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Tuesday, 13 August 2013

What does denial look like?

Anger and smugness. Sadly, not really a very edifying parliamentary picture in reaction to failed patient safety issues from the Shadow Secretary of State for Health and a Shadow Health Minister.

I never thought I was political when I was younger – but it turned out, I was, since certain things made me promise to myself I would try to do something about them, if ever I had the chance.

One of these was what I saw happening to my father’s role as a Bristol NHS surgeon, and that of his colleagues.That's part of the reason you may have heard me be so vocal over recent months about how we have let down patients, and doctors who really want to care for them, in our NHS over the last decade .

 I remember the period when the stress of my father's work, and that of his colleagues became much worse in the early 2000s. My dad would come home late, desperately frustrated. New rafts of dominant managers were seizing control over how doctors should prioritise their patients’ care.

 I would listen to my dad’s desperation as he told how he was ordered not to operate on an urgent patient - because there was another less urgent patient about to exceed government enforced waiting times. That patient had to come first. He tried speaking out, and began finding ways of ensuring urgent patients got priority. But I was appalled that he had to break the ‘rules’ to care for patients.

I also remember a colleague of my dad’s complaining that in a Bristol hospital, one of the alphabetically arranged shelves of historic X-Rays had been jammed for some time , and were inaccessible to the doctors who needed them. The patient of course, knew nothing about this.
Talking health with my Dad. I've grown up hearing what it's like at the front line of the NHS

This same doctor also noticed that essential patients’ notes were often unavailable. His complaints led nowhere so he went to the Medical Records room. He found patient’s notes piled high on the floor in corridors between the overloaded shelves, with little hope of finding anyone’s notes. He took photographs and complained to management. When ignored, he threatened to expose the shambles. The result? he had to go off work for six months.

 It was a sadly familiar story for anyone who tried to speak out.

Once, after a personal medical consultation, the doctor, (who knew I was a candidate for the General Election), made a striking appeal. ‘Please help us’, he said; ‘we can’t treat our patients any more and we are silenced if we speak out’. 

The hospital horrors that are tragically hitting our headlines had been silenced until now, by a regime that insisted that the NHS must be portrayed as perfect at any cost. 

That regime is now over, and the truth can emerge. Many have waited years to speak out. As a doctor’s daughter, I know just how committed most of our NHS frontline staff are, and how much NHS care is excellent.

We owe it to them, but primarily to patients, to be honest about failings of the past and hold those responsible at the top to account. We must do a deep clean of our NHS system, and rebuild it with good managers, and professionals re-empowered to do the job they went into the NHS to do:
Not to polish the reputation of an institution for the pleasure of politicians, but to care for patients.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

European Austerity... alive and bubbly?

Photo taken at around 11am in Brussels EU Parliament! Good to see Austerity alive and bubbly...

I was rootling through my blackberry photos and found this one - taken on a trip I made to Brussels to discuss our 'Fresh Start Project' reforms for Europe with MEPs and others.  It was taken at around 11am, and it was one of those pictures which for me spoke a thousand words.

If I thought Westminster was a bubble, the EU Parliament was even more of a bubble - a bubble of luxury and optimism floating in a deeply troubled , increasingly divided Europe. The rise of parties such as 'Alternative for Deutschland' show that it's not only the British people who are getting intolerant of out-of-touch EU Elite - its The People from across Europe who do not feel represented by a blindly optimistic, extraordinarily out-of-touch EU Political Class.

The truth is that whether we are in or out of Europe, unfortunately, Britain's interests are inextricably linked to the success or otherwise of the continent. If the European Ship Sinks, we sink with it, whether we're on board, or whether we've manned the life-boat to get away - we'll still be sucked down to a greater or lesser extent with the economic whirlpool the downfall of Europe will create - so it is entirely within our interests to try to get Europe to see sense, become more competitive, let go of its deeply communist instincts, and , to be frank, Get Real.  That's what the Fresh Start project is designed to do - to create a coalition of parties from EU nations that see that enforcing 'more of the same' is no way to save Europe, but that we should be a unit that is strong through the diversity of its member states, not a disastrously enforced 'one-size-fits-all' super-state.

If we can succeed in that, Europe may stand a chance of flourishing and being the kind of institution that many people voted for, back when we got the chance. The idea of a Union that makes the very most of each of its individual member states, and then is more than the sum of its parts, is not very controversial.

However, if we can't untangle the dysfunctional relationship of Europe, and the EU Elite persist in steering Europe towards disaster, in a rigid blindness of ideology, partly born out of the trauma of recent European War-History, then, in the referendum we've been so long denied, but is now finally happening in 2017, if Conservatives win the election, it makes all the sense in the world to abandon ship and gird ourselves for the whirlpool when the EU ship finally sinks... 

Sunday, 4 August 2013

LDubstock - Woodstock, eat yer heart out


Despite quite torrential rain, LDubstock was a raging success - thank you so much to all the organisers for a really great evening! The music was superb, the wraps at the Chilli Van enormous, and the company superlative. Such as that below with our new(ish) Councillor Jason Budd, the infamous ( in a good way) Mark Pepper and Norman Routledge, who we have to thank for the glory of Kings Weston House.
Sheltering from the storm at LDubStock with beers and friends!
Policies that emerged from political discussions in the food queue include instituting a King ( or Queen) of Bristol ( there were several nominations for this post) and re-building the Bristol Wall.  I won't blog all of it as I'm sure the politically-correct amongst any readers this blog might attract may not be amused, but suffice to say it was brilliant to see so many friends - and make new ones - all in one place.
I was speaking to our local councillor, Wayne Harvey who was there with his brother Darren, and he told me he had met up with people he'd not seen for 15 years.  That's why communities that are built up around places like Lawrence Weston Football Club are so important - they bring people together.

Thanks again to all the organisers for a really wonderful afternoon and evening - now we need to get your club house rebuilt...



Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Avon Gorge Ascent - a change from climbing the greasy pole...

Doesn't look too bad! All going to be fine!
Things not feeling so fine now...
This was the easy start-bit. Things got worse!
 It all seemed so far away as to be unreal, when I accepted Climb Bristol's kind invitation to see the glory of the Avon Gorge climbs for myself, by climbing up it.

When it came to it, I wasn't so sure it was such a great plan. Climb Bristol were keen to show me first hand the unique nature of the Avon Gorge cliffs, with its plant life unique to Bristol and its very special climbing features.

As someone not tremendously keen on heights, I had never dreamed of being one of those people you see scaling the Avon Gorge cliffs as you drive past, but I was keen to see what Climb Bristol was talking about.

The day dawned sunny and bright, and I hoped for rain and that it might be delayed for another day. No rain arrived. But everyone from Climb Bristol were incredibly professional, and tolerant of my nerves. They tried telling me about the access issues to the rock face, and the challenges of maintaining the climbing routes, free from shrubs that drown out the rare and unique plants around them, but I was somewhat preoccupied by the thought of what I was about to do, so we cracked on with the climb.

The route I was given was apparently 'severe' (which didn't make me feel much better.) I felt slightly better as they told me how many other grades of slope were above 'severe' - right up to 'extremely severe' which itself has several grades of difficulty. Once I'd started climbing I was surprised how well the climbing shoes gripped, alarmed by how polished some of the rock had become with the frequency of climbers and intrigued by the 'physical chess' nature of the climbing - an almost sudoko-like challenge of where to place hands and feet on limited little cracks and chinks. But once I'd got into my stride a bit more about 3/4 of the way up, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it, and understood why people get addicted to climbing.

Climb Bristol highlighted how special this climbing area is;  how much work they have done on a voluntary basis to clear it of over-grown shrubbery; the possibilities the area presents if the decent car-parking spaces are returned, and how Bristol should celebrate this superb venue for climbers far more than it does.

When the climb was one, pumped full of adrenalin and endorphines, we walked back down to the car. As I stepped out onto the Portway bus-lane, it struck me that for all the thrill of clinging to a rock-face a long way up, the most dangerous part of the whole episode was probably about to begin- walking the short distance along a brutal road to get to the lay-by where we parked.   There was plenty of room for the shrubs to be cut back and a footpath laid.  That's the kind of danger and risk that should be actively removed, so people can enjoy the beauty, exhilaration and calculated risk of climbing in far more safety. 

Thanks to Climb Bristol for such a great experience

 Thank you Climb Bristol! I hope I can do it again sometime...