Saturday, July 15, 2017

Weston Hospital A&E closed at night. Politicians' minds closed 24/7

Weston General Hospital A&E is closed at night from 10pm to 8am. Indefinitely.

They have had huge difficulty recruiting staff, including A&E docs, so they have had to use locums, who with the best will in the world cannot be efficient as they keep having to ask how things work in Weston. The Care Quality Commission, (the NHS version of Ofsted) declared the A&E unsafe, so the Hospital Board closed it.

Weston General is the smallest District General Hospital in the UK, with a very poor ratio of beds to target population, and a long history of being underfunded worse than bigger neighboring hospitals.

The Hospital Board and the Clinical Commissioning Group have endless consultations "to find out what the local population wants". In truth, the local population wants an impossibility. It wants an adequately funded NHS and local health service, and it also wants a Conservative Government.

It can have one or the other, but not both.

For Weston Hospital to be made well again, we need to see the back of the Tories. That is a necessary, but not sufficient condition of recovery.

We also need an ecological approach to the problem of health care, one that takes the widest view of the problem. This should be applied throughout the country, but we could start here in Weston, since it is experiencing such acute problems.

Sorting out the health service is immensely complex. There is no one single magic bullet, not even adequate funding to the NHS, although that again is necessary.

What is needed it a whole new approach that produces a healthy population.

A healthy population is one that has the following conditions met :

  1. More equality between rich and poor
  2. Good housing for all
  3. Full employment
  4. Much less pollution of air, water and food
  5. Greater fitness for all especially everyday fitness from walking and cycling
  6. Better food and eating habits
  7. Knowledge, both about health, about managing illness, and also on how to use the NHS efficiently.
  8. A medical profession that is a bit less dominated by patented pharmaceuticals and a bit more open to non-pill treatments such as ecological medicine.
  9. A change in medical education that encourages new docs to go into under supplied specialties like A&E and dermatology

A full-on drive in the Weston area engaging the whole population, local authorities and all citizen groups could turn the situation around. A health revolution in sleepy old Weston, with everyone changing their habits while at the same time demanding adequate funding for our local service.

So there we have it. Nine areas to look at. Each area demands an enormous amount of change away from the present position and assumptions, but the change itself is not at all impossible. 

Such a drive doesn't even require the removal of the Conservative Party from power. That can wait, It does however require the removal of the conservative mind set that infests almost all political thinking in the UK generally and Weston in particular.  

Changing the general mindset in thinking about health, and shifting away from meeting demand towards reducing demand is well-nigh impossible. It is pretty certain that it will not even get discussed at any level.

So, if you have an accident or an emergency of a moderate level of seriousness in Weston at night, you are going to have a longer wait before receiving treatment. 

Which means that a few of us will die.

So sad.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Transport, buses and airports. We live in a false economy.

Yesterday night North Somerset Green Party organised a public meeting on transport. It was well-attended (~35).  The CEO of First Direct in the West of England spoke about the local bus services. Basically since the Transport Act 1985, they are all privatised with a tiny bit of help from cash-strapped local authorities for non profitable services. The discussion focused on individual experiences of bus transport. There are many problems, and competition means that all companies are only just keeping themselves profitable but at the end, it was clear to me that the basic disorder is that it is another privatisation problem.

Thatcher decreed that bus users should pay for their own transport. As a neo-liberal Tory, she was blind to the fact that buses provide a service to the whole community. If they are full, they are far more efficient at using road space than cars (not if they're empty though - they do about 8mpg, sometimes as little as 3mpg. Aargh).

However, since they have to do without subsidy, bus travel is expensive, so it is actually cheaper (in the short term at least) to use your car, which means that the roads are congested, which means that buses cannot run on time, so more people take their car. Vicious circle.

If instead, buses were supported by taxation, they would be cheaper, more frequent and more extensive, so people would use their cars less, meaning less pollution (especially if buses went onto biogas), less danger to cyclists and walkers, so better for all.

Another example of how neo-liberalistic privatisation is in direct opposition to progress towards sustainability.

The second speaker, Hilary from Cleeve Parish Council, gave information about Bristol Airport, which is making a loss, and therefore wants to expand in order to make a bigger loss grow out of its loss. Expansion means more traffic, bigger car parks, more flights, more noise, and more air pollution; but hey, economic growth is economic growth.

Question: How come it is possible to fly to Majorca for £5 but the airport is making a loss?
Answer - airlines pay little or no taxes on fuel. In other words, they are subsidised. So if they paid fuel taxes, like everyone else, at a rate sufficient to cover air pollution and the global warming effects of high-altitude emissions, flight would be dearer, so less people would fly, so Bristol Airport wouldn't need to expand its car-parks, and more people would holiday in the UK, which would boost the UK economy. This might mean that Bristol Airport would fold, but market forces rule, as any Tory would be the first to tell you.

We live in a false economy.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Chilcot, Blair, Dictators, War,emotional truth - and a non-violent alternative

Sir John Chilcot today describes Tony Blair's testimony to the Iraq Inquiry as “emotionally true”. What the hell does that mean? Is it like “economy with the truth” and “economy with the actualitė”, just fancy words for lying? Is anyone seriously taken in with these euphemisms? (Answer : yes).

While Chilcot minces his words, Mosul is in the final stages of being minced by the war process that Blair and Bush started 13 long years ago.

Have we learned anything from Blair's disastrous war? Not really, because psychopaths never learn, and we are ruled by a psychopathic nexus of corporations, media and politicians.

What we should have learned is that it is not a good idea to remove dictators by force. Dictators are often holding down internal tensions in the area that they rule over, and sudden removal often leads to civil war, as we see in Iraq and Libya. Even the natural death of a dictator can lead to disintegration, as we saw in ex-Yugoslavia when Tito died.

This is not to say that the world should take a tolerant, laissez-faire attitude to dictators. Dictatorships nearly always end up malign, repressive and inhumane. They take away human rights, imprison political opponents, use torture and death squads. In the end they will always succumb to revolution, and that tends to start the cycle of repression all over again.

So what can we do instead? The Green Party, and the Global Greens, have adopted the idea of a Global Human Rights Index, where once a year the UN publishes a league table of every country in the world, placed in order of their observance (or non-observance) of human rights. There are more than one methods that measure the human rights actions of governments, and they are sufficiently accurate to create a league table, where all Governments are ranged in order, with decent regimes like the Scandinavians at the top, and the Saudis, Syria, Zimbabwe and Burma at the bottom. 

The beauty of it is that if a regime objects because they reckon they have been measured harshly, the UN can send in rapporteurs to re-assess that state. What will the state do? Release political prisoners and clean up its act before the rapporteurs arrive. Perfect.

The Global Human Rights Index will act as a continuous, universal uplift to human rights performance of all states. All states mind. Not just the ones that UK and US Governments find inconvenient this week.

What about the worst performers, the really oppressive ones who are sliding towards open fascism and genocide? Here the UN can bring in a sliding scale of targeted sanctions, adding (or removing) a sanction each time a state takes another step down (or up) the slope towards total inhumanity. This is the application of basic psychology, well known to be effective if applied consistently.

For the criminal regimes, the International Criminal Court can try the leadership, in absentia if necessary. If found guilty, a prison sentence may be imposed, albeit also in absentia, since the ruler is ensconced in his (and it usually is a him) palace. This is where it gets subtle. At the same time as he is looking at a prison sentence if he loses his grip on power, diplomats may also convey to the dictator that a nice mansion awaits him and his family in some neutral country. This is carrot and stick psychology, an appeal to basic self-interest. Sure, it is not perfectly just to the victims of the regime and their families, but in global politics, perfection is not an option. It is definitely better than the status quo.

So we do not have to choose between going to war or simply tolerating dictators. There is an effective non-violent way of persuading them to leave office, and produce a general global uplift in human rights performance.

This brief introduction to a revolutionary idea will raise many questions, some of which are answered in the longer paper on the Green Party of England and Wales website. In the end though, this idea is better than blasting a country into small pieces of quivering red jelly, then holding a six-year, 13 volume Inquiry that concludes that the perpetrator was being “emotionally true”.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Moore-Bick Inquiry will not stifle debate on the Grenfell Tragedy.

This is a letter to my MP, who was pretty huffy about a 38 Degrees email I sent to him.

John Penrose MP
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

Dear John

Thank you for your letter of 26 June about the Grenfell fire.

You accuse me of trying to politicise the tragedy. What I am in fact trying to do is to get Ministers and politicians to accept their responsibility in this matter in order to defuse some of the anger and frustration that exists in the community.

As you know, after the Lakanal House fire in 2009, the coroner's inquest published a report in 2013 identifying failures of safety, including the effect of cladding. The All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety & Rescue Group produced a Fire Safety Review (FSR) which was sent to Housing Ministers, but successive Ministers, over a period of four years, failed to take action on the FSR. We still do not know the its contents, but we can be reasonably certain that if it had said that there was no problem with cladding on high buildings, it would have been published by now. The fact that it remains hidden away strongly suggests that Housing and Community Ministers did not regard fire safety as important. Gavin Barwell was Housing Minister for a year, up to the recent election. He and other Housing Ministers who made this error of judgement should publicly accept their responsibility in contributing to the Grenfell tragedy by not acting on the FSR. You could help by asking the present Housing minister to at least publish the FSR.

You ask whether the regulations on fire safety were too lax, or whether inspectors did not do their job? The dominant ideology presented by the Conservative Party is that of neo-liberalism, which calls for a small state with less regulation of the market. David Cameron called for a “bonfire of regulations”, and this is indeed what had been happening. Outsourcing means that a plethora of contractors and sub-contractors have been working on Council owned properties, and light-touch regulation means that safety choices have been very much delegated to the companies themselves.

At the same time, Council budgets have been cut to the bone. Environmental Health Officers are reduced by about one third from the time that I was on the Council. You will find that there are not enough building and fire safety inspectors to meet demand. The answer to your question is therefore that both regulations were too lax, and inspectors did not have the resources to do their jobs well.

There is much concern in the community about the Inquiry itself. Although Mrs May has said that it would leave no stone unturned, and would be able to publish an interim report on the cause and spread of the Grenfell fire, there is justifiable misgiving about politicians using Inquiries to kick difficult questions into the long grass. We have only just now, after 28 years, got to the point of holding decision makers responsible for the Hillsborough disaster. Similarly, the Chilcot Inquiry took seven years to complete. The suspicion is that the Moore-Bick Inquiry will be similarly used to defer consideration of responsibility and action.

Brandon Lewis MP, a past Housing Minsiter, has already used the Inquiry to avoid questioning from Channel 4 news about his non-action about fire risk. It is perfectly clear that fire propagates more quickly on inflammable cladding. As I said in my original letter, you don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows. There have been fires in the UK, Australia, USA, France, and the Emirates where cladding was an issue. The first concerns were raised in the UK in 1991 after the Knowsley flat fire in Liverpool. The Inquiry is not needed to establish that cladding was the cause of the unusually rapid propagation. Indeed, the fact that cladding is right now being removed from tower blocks around the country confirms that inflammable cladding was to blame for Grenfell. The Inquiry should go into the matter of why the knowledge of the risks of cladding were not put into the building regulations in the 26 years since the Knowlesly fire; but there is no guarantee that the Inquiry will pursue this unless it is specifically put into its remit.
In conclusion, it is perfectly reasonable to argue that deregulation and small-state ideology have contributed to the tragedy of Grenfell Tower fire, and there is no merit in trying to avoid questions about political responsibility for the disaster under the banner of “politicisation”.

I will address the question of fracking that you raise in a separate letter.

Yours sincerely

Richard Lawson