, as the latest figures covering the lifestyle of Speaker Burcow reveal. Using the Freedom of Information Act the Press Association has revealed that the revered JB has spent many thousands of pounds wining and dining fellow MPs. Taxpayer’s money has been used to lay on lavish dinners, lunches and receptions for colleagues. And no expense has been spared in indulging foreign counterparts – one meal for the Australian Speaker cost £1,954!

A “standing down” meal for a former deputy, Dawn Primarola, cost £2,057. Over £1,700 went on a reception for retiring MPs, and over £3,000 on one for newly elected members in July. Meantime beeswax candles have cost £2,000 and rather more than that on tuning of the grand piano. Unfortunately many of the expenditure details have been “destroyed in accordance with parliamentary records disposal policy”, so the full extent of the high jinks are denied us. But even this brief lifting of the velvet curtains suggests that those who cheerfully allow the energy fat cats to rip-off normal households are not struggling to decide whether to heat or eat.

But they are not alone. A glance at the salaries of those who preside over our “cash strapped” universities is revealing. Students, the various vice-chancellors constantly tell them, must learn that taxpayer’s money does not grow on trees. But Sir David Eastwood who runs Birmingham University pockets £416,000 a year despite his institution falling 12 places in the global rankings. Is this publicly-funded academic deemed so precious that he merits the joint salary of 20 fellow Brummies? It is perhaps unfair to pick on Sir David alone for others earn even more (the boss at Salford receives £500,000), and last year 23 university chiefs enjoyed pay rises of 10 per cent or more and all enjoy rent-free homes.

Politics of envy? Maybe, but the point we were trying to make in this morning’s old codger parliament is that the only believable form of leadership involves example. In this more transparent society “Do as we say, not as we do” is not going to win back the ever increasing number best described as anti-establishment.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” The more one gets to know of men, the more one values dogs”…A.Toussenal, 1803-1885.

Hunt under fire !

The Valentine roses on the Hunt household table will not smell so sweet this year for the legendary digger of holes finds himself in one even deeper than he usually manages. If only, he will be murmuring, I had stopped digging.

Fourteen NHS chief executives have contradicted the Health Secretary’s claim that they backed his plan to impose the controversial junior doctor’s contract. Typical is University Hospitals Bristol chief executive Robert Woolley who says he hadn’t so much as seen the letter to which his name was added. It was just one of many blows yesterday to the standing of Jeremy Hunt, whose relationship with the medical profession has plumbed new depths.

A typical response can be found in an online rant by Dr Richard Bowman, whose message went viral last night. He revealed how he was, a few days ago, left alone in charge of 100 acutely ill cancer patients at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham as he completed a 60 hour sequence of duty.

Dr Bowman wrote: “There was not a single manager in the whole hospital. Last night I ran the oncology service for the whole south Birmingham region from inside the biggest teaching hospital in Europe. And then I stood on a picket line to save our NHS. But my shift wasn’t during the strike, it was just what countless other junior doctors do every day. But apparently I lack vocation, I’m overpaid, I need to work harder”.

He ended: ” Screw you Jeremy Hunt. We never asked for thanks. All we do is for our patients – how dare you try to turn them against us? All of this is your government’s faults. Well you’ve picked a fight with the wrong crowd!”

Whatever the small print of the contract there is little doubt that Jeremy Hunt’s handling of the negotiations has been appalling. This morning a significant number of Conservative MPs are urging the Prime Minister to dispense with his services before he achieves the almost impossible task of making the discordant opposition popular. meantime an online public petition has attracted over 180,000 signatures, sufficient to trigger a Commons debate.

But enormous damage has been done and resignations are coming in from dedicated young clinicians that the NHS can ill afford to lose. And nurses and hospital workers are worried as they ask if Doctors can be treated in this way what fate awaits them.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Politicians are people who, when they see the light at the end of the tunnel, order more tunnel”…John Quinton.