Thursday, 28 February 2013

If you can't take the heat get out of the kitchen!

The bubble finally burst at a meeting of Wrecsam's Full Council last night as months of self inflicted PR disasters finally got to the Coalition leadership and they showed their true colours. Last night was an important meeting where we met to agree the £230 million budget and to set the council tax. All Councillors were supportive of the budget including the 14 opposition Councillors. There was one issue that we wanted a reassurance on and that was the reinstatement of the £10,000 funding for Kerbcraft where the Regional Transport organisation TAITH had reduced the funding. This decision had caused Wrecsam Council and its leadership considerable angst and criticism in the press and resulted in an unprecedented outburst by the Leader of the Council and Deputy when the question was posed by the Leader of the Wrexham Independent Group, Cllr David A Bithell. 

The Leader of the Council accused members of the Wrexham Independent Group of 'misinformation' and that there were no plans to cut Kerbcraft funding whilst the Deputy Leader accused Independent Group members of playing politics with child safety and then launched a personal  attack on Independent Group member, Cllr Bill Baldwin for attending a Kerbcraft protest outside the Guildhall and again accused us of spreading misinformation. Despite several attempts at raising points of order and a right of reply the Chair (or Mayor as they like to be called), Cllr Ian Roberts refused our requests and was determined to move away from the Kerbcraft 'hot potato'. This prompted Councillor David A Bithell to move an amendment asking for reassurances that Kerbcraft funding would be retained at its current levels. It was claimed that there was no need for the amendment as the council didn't intend to cut the funding in the first place! Having received the requisite reassurance the Wrexham Independent Group withdrew their amendment and the budget passed.

Whilst I don't wish to dwell on the question of misinformation perhaps the words of the Chair of TAITH, Conwy Councillor Mike Priestley puts this question to bed once and for all,

"Taith covers a number of projects such as drink-drive, seat belts, pass plus [an extended test for young drivers] and we need to budget for a scheme to save the lives of young motorcyclists," he said. 
"We have done as much as we can to protect Kerbcraft and the decision on the cuts was voted for by Taith members which includes councillors from all north Wales councils. 
"it was not a decision that was taken lightly and the way forward is to work together as some councils could make up the shortfall, or some schools could contribute towards Kerbcraft costs.
All in all, not Wrecsam Council's finest moment. 

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Will Labour in Wales let Tories wreck our health service?

One of Labour's constant refrains over the past three years has been to attack Tory plans to privatise the NHS in England.
 It was a source of pride that the Welsh NHS had rejected the private path by and large and was kept in the public sector.
 So far, so simplistic.
 However we're now entering dangerous territory for First Minister Carwyn Jones as his Labour health minister presides over changes to the Welsh NHS that will mean more services put into the care of those awful privatising Tories in England.
 After mass marches in Flint, Llandudno and Blaenau Ffestiniog, he's finally awoken to news that his sidekick is as popular as smallpox for not stopping the closure of community hospitals or the transfer of neonatal intensive care to England.
 Jones told the Senedd yesterday: 

"Should we be over-reliant in the future, and this is a general point, on a health service in England that is being wrecked and privatised? I think that is a fair point and one which will need to be considered in its entirety when we consider the future of the health service in Wales as a whole".
 If Lesley Griffiths can't take the hint that she has to intervene to save neonatal care, then she's due for the reshuffle in the spring.

Of course, more cynical souls than Plaid Wrecsam have suggested that it was always Labour's intention to allow this to rumble on as a row... only to allow Lesley to save the day at the last moment. Unfortunately for her, that moment passed some time ago and she's now going to look like she buckled under the pressure of a concerted angry campaign from SCBU mums, community activists and the Daily Post's relentless headlines.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Fighting for a better NHS in Wales

Because Plaid is the only party committed primarily to Wales and its people, we've got to come up with solutions to our problems. Here's one way of dealing with skilled staff shortages in the NHS in Wales that doesn't involve downgrading and centralising our local health services. Lesley Griffiths is welcome to adapt this...

NHS staff shortages need ‘innovative and creative solutions’ say Plaid

Plaid Cymru has called for creative thinking to tackle staffing shortages in the Welsh NHS.
In the party’s debate in the Senedd this week, Health spokesperson Elin Jones will set out innovative proposals to attract additional quality staff in Wales and provide alternative solutions to the Welsh Government’s health reconfiguration proposals.
The Party of Wales Shadow Health Minister Elin Jones said:
“Plaid Cymru believes that dealing with workforce shortages in the NHS, which includes community services such as GPs and specialist and community nursing services, will put services on a far better footing for the future.
“We need to concentrate on developing high quality to staff in Wales at all levels of the healthcare service so that we can get the best quality care for our patients.
“Our positive suggestions are based on what we know works elsewhere. Recruitment of people to undertake postgraduate training is a crucial part of ensuring there are sufficient numbers of medics to provide a service, as 95% of those who complete postgraduate training stay practicing in Wales.
“An innovative example to assist this is the successful bond system in place in New Zealand where financial incentives, such as repayment of student loans, are used to attract staff to move to locations where there are recruitment issues.
“A scheme similar to this was established by the One Wales coalition with dentists. A similar model is used in teacher training."
As well as the New Zealand model, the Shadow Health Minister also referred to work underway in Scotland to attract research grants:
“In Scotland, the NHS has been made part of the research environment through initiatives such as ‘get randomised’ campaign that encourage patients to participate in research.
“Research teams have been supported to get grant money, attracting other top professionals to hospitals and universities there.
“This has made the culture attractive to prospective medical students and junior doctors – a case of success breeding success.
“Plaid Cymru believes that we need to have a constructive debate about the future of our Welsh National Health Service.
“That means that we must look creatively at means of improving the services provided to patients in other ways than just the removal and centralisation of services as is happening under the current Welsh Government’s plans.
“As it stands, there are many problems with attracting and retaining staff in community settings, shortages that actually pose an obstacle to the service changes the Welsh Government claim they want to see.”

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Vehicle Arsons.

The North Wales Police can spin the problem of vehicle Arsons in Wrexham County Borough Council any which way they want; they can villify and pressurise local councillors for representing their constituents and they can attack the local press for 'sensationalising' the problem; but the truth is that it is a real problem and people are fearful of crime and it is not a false perception.

This is what senior Police Officers said to
Inspector Mark Williams told us that the figures for recorded arson showed “no spike over the last twelve months”, detailing a breakdown showing an average of 23 incidents a year. It was pointed out that acts of ‘arson’ can range from a bag of grass cuttings or a car being set on fire, but all are recorded as ‘arson’ in the statistics.
Chief Inspector Alex Goss said “A lot of work is going on in Caia and other areas with a multi agency approach to counter arson and the perception of arson”. 
The truth is somewhat different, in 2010, there were 68 vehicle arson's in Wrexham CBC which was twice the number in more heavily populated Flintshire and 40% of the total deliberate vehicle fires in the whole of North Wales. In 2011, the situation had worsened with 52% of all North Wales's deliberate vehicle fires occurring in Wrexham County Borough, this is 3 times more than Flintshire and at 90 incidents was 32% more than the previous year. In 2012, deliberate vehicle fires in Wrexham had declined slightly from 90 to 84 but the numbers in Flintshire and North Wales had also declined, thus the Wrexham figure represented 58% of all deliberate fires in North Wales.

This situation is one where the public, the press and elected representatives have a right to voice their concerns; it is the Police who try to manipulate people's perceptions who should be subject of criticism.

Friday, 15 February 2013

So who cut funding for kids' safety?

Who is to blame for the reduction in the Kerbcraft scheme, which teaches young children essential road safety?

Not us, say Wrecsam's increasingly rattled Labour/Tory/Democratic Independent councillors - blame the Welsh Government. It has cut the budget to Taith, the North Wales body that oversees transport grants, by 21%. As a result Taith had to prioritise budgets and opted to cut Kerbcraft - a tried and tested scheme that relies heavily on volunteers and has delivered regular reductions in child road accidents and deaths.

But this report quotes Taith chair Mike Priestly as saying that all councillors on the Taith board voted for this cut. Who sits on the board for Wrecsam Council?

Council leader Neil Rogers (Labour), Rhosddu Labour councillor David Bithell and independent Bob Dutton.

The only one to attend the meeting was Cllr David Bithell, who will be the borough's mayor in a few month's time.

For the sake of a few thousand pounds, these councillors would jeopardise child safety while, at the same time, trying to pin the blame on others.

No confidence in our health minister

Pressure is mounting on our failing health minister to act decisively to save our NHS. It's clear that the pressure from patients, doctors, nurses and the wider community is starting to tell on Lesley Griffiths over proposed health cuts and downgrading across the North. Her performance on Tuesday night's Week In Week Out documentary was woeful - "rabbit in the headlights" according to one viewer.

The view was echoed at an intriguing public meeting in Flint on Wednesday night. Flint is as Labour as you can get in Wales. Yet Labour Party councillors and activists lined up to attack Lesley Griffiths for not being decisive in rejecting plans to close their community hospital. Councillors were at pains to distance themselves from both the health minister and the local Labour AM Sandy Mewies, who has disgraced herself by refusing to back local campaigners. 
Last week, campaigners for neonatal services took their fight to the health minister's doorstep - more than 80 mums and their supporters attended an angry lobby of Lesley Griffiths' office to try to ensure the planned downgrading of neonatal intensive care across the North does not take place.
No-one answered and the health minister has consistently failed to reassure or engage with the population about this vital issue.
It's clear that we have a serious problem with our health delivery in North Wales. Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board are out of control, closing hospitals even before the consultation has ended and going against clinical advice in moving neonatal intensive care. The Community Health Council, a statutory body meant to represent the community, has been exposed as a toothless and ineffective critic of the health board. The health minister, unlike her predecessor Edwina Hart, has been exposed as a timid politician out of her depth with this crisis.
If she fails to intervene in this deepening crisis, the local campaigns will have to take any means necessary to stop the closure of important local services - one option is a legal challenge, another option is a more direct challenge to the politicians threatening to undermine the NHS in Wales.

"The NHS will last as long as there are folk left to fight for its future" was the great rallying cry of Aneurin Bevan, the Welsh socialist founder of the NHS. There is no doubt where he would be in the fight to retain and improve our NHS - with the people, against the bureaucrats and political elite.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Labour MP backs neonatal move to Arrowe Park

Wrecsam's Labour MP has come out in support of downgrading the town's Special Care Baby Unit and moving specialist skilled posts to Arrowe Park on the Wirral.

He was asked by a constituent (me): "What are your views on the proposed closures and downgrading of local health services in North Wales, with particular focus on the reduction in level 3 SCBU intensive care services in Wrecsam?"

This was his response:

Thank you for your e-mail.As you know, these matters are devolved to the Welsh Government. However, as a Wrexham resident and parent I am, of course, concerned at any proposals relating to Wrexham Neonatal Services. I have not considered broader health provision across North Wales generally.I note that the Trust itself states: “Our preference would…be to provide services in North Wales if we believed this to be the best option in terms of quality of care, sustainability, recruitment of medical staff and the fulfilment of national standards for neonatal care.” I agree. Ideally, services would, for me, be delivered from Wrexham. However, I note that the Royal College of Midwives do not oppose the proposals and that the Community Health Council has previously said that on balance, they believe that the proposals for neonatal intensive care services will be in interests of people who use services, I regret that some have questioned the impartiality of the CHC and it is sensible to give weight to the views of the experts, the Royal College of Midwives. I am aware from my own experience that increasing specialisation within healthcare is leading to increasing centralisation of services, as skill levels for specialists demand that they focus on a number of patients specified by professional regulatory bodies. It is in the interest of patients and their families that the most skilled and experienced deal with the most difficult cases. If this requires some travel in the most serious cases, then it seems to me that it will be worth it. I note that, as the Trust say : “North Wales will continue to provide the majority of babies and families with specialist care including a restricted volume of intensive care, as agreed by the All Wales and Cheshire & Merseyside Neonatal Networks in our Local Neonatal Units and with the Special Care Units providing some high dependency services. Babies who are cared for in Arrowe Park Hospital will be transferred back to local services as soon as they are clinically stable.” Travel will, therefore, be restricted to a very small number of the most serious cases.I think it is very important that Wrexham people understand this essential point. The whole proposal is directed at a small number of the most serious cases and loose talk about closure of neonatal services clouds not clarifies the issues. I want the best possible care for those children and their families in what is a dreadful situation for them.Yours sincerely, Ian Lucas MP

Two things stand out. 

One is his reliance on the "experts", the Royal College of Midwives (RCM). This conveniently ignores the other experts in the Royal College of Nursing and British Medical Association who both oppose the move. Unfortunately for Mr Lucas, so does the RCM - they were incorrectly quoted by the health board as being in favour.
 So, if Mr Lucas thinks it "sensible to give weight to the views of the experts, the Royal College of Midwives" then it would be sensible to oppose the move.
 It's worrying that my MP is not sufficiently aware of a key issue in his own constituency to know who is supporting and who is opposing.

 Secondly, Mr Lucas is not usually so reticent in commenting on devolved matters. After all, local councils are devolved and I'm sure he has plenty to say about our Labour council's recent decisions to cut funding for Kerbcraft, increase top salaries and spend £30,000 on a failed one-way system under Stansty Bridge.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Who Regulates the Police and Crime Commissioners?

Who regulates the Police and Crime Commissioners is the question that cropped up after the Chief Inspector of Constabulary's first major speech since his appointment in October last year (nice work if you can get it!)

Tom Winsor the ex Rail Regulator and a favourite of Tory Home Secretary, Teresa May was quoted in a speech at the International Conference on Leadership and Standards in the Police recently:
Mr Winsor – who was given the task of examining police pay and conditions before taking on his current job – said the inspectorate no longer had a role in the appointment of chief constables and was now accountable to Parliament rather than ministers. 
He added that HMIC would not inspect PCCs as it had done with police authorities... 
...The HM Chief Inspector pledged that HMIC would place the public at the heart of its activities in its future role, adding that a new piece of work would be published shortly.
This should raise some fundamental concerns about the future stability of Police Forces, first of all the situation that HMIC has no role in the selection of Chief Constables; in the past HMIC's have always advised Police Authorities whether potential candidates for Chief Officer ranks are suitable. These checks and balances are no longer there leaving an opportunity for a return to the 'corrupt practises' of the old Watch Committees.

The second point is that HMIC have no regulatory role over the Police and Crime Commissioners, so how will this work? The PCC sets the budget and the Policing Plan and the Chief Constable implements it. The HMIC still inspects the implementation and the outcomes of the Policing Plans but may be critical about some aspect of Policing where the PCC is responsible. Where does the buck stop then and who resolves the conflict? Lots of unanswered questions here.

The third point is that the HMIC would 'place the public at the heart of its activities' That place will be crowded because every officer to the Chief Constable seems to want the 'public at the heart of its activities.'
Even the PCC has a statutory responsibility to seek the views of the public in formulating his Policing Plan. I really don't think there is a role for the HMIC in this crowded playing field as well.

We should look forward to the piece of work that Tom Winsor will be commissioning (by someone who knows how Policing works!) which will hopefully address some of the cracks that are already appearing in our long applauded Policing model.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Welsh Ambulance Performance - January 2013

One of the benefits of being a member of a Community Health Council is that you are provided with a dearth of information relating to all aspects of health services in Wales; much of this information is difficult to locate on the various websites including the Monthly Performance Summary for the Welsh Ambulance NHS Trust. Rather than regurgitate the usual stuff the mainstream press concentrate on which is response times I'd rather look at a different set of data and that is Hospital turnaround time which is measured from the time of arrival at hospital to the time when the vehicle registers as clear.

I find this an useful data set because it is one that the Ambulance Service has little or no control over and the measure reflects staffing levels at the hospital concerned and the availability of beds. What I have measured is the % of Turnarounds that take longer than an hour and the hospitals in bold are the ones where there have been some turnarounds of longer than 3 hours!

Bronglais.                      8.4%
Countess of Chester      4.7%
Glan Clwyd               11.9%
Hereford                       9.5%
Llandough                  14.1%
Maelor                          9.1%
Morriston                   15.6%
Nevill Hall                  11.2%
Prince Charles            19.5%
Prince Philip                12.7%
Princess of Wales          21%
Royal Glamorgan             2.5%
Royal Gwent                15.6%
Royal Shrewsbury            7.4%
Singleton                         27%
University Hospital          7%
West Wales                   7.5%
Gwynedd                        12%
Ystrad Mynach                  3% 

I have asked for previous Monthly Performance Summaries to determine whether the Ambulance Turnaround Time is deteriorating or not...I think I know the answer.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Buck Stops with...The Health Minister!

Following last week's scathing criticism in the Daily Post, it was unsurprising that the Health Minister Lesley Griffiths was allowed to respond in some detail in Saturday's Daily Post. The thrust of the article was that the final decisions around the Health Board's reconfiguration plans will rest with the Minster hence the 'Buck stops here.'

In an unprecedented step the Health Minister said she would review the proposals even though the Community Health Council's may approve them.

The following letter was sent to the Daily Post in response to Saturday's article:

Dear Editor, 
It was unsurprising that the Daily Post allowed the Health Minister the right to reply after publishing a scathing critique of the Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board reconfiguration proposals last week; what was surprising however was her frankness after months of hiding behind her quasi judicial role. Clearly the Neonatal campaign and the planned lobby of the Minister's office had forced her to respond to increasing pressure. 
It is pleasing to note that irrespective of the decision of the so called independent Community Health council (half of whose members she appoints), the Minister will still review the decisions which in that case begs the question whether the CHC need to make a decision at all. 
Another worry in the comments made is that the decision will be based on the recommendations of the Chief Medical Officer and 'three independent members with appropriate clinical configuration experience outside Wales.' Who exactly are these people and does that experience extend to introducing an internal market for health as in England? If that is the case, let us make it clear here and now that such interference by bureaucrats from elsewhere will not be acceptable. 
Despite the claim that the 'Buck stops here' I don't think it does as far as Neonatal Intensive care s concerned, it is too much of a 'hot potato' in the Minister's own constituency for her to make the decision to move the service. On the other hand if the decision is to retain the service in Wrexham then she will bask in the glory of that decision and use it to recover her rapidly dwindling core support. 

Councillor Arfon Jones