Friday, 29 March 2013

First Minister closes the stable door after allowing the horse to bolt

A Labour spin doctor once described 9/11 as a "good day to bury bad news". Carwyn Jones's announcement that he was closing neonatal intensive cots in North Wales on the eve of the Easter bank holiday was an attempt to do the same. 

The First Minister made a quite bizarre statement to try to justify his decision to move neonatal intensive care to Arrowe Park in England while accepting that the service should stay in the North. 

He said that he was going to allow this to happen and in the meantime he was going to get independent advice. Now this process has been ongoing for at least two years and his failing health ministers, including Lesley Griffiths, have had plenty of time to get advice.

He could have listened to some independent advice from respected professional bodies representing doctors, nurses and midwives - the BMA, RCN and RCM. They have given sound clinical reasons why this decision is flawed and dangerous. They and the campaign across North Wales have been ignored by a Cardiff Labour Government that doesn’t give a damn about a safe and sustainable service locally.

The truth is that once this service is gone to Arrowe Park, it’s gone for good. This is just the start of closing neonatal intensive care units in North Wales. Nurses are going to be deskilled and demoralised, doctors will not come to North Wales because the specialist units are not there to allow them to train and, most importantly, mothers and their new-born babies are going to be put at risk by the First Minister’s decision.

Last weekend, the First Minister had the bare-faced cheek to made reference to personally needing an incubator as a new-born baby. He was fortunate to have such a service locally as a child. It’s a disgrace that he is not allowing other vulnerable new-born babies the same opportunity.

He also condemned Tory privatisation plans in England and yet is happy to send  our most vulnerable babies into the arms of George Osborne and David Cameron.

The mantra that "we need a change" only works if it's change for the better. Moving a service out of Wales that we currently deliver well is not change for the better, like many of Betsi Cadwaladr's plans. We need an urgent rethink on the health board's changes because they are putting lives at risk needlessly in an effort to save money. 

Aneurin Bevan would be turning in his grave if he were to see what his party has become. 

Labour's credentials as the "party of the NHS" are shot to pieces, with local AM Lesley Griffiths as guilty as anyone for failing to defend Wrecsam's Special Care Baby Unit, as she promised to do so when re-elected in 2011. 

Monday, 18 March 2013

The New Health Minister.

Mark Drakeford was a Professor of Social Care prior to his election to the Senedd in 2011, when he succeeded his mentor Rhodri Morgan in Cardiff West. As well as being a social policy academic, Drakeford was also a special advisor to Rhodri Morgan as First Minister on Health and Social Policy. This begs the question of how much of the reorganisation that has taken place in the Welsh NHS between 2003 and 2009, did Drakeford provide advice to the Welsh Government on?

Let's remind ourselves of the constant changes the Welsh NHS has suffered since 2003. Before 2003, Wales had five Health Authorities, after the 2003 reorganisation 22 Local Health Boards and 7 NHS Trusts were created which lasted until 2009 when the current 7 Local Health Boards and 3 NHS were created. These constant changes have resulted in millions of pounds being wasted and we now have what is widely perceived an NHS service in Wales which is not fit for purpose.

The Welsh public deserve to know whether Drakeford is the architect of this dysfunctional NHS that we have ended up with.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

How not to organise a protest against the bedroom tax

Today saw a protest against the bedroom tax in Wrecsam. It was part of a series of protests organised by Labour against this regressive Con-Dem plan to cut benefits for those who are deemed to under occupy their homes.

This article sums up the reasons to oppose such a benefit cut better than anything we could write.

But Labour's pretence to oppose this cut is undermined by an interviewed with their shadow minister Helen Goodman. She says: "We've said the bedroom tax should only apply if people have turned down smaller accommodation."

Given that there are very few options for people to downsize without going into the (much dearer) private rented sector, where does Labour stand on this unfair tax?

Well, it doesn't want to talk about it.

When Plaid Wrecsam first questioned them on their Facebook group and posted up the above video, it was censored. Other supporters of the protest found their comments were pulled because they questioned Labour's motives.

Labour also claimed it was going to be a mass rally with "hundreds attending".

Mmm... not quite. Ian Lucas isn't much of an attraction at the best of times, despite all of Labour's local activists turning out.

It certainly left the local media unimpressed at having to concoct a picture and story from a non-event involving a party that has attacked benefits while in government and will do again if it's ever in power in future.

Reshuffle means nothing unless the health cuts stop

It was no surprise to see health minister Lesley Griffiths demoted in Labour's lacklustre reshuffle. We predicted it here last month as it became increasingly clear that the health minister had lost the confidence of her leader. Furthermore, she was incapable of standing up to a health board that has lost the confidence of people in the North as well as the majority of the Community Health Council's lay members.
 The North Wales Health Alliance, comprising of groups from Blaenau Ffestiniog, Llandudno, Colwyn Bay, Prestatyn, Rhuthun, Llangollen and Flint as well as the two charities supporting SCBU in Wrecsam and Glan Clwyd, is maintaining its challenge to both the new health minister Mark Drakeford and the health board.
 Firstly, it's mounting a legal challenge against a number of aspects of the health board's proposals. This is being backed by the Daily Post and a cross-party alliance of Assembly Members.
 Secondly, it's calling for an urgent meeting with the new health minister to explain the strength of feeling in the North to these plans.
 Thirdly, it's backing a mass lobby of the Labour Party's spring conference in Llandudno's Venue Cymru on Saturday, March 23 at 2pm.
 That will be a lively protest to remind the politicians who constantly bail out Betsi Cadwaladr financially that they must make a decision that involves more than re-arranging the deckchairs on the HMS Carwyn. It means re-thinking the entire strategy of trying to treat the NHS in Wales as if it was the same as Birmingham. Yes, it's got three million people, but that's where the similarity ends and a metropolitan model does not work in largely rural areas like the North and Mid & West.
 Drakeford is part of the Cardiff Labour inner sanctum - he was widely expected to be elected to the first National Assembly in 1999 but lost out unexpectedly in Cardiff Central. His reward was a job as Rhodri Morgan's Special Adviser in the Assembly, where he had a hand in first the disastrous setting up of 22 Local Health Boards and then the catastrophic centralisation of those LHBs into just seven. Time will tell whether he has a better handle on the NHS than Lesley Griffiths, who will never be forgiven by her constituents and others for breaking promises about local health services.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Were all in this together!

Even the Labour led administration in Wrecsam are jumping on the David Cameron bandwagon reminding everyone that we are in this (Labour mess) together. At a hush hush Scrutiny Committee this afternoon, Councillor David Griffiths, Lead Member for Adult Social Care and Health reminded members that ALL Councillors are part of the Council and have joint responsibility for finding the £34 million savings that we apparently need to make over the next 5 years and that it is the 'collective we' and not 'them.'

It is a shame that Councillor Griffiths forgets the way the Labour leadership treated the 14 Councillors who were not invited to take up roles in the new Labour led administration, last May but excluded them from all roles where no political balance was required.

It's all very well now calling for 'collective responsibility' when there are hard decisions to make but Labour should have thought of that sooner and practised inclusivity rather than exclusion.

Labour in cahoots with the Tories and a motley bunch of Indys take 38 seats to the opposition's 14 on Wrecsam Council, so whether we agree with it or not the decision rests with the Labour/Tory tag team.

You made your bed, you lie in it!

Monday, 11 March 2013

How the Ombudsman Operates?

Now this is a question which I am sure is a mystery to most people myself included up to a few weeks ago. Suffice to say that this 'mystery' suits the majority of public authorities in Wales who are never keen to have their 'dirty washing displayed in public.' The law surrounding how the Ombudsman should operate is the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Act 2005.

Section 16 and Section 21 of this Act states the two kinds of reports that the Ombudsman produces, Section 16 reports are 'public interest reports' where the authority concerned is required to publicize such reports because they raise significant issues of public concern and interest. The second type of report is the Section 21 reports which are far more common but far less visible because these reports are not public interest reports, so the only way to get a copy of this report is if the offending public authority gives you one (highly unlikely!) or if the complainant releases a copy (more likely!).

The Ombudsman will issue a Section 21 report rather than a Section 16 report if the following applies:

  • That the aggrieved person has not suffered injustice or hardship
  • The Ombudsman is satisfied that the public interest does not require a Section 16 report to apply.
On the other hand if the aggrieved person HAS suffered an injustice or hardship the public authority can still hide behind the anonymity of Section 21 reports by agreeing to implement any recommendations the Ombudsman makes within an agreed timescale.

Needless to say that the vast majority of Ombudsman Report in Wales are Section 21 reports never to be publicly seen or in most cases scrutinised by elected members. Wrexham CBC have been subject to 18 Ombudsman Reports in 3 years. One of those was a Section 16 Public Interest report and the others Section 21 reports.

An interesting question to the Ombudsman would be, "How many reports started out as Section 16 Public Interest Reports but were downgraded to Section 21 reports at the request of the Public Authorities concerned?"

I have evidence of at least one report where the Ombudsman has downgraded the report from his original intention. He says in the letter:
" Please note that, as the investigation has raised matters of public interest, the Ombudsman intends to issues the final report under the provisions of S16..."
In a further letter on the same report the Ombudsman states:
"Following the meeting the Ombudsman is inclined to the view that it is appropriate to issue the report under Section 21...; not Section 16 as previously indicated."
I very much hope that this helps and encourages people to ask in-depth questions about the different Ombudsman Reports in their respective public authority areas. The only thing we can be sure of is that there are many examples of poor service and bad practice that is being hidden away from public scrutiny.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Kerbcraft: an open letter to councillors

This letter has been sent to all councillors by Michelle Cook, a Caia Park volunteer with Kerbcraft. We reproduce it here to highlight the way the current Labour-Independent-Tory coalition running Wrecsam Council is behaving:

Dear Councillors

I appreciate this matter does not apply to all councillors, but as you were all at the meeting to which I refer, I have included you in the interest of transparency.

I refer to the meeting held on Wednesday 27 February 2013 where senior council officials gave assurances that the Kerbcraft scheme would continue to receive funding and remain at the same level at which it is currently running.  These assurances were repeated in the Leader, Friday 1 March 2013:
Deputy leader of Wrexham Council, Mark Pritchard, stressed the good work carried out by Kerbcraft and insisted there had never been talks held on cutting cash for the scheme.  "I'm disappointed I have to stand up and discuss Kerbcraft" said Cllr Pritchard.  "I think it is a poor show some elected members play politics with children and fatalities.  It is a disgrace.  There haven't been discussions on cutting the funding."

I'm very sorry, I have to strongly disagree with Cllr Pritchard.  There is documentation available that suggests otherwise.  Officers also spoke to 2 members of staff a number of weeks ago informing them that the scheme was to be reduced from 12 weeks to 6 from April 2013.  A member of staff was given 90 days notice for terminating their employment on 8 April.  Mike Priestly, chairman of TAITH in North Wales also confirmed to BBC Wales that all North Wales councils (Wrexham councillor(s) included) voted to accept the proposed reduction to Kerbcraft in preference to motor bikes and young motorists.  You can read the article here.  So Cllr Pritchard, no discussion took place? I am glad that some elected members have taken an interest and supported our cause.

Imagine my shock, horror and severe displeasure to learn that the appeal to overturn the termination of employment had been lost.  An extremely important and valued member of the Kerbcraft team is going to lose their job on 8 April despite the assurances given less than 48 hours prior. 

As you are aware on Friday 15 February, I attended a demonstration in front of the Guildhall along with fellow volunteers and supporters .  Even then Cllr Pritchard came out and told supporters we had no need to be there, there are no cuts.  After our demonstration I hand-delivered a letter addressed to Dr Paterson (Wrecsam Council's Chief Executive) requesting answers.   To date I have received no correspondence, not even an acknowledgment.  I also requested that a copy be given to all councillors, to the best of my knowledge, this has not been carried out.  

On 17 February, I also sent a further e-mail to all councillors requesting answers.  Out of 52 councillors emailed I received 6 individual responses and one group.  I'm sure you will agree that is shocking, especially as most councillors have been given new iPads and other communication devices. 

I am at risk of repeating myself, however the questions remain;
  • If no discussions about cash cuts have taken place, why is a member of staff having their employment terminated, especially significant with the assurances to the contrary?
  • Exactly how is the service going to be delivered at the same level as assured?
Your earliest response would be appreciated.

Michelle Cook