Today marks the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year festival. Last Saturday I had the pleasure of visiting the Jewish Liberal Synagogue to meet local children who had taken part in designing Rosh Hashanah cards and awarding a prize for the winning entry (pictured).
Today marks the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year festival. Last Saturday I had the pleasure of visiting the Jewish Liberal Synagogue to meet local children who had...
Reports that St Mary's Hospital is pencilled in for closure in order to realise the development potential of the prime central London site have been swiftly denied.
I am encouraged by the emphatic rebuttal on the part of the Imperial Hospital Trust. The trouble is that the Trust has a massive financial shortfall to deal with, at a time of unprecedented instability in the NHS, and all choices are going to be difficult ones. Worse still, the Conservatives are pushing through a reckless, wasteful and bureaucratic reorganisation of the NHS, which will get in the way of patient care.
Forcing through the biggest NHS reorganisation in its history when finances are squeezed and all efforts should be dedicated to making sound efficiencies and improving services, is high-cost and high-risk.
The NHS and Social Care Bill was railroaded through the House of Commons this week, leaving the essential elements of the Tories' long terms plans to set the NHS up as a full scale market, based on the model of the privatised utilities, firmly in place. A new economic regulator will enforce competition law on the NHS for the first time, and have the power to fine hospitals 10% of their turnover for working together.
The Bill removes a key protection of the 1946 Act that set up the NHS - that the Secretary of State for Health is directly accountable for providing the health service. The Government's plans will break up the NHS as a national public service so that patients will increasingly see the services on which they depend subject to the lottery of where they live.
No fewer than 5 new quangos are being set up to manage the NHS, and local Primary Care Trusts also disappear into 5 different groups- all involving more start-up costs but offering less transparency for the public.
Adapting the NHS as needs change and medical skills and technologies change will never to uncontroversial. But the upheaval this reorganisation brings, combined with funding cuts, make change harder not easier, and we are all the losers.
Reports that St Mary's Hospital is pencilled in for closure in order to realise the development potential of the prime central London site have been swiftly denied. I am encouraged...
With MPs meeting to vote on the final report stage of the Health and Social Care Bill next week this is crunch-time for the NHS.
Having only allowed two weeks to vote on the new bill earlier this summer there is a genuine concern that ministers are looking to railroad this legislation through the Commons. MPs will get only two days to debate these amendments next week, as the prime minister and his deputy hope to square everything off before their party conferences.
Individuals and organisations concerned about the changes only have limited time to force the government to re-think its position.
The Health and Social Care Bill: Re-branding not Re-thinking
As you will know the government announced its plans for NHS reform in the Health and Social Care Bill back in January of this year.
It does not need re-stating that the Bill was highly controversial. The original Bill wanted to achieve the following things through changes to the NHS:
• To hand responsibility for the commissioning of services and medication for patients to groups of GPs in ‘consortia.' In my view this would mean they would either have to spend less time providing frontline services or would have to employ private administrators to run them (in many cases this is likely to be Primary Care Trust staff who have just been made redundant at cost) resulting in more tax payer money turning into private profit;
• To increase the amount of private investment in the NHS and allow private companies to run NHS services and use NHS facilities meaning tax-payer money going into the pockets of private health providers;
• To stop local people from campaigning to save their local health services if it was at risk from closure;
• To make the regulatory body Monitor's prime function to promote competition and private investment rather than promote the best quality care.
These initial proposals caused outrage amongst doctors, nurses and the general public and rightly-so. As you will know the result was that David Cameron and Andrew Lansley announced they would conduct a ‘listening exercise' in order to take into account the concerns of health professionals and the rest of the country.
However, despite the work of Dr. Steve Field of the NHS Future Forum and his team in conducting an in-depth consultation and suggesting a comprehensive set of proposals to modify the Government's original intentions, the amendments the Government put forward amounted to little more than a re-brand rather than a genuine re-think.
The new amendments in the Bill have made it much vaguer. This means that although the Government has amended some of the specific points of controversy it has not put sufficient safeguards in their place. For example, the Government have agreed to amend Monitor's key role from that of promoting competition but they have not said what will replace this. As a result I believe even more loopholes for back-door privatisation have been created.
On top of this, while trying to paper over the cracks of an already flawed bill, the government has created a contradiction between what they have said they want and what is actually in the bill. For example, they have said they want fewer commissioning boards than currently exist but with the short-term political fixes they have made to the Bill, it is almost certain that more will be created. This simply means more bureaucracy.
But it isn't just the Health and Social Care Bill which threatens the future of our NHS. During the furore surrounding the phone hacking scandal, the government buried news of its plans for £1bn of NHS spending to be given to private companies. This is on top of £20bn cuts to the NHS across the country.
It is for this reason that along with the BMA and other major healthcare groups, I will still be opposing the Bill and asking for the government to honour its pre-election promise of increasing NHS spending instead of cutting it as it is currently doing.
Hospital and A&E waiting times increase
Cuts to NHS spending are already having an impact. Official data shows that the number of people waiting for NHS care has risen sharply, with hundreds waiting more than a year to be offered treatment.
Despite the efforts of NHS managers to ensure that patient care is not affected by the £20bn of funding that needs to be squeezed from budgets over the next four years, the number of people forced to wait six months has leapt by 61% in a year. The Department of Health's own figures show 11,857 people in June had waited half a year to receive treatment, up from 7,360 in June 2010.
This comes on the heels of evidence collected by BBC Newsnight earlier this year which showed that the number of patients waiting more than four hours for treatment in accident and emergency departments has increased by 63% since the Government scrapped the waiting time target put in place by the last government.
That data (see below) showed an extra 73,000 patients were left with waits over four hours in the last three months of 2010 compared with the previous year.
See the national data here:
With MPs meeting to vote on the final report stage of the Health and Social Care Bill next week this is crunch-time for the NHS.Having only allowed two weeks to...
The riots sweeping through our cities - the worst since the early 1980s - are tragic, inexcusable and unjustifiable.
Our hearts go out to the victims, and our grateful thanks go out to the emergency services, who have worked exceptionally hard and with real courage. This is especially the case as the level of policing does not seem to have been sufficient over the weekend, leaving them at a disadvantage in some areas.
The absolute priority must be to restore order to the streets, to make sure there are sufficient police for the task, and then to review the level of youth intervention for the remainder of the summer. We need to provide reassurance to residents and businesses in affected areas, and also to the vast majority of young people who are not involved in criminal behaviour but who are also frightened and disturbed by what is happening.
We have to act to act quickly to identify other potential flashpoints and head them off, even after the immediate crisis is over.
There will need to be a through inquiry into all aspects of these disturbances. Whilst each individual incident is purely and simply a criminal action, mass riots on this scale, involving thousands of young people, have not appeared out of thin air. To prevent anything like this happening again, we need to be clear about all the different issues, from the rise of gangs and ‘postcode' violence to the role of social media(Facebook, Twitter), to the size and nature of the police response and relations between police and our youth.
However, all that is for later.
Today I simply want to reinforce the key message from the police- every parent should be aware of where their children are, and should make sure that they are off the streets.
The riots sweeping through our cities - the worst since the early 1980s - are tragic, inexcusable and unjustifiable. Our hearts go out to the victims, and our grateful thanks...
Westminster is set to lose six Sergeants from the Safer Neighbourhhod Teams across the borough. In four residential areas, eight wards will have to share four Sergeants insted of having their own Sergeant. In addition, it has been suggested that existing Sergeants will have to reapply for their jobs and even if they are successful they may be allocated to a new, unfamiliar Ward.
The loss of the six Sergeant posts includes:
Harrow Road & Maida Vale Wards Safer Neighbourhood Team - supervised by 1 Sergeant post
Westbourne & Little Venice Wards Safer Neighbourhood Team - supervised by 1 Sergeant post
Lancaster Gate & Bayswater Wards Safer Neighbourhood Team - supervised by 1 Sergeant post
The Safer Neighbourhood Teams have been a huge success story and anything that diminishes their effectiveness is bad news for residents and businesses in Westminster. The loss of the six Sergeants from the Safer Neighbourhood Teams is a blow to fighting crime and anti-social behaviour right across Westminster. I hope that the Police will pull back from making these cuts. Everyone wants to see more police on the streets and the Safer Neighbourhood Teams have been successful in restoring public confidence in neighbourhood policing. Reducing the number of Sergeants is a backward step.
Westminster is set to lose six Sergeants from the Safer Neighbourhhod Teams across the borough. In four residential areas, eight wards will have to share four Sergeants insted of having...
Westminster Labour Councillors have called on Westminster City Council to save Paddington Law Centre from closure by making a £50,000 grant out of the £850,000 in the Paddington Community and Social Fund. The Paddington Social and Community Social Fund was established through contributions from the developers of the Paddington Goods Yard in order to improve facilities for local residents in the area. The £850,000 in the Fund, which is administered by Westminster City Council, has been unspent for over a year despite huge cuts in local community services.
Paddington Law Centre has been operating in premises in Harrow Road in Queen's Park Ward for over 35 years and gives advice on housing, social services, consumer and debt issues to thousands of residents in need of help. There are queues outside the Law Centre premises on a regular basis.
Unless Westminster City Council acts quickly Paddington Law Centre will close and leave a huge gap in the advice services available to local residents. There is nealy £1 million in the Paddington Community and Social Fund and just a small contribution from this fund could save the Law Centre from closure.
Leader of Westminster Labour Group Paul Dimoldenberg wrote to the Council's Chief Executive about this last week and is still awaiting an acknowledgement to his request.
Westminster Labour Councillors have called on Westminster City Council to save Paddington Law Centre from closure by making a £50,000 grant out of the £850,000 in the Paddington Community and...
Westminster Pre-school Learning Alliance is a grouping made up of nine community nurseries. In past years the Alliance has received grant funds from Westminster City Council to aid with affordable nursery provision in the area.
However, Westminster has recently cut this grant. This means the loss of approximately £45,000 from each nursery. The nine nurseries affected are: Parkview Lodge Pre-School (Westbourne Area), Moorhouse Pre-School (Westbourne Area), The Vestry (Abbey Rd/Maida Vale Area), St. James Community Pre-School (Bayswater Area), Ashmore Pre-School (Queen's Park Area), Fisherton Street Pre-School (Church Street Area), Independent Mother's Pre-school, (Church Street Area), Barrow Hill (St. John's Wood Area), Elgin Pre-School (Harrow Road Area).
In addition to the cuts additional expenses formerly covered by the grant such as cleaning, accounting, and rent have now been made the responsibility of the nurseries themselves. The combination is pressuring the nurseries to drastically increase fees in order to survive. Many are now in danger of having to close.
The withdrawal of the nurseries would mean:
- Extra strain for parents who are already under a lot of pressure balancing finances, work and family;
- Discouragement for parents to access jobs/education due to limited children facilities;
- Loss of jobs and no redundancy packages to dedicated members of staff who have been working for the nurseries for as long as 20 years.
Residents are collecting signatures for a petition calling on Westminster City Council and the relevant authorities to reinstate the grant to the Westminster Pre-school Learning Alliance nurseries and/or to allow the nurseries time to financially prepare for these cuts.
You can sign the petition by clicking the link below:
Westminster Pre-school Learning Alliance is a grouping made up of nine community nurseries. In past years the Alliance has received grant funds from Westminster City Council to aid with affordable...
A report released yesterday highlights how many housing authorities are not well prepared to protect the health and safety of the most vulnerable tenants at a time when residents need that protect more than ever.
At a time of massive change in the housing sector it is critical that safeguards are in place to protect tenants. The Housing Act 2004 gives local authority provisions to enable them to do this but many do not seem to be making full use of them. Of concern is the apparent lack of a strategic approach to unhealthy housing and the absence of information on hazards.
In addition, changes to Housing Benefit rules and cuts to public funding for legal action under the Landlord and Tenant Act and lack of security, risk placing some of the most vulnerable tenants in the worst housing conditions. Many landlords offer excellent services, but there will be a need for better control of the more unscrupulous parts of the private rented sector. Yet, what the report shows is that many local housing authorities have not developed effective strategies and cuts could reduce even further their ability to protect tenants - but who else can the vulnerable turn to?
A report released yesterday highlights how many housing authorities are not well prepared to protect the health and safety of the most vulnerable tenants at a time when residents need...
A great many homes and cafes in Central London have been buzzing with political excitement this spring, but this buzz has owed less to a clamour for debate about the merits of reform to our own electoral system than to the close interest London's Arab diasporas have taken in the event of the ‘Arab spring'. It is not only the internet and Twitter which have globalised even the smallest stirrings of protests in universities, refugee camps and city squares across the Middle East- it is also this extended community of exiles, drinking coffee in the shisha cafes on the Edgware Road.
The extraordinary courage that has been demonstrated daily in towns and cities across North Africa and the Middle East since the start of the year gives the emphatic lie to those who see those regions in monolithic terms. All too frequently, we have noticed and reported on only the brutal despotism of so many of the governments concerned, or the passionate demonstration of anti-Western sentiment (particularly in the context of Western foreign policy), when in fact the citizens of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere have the same desires for freedom, peace and justice as we do in Europe and in the US. And there are many thousands of men and women, often now British citizens of long-standing, who were originally refugees from the vicious regimes now toppled or under pressure, who are either celebrating, engaging in the new political environment emerging in countries like Egypt, or anxiously surveying the situation in Libya where they may have friends and family.
The potential transformation of the region, faltering and incomplete though it is currently is, has massive implications for the world. We were right to intervene to prevent a massacre of the Libyans in Benghazi, as the experience of inaction in the Balkans wars during the 1990s should have taught us, but whilst slaughter has been averted, we are now in something of a stalemate. That is not a sustainable position in the long run. The US would be right to inject investment in the economies of those countries emerging from the shadows, but we know that while ‘soft power' has advantages that military power does not, even this form of involvement is not risk free. It seems as though one of the consequences of the protest movements across the Arab world has been steps towards greater unity between Fatah and Hamas- an essential preliminary if the Palestinians are to make their presence felt in any effort to re-energise the Middle East peace process, but such unity (coupled with uncertainty over what happens next in Egypt and elsewhere) is also greatly increasing Israeli fears about what changes will mean for their security as a nation. Israel has the right to security behind secure borders. Yet the rights of the Palestinian people to a viable state of their own must be recognised. and in that context, last week's killing by Israeli forces of 13 demonstrators at the Qalandiya crossing, together with the continuation of settlement building, are deeply disturbing.
It is much too early to do more than hope that the promises of the Arab spring will be realised - we certainly can't yet count on sustained progress in every country where the young have made such sacrifices for freedom - but that hope mustn't be just empty sentiment. For far too long, the West gave every impression of preferring the stability of the status quo in over the uncertainty of democracy across large swathes of the Middle East, Asia and Africa, but such security was always likely to be an illusion. So it has proved. Now is an opportunity to respond with more imagination and humility than we have managed in the past.
A great many homes and cafes in Central London have been buzzing with political excitement this spring, but this buzz has owed less to a clamour for debate about the...
Although there is a cross-party agreement in principle about the importance of early intervention measures - support for Labour's Sure Start programme, Children's Centres, and childcare is high - it is now clear that that agreement is more rhetorical than substantial.
In a Parliamentary vote last week, both Conservative and Liberal MPs opposed a motion seeking to protect Children's centres from central Government cuts. Sure Start services across the country are being taken away from communities who rely on them.
A year ago, David Cameron said he would protect and improve Sure Start Children's Centres, yet despite this promise to voters, the budget for children's centres has not been protected. The Early Intervention Grant (EIG) through which these services are provided has been cut, in real terms, by about a quarter.
Sure Start children centres, widely recognised as groundbreaking and highly effective, provide a crucial service for communities. Yet, at a time when families are already being hardest hit by this, the loss of these services will make life event more difficult.
To compound this criticism, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in a report last week warned that child poverty reduction in the UK has stalled. The report called on the Government to protect family services and welfare, echoing the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
Locally, government cuts to the Early Intervention grant have hit Westminster harder than in most other areas. The Council has lost the equivalent of £80 for every child, despite having greater challenges - including higher child poverty - than almost anywhere else. Extraordinarily, places like Wiltshire, rural Hampshire and South Gloucestershire have lost far less, at £30 a week!
Partly as a consequence of this funding withdrawal, Westminster council is now cutting services for families and children operating out of Children's Centres, with outreach services being particularly hard hit. The network of Children's Centres, including brand new building such as the Bayswater centre in Westbourne Park Road, will continue to exist but with far less funding to make sure that they are able to contact and support isolated and vulnerable families.
Fewer places are being provided for vulnerable children in council run nurseries, down over the last few years from 130 full-time equivalent places in 2006 to 20 by later this year, and the number of parents being able to afford holiday provision for their children at the Council's play centres has already tumbled by 40% since higher charges were introduced last month. Meanwhile early intervention projects such as Newpin, and childcare organisations like the Westminster Pre-School Learning Alliance are in limbo waiting to hear if, now grant funding has vanished, Westminster will commission any services from them in future and if so, at what level.
So much of what has been painstakingly built up for families and children in recent years is fast disappearing. And the consequence? Less affordable childcare to enable parents to take up work. Fewer resources to contact and draw in vulnerable parents who may need help with parenting. Less support for children in need.
Yet we know that what we invest in early intervention and support for children in the early years pays off in multiples later in a child's life - in better educational outcomes, better behavioural outcomes and more. How short-sighted to slash at the roots of the next generation. How hypocritical to mouth support for early intervention whilst actually removing the means to make it possible.
Although there is a cross-party agreement in principle about the importance of early intervention measures - support for Labour's Sure Start programme, Children's Centres, and childcare is high - it...