Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Resist the health cuts - have your say

Monday sees the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board roadshow roll into Wrecsam. Sessions take place at the Catrin Finch Centre at Glyndwr University at 2pm, 4pm and 6pm.
Places are limited but you can still register by calling 0800 678 5297 to book a place.
 Unless we speak out now, vital local services will be lost in terms of community hospitals and the neonatal intensive care for sick babies.
  The planned closure of Llangollen and Flint hospitals together with downgrading services in Mold and Chirk will put greater pressure on Accident and Emergency and general wards in Wrecsam Maelor Hospital. Patients who would have been moved out of acute beds after operations to community hospitals will now be forced to stay in Wrecsam or be shunted off to private nursing homes to recuperate.
 The deception regarding neonatal intensive care is more fundamental. Consultations have been told that the proposal to move seriously ill babies to Arrowe Park in the Wirral is because Level 3 Special Care Baby Units in North Wales don't meet "national" guidelines. It is only with reluctance that Betsi bureaucrats have admitted that neither does Arrowe Park.
In fact Arrowe Park has only been a Level 3 unit since 2007 and only has four Intensive Care Unit cots. Wrecsam currently has four ICU cots and Glan Clwyd has six.
If the proposed switch takes place, Arrowe Park managers have said they have the space and capacity to double the number of cots to eight. Is this going to be enough to compensate for the lost cots, not to mention the expertise of nursing staff?
  The planned move to Arrowe Park is, in fact, a return to the 1980s when sick babies were routinely moved to Liverpool Women's Hospital from North Wales. Far from improving the service, Betsi bureaucrats want to take us back in time. To make matters worse, staffing ratios at Arrowe Park are worse than those in our hospitals. Currently, ICU cots are monitored on a 1:1 basis here while in   Arrowe Park one nurse cares for two ICU babies at a time.
 The unit has seen 10 babies die in the first eight months of this year.
The cost of this switch is at least £1m a year with another estimated £600,000 to be added on for transport costs annually. This is Welsh NHS money going on a service in England that is currently being provided here. For this privilege Arrowe Park managers are planning to charge a cool £1240 a day per baby - £216 more than it currently charges. Of course, once the contract is signed the charges can only go one way.
  It's such an outrageous plan that you have to wonder whether it's been put out there for Betsi management to be seen to bow to public pressure after the consultation and relocate a single neonatal intensive care unit for the North at Glan Clwyd.


All our Labour politicians have gone to ground regarding these cuts. It's not surprising that Lesley Griffiths supports the plans - she has laid the groundwork for this agenda by saying the status quo is not an option. But what about our local MPs? Ian Lucas and Susan Elan Jones. Silent. Ken Skates AM. Silent. Council leader Neil Rogers. Silent and unwilling to allow councillors to even debate changes that will have far-reaching effects on their communities.

I agree with Lesley that the status quo is not an option. We need to see our NHS improve and be creative in dealing with increasing demands from a population that is living longer.
 But Betsi Cadwaladr management has failed to do its job in ensuring sufficient clinical staff to do the job required, to plan for a model that serves this community rather than one that is imposed on it and to ensure better care for patients.
 It's time to change the management not centralise and downgrade key local health services.

Catalunya to vote on independence

This could be very interesting. The president of Catalunya has called an election that will effectively be a referendum on independence as the struggle between the governments in Barcelona and Madrid intensifies. The Spanish central government is rejecting calls for Catalunya to have greater powers to decide on how it spends the money it raises in taxes (not surprisingly in a way because Catalunya subsidises Madrid).
 It comes just a few weeks after a massive demonstration in favour of independence in Barca.

"Catalonia called snap elections on Tuesday in a drive for greater independence from Madrid as its leader demanded “self determination” for the region.

Artur Mas, the president of Catalonia in northeastern Spain defied calls from Spain’s government for unity in the face of the deepening economic crisis and announced elections for November 25. The vote is widely seen as a de facto referendum on his demands for greater independence for the region after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy last week rejected proposals for a new fiscal pact which would grant Catalonia greater taxing and spending powers.
“The time has come to exercise the right to self-determination,” Mr Mas told the regional parliament in Barcelona on Tuesday. “We do not have to justify who we are. We want the same instruments that other nations have to preserve our common identity,” he said. “The parliament that emerges will have a historic responsibility.”

When Boris came to Rhosllannerchrugog

Boris Johnson and Rhosllannerchrugog are not two names you'd normally find in the same sentence. Or even the same planet. But a mere 15 years ago, the tousled-headed Tory twit stood for Parliament in Clwyd South.

In the course of a largely inglorious 1997 election campaign, I had one moment of canvassing magic. After weeks of hesitation, my team of crack Tory troops finally decided to mount an operation in Rhosllanerchrugog, an old mining village in Clwyd South, the seat I was then contesting. Rhos, as it was known for short, had an awesome reputation among the Conservatives of that region. The few scouts who returned reported that it was full of savage anti-Tories. So bitter were local feelings about Conservative policies towards Welsh mining villages, I was told, that it was doubtful there was a single Tory in the place. The view was that we would be lucky to get out in one piece. So we canvassed in more promising areas until one morning, not long before polling day, there was nothing for it. After a certain amount of deep breathing, we poured out of the battle wagon in the heart of Rhos and began to work the streets. It would be fair to say that we had a pretty cool reception. One man offered half-heartedly to "brick" me, and everyone else declined, with varying degrees of asperity, our invitation to vote Tory, until I saw a young woman pushing a buggy up the street. "Hello!" I cried, in the approved Central Office manner, thrusting out my hand. "I wonder whether I can count on your vote?" The poor woman looked tired. She was wearing tight jeans and white socks, and I had that panicky feeling that her baby was about to cry. She pulled her cigarette out and screwed up her eyes.  "Which party did you say you were from?" she said. "I'm the Conservative candidate," I said; and at once it was as if the sun had come out. She beamed at me. "Oooh!" she said. "The Conservatives! Yes, I'll definitely be voting for you. Count on me!" I was stunned, and in my confusion, I did what good canvassers should never do in this situation. "B-but why?" I asked. "Oh well," she said. "You'd never catch me voting for that John Major and his Labour Party!" Thinking fast, I withdrew the leaflet I was about to give her, featuring a picture of John Major, gave her some more general Conservative advertisement, and I still believe, with the help of that innocent semi-deception, that we secured that woman's vote on the day.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Fracking typical

A week ago, Plaid Cymru's conference passed a motion by the Wrecsam branch supporting the use of offshore wind, micro-hydro, tidal, solar and other renewable energies to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.

 There is a need for a mix of various energy sources and we avoid putting all our eggs in one basket. Sadly, not all politicians in Wales agree. Tory MP Glyn Davies, from Montgomery, has railed against plans by the Infrastructure Planning Commission (a London-based quango answerable only to the UK Government) to impose more windfarms on his constituency. 

 Yet he sees no problem in arguing the case for shale gas exploitation to take place in other parts of Wales - namely the former coalfields of the north-east and south. Shale gas is seen by some as a potential saviour for the economic mess we're in. It's not. 

  Getting shale gas out of the ground is done by hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking. This is a drilling technique that involves injecting toxic chemicals, sand and millions of gallons of water under high pressure into the ground to release natural gas in shale deposits. This mixture of toxins and sediment, along with any gas released, can leak to the surfaces and enter riers and groundwater in the process. 

Problems due to unregulated fracking in the USA – including flammable tap water in Colorado, methane explosions in West Virginia and poisoned water in Pennsylvania – show what could happen if companies are allowed to expand their operations here in Wales. Do we want Dee water supplies (currently going to 2 million people's homes) ending up like this?

At best it's the fag-end of the fossil fuel exploration industry. At worst it has the potential to contaminate the water supply, poison our land with heavy metals and cause minor earthquakes, as has already happened near Blackpool during test drilling. 

 This is no abstract threat. Test drilling sites have been granted planning permission in two places  in Wrecsam already. Licences have been granted for all of Flintshire and Wrecsam borough. 

 Tories like Glyn Davies might fancy it from a NIMBY point of view but local resistance is growing to this - please get involved.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Flint masses gatecrash NHS consultation

The campaign against plans to centralise and downgrade local health services in North Wales took a massive step forward tonight.

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board had arranged a stage-managed consultation in Flint Town Hall, trying to limit attendance to just 40.

Outside, they were met by a wonderful sight - about a fifth of the town's inhabitants had turned out to protest against the threatened closure of the town's community hospital. The streets were closed down and there were about 2500 people out of a town of 12000, many waving home-made placards.

This is the beginning of a mass movement against Betsi Cadwaladr management and Lesley Griffiths' plans to impose a city model on our region.

Local campaigners deserve huge credit in bringing the town to a standstill and insisting Betsi Cadwaladr upped the number allowed to attend the "consultation" from 40 to 100. There was damning condemnation from the chair of how superficial the consultation has been at the earlier sessions. Betsi had tried to limit questions to just 10 and limit the information provided.

As a footnote, it was interesting to see how embarrassed Labour politicians were to be present - David Hanson MP said he'd make sure people's concerns were heard, Aaron Shotton (Flintshire council leader) said he supported the campaign but had to be dragged up on the platform and the local AM Sandy Mewies didn't even bother to turn up. If they were serious about opposing this downgrading, they would be publicly challenging their fellow Labour politician to take action.

Sooner or later the public are going to cotton on that this whole centralisation plan is being driven by the Cardiff Labour Government. Congratulations to Flint - they did North Wales proud tonight.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Adroddiad Monitro yr Iaith Gymraeg.

Pob blwyddyn mae hi'n ofynnol ar bob Awdurdod lleol yng Nghymru i gyhoeddi adroddiad ar gyfer Comisiynydd y Gymraeg sydd yn amlinnellu sut maent yn cydymffurfio a Chynllun Iaith Gymraeg y Cyngor.
Mae'n rhaid deud mae siomedig dros ben oedd adroddiad Cyngor Sir Wrecsam y flwyddyn yma drwy fethu cyrraedd saith or unarddeg targed a osodwyd. Mae hyn yn fwy siomedig fyth o gofio fod Leighton Andrews wedi dewis Wrecsam fel arbrawf ar gyfer Cynllun Trefi Dwyieithog yn dilyn llwyddiant Eisteddfod 2011.

Ymysg y prif fethiannau oedd methiant i fesur sgiliau Cymraeg gweithwyr y Cyngor ac i gynyddu y nifer o siaradwyr Cymraeg, ac i hyfforddi y gweithwyr yny sydd yn darparu gwasanaethau gwyneb yn wyneb. Mae hefyd son am gynyddu y nifer o swyddi lle mae'r Gymraeg yn anghenrheidiol a mae hynny i'w groesawu ond does yna ddim targed wedi ei osod i fesur hynny. Methiant arall mae'r adroddiad heb son am; yw'r methiant y Cyngor i ddarparu llefydd digonnol ar gyfer y galw am addysg Gymraeg gyda 12 o blant yn ardal y Rhos yn unig yn methu cael lle mewn ysgol Gymraeg o'i dewis y flwyddyn yma.

Dyma rai o ystadegau Cyngor Sir Wrecsam

1. Nifer 'hits' ar wefan y Cyngor 4,614 yn Gymraeg (1.3%) a 342,946 yn Saesneg.
2. Nifer o weithrediadau drwy y wefan, 8,506 yn Gymraeg (4.3%) a 271,723 yn Saesneg.
3. Nifer cyswllt gwyneb yng ngwyneb yn Galw Wrecsam, Cymraeg 37 (0.02%) a 224,421 yn Saesneg.
4. Hoffi tudalen Gymraeg Facebook y Cyngor 67 yn Gymraeg a 663 yn Saesneg.
5. Dilynnwyr trydar y Cyngor 124 yn Gymraeg a 3039 yn Saesneg.

Mae rhaid cofio hefyd nad yw yr ystadegau yma yn mesur y defnydd mewnol o'r Gymraeg, er engraifft dyda staff sydd yn ebostio yn Gymraeg yn fewnol ddim yn cael ei cyfrif sydd yn fethiant yn ei hun.

Ond hefyd mae angen annog gweithwyr y Cyngor i gydnabod ei sgiliau ac i ddefnyddio yr iaith; mae hefyd gwir angen annog y 14% o brewswylwyr y sir sydd yn siarad Cymraeg i ddefnyddio yr iaith.

Tybed beth yw'r sefyllfa gyda adroddiadau monitro gweddill awdurdodau lleol Cymru? Siwr fod rhai dipyn yn well a rhai yn waeth ond y cwestiwn mawr ydy; be mae'r Comisiynydd Iaith yn ei neud mewn ymateb i'r adroddiadau yma? Y cwestiwn arall ydy, faint o fobol sydd yn gwybod am yr adroddiadau yma a faint sydd yn eu darllen a faint o ymgyrchu sydd yn galw am welliannau sylweddol yn y gwasanaeth; 'chydig iawn yn fy mhrofiad i!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Neo Natal Intensive Care.

One of the most controversial proposals in the Betsi Cadwaladr consultation document on health care re-configuration is the proposal to move the Level 3 Neonatal Intensive care from Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and Ysbyty Maelor to Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral purely on the grounds of national clinical standards.

The following are reasons why the service should be retained in North Wales (These are things the Trust won't tell you in the Consultation events):

  • North Wales have 10 Level 3 Neonatal cots whilst Arrowe Park only have 6.
  • Nursing care for Neonatal Intensive care babies in N.Wales is 1 to 1, in Arrowe Park it is 1 to 2.
  • Once N Wales have lost this service there will be no going back and Arrowe Park can charge what they like, cost WILL escalate.
  • Arrowe Park Hospital does not meet the National Clinical Standards for Level 3 Neonata Intensive care.
  • A Level 3 service is essential if we are to continue to be accredited to train Paediatricians.
  • Distance to Arrowe Park from parts of North Wales and no availability of public transport.
  • Availability of Ambulances and stabilisation cots in the ambulances.
  • Doubt over the actual number of babies that will be going to Arrowe Park and whether they have capacity.
  • Where will babies go if the 6 cots in Arrowe Park are full, nobody knows!
And of course the main reason for not moving the service to Arrowe Park are because of claims by Cherish and Cuddles, the two charities involved that more babies will die; and they should know, they have experienced the trauma and emotion of requiring neonatal intensive care for their babies.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Healthcare in North Wales is Changing.

This is the title of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Borad's Consultation document which seeks views on the proposed re-configuration of health services across North Wales. Let's be in no doubt about it this consultation document proposes massive changes as part of the need to make £60 million of savings.

The Board are holding several consultation events in each local authority area and have also held mmetings with elected members. The meeting with elected members of Wrecsam Council was very well attended but the only real challenge came from members of the opposition groups. Following such an event Wrecsam Council would NORMALLY submit a detailed response to the consultation which would receive formal approval (or otherwise) by members at an Executive Board meeting.

It is proposed that the response to this particular consultation will not be subject to the usual member scrutiny and challenge at the October Executive Board but will rather be submitted direct to the Health Board having been approved by the Leader and Director only.

The question is why should they want to avoid public scrutiny of the response? is it because the response will be unpopular with the public or is the reason more political like the Health Minister being the local Assembly Minister and there is a reluctance by the governing coalition to be critical.

The main opposition group on Wrecsam Council have asked for a re-think of this decision in the interests of openness and transparency of decision making.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Patronage and Favouritism!

The Labour leadership of Wrecsam Council are finding their feet and flexing their muscles and seeking to change the council's constitution to give Lead Members on the Executive Board (of whom 4 of the 7 are Labour) delegated powers to make certain decisions. Amongst the more controversial, is the delegated power granted to the Leader of the Council to authorise foreign trips and the power granted to the Lead Member to appoint Local Education Authority school governors where there are more nominees than vacancies and also to appoint council representatives onto the Fostering and Adoption panels. In the world of partisan politics like Wrecsam Council it doesn't take a lot to work out the likely consequences of such changes. The report that proposes these constitutional changes makes no mention of whether these delegated decisions will be recorded and publicly available or whether they will be restricted. Currently such decisions are made by the full Executive Board in open session and in the interests of openness and transparancy decision making should continue to be made by the full Executive Board.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Health board management failing to curb overspending

Just when you thought things couldn't get much worse for the health boards in Wales, there's news that they are all overspent in the first three months of this financial year. Again. 
 Last year they were bailed out by health minister Lesley Griffiths after failing to hit budget targets.
 Tina Donnelly, of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales, explains that the crisis is structural rather than temporary: "The difficulty is you cannot help being ill in Wales so the demand is there ... Let's be clear, when the Assembly returns we have to make it really a priority in Wales to say we've got unprecendented utilisation of acute care services, we have inadequate provision in the community. That has to be fixed otherwise I don't know how health boards are going to manage, I really don't".
 This financial crisis is coupled with a management failure, at least in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, to recruit key personnel. Poor management has also debanded and deskilled some of their most experienced and committed nursing staff, leading to demoralisation in key areas, including the Special Care Baby Unit.
 This deskilling is set to increase under the proposed changes with intensive neonatal care being shipped across the border to Arrowe Park. This is wrong on so many grounds that the decision to even put it out to consultation seems perverse. It flies in the face of clinical recommendations - i.e. doctors said keep this service in North Wales, the management said no. The consultation document says currents SCBU don't meet national guidelines, omitting to say that neither does Arrowe Park!
 There has been no consultation with the Wales Ambulance Service about moving seriously ill new-born babies - an additional strain on a service already struggling to meet targets.
 North Wales has a growing population, rising birthrate and plans to ensure that 500 Welsh babies currently born in Chester each year are repatriated to save £2m. That's another 8% rise in births annually and consequently another 8% hike in SCBU and neonatal intensive care admissions. It's unclear whether Arrowe Park - which currently has six intensive care cots - can cope with the extra work. Glan Clwyd currently has six cots and Wrecsam has four.
 This lack of planning and proper management is apparent in other aspects of the poorly thought out consultation currently ongoing re community hospitals. Key to the changes are a centralisation of services in 10 hub hospitals and subsequent closure and downgrading of other facilities, including five community hospitals.
 The health board management also tries to claim that care in the community will make up for the loss. If this were the case, most people would be happy to accept the changes, but the experiences of most people in recent years with out-of-hours GP services is a reduction in care and poorer service.
 This, in turn, has seen A&E being swamped by relatively minor problems because the community care isn't there. There is a lack of honesty and clarity about the real options on the ground if these changes go ahead and it's becoming clear from the large public meetings taking place that the public don't trust the health board management to listen or engage in a genuine consultation. 
 The local NHS management has looked after its own interests consistently - whether it's cars, spin doctors or pay rises for the bosses. It's time they started looking at the wider community's interests.

How the Welsh Health Boards are overspent:

  • Cardiff and Vale(four months to July) £12m; savings target by end of year £72m
  • Betsi Cadwaladr (three months to June)£8.667m; savings target £64.6m
  • Abertawe Bro Morgannwg (four months to July)£7.468m; savings target £45m
  • Cwm Taf (two months to end of May) £2.5m; savings target £23.7m
  • Hywel Dda (three months to June) £3.997m; savings target £36m
  • Aneurin Bevan(three months to end of June)£3.9m; savings target £48m
  • Powys Health Board (four months to July)£3.8m; savings target £19m

69 days of apathy - North Wales Police commissioner elections

There are just 69 days to go before the police commissioner elections and in the North it looks like being a big yawn in. A low turnout and uninspiring candidates could mean a surprise is in store.
 Declared candidates so far are the ex-chief executive of the North Wales Police Authority Tal Michael for Labour and Richard Hibbs, an independent businessman. The low-key nature of the election, which Plaid is boycotting, will doubtless mean that the candidates will have to ramp up the publicity with some populist-sounding rhetoric in the weeks running up to November 15.
 Tal Michael, whose father Alun Michael is standing for the same job in South Wales, spent much of today in the Yale College Freshers' Fair - not the best place to be as most of them are too young to vote in November!
 Labour has put together a pretty limp leaflet that will have to be delivered door to door by the party faithful. Hibbs, who doesn't appear to have any clear policies as yet, doesn't even have that luxury. His only potential line of attack is that he's not party political.
 The Tories - who are currently as electable as Gary Glitter - look to be putting up Derek Barker, the former chief executive of Conwy Borough Council, if Tory AM Darran Miller's latest tweet is to be believed:

Looking forward to hitting the campaign trail with Derek Barker in the coming weeks 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Chairman of the Police Federation.

Congratulations to Inspector Steve Williams, a North Wales Police officer on being elected Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, the organisation that represents 140,000 rank and file Police Officers. Prior to becoming a full time Police Federation representing Inspectors from the Welsh Police forces, Steve was a Detective Inspector in Central Division at St Asaph. He will succeed Paul McKeever as Chairman in January, and I hope he continues in Paul's shoes in giving Teresa May hell.

The Daily Post get's it wrong!

Yesterday's Daily Post published an article claiming that North Wales and Wrecsam in particular were suffering from increased shop closures. The data was collected  by the Local Data Company and shows that the empty shop rate in Wrecsam has shot up from 13.9% to 18.5% of shops in the last 18 months but following some enquiries into the Local Data Company's data collection methods it seems that they have not updated their town centre boundaries since 2004 and that their data does not include retail units in the Eagles Meadow town centre development and neither does their data include shops which do not pay rates i.e Charity Shops.

Another more comprehensive survey by Colliers International shows that shop vacancies in Wrecsam stands at 12% which is up from 10% from last October but which is below the UK average of 13.4%. This shows considerable improvement on the 18% shop vacancies in Wrecsam in the middle of 2009.

Reports such as the one in the Daily Post can be very damaging to trade in towns such as Wrecsam and Bangor particularly if the data is inaccurate. Editors have responsibilty to check on the quality and reliability of their sources. Clearly this did not happen on this occasion and the paper should publish an apology.

Monday, 3 September 2012

What Devolution?

I always thought that housing was a devolved area of responsibilty where the Welsh Government had primacy. So what is this all about then?
The new offence, introduced under clause 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, will be punishable by up to six months' jail and fines up to £5,000 in England and Wales.
Haven't we got enough homelessness in Wales without having any more Tory inspired legislation imposed on us? Isn't the changes to Housing Benefit going to increase homelessness enough without criminalising squatting. I really don't know where Local Authorities are going to get the money to meet their statutory responsibilities in respect of homelessness.

We have had several examples recently of Westminster Minister's interfering in devolved areas of responsibility in Wales, but we hear not a murmur from either the Welsh Government or the Assembly. If they don't fight the corner of Wales's poor and disadvantaged who the hell does? Yet another example of Carwyn's Government sleeping on the job and the opposition parties providing no scrutiny or challenge.

Undemocratic Influence.

Congratulations to the Deputy Information Commissioner for taking a brave decision that the Cabinet Office must release information as to when civil servants need to consult with Prince Charles as Duchy of Cornwall in drawing up legislation. The Cabinet Office had refused to release the information claiming the exemption of 'legal privilege.' but the Deputy Commissioner had refuted this argument. The Cabinet Office have until the 25th of this month to release the information or the case will proceed for hearing before an FOI Tribunal.

This is yet another victory towards more openess and transparency in the way government operates and let's hope the Cabinet Office accepts the Deputy Information Commissioner's decision and not seek to delay this information any further. Once we have this information we can assess just how much influence the un-elected have over our so called democratic institutions.