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.

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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