Time to curb the monster basements
Bayswater and Lancaster Gate have long been 'sought-after' neighbourhoods- attractive, safe and convenient. Long may that continue. But the desirability of addresses within these localities has some downsides. Central London property has become what is sometimes described as a 'global reserve currency', meaning it is a safe way to invest some of the world's wealth. One of the consequences of this trend has been overseas investment in property which is then subject to re-development, sometimes to the point of total reconstruction. Sometimes, these properties are not even occupied. Other times, they are added to the stock of private rented homes, with their rapid turnover of residents.
The rash of monster basement excavations that have plagued residents across Westminster and Kensington owe much to this trend, leading to headlines like this recent one from FT.com: "Basement excavations boom as London house prices soar. The trend for "digdowns" is spreading across west London as soaring house prices prompt homeowners and developers to increase their home's value by extending it downwards"
Basement excavations can be a useful way of expanding living space without having to move, and areas like Bayswater and Lancaster Gate have long been international in character, so this is not an argument against the principles of home improvement nor of foreign investment. Yet the sheer scale and nuisance associated with many of these basement developments has reached unimagined proportions and the time has come to put a stop to it. To give a local example, I was contacted about one basement development near to Bayswater Station of which it was said:
" There is a proposal for one basement development...to use Bark Place and Moscow Road as the thoroughfare for the construction lorries,,,. In addition, there will be two other simultaneous basement developments happening on Caroline Place..
It is estimated that the works will take up to 2 years and that there could be up to 18 lorries per day using this route, weighing up to 30 tonnes and that's just for the one development!
The junction at that corner is very narrow and the turning is very 'blind' and it is inevitable that this will lead to gridlock. I am concerned about the possible dangers caused by the weight, their frequency, the vibration...
Residents and businesses on Bark Place, Orme Court, Moscow Road and Caroline Place are extremely concerned about the stresses and strains that will undoubtedly affect the infrastructure of our streets,
No wonder residents are concerned!
I welcome the new rules being put forward by Westminster Council. These will set limits of the size and depth of basement excavations. However, I am only too aware of the problems Kensington Council has already run into with their planning proposals, and while Westminster may have learned some lessons from this, my fear is that well-funded developers will be able to challenge the Council in the courts where permission is refused in line with local planning guidelines
This is why I introduced a short Parliamentary Bill before Christmas, proposing the amend the law on 'Permitted Developments', to give legal backing to Councils that want to resist monster excavations. I also think Councils should be able to consider the impact of multiple schemes in the same way they can for licensed premises.
Although this specific Bill is unlikely to proceed for lack of Parliamentary time, I will continue to push this with Ministers and welcome resident's views and comments.
If anyone would like a copy of my speech and the associated press coverage, do feel free to contact me.
Priced out- London's housing crisis
Meanwhile, as London property prices surge, Londoners are ever more concerned about housing pressures- the cost of renting, how to get on the property ladder, where their children and grand-children are going to live. I have written before about my concerns that Westminster does not make sure developers include a reasonable proportion of affordable homes to rent and buy within new schemes seeking planning approval. This has been reliably estimated to have lost £31 million worth of contributions to affordable housing. Yet even with a record £100 million in the Council's Affordable Housing Fund, it still seems almost impossible to get affordable homes built. The Council hasn't even replaced the stock of homes sold under Right to Buy.
There are many consequences of this failure. Lower and middle income earners struggle to afford homes near where they work- including, of course, those people who are essential to the economy and public services. And Westminster's legal duty towards homelessness households (which is not, contrary to myth, the worst in London) means that the shortage of homes costs a fortune. A recent Freedom of Information request to the Council found the homelessness has cost Westminster £111 MILLION since 2010.
Feeling the pinch
A deeper crunch is coming for the Council as Westminster has to cut another £100m from the budget. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most recent "Westminster Reputation Tracker' survey showed a fall in satisfaction to the lowest level they have recorded, as pressures intensify. The poll said:
"Residents across a range of backgrounds are experiencing economic difficulties and this is impacting on how they live their lives and how they perceive the council. Three in ten (30%) think their financial situation has got worse in the last 12 months, and 39% of them think it will continue to get worse. The majority (54%) of Westminster residents are worried they will suffer directly from spending on public services over the next 2-3 years. Concerns are across all social grades but in particular those who are on middle or lower incomes, parents and those in social housing. Those unsettled by the economic situation are less likely to be sure about the service they receive from the council."
Crime continues its long fall
Good news on the crime front, however, as the long decline in offending continues. Bayswater and Lancaster Gate wards have both seen declines year-on-year of other a third, which is excellent. However, this doesn't mean we are crime-free by any means, with concerns about anti-social behaviour in particular reaching me more quite regularly (hostels and hotels are the main focus), and I liaise with both the police and Council in response to them.
Police numbers has also continued to fall in the recent past, with Westminster now having 397 fewer police officers and 384 fewer PCSOs now compared with 2010.
Hallfield estate- the Major Works debacle goes on.
The renovation of the regarded, listed Hallfield descended into farce at the beginning of the year, when the contract with the building company, Mulalley's, was suspended.
A report to the Council said:
"External repairs and window replacements have been underway on the Hallfield Estate since May 2012 but progress has been exceedingly slow. Whereas completion of works to all 14 blocks was originally expected to take 127 weeks, works are only partially complete to 3 blocks after 85 weeks. Residents have regularly complained about the quality of work."
Problems emerged from the off. Listed building consent was refused for kitchen and bathroom windows; Electrical conduits buried in cement were failing earthing tests; new floors were short of specification and there was a failure to commit to proper manning levels to fulfil tasks.
After years of planning and consultation, and more than two years on site, residents are (almost) back to square one. What a shambles. Tenants and leaseholders have a right to be furious, whatever the rights and wrongs of the Mulalley's decision!
Time to curb the monster basements Bayswater and Lancaster Gate have long been 'sought-after' neighbourhoods- attractive, safe and convenient. Long may that continue. But the desirability of addresses within these...
Planning for a stronger community
The onward march of ‘monster basements'- is an end in sight?
Thanks to the excellent campaigning work of the St John's Society on this important ‘quality of life issue', I introduced my '10-minute rule' Parliamentary Bill on permitted development rules and basement excavations before Christmas. I was delighted with the amount of media coverage it received- coverage which is, I think, very helpful to the cause of those of us who want to see proper powers restored to local authorities to resist excavations which are excessive in scale. Whilst it is entirely possible for householders to extend their homes in this way in a responsible and environmentally sensitive manner, it is unfortunately true that some of our neighbourhoods are being blighted by noise and nuisance in the creation of subterranean pleasure palaces that almost boggle the imagination.
Although this specific Bill is unlikely to proceed in this session for lack of Parliamentary time, I will continue to push this with Ministers and to see what other opportunities there may be to take it forward.
Meanwhile, I welcome the subsequent publication of Westminster Council's consultation on planning rules regarding basements, which is a rigorous and detailed document. If it (and the equivalent planning policies being drawn up in similar authorities, such as Kensington) proves robust enough to withstand well-funded legal challenges from developers I would be absolutely delighted. However, my fear is that we will at some stage need to ensure proper statutory underpinning to enable local authorities to be confident that their decisions will not end up with them being dragged into expensive appeals (which they then lose).
Preserving our community assets
On another ‘quality of life' agenda, it was marvellous to see campaigns in defence of much-loved local pubs ‘The Star" and "The Clifton", especially as the proposed residential conversion for the "Star" has, at the time of writing, been withdrawn. Of course it is not going to be possible to defend all enterprises- pubs, shops and so forth- everywhere. People's lifestyles and purchasing habits have changed, and businesses are not going to continue where they are making heavy losses. But where venues are viable and contribute to the life of a community, as the "Star" and the "Clifton" so obviously do, we should do everything in our power to retain them. One option is, of course, the designation of the pub as an "Asset of community value", and I am aware that this option is being investigated.
Worryingly, the direction of travel seems to be going against the ability of local authorities to support the character of their local communities, A government Statutory Instrument changed the planning permitted development rights and Use Class Orders systems for planning with effect from 30th May 2013 so, for example, shops can become payday lenders or fast food restaurants for a period of two years without planning permission. We are currently awaiting the outcome of another consultation on permitted development which may reduce still further the scope of the local council to influence the shape and character of our local high streets by adding to the sets of circumstances where permission for change of use is not required. The likely result will be much less control for local communities about what sort of development happens in the countryside and in High Streets and is, in my view, very much to be regretted.
Pressure on local budgets increases
We have now been told that, despite the savings made from merging various back-office functions between Westminster, Kensington and Hammersmith, Westminster needs to save another £100 million from its budget in the next four years. One of my biggest concerns is whether this can be done without serious damage to ‘frontline' services such as care for elderly and disabled people. Care packages and Taxicards have already been removed from many older and disabled people in the local area, whilst at the same time, we have seen an increase in Accident and Emergency attendances, and longer stays in hospital for people who cannot be discharged because care is not available to enable them to return home. Integrating health and care provision more fully can improve the quality of care, and potentially offer better value for money, but the question remains- if local authority care is having to be cut still further, as Westminster admits, can we also manage to reduce what are expensive and sometimes unnecessary hospital stays? This is an issue that should be of concern to us all- whether we need care, support someone who does, or pay for the services at local or national level.
Planning for a stronger community The onward march of ‘monster basements'- is an end in sight? Thanks to the excellent campaigning work of the St John's Society on this important...
Mr Robin Sedgwick,
Brent Council Planning Department
Dear Mr Sedgwick,
Moberly Sports Centre planning proposal: Objection
Members of Brent Council may be aware of the controversy surrounding the proposed closure of the Jubilee Sports Centre and the re-development of both the Jubilee and Moberly sites to provide a new sports facility funded by the building of ‘market' housing.
I have many concerns about the overall package, which I believe are broadly shared by many residents (c5000) who signed a petition against the Jubilee closure, and the majority of those who attended a public meeting at the Beethoven centre on January 16th.
It is also fair to point out that there are also some residents of Queen's Park (Westminster) who are positive about the scheme, believing that it will offer improved leisure facilities.
I have three main concerns:
a. The loss of leisure amenity for Queen's Park residents
b. The lack of affordable housing on both the Moberly and Jubilee sites
c. Concerns about parking and accessibility at Moberly and possible impact on local Queen's Park streets
a) The loss of leisure amenity for Queen's Park residents
North Westminster has the highest population density in the country, and Queen's Park is a ward with very high levels of deprivation. Whilst the new centre on the Moberly will re-provision many of the facilities from the Jubilee, including the swimming pool, the well-used football pitch has been re-located to another part of the borough, representing a significant loss of open-air amenity for local residents.
In addition, the basketball court adjoin the Jubilee will go with no current plans for replacement.
Both of these are open-air facilities, which should be preserved locally as a balance to entirely indoor leisure provision.
The loss of the basketball court also represents a loss of free, unbooked, open-access sport, which I believe to be in contravention of the London Plan.
b) The lack of affordable housing on site
I note that Brent's policy is that "Where less than 50 per cent affordable housing is proposed, the application must be accompanied by a financial appraisal which demonstrates that the proposal represents the maximum viable proportion of affordable housing". Obviously, the fact that Wilmott Dixon/Westminster Council's plans include the re-provisioning of the sports centre means that the overall formula would be varied significantly. However, I and my council colleagues are unconvinced by the business case which indicates that Wilmott Dixon must only build market homes for sale in order to finance the new development. This is especially in light of the market prices being asked for in other local developments (such as Amberley Road, W9, where the developer is marketing 1 bed homes for £850,000). At the public meeting, Councillor Paul dimoldenberg called for the ‘books to be opened' so we can have an honest discussion about the feasibility of the overall housing/leisure package.
c) Accessibility, parking and transport
The Jubilee Sports Centre is well located in the heart of the community, bringing a footfall into the centre of Queen's Park, which improves community safety. The new, larger sports centre on the Moberly site is being promoted as offering leisure facilities to attract users from a wider area. (Both within Westminster, Brent and elsewhere). This is alsmot certain to increase parking demands within the Queen's Park estate, as more people have to travel further to use the centre, and to increase traffic pressure on what is already a busy set of junction's corners around Kilburn Lane/Chamberlayne Road.
I would be very grateful if you could bring these comments to the attention of the Planning Committee.
Mr Robin Sedgwick,Brent Council Planning Department Dear Mr Sedgwick,Moberly Sports Centre planning proposal: ObjectionMembers of Brent Council may be aware of the controversy surrounding the proposed closure of the Jubilee...
It was an honour last week to hold a debate in Westminster Hall on the NHS in London. It was a well-attended debate, with some excellent and thoughtful contributions from my colleagues. I have been concerned about funding cuts to Central London CCG and West London CCG for some time and you can see my letter to the Secretary of State for Health here.
Please find a link below to the debate.
It was an honour last week to hold a debate in Westminster Hall on the NHS in London. It was a well-attended debate, with some excellent and thoughtful contributions from...
Dear Resident -
Further to our meeting in at Dibdin House in May this year, I wanted to write again following a couple of new developments.
As you may already know, Genesis are no longer the Managing Agents for Dibdin House. The owners Grainger have now taken over the day-to-day running of the estate, and I am keen to know how you think they are getting on.
I haven't received any reports of Anti-Social Behaviour on the Estate at my office, which I hope reflects a real improvement to how things were earlier in the year.
However, the big issue to come out of the meeting was the future of Dibdin Hall and its use as a community venue rather than being converted into more private flats. I have asked Grainger about their plans for Dibdin Hall, but I wonder if residents might also be able to send their feedback to me using the form below. I would like to pass on your comments and strength of feeling to Grainger direct to alert them to how important the community space is to you.
Additionally, if there is anything else you would like me to take up about the management of the estate, please do let me know by returning the form below. I will be meeting Grainger together with the Chair Elect Polly Robinson in the coming weeks, and would like to be able to raise some of your concerns and thoughts about the future of the estate.
In the meantime, please note that following new management, contact details for both tenant and leaseholder issues have also changed.
If you are a tenant and have a repair issue then please contact Grainger's contractors Kier on 0345 300 5824.
If you are a tenant and have any other query about your home or common areas then please contact your Property Manager Darin Solomon at email address email@example.com or direct number 0208 877 6904. Darin also remains the first point of contact for any ASB issues.
If you are a leaseholder with concerns about common areas or your own home, please contact Laura McGill at email address firstname.lastname@example.org or direct number 0207 795 4737.
I look forward to hearing from you about Dibdin Hall and any other issues you would like me to raise at the forthcoming meeting. As always, if you would like to let me know about any other matter, please contact my office either by telephone on 020 8968 7999 (phone answered between 9:30 am-12pm), or by email, fax or post.
Dear Resident - Further to our meeting in at Dibdin House in May this year, I wanted to write again following a couple of new developments. As you may already...
Dear Hallfield Resident,
The history of the Major Works on Hallfield Estate has been a complicated one and stretches back over several years. During the last year a number of complaints have been made to me by residents (leaseholders, council tenants and private tenants). These range from leaseholder charges and errors to the continuing problem of poor insulation and heating problems during the winter months, mould, damp and ventilation problems, the length of time scaffolding has been in place in some blocks, which has left residents in year-round dark, security concerns linked to the scaffolding being in place for so long, and overall poor communications.
I realise that these are complex and long-standing issues, and residents have different views on the best way to proceed. However, whilst I have been receiving responses from CityWest Homes and Westminster Residential Environmental Health, I am acutely aware that many residents are still unhappy with the handling of many matters on the Hallfield, such as the slow pace with which many of the their concerns are dealt with.
Going forward I am looking to highlight key issues from the past year and press for improvements from CWH in certain areas.
• Windows: It is to be hoped that, the fact that the Hallfield Windows Group is now up and running will be good news. I will be monitoring this closely and want to be reassured that, although it has taken a considerable time to resolve, CWH advise that they now expect a final decision on the window replacement for kitchen and bathrooms to be made this autumn, and residents will be balloted after that.
• Cold: I am seriously concerned about excess cold in a number of the Hallfield flats. Together with the problems of condensation, damp and mould, these problems are impacting on health, making many people's lives miserable and adding to the cost of fuel bills, especially in winter. What I hoped would be temporary remedial action in 2010/11 may still be needed in the winter of 2013, so I am asking for a plan to once again assist families and elderly residents this winter, along the lines of the Warm Homes Healthy People Project. 40 cases have been already referred to the Environmental Health project for the estate.
• Communication: Again and again I hear from constituents regarding planned or ongoing works, necessary repairs and other issues which are not responded to in a timely and effective fashion. Residents say that the information they require is often not included in newsletters and either enquiries are not responded to or they are passed between agencies. For example, the recent issue of the scaffolding around to Reading, Tenby and Pembroke Houses, has caused particular annoyance, as residents do not feel they have been kept informed about the length of time the scaffolding has been erected for, whether extra costs have been incurred, and the cause of ongoing delays to the concrete repairs.
• Management: Although the responsibility for many of the problems may lie with the contractor, many residents feel that effective contract management should have either prevented them arising or resolved them much more quickly. I am pleased the CWH Strategic Working Group has now started to meet on once a fortnight to improve joint oversight work and prioritise improvements such as condensation and excess cold. This arrangement is an improvement which I hope will bring a more integrated approach to the management and necessary improvement works to the Hallfield. But the fact remains that it has taken far too long to get a grip.
It is for residents to decide what work should be carried out and how it should be prioritised, but CWH must demonstrate proper, cost- effective control of the works and act in the interests of everyone on the estate. I will continue to pursue all concerns brought to me and welcome your comments. Please write to me at:
Karen Buck MP
House of Commons
Or email me at:
Karen Buck MP
Dear Hallfield Resident, The history of the Major Works on Hallfield Estate has been a complicated one and stretches back over several years. During the last year a number of...
The Local Government Ombudsman has today released a report investigating 40 separate complaints from families housed in inadequate B&B or hotel accommodation by Westminster Council for longer than the legal limit of six weeks. The Ombudsman has found that Council is guilty of ‘maladministration causing injustice' and should pay at least £500 to every family kept in this kind of unsuitable accommodation, with another £500 added for every six-week period thereafter. Please find a link below to the LGO report.
In February this year, the flagship Tory council were accommodating over 150 families in unsuitable hotels or B&Bs for longer than the six-week legal limit, rising to a peak of 171 families over the summer. Karen Buck argues that:
‘Evidence is piling up that ill-thought through government policies have piled costs and problems onto local councils. DWP ministers were warned by friends as well as opponents that cuts in housing support would create homelessness and so it has proved. Homeless families suffer but homelessness is an expensive failure all round.'
Earlier this year Westminster were found to be placing families in five-star accommodation where costs ran into thousands of pounds per week, at up to three times the going rate. The majority of Karen Buck's constituents in this situation were however placed in very poor quality accommodation, often outside of the borough.
‘I have met with several parents who did not have access to cooking facilities and were struggling to afford to feed their children with unhealthy take away food. It is not surprising that homeless families struggle to keep their children in school when they sometimes have to travel for up two hours each way. Forcing vulnerable people to live in these conditions for longer than six weeks, in many cases over a year, is intolerable.'
Karen Buck sent 37 of the 40 cases to the Ombudsman on behalf of her constituents and has calculated that the net total of compensation to be awarded to this group is £89,500. A further 11 families who were placed in unsuitable accommodation for longer than the statutory limit have also been reported to the Council as a formal complaint. The compensation to be awarded to this group is estimated to total a further £22,000.
The LGO report acknowledges that Westminster have sought to address the scale of the demands of rising homelessness, much of it resulting from cuts in housing support locally and across the country. However, Karen Buck argues that Westminster councillors have been ‘cheerleaders' for the policy which has ended up causing them so many problems. Housing Minister Mark Prisk wrote to the council in November 2012 to warn that that their continued reliance on using B&B accommodation outside of the rules was ‘unlawful and unacceptable'. Under pressure from Karen Buck and the Westminster Labour Group, from August the council have no longer housed any families in B&B accommodation for longer than the six-week legal limit.
Any families or pregnant women who have been housed in B&B or hotel accommodation with shared facilities for longer than six weeks are encouraged to contact Westminster council to make a formal complaint, which will have to take place before any compensation can be offered.
Office of Karen Buck MP, House of Commons, SW1A 0AA
t: 020 8968 7999
Notes to Editors
· The Six Week B&B rule only applies to families with children and pregnant women
· One of Karen Buck MP's cases included Ms C, who despite being in a wheelchair was placed in B&B accommodation in Bayswater on the first floor, with no lift, for six months. She was forced to crawl up and down the stairs every morning to sign the attendance sheet to prove she was not living anywhere else and therefore genuinely homeless.
· Another of Karen Buck's constituents included in the complaint is Mrs D, who lived in B&B accommodation for seven months in 2012. She works shifts as a Nurse and was frequently unable to prepare meals for her and her teenage son as the kitchen in the hotel was often closed when she returned from work. She feels that her work and her son's A levels suffered as a result of their unsettled housing situation.
· Of the cases that Karen Buck has raised, the average amount of compensation awarded to each family will be £2,355. The highest amount awarded (commensurate with the amount of time spent in B&B or hotel accommodation) is £6,000.
· Any other families or pregnant women who have been housed in B&B or hotel accommodation with shared facilities for longer than six weeks are encouraged to contact Westminster council to make a formal complaint.
· In February this year, Westminster Council were paying £145,000 per week on emergency accommodation for homeless families. Over a period of six months, the total spend on emergency accommodation came to over £3.5m.
PRESS RELEASE The Local Government Ombudsman has today released a report investigating 40 separate complaints from families housed in inadequate B&B or hotel accommodation by Westminster Council for longer than...
It has felt, depressingly, as though most media commentary since Parliament's vote on intervention in Syria has focused on what it means for British politics- on the political consequences for David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, or (somewhat breathlessly and even, at times, hysterically) whether the vote plunges Britain into a new era of isolationism, appeasement and the death of the ‘special relationship' with the US (it doesn't). More column inches have been devoted to us than to the Syrian tragedy. But it is the Syrian people who should remain the focus of this debate.
Individual MPs may have had a range of motives for choosing to back or oppose the Government's position. However, I am clear that the central, clinching argument within Parliament was the inability of supporters of the Government motion to convincingly answer the question "Will airstrikes make the plight of Syria better or worse?' The haste with which Parliament was being asked to decide on the broad principles for action exposed the lack of clarity around this point. How effective would such action be in protecting Syrian civilians? To what extent would such airstrikes be, in substance or perception, an intervention on one side of a vicious civil war, with unforeseeable consequences? And given this level of risk, how much more important the task of ensuring the evidence is solid, the diplomatic solutions pursued with utmost vigour, public opinion carried at home at abroad and the legal justification rigorously tested.
The experience of the Iraq war reinforces the importance of all these points. Decisions then were reached on the basis of less than compelling evidence, with a rush to judgment that prevented UN weapons inspectors from having the time they needed to report. Vital international institutions were bypassed at crucial moments and the consequences of military action were not thought through sufficiently.
The harsh lessons of Iraq don't mean now turning our face away from the world- and of course, our involvement in Libya showed that they do not. There will be those who believe the recent vote in Parliament means that Britain cannot make a difference to the innocent civilians of Syria who are suffering such a humanitarian catastrophe. I don't agree. We must use the G20 meeting in Russia, with the eyes of the world on Syria, to seek to bring the international community together, and force the warring parties into the political solution that is necessary.
The proper lesson of the past week is that Britain's future does not lie either in turning in on ourselves nor rushing into conflict without properly considering the consequences.
It lies instead in a hard-headed multilateralism, where crucial decisions about our foreign policy are made in a calm and measured way, working together with international institutions and in accordance with international law. That is a better future for Britain, and one that will make us stronger in the world.
It has felt, depressingly, as though most media commentary since Parliament's vote on intervention in Syria has focused on what it means for British politics- on the political consequences for...
This April, the largest re-organisation of the NHS since its creation came into effect. GPs are now responsible for planning and purchasing health care for their local communities, via the Clinical Commissioning Groups which replace the old Primary Care Trusts. Meanwhile, the proposed closure of Accident and Emergency units at Charing Cross, Hammersmith and Central Middlesex hospitals is under way, and the NHS Direct phone service has been abolished in favour of the new problematic 111 line. And whilst the NHS has been protected from the worst cuts in public spending, which have been applied to local government, policing and elsewhere, cash pressures are building up nonetheless. Is it a coincidence that, this spring, the NHS has been convulsed by the worse emergency services crisis since the late 1980s?
Government Ministers would have us believe that the problem lies almost exclusively with GPs, whose new contracts, which came into effect in 2004, led to a collapse in out-of-hours services. This in turn has led to increased pressure on Accident and Emergency units. It is certainly true that A+ E attendances have been rising over the long term, but in fact the data shows that the largest rise in percentage terms happened before, rather than after, the new contract came into effect! Subsequently, while some GPs did change their working arrangements, with some buying out-of-hours services from private companies (with very mixed results), in other areas, including ours, many entered into new co-operative arrangements to spread out-of-hours cover between them.
Meanwhile, many other things have been changing too: the population has risen- especially in London, and our population is ageing fast (the two facts are, of course, connected). Older people, understandably, are much bigger consumers of health care. And the squeeze on local government has led to big cut backs in social care, which in turn makes hospitals less able to discharge patients into the community, and leads to a backing up of pressure throughout the hospital. Westminster Council is not alone in having cut social care for the majority of elderly and disabled users. The result is a classic case of savings in one place leading to extra spending in another.
What can be done? Firstly, we must not blunder into making the position worse. In the longer term there is a strong case for improving community services and concentrating emergency care in fewer, more specialist hospitals, but closures before alternatives are in place cannot be accepted. Second, given how fast patterns of demand and need are changing, and the long lead-in time for planning and delivering changes in care, we need to know that our information is completely accurate and up to date. Third, we need a new approach to social care, which includes piloting approaches that integrate social and health care more fully. Social care has been the poor relation for too long and this can't continue. Lastly, we have now learnt that this NHS re-organisation has been expensive, ineptly managed and a distraction from the real issues facing health care in this country. We can't turn back the clock, but we do need to learn some lessons fast- and one of them is: don't heap blame on the people who work in the NHS for what has gone wrong this spring. The quality of the workforce is our most important asset and in what should be an endless drive to raise standards, doctors, nurses and other health and care workers must be partners.
This April, the largest re-organisation of the NHS since its creation came into effect. GPs are now responsible for planning and purchasing health care for their local communities, via the...