Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Last Friday, I helped out at the Police’s Halloween night event on West Boulevard. The event was attended by hundreds of local people. I was glad to be able to help in what was a triumph for the local Police and community. The event featured a disco and traditional party games including apple bobbing. The Police also ran an event in Onneley House for older people, which was also a great success – well done!
I came home from Full Council a couple of hours ago and tonight was a spirited affair. Doubtless the main debates will be covered by others so I just want to point out a couple of clangers dropped by none other that the leader and deputy leader of the Council's Labour group.
Sir Albert Bore told us about someone who's apparently been paying rent on a three-bedroom Council property where only two of the bedrooms are accessible. If true, this needs to be sorted out, but he also mentioned that this has been going on for the last fifteen years. That means eleven years under the old Labour administration!
Ian Ward then admitted that his constituency of Hodge Hill had intentionally overspent their budget to avoid 'their' money being taken off them the following year! Deliberately overspending taxpayers' money to get even more taxpayers' money - appalling, but sadly a typical Labour attitude.
Anyway, I'm off to watch an election. Let's hope there might be another one closer to home before long.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Friday, August 01, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Today was my second Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee and I think everyone there would agree that passions were running high. The main business was scrutinising the proposals for the new GP-led health centres that are being planned by Birmingham's Primary Care Trusts.
I don't think that there was much disagreement on the Committee that some people do have problems in accessing GP services. I myself have had the experience of phoning at precisely 8am to try to get an appointment, only to find that the phone rang so long that BT disconnected the call. All subsequent calls were met with the engaged tone and when I paid a personal visit a few minutes later, I was told that all appointments had already gone. But that's not the point.
Why does this happen? Is it government targets creating a narrow time window that GPs are then judged against? Is it GPs not responding to patient need? Are there too few GPs?
Well, whatever the cause, the government and Birmingham's Primary Care Trusts think they have the answer. It's 'GP-led health centres'. These are something of a departure from traditional GP surgeries. They're commissioned and funded directly by the Primary Care Trusts. Any company can bid to run one. They will probably have some kind of walk-in facility and maybe a pharmacy.
So far, so good you might say. Here are some of the reservations I have.
First of all, the Primary Care Trusts have basically been told to implement them by April 2009. It was quite clear to me that exactly what services these centres should be providing hasn't been worked out first. The whole idea seems to be, 'build it, and they will come'. There's also the issue of whether April 2009 is a realistic timescale.
On a similar note, we were told that there was nothing to stop existing GPs from forming companies and bidding for the work. We were also told that there was nothing to stop GPs from expanding their existing surgeries to provide the services that are being put to tender. However, the Primary Care Trusts already seem to have decided that these will be new centres, new buildings, new facilities. They're already scouting for locations. Perhaps it was always the intention to build new buildings, because that's the easiest way of showing the public that there's been an improvement in an area. The GPs that presented to us clearly thought that there was no prospect of successfully bidding for the work to be provided from existing, expanded surgeries.
Another issue is patient records. There's an intention from the Primary Care Trusts for patient records to be available in the new centres, but no apparent detail of how they will make this happen. Clearly the government's grand Connecting for Health programme won't be finished by April 2009 so personally I think there's little or no prospect of this.
Finally, there's a serious question over whether this will really increase the amount of GP services in any area over the longer term. It doesn't necessarily take a large number of people leaving an existing surgery (maybe for good reason, maybe not) for that surgery to become unviable and to close altogether. This would force the rest of the patients, who may well have been happy with the service, to seek an alternative. In the end, all we may be left with is the closure of most of the 'traditional' GP surgeries in the area, leaving people with no choice but to go somewhere where they see a different doctor every time and which may end up being as busy as the surgeries they were supposed to augment.
It's particularly interesting that one of the new centres is likely to be built in Selly Oak, with a large, transient student population. At present, the surgeries there are dependent on the influx of new students replacing the efflux. If a brand spanking new attractive centre is built, the existing surgeries may see a decline in their numbers of patients through no fault of their own.
One of the Councillors said that she'd received an assurance from the Primary Care Trusts that no existing GP surgeries will close as a result of all of this. I don't think that the Primary Care Trusts are in a position to give that assurance. A surgery might close for all sorts of reasons - is the Primary Care Trust going to stand up on every occasion and say, 'That's down to the new Health Centre, so we'll accept responsibility and help them?'
The only 'assurance' that I could get was that the PCTs will 'work with' existing GP surgeries. I must say that I was surprised that such an explicit assurance was necessary - I would have thought that it would have gone without saying!
In the end, this is all supposed to be about choice. My concern is that, in the rush for more choice, we will ultimately end up with less.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
At the end of each Full Council meeting, all Councillors are provided with a meal, whether or not we choose to eat it. We've asked that a sum equivalent to the cost of the meal (approximately £14 per head, ten times per year) is donated to the 26th Regiment Royal Artillery, a regiment with close ties to the City and which the Council voted this month to grant permission to march through the City.
We hope that by making this gesture we can, in some small way, show our gratitude to the men and women who serve tirelessly to keep us all safe.
In addition, food waste is a hot topic at the moment. Rather than dishing out lectures, we thought it only right to set a practical example.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Today was my first meeting of the Council's Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Even though healthcare is provided mainly by the NHS, the Council has a duty to scrutinise what's going on in Birmingham. After the usual formalities, we got stuck in.
Health Inequalities - The Term
Cllr Deirdre Alden's the Chairman and she opened with a comment that 'health inequalities' is a government term that we're kind of stuck with. It's not all that helpful because one (unacceptable) way of removing health inequalities would be by making everyone as unhealthy as the unhealthiest people!
What are Health Inequalities?
We had a presentation on the subject. I examined the BMJ's definition of 'health inequalities' on two counts. Firstly, it uses the term '...inequalities are claimed to exist...'. The implication is that perceived health inequalities may not be inequalities at all.
Secondly, it's measured by 'when different groups... consume different amounts of health care.' This is different to a group's need for healthcare and there could easily be a disparity between the two - it's just easier to measure consumption than need. The presenter agreed with my comments.
'I live in Ladywood, therefore I won't live as long'
There were loads of diagrams that supported the presenter's general assertion that how long you live for depends on where you live in Birmingham. This is in part related to access to services etc.
I for one don't particularly like this approach - it risks creating a victim culture. I suggested that this difference really exists because location is a very good indicator of socioeconomic status, and it's this that's the real cause of the difference. For example, people on lower incomes are more likely to smoke or have a poorer diet. I didn't face any real challenge to this assertion.
Stop Smoking Services and Under-16s
I was interested to know why the graph measuring this only includes people aged 16 or over. Once we'd established that under-16s can access these services, we were told that the number doing so was 'small'. Personally I don't care how small this number is, these are the people we should be concentrating on most! I asked for future figures to include under-16s.
I asked whether there was any evidence that your ability to speak English affected your access to healthcare. This is a particularly important issue in Britain right now, and in Birmingham in particular. The presented told me that there wasn't much evidence above 'anecdotal' evidence. This surprised me somewhat.
New Acute Hospital
An organisation called 'Towards 2010', which is part of a Primary Care Trust, talked about many things, including a planned new acute hospital. This will be built in Sandwell but also serve the people of Birmingham.
One of the things I feel can get overlooked in hospital planning is the visual impact of such a massive building landing on people's doorsteps. As Douglas Adams once said, 'It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the phrase, "as pretty as an airport"'. I would argue that the same applies to hospitals.
I'd be worried if in the rush to produce the best possible hospital for the lowest possible cost, this aspect were completely overlooked. I do feel that it at least should be on the list of requirements for the architectural and planning briefs. Doubtless there are requirements for the numbers of car parking spaces and other functional issues. I didn't get a positive answer that architectural merit had really been considered so far.
The architectural merit of a hospital should never be a priority for the NHS. However, there's certainly evidence that how buildings look affect our health. I appear to be in good company; my second quote comes from Sir Winston Churchill, 'We shape our buildings and afterwards, our buildings shape us.'
New Boots Walk In Centre for the City Centre - or not..?
I was surprised to find a line in the presentation that read, 'Boots Health Care Floor including Walk In Centre - July 2008'. The strong suggestion in the presentation is that the Walk In Centre is a new thing. However, I have a distinct memory of walking into an NHS Walk In Centre in Boots a few years ago. It turns out that it's not a new thing, but the 'Health Care Floor' is. Hmm...
We had a final presentation from a chap from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. This has the controversial job of deciding whether drugs are cost-effective enough to be prescribed on the NHS; in other words, whether the improvement to someone's life is worth the cost of a certain drug.
Cllr Jane James did a great job of getting down to brass tacks on the subject of Lucentis, which is very expensive but can prevent blindness in some people. It's approved for use in Scotland but not in England (NICE doesn't cover Scotland). Our presenter effectively said that it hadn't been approved on the grounds of cost, but there's some attempt at the moment to get the drug company to share the financial risk of approving the drug. There's certainly a risk that people will go blind by the time Lucentis is approved (if it ever is), which is bound to cost the state and society more in the long run. Or I guess you could move to Scotland...
UPDATE 19/06: Apparently the issues around Lucentis are more complex than the information that came out in yesterday's meeting, but I believe the essential fact remains that it's not available to prevent blindness in England (as appropriate), for whatever reason.
NICE's Economic Model
I asked the presenter about the economic model that NICE uses to frame its decisions. I'd heard that NICE doesn't publish an 'executable' version of its model (i.e. one in which you can change the figures), but it does publish a 'paper-based' version. Our presenter confirmed this, one of the reasons being that they don't want drugs companies and others to fiddle with the model until they get the 'right' result, and then submit their evidence accordingly.
I must say that I don't understand this approach. NICE should come clean, publish the model and stand by its decisions. I was further confused when our presenter admitted that it would be possible for someone to recreate the 'executable' model from the public information, so I really don't know what purpose this policy serves, other than potentially increasing levels of suspicion around how NICE arrives at its decisions.
Who's NICE's Customer?
Aside from the drugs approval role, NICE has a very important role in offering clinical and other guidance to NHS organisations - Primary Care Trusts and so on. I wanted to look at how it does this, so time for an analogy.
The Police IT Organisation was wound up last year because it never delivered what it was supposed to. One of the reasons given in the Home Office report is that there wasn't a customer. The Home Office paid for PITO, but individual police forces were supposed to be the beneficiaries. However, police forces weren't obliged to listen to PITO and in any case they had no incentive to because they weren't paying. It strikes me that an almost identical situation exists in terms of NICE's guidance.
NHS trusts don't pay for NICE's guidance and they don't have to take it. Does this weaken NICE's position? Our presenter thought not, but when I asked him whether he would prefer NICE's guidelines to be binding, his 'gut feel' was that they should be.
We'll see whether NICE fares any better than PITO.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Did you manage it? Maybe you couldn't be bothered and gave up. I wouldn't blame you.
Last night, the Labour government voted to allow suspects of certain terrorist offences to be locked up, without charge, for 60,480 times longer than that. 42 days. Six weeks.
Never mind the ancient rights that we've had in this country for so long. Never mind that such a period of detention could cost you your job or your relationship. Never mind the message that this sends out to certain, already beleagured, sections of our community.
And never mind the argument that it's in any way necessary. How many times have the police had to release terrorist suspects because they ran out of time? None. How many terrorist atrocities would this have prevented? None. Does this give terrorists something new to talk about when promoting their abhorrent cause and looking for new recruits? Yes.
The Bill now goes to the House of Lords, where hopefully the Labour members will have a bit more nerve. Let's hope that Their Lordships do the right thing.
P.S. Quinton's Labour MP voted in favour of this yesterday.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Friday, May 30, 2008
Friday, May 23, 2008
Last night, Edward Timpson won the Crewe and Nantwich by-election for the Conservatives. We turned a 7,000-vote Labour majority into a 8,000-vote Conservative majority.
On top of the great local and London mayoral elections a few weeks ago, this is a significant turning point in Conservative fortunes. People up and down the country are ready to trust the Conservatives to form the next government.
Excellent result and well done to all involved.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Friday, May 16, 2008
Monday, May 12, 2008
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I've received reports of some damage to a bridge leading into Woodgate Valley Country Park, so I went over there yesterday. I met up with the local Rangers, who told me that a bridge from Barn Piece has been damaged, but replacement materials are on their way. I'll keep on top of it - watch this space!
Friday, May 02, 2008
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Yesterday, we spent a lot of time talking to people on Hamilton Avenue. We helped with a range of problems, from visa issues to paving slabs. Today, I was down at Quinton Lane with Cllr Deirdre Alden, our great Parliamentary Spokesman for Edgbaston Constituency.
Whenever I go canvassing, I don't just try to find out how people might vote. I always spend time listening to people's issues and trying to help. When you knock on someone's door, it should be more than an information gathering exercise.
Now for next week...
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Promoted by Len Clark on behalf of Quinton Conservatives of 1 Lyncourt Grove, Quinton, Birmingham B32 1DG. Published by Google Inc, 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Monday, March 24, 2008
I’d been contacted by many local residents about the worsening condition of these garages. They’re an eyesore and a magnet for antisocial behaviour. When I visited them recently, I discovered evidence that they’d been used by prostitutes and their clients. People have also been lighting fires there. Hard-working local families in an otherwise very nice area shouldn’t have to put up with this. I contacted the Council and we agreed a plan to give the area a fresh start.
The site will be visited in the coming days by Council experts, who will assess how best to perform the demolition work. The demolition work itself is due to be carried out in the early part of the 2008 financial year, which begins in April. The area will also be secured to prevent any further antisocial behaviour.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Friday, February 08, 2008
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
The photo shows myself, Parliamentary Spokesman Cllr Deirdre Alden and Quinton Conservative Councillors Jane James and Len Clark.
You may also be interested to know that a recent planning application to turn one of the shops at the corner of Bolney Road and Quinton Road West into a hot fast food outlet has been turned down. The decision was made after local residents submitted a petition objecting to the planning application.