Posts Tagged NHS

iCope is here to help

During the General Election, the Liberal Democrats identified four areas of health policy to prioritise: cancer. maternity care, Alzheimers – and mental health. I am proud that the LibDems took this stand, as mental health services are ignored most of the time, with the occasional burst of publicity when something goes wrong. The stigma surrounding mental health is part of the problem, which is why the Time to Change campaign is so important.

Now NHS Islington has launched another good tool, iCope, a self-help website; it has lots of practical advice if you are anxious or mildly depressed, plus pointers to help with more serious conditions.

Islington has significantly higher levels of mental health problems than the national average, even without the impact of the recession. So anything that can help is welcome.

Internet self-diagnosis and online pharmacies may have given some ‘health’ websites a bad name. But given the stigma and social isolation caused by mental health conditions, I think making this king of self-help available online is great way to reach the many people affected.

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Marching for the Whittington

As LibDem campaigners, we are used to pounding the streets in all weathers for a cause we believe in. Still, yesterday’s Whittington march was something special.

It might have, literally, been a damp squib given the heavy rain that started pouring just as people were due to assemble at Highbury corner. Add in Archway tube being closed and Arsenal playing (albeit away) and there were plenty of excuses for people not to turn up. But that would be to underestimate the passion local people feel about the Whittington, and the way the campaign to save it has gained genuine across-the-board support.

That support is something we’ve certainly found on the doorstep. On Monday I was at Downing Street handing in the first 2,000 signatures from our Save the Whittington petition. The petition is still open for signatures, and given the 5,000 folk on the march, there’s plenty more to come.

The people I met on the march were an amazing range. Yes, there were some of the usual suspects, ‘rent-a-trots’ who go on a different demo every week. Much more there were ordinary folk from Islington and beyond who use the Whittington and don’t want to see it downgraded. There was David, currently a cancer patient at the Whittington, poorly, but determined to march. There was Pat who has had three generations of her family get treatment there. And Julie who works with health charities and can’t believe the powers that be could ever consider running down our hospital.

Liberal Democrats were out in force, from Lynne Featherstone MP and Islington Council leader Terry Stacy at the head of the march, to local teams from Islington, Camden, Enfield and Haringey marching behind them. So many communities will be affected if the Whittington plans go ahead.

The local Council, the cross-party Defend the Whittington campaign, and some amazing publicity from the Islington Tribune (who were on the march with a bus and a band) made the march happen. The passion and anger of ordinary people made it huge.

But what none of us can do is make it clear who who decides the fate of our hospital. We only know the Whittington is under threat because of leaked documents. Despite a decade of talk about the new localism and making public services more accountable, the opposite seems to be happening with our NHS. Community Health Councils were abolished and a complicated quangocracy reports only to the Secretary of State.

As the Save Finsbury Health Centre campaign notes, “What our campaign has really been up against, however, is an entirely unaccountable system of healthcare governance…. Worse still, even after our elected local representatives have investigated an NHS decision in such detail they have no direct power to change it. Perhaps if they did and the non-execs on the PCT board were themselves directly elected, the executive officials would not feel so free to ignore public feeling, population trends, geography, transport and real costs.” That’s equally true of the Whittington.

All local politicians claim to want to save the Whittington. What Labour MPs won’t say is that their colleague, Andy Burnham, is the one politician who could do that tomorrow, if he wanted. Instead all we get is buck-passing from his juniors.

Only the Liberal Democrats are pledging to change the system to give us the locally accountable NHS that would improve our local services, not undermine them.

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Access to health services – article for the EU Chinese Journal

It’s Chinese New Year, and I’ve been invited to contribute an article to the Chinese Shadow Parliament’s EU Chinese Journal , on the NHS and access by overseas visitors to health services. The invitation came via Chinese LibDems Chair Merlene Emerson, and is in my capacity as a Parliamentary Candidate, and also as a former Vice-Chair of Hampstead Community Health Council, and a former member of the Islington Health Partnership Board.

The article will appear translated into Chinese – this is the original version.
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The NHS is always an important topic in UK elections. We Brits love our NHS and are very proud of it. But when times are tough, some commentators do ask if we should allow immigrants to register with NHS doctors and use the health service.

In my view, talking about overseas migrants placing a stress on the NHS is a dangerous distraction from the real challenges facing our public health services.

Who is entitled to use the NHS? The origins of the welfare state were set up by the Liberal government a hundred years ago, with the first state pension. The benefits then were funded by contributions made by individuals through National Insurance; that principle also applied when the NHS was first set up in the 1940s. However, for decades now, the NHS has actually been funded from general taxation, not only National Insurance. So there is no reason to limit access to health services to people making National Insurance contributions. For example, people paying consumer taxes, including VAT, are also helping fund our NHS, even if they are not British citizens.

In a civilised society, we care for those among us in need, whatever their origin. In a globalised society, we accept that people will travel the world and may need health care wherever they go.

In fact the NHS would collapse tomorrow if migrant workers were to be excluded. Around a third of NHS staff, from consultants to cleaners, were born or trained outside the UK. What hypocrites we would be to say that migrants can help run our NHS services, yet cannot use them!

The real threat to the NHS is not from immigrants. Instead it is from bad policy choices from our own government. In my own area of Islington, north London, the Accident & Emergency unit at our local hospital, the Whittington, is under threat. This is as part of a wider reorganisation of hospital services; the plan is to encourage more patients to be treated at new polyclinics, which will replace traditional family doctors’ surgeries. That is fine for routine minor surgery but not for emergencies. If you have a heart attack at work or an accident in the street, then you need an Accident & Emergency Unit as nearby as possible.

I believe that a busy borough like Islington needs a 24 hour Accident & Emergency unit. If the Whittington is downgraded, local people face travelling further in an emergency. Last week a colleague and I raced to the Whittington and the next nearest hospital, the Royal Free in Hampstead. It took 30 minutes to get to the Whittington, nearly an hour to get to the Royal Free. No wonder our campaign to save the Whittington is so popular.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Islington, the same NHS managers want to close Finsbury Health Centre. This is one of the original polyclinics, that has served its community well ever since the 1930s. It’s not surprising that local people are angry and confused.

As Liberal Democrats, we support local democratic control of our health services. At the moment, too many decisions are taken in Whitehall, with national targets imposed downwards. We believe that local communities should have more of a say in the priorities for the health services on which they depend.

We also want to protect front-line health services from cuts in this difficult economic climate. Instead, we would prefer to see a reduction in the bureaucracy and target culture; in particular we would abandon the plans for a single national health database, which seems to be more about documenting patients than treating them.

Keeping people out of hospital in the first place or reducing the length and expense of treatment by detecting serious illness sooner is also a priority for us. For example, ensuring that women have regular breast cancer screening and rapid referral where needed, is essential.

The NHS alone cannot guarantee our good health. The whole community, individuals and families have a role to play in promoting better health, through diet and active lifestyles. London has some of the worst air pollution in Europe. One of my campaign priorities is to improve air quality and help tackle respiratory diseases like COPD and asthma. And with many people in the UK suffering from the so-called ‘diseases of affluence’, such as heart disease or alcohol-related illness, we can all learn from the lifestyles of other communities among us.

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Whittington update

A letter has arrived from Rachel Tyndall, Chief Exec of North Central London NHS, responding to local objections to the threatened closure of the Whittington A&E.

Basically it tells us to watch this space: “There are no plans in place to make changes to these services… a review of services across North Central London is underway…. our analysis is at an early stage and we are a long way from having firm proposals. [The review] will see more care provided closer to where people live, and some specialist services being centralised…much of the routine care currently provided in hospital settings will in future be delivered in community locations, such as general practice and polyclinics…. This shift in activity away from traditional hospital settings will allow hospitals in future to focus on what they do best and to operate more efficiently.”

If that means you can have your ingrowing toenail tackled by your GP instead of having to go to hospital, that’s fine. If it means closing our A&E, providing more efficiency for the NHS at the expense of patients, then it’s totally unacceptable.

The real agenda is less about patient care and more about the fallout from the economic downturn. As the Guardian reports this week, Sam Higginson, NHS London’s assistant director of strategy, says they intend to push through changes to cope with an imminent financial squeeze in the NHS.

It’s easy to attack the NHS bosses, who are often totally dedicated public servants, doing the Labour government’s dirty work for them. The undemocratic NHS structures mean that health service managers are accountable to the man in Whitehall, not the local community. The real villains are the Labour government. They have burdened the NHS with extra bureaucracy around targets and PFI schemes; and now times are tough, frontline services look set to be cut.

The irony is that Whittington has only recently celebrated its new buildings. Any closure here would be a terrible waste. And reorganisations themselves are a hugely expensive distraction from the job of providing health care.

Islington patients deserve better. Sign the ‘Save the Whittington’ petition here!

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Breast cancer referrals – still too slow

The Islington Gazette has picked up the figures I reported about the delays Islington women face in getting referrals after breast cancer screening.

As the Gazette says:

LESS than 40 per cent of Islington women suspected of having breast cancer are seen by a specialist within two weeks, it is claimed.

Bridget Fox, Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Islington South and Finsbury, has called on the Government to ensure Islington women are screened and seen quicker when at risk from breast cancer. Ms Fox said: “Two weeks’ delay for a woman with late-diagnosed breast cancer could mean the difference between life and death.”

So many families have been affected by the scourge of breast cancer. My own mother-in-law died before our wedding because her cancer was diagnosed late. Prompt diagnosis not only saves lives, it makes treatment less invasive – and expensive – too.

I hope (probably a forlorn one…) that one of the Government’s new year resolutions will be to spend less time talking about targets and more time helpng the local NHS to meet them.

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Government must turn again and save the Whittington

It’s the time of year when London kids enjoy a pantomime, including that old favourite, ‘Puss in Boots’. Famously, Dick Whittington is told to ‘turn again’, to give the story a happy ending. But our local Whittington Hospital faces a very unhappy future under government-backed NHS plans.

We are told there are four choices for reorganising hospital services in north London: but all of them would see the Whittington downgraded and its 24 hour casualty unit close. Emergency cases would be sent to Hampstead’s Royal Free Hospital instead. Not much choice for local people there.

I am totally opposed to any plans to downgrade the Whittington. Accidents and emergencies happen 24 hours a day and we need a 24 hour casualty unit. Anyone who knows Islington knows that it takes too long to get to Hampstead compared to a straight run up the A1 to the Whittington. Plus Islington’s population is growing. It’s madness to think of closing our local A&E now.

I’m delighted that local councillors are united in wanting to save our hospital. But Government ministers have let Islington down once again, by passing the buck and saying this is a ‘challenge for the local NHS to explain’.

A few years ago I witnessed a car accident at Archway. The young father who was hit survived because of prompt treatment at the Whittington A&E. Like so many Islington families, I’ve been helped by the Whittington. They treated a micro-tumour and quite possibly saved my life.

Dick Whittington was told to ‘turn again’. The Government must also ‘turn again’ and save the Whittington for Islington.

Meanwhile you can sign the petition here.

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Whittington Accident and Emergency under threat

Shocking news this week that NHS managers are considering downgrading Islington’s Whittington Hospital, closing its Accident & Emergency department.

Changing the Whittington to a ‘local’ hospital would mean 24 hour emergency surgery would instead be handled by ‘a wider clinical network’.

Some of us remember the same story played out with Barts. We must not let it happen again. Our local Liberal Democrats are taking a stand against the plans.

If Whittington A&E closes, patients will be directed to the Royal Free in Hampstead instead, as the two hospitals are already considering merging into one. Anyone who has tried to drive from Islington to Hampstead will know it’s a nightmare.

From Islington homes to the Whittington, it’s a straight run up the Holloway Road; but routes to the Royal Free mean taking residential streets through Kentish Town, or navigating Chetwynd Road – neither recommended in an emergency.

The sorts of emergencies that need urgent surgery – like injuries from road accidents or assaults – often happen outside ‘office hours’. That’s why 24 hour cover is essential.

And of course, Islington’s population is growing, with thousands of new homes already around the Arsenal development alone.

It’s madness to close our local A&E. So much for the NHS being safe in Labour’s hands.

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Packing more bags

I blogged before about the UK citizenship test, that many UK citizens would fail.

Since then I came across this piece, on Labour Home of all places, describing the realities of the test process for would-be citizens. (I should add that it was the test’s location in Islington, not the article’s location on Labour Home, that led me to this!)

It’s a long piece, but well worth reading in full. Julia Svetlichnaja is a highly-educated woman who has lived here for 15 years, but she ‘failed’.

The applicants are treated in a degrading way – no privacy, no loo breaks, rude staff – as if trying to put the would-be citizens off from the start. Do the agency have targets for how many people pass? or how few?

Then there’s the questions. As Ms Svetlichnaja says, the test is “all about how to navigate through endless policies and rules, clauses and exemptions, it was all very instrumental; questions did not seek any understanding of what society is about, only how to obey the rules.”

As I blogged before, I failed the sample citizenship test and it sounds as if I would fail the real one too. Take this question:

The guidebook repeatedly assures the reader that medical treatment is free, courtesy of the NHS. An innocuous clause states: “Your GP can also refer you for specialist treatment if you have specialist needs.” When asked in the Test if specialist treatment was free, I answered yes. The answer is no.

Well then the answer is wrong. Or is this a sneak preview of future NHS policy?

Even if the results of the test are a ‘fail’ there is no need to make the experience so awful. Courtesy costs nothing (and the applicants are paying each time). The guide to citizenship makes much of Britain’s tradition of tolerance and respect. How shaming that our newest potential citizens experience the opposite.

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We love the NHS

It’s a couple of weeks now since the Republican right in the USA dragged the NHS into their own arguments over healthcare, with a series of bizarre lies about our NHS, such as that people over 60 don’t get treatment.

This has not been helped by leading Conservative Daniel Hannan telling Fox TV his views on the NHS: “we’ve lived through this mistake for 60 years now…. The reality is it hasn’t worked- it has made people iller… We have very few doctors- we disincentivise people from practicing medicine in this country… because there’s no market”.

Ever since, people have been falling over themselves (in the case of Brits, safe in the knowledge that A&E is there for us…) to put the record straight.

The Twitter feed #welovethenhs has produced facts, figures and feelings galore. It’s really quite moving to see so many people sharing their life-changing and life-saving experiences of the NHS. Particularly interesting comments have come from people who’ve lived in both the UK and the USA, including Lib Dem MP Susan Kramer who commented dryly “Lived 18 yrs in USA including having 2 children. Give me the NHS anyday.

Another interesting piece comes from Graham Gudgin, an Englishman in New Jersey, who sensibly summarises the case: “In the UK, if you can afford it, you can take out insurance and be treated privately. However, if you cannot afford to do this, you’re still covered. This is what’s being proposed in the US. In fact people will have more choice, not less“.

My family relies on the NHS for our health care. In fact, you could probably construct at least one person from all the various body parts and functions we’ve had fixed by the NHS, and I’m sure other families have similar tales to tell. And even people with private healthcare have the NHS there for them if they have an accident, a heart attack or if a private procedure goes wrong.

My mother remembers life before the NHS: a poorer mum caught stealing the medicine my grandma had just bought. And a friend from church was reminiscing about families calculating how sick someone could get before they risked consulting the doctor.

One of my constituents, Peter, a respected business consultant, emailed me, pointing out that “two key indicators of the success of health policy are infant mortality rate and life expectancy“, and attaching stats, sourced from that subversive anti-American organisation, the CIA.

Peter goes on to ask, “If the US system is so good and the NHS so bad, why does the UK have a better infant mortality rate and life expectancy, even though expenditure per capita is much high in the USA? And Cuba, hardly a model of development, has a better infant mortality rate than the USA. Most other developed countries in fact do better than the USA.” He points out that the UK, Canada, France and Cuba are “four diverse countries with public health provision which, apart from life expectancy in Cuba, do better than the USA. This does not speak volumes for the US approach.

At the time of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, one of the newspapers did a survey on what made people proud to be British: the NHS came top of the list. The USA may have rejected the monarchy but perhaps in the NHS we have an institution from which they can learn.

Our NHS may not be under threat from Republican politicians in the USA, but we cannot be complacent.
As Norman Lamb has highlighted, under Labour the NHS is experiencing massive bureaucracy and creeping privatisation to commercial healthcare providers, many of them US-owned, and a democratic deficit, where the public have no say in how our largest public service is run.

Ironically, the one area where market forces might have been appropriate, providing IT services, has been crushed by a huge and hugely-expensive national NHS IT scheme that is still not operational.

Small wonder that a nurse I canvassed this week is the latest convert from Labour to Lib Dem in Islington.

The NHS, brainchild of a Liberal, William Beveridge, is not the property of any one political party. And the outpouring of support for our NHS should give UK as well as US politicians pause for thought in considering future health policies.

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Thank you for sharing

NHS cervical cancer screening is one of those rights I’m keen women should have, less keen to exercise myself.

But when my latest reminder arrived, I phoned within minutes and had my checkup within the week. Why? Well partly because of Jade Goody. Her openness about her terminal illness showed better than any public health campaign that cervical cancer is real and can kill if you don’t get checked regularly.

Choosing to share information about your health can help others: but sharing people’s health information without their permission can do the opposite. A new report from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust has found that women are not seeking help for post-natal depression from their GPs, because they are afraid the information will be shared with social services and they will be labelled bad mothers.

Talking of labelling, I’m now apparently a terrorist suspect because as a non-meat eater, I order vegetarian meals when I fly. (Vegetarian not vegan: I had one particularly grim airline breakfast of a rice cracker and some nauseating soya milk, while Richard tucked into egg, bacon and yoghurt next to me). Doubly-suspicious if you are born abroad, which makes Joanna Lumley public enemy number 1.

If you agree with me that this is barmy, there’s a Facebook group you can join here.

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