Archive for Health

British sickness tax goes up in England today

It’s April Fool’s Day today and you all know what that means … that’s right, the British are taking us for fools yet again with the prescription charge in England going up 20p to £8.05 per item.

Whilst the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments have all abolished prescriptions charges in their own countries, the British continue to tax the sick in England to help pay for the subsidies that allow the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish to get their prescriptions for free.

Just one of the reasons why we need an English Parliament.

UK Prescription Charges 2007-2014

British government increases English prescription charges

UK Prescription Charges 2007-2014 TableThe British Minister for English Health has announced that prescription charges will go up again on April Fool’s Day this year from £7.85 to £8.05 per item and NHS dental costs will go up by up to £5.

But only in England.

Prescriptions are free in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland thanks to the lavish subsidies the British government gives then out of English taxes. These same subsidies have allowed the rest of the UK to variously abolish hospital parking charges, abolish means testing for social care, freeze council tax, reduce or abolish university tuition fees and much more whilst we in England continue to pay more and more every year.

Just one of the reasons why we need an English Parliament.

UK Prescription Charges 2007-2014

ATOS want early exit from DWP contract

French company ATOS has announced that it is seeking an early exit from its contract with the British government to carry out fitness for work assessments on disabled people.

ATOSATOS have been given a slating over their handling of the contract for making decisions to send people back to work when they are clearly not fit for work but they don’t deserve all the blame. In fact, most of the blame should fall at the previous Labour-controlled government who contracted ATOS in the first place and the current ConDem government who allowed the injustice to continue unabated.

The problem with what ATOS have been doing is that they were contracted to get x number of disabled people working and they’ve done what they were paid to do. Nobody knew how many disabled people were fit for work because if they knew who was and wasn’t fit for work they wouldn’t have needed to pay ATOS to find out so telling them in advance how many people they had to rule were fit for work is just nonsense. ATOS have been driven by targets on the number of people they declare fit for work even if that means making bad decisions because that’s what they’re being paid to do.

If ATOS were targeted on the quality of their decisions and not the number of people they declare fit for work then there wouldn’t have been such injustice in the decision-making process. ATOS took on a contract that was flawed and immoral but if they hadn’t taken on the contract, someone else would have done and with the same result. The contract is flawed and the only way to fix it is to base the targets solely on quality of decision making and not on the volume of people ruled fit to work.

Labour’s legacy of bankrupt hospitals and PFI loan sharks

Back in 2003, six years after the people of Scotland voted to have their own devolved parliament, the Health & Social Care Bill came before the British Parliament.  This bill would introduce, amongst other things, foundation hospital trusts in England.

Insolvency Service LogoThe bill was passed into law as the Health & Social Care (Community Health & Standards) Act 2003 despite a majority of British MPs elected in England voting against it thanks to the votes of British MPs elected in Scotland where health and social care is devolved.  The Health & Social Care Bill is one of two laws passed by the British Parliament since 1997 affecting England only where the matter is devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that would have failed had only MPs elected in England voted on it.  The other one is, of course, tuition fees which were introduced in England with the Higher Education Act 2004.

So, fast forward 9 years since having had foundation hospitals foisted upon us by MPs who we can’t hold to account and the first one has gone bankrupt whilst six others are apparently on the brink.  South London Healthcare NHS Trust is to be put into administration after racking up £69m of PFI debts and with a projected operating loss of between £30m-£75m per year for the next five years.  Six other foundation hospital trusts are also in dire straits financially according to the Telegraph.

So that’s seven foundation hospital trusts that we didn’t want but were forced to have by Labour’s Scottish MPs on the verge of insolvency thanks to massive debts run up under PFI schemes that we didn’t want but were forced to have by Labour’s Scottish Chancellor.  Can anyone explain how Labour has been leading the opinion polls for most of the year?  Oh yeah, the Tories and Lib Dems are equally useless when it comes to public finances, the NHS and the democratic process.

Ten (ish) weeks with hearing aids

Back in January I had a hearing aid fitted after getting fed up of Mrs Sane complaining about me not being able to hear her finally going to get my hearing tested.

The difference it made was astounding – I hadn’t realised how bad my hearing had got. But it did leave me a bit lopsided hearing-wise because the hearing in both my ears is pretty crap, albeit worse on one side than the other.

So I went back to the hospital a week and a bit ago to get a second hearing aid to balance things up and get the T-Loop added to the one I’d already got because it never occurred to me when I said I wouldn’t need to use it how I would use the phone at work!

The second hearing aid isn’t turned up as loud as the first one because my hearing isn’t as bad in the other ear but I can hear at the same volume in both ears and I can tell where sound is coming from again. The T-Loop is also a great invention – I first tried it in the local Co-op and it was pretty amazing to walk up to the counter and be greeted with no sound other than the voice of the girl behind the till.

My desk phone at work has an induction loop in the handset which means I can hear everything loud and clear through the loop in my hearing aid. Sadly my work mobile (HTC Wildfire S) doesn’t work with the loop but I’m sure they’ll replace it with one that does. My HTC Desire worked with it once but I think the amount of times I dropped it must have broken the loop. Luckily it was due for upgrade so the very helpful people at the Three shop in Telford helped me find a new phone that works with my hearing aids, letting me try out lots of different phones until I found the best sound quality (Sony Xperia S).

There are a couple of big problems using mobile phones with hearing aids. The main one is trying to use a phone without a loop – I don’t have those jelly moulds you see on old peoples’ hearing aids, I have a “tulip” end on my hearing aid which disappears into my ear and is barely visible. It also blocks my ear and if your ear is blocked you can’t hear properly (or less properly than usual). Using a phone without a loop means removing my hearing aid and turning the volume up which is hardly convenient.

The other big problem is using a phone with a poor quality loop. They produce lots of noise – so much noise that it’s hard to make out what’s being said at the other end. The Xperia is great with the loop, giving a really clear sound quality as long as the Wi-Fi is turned off otherwise it can be a bit noisy. The new HTC One was OK but not great.

It’s not easy getting used to hearing aids but it’s worth the effort. Itchy ears are a particularly annoying problem, especially if you’ve got sausage fingers like me that just won’t fit down your ear hole! I find that regular cleaning with a baby wipe helps but sometimes you’ve just got to ignore everything that was drummed into you as a child about not sticking things in your ear and have a good scratch with something blunt.

Another annoying problem for me (and I suspect this will only affect you if your hearing aid is amplifying higher pitched sounds) is what beeping things like the microwave, the oven timer, alarms on TV programmes and the chime on clocks do to the hearing aids. Apart from being very loud, it makes the sound distorted and tinny on the hearing aid for a good 30 seconds after it’s stopped, like it’s been overloaded and it needs to sort itself out. And I can’t even begin to describe what a fork scraping on a plate sounds like.

Despite the little annoyances, getting these hearing aids has been a really positive thing. They’re so discrete that most people don’t even notice them. It doesn’t help me to hear in really noisy places like a hall full of chattering people or a train station but in most situations it’s made a real improvement. I don’t know how fast my hearing is deteriorating – I guess we’ll find out next time I have a hearing test – but I can already sign a bit so I’m well prepared!

My first week with a hearing aid

Thanks to the wonders of medical science and an uncharacteristically prompt service from the NHS, I can now hear properly out of my right ear.

Whut?

Mrs Sane has nagged me for a long time about my bad hearing so a few months ago I went to see my GP about it.  A nice student doctor asked me some questions, stuck a tuning fork behind my ear and referred me to an ENT consultant.

A week before Christmas I went to the hospital and had a hearing test which showed a bit of a dip in the mid range which is where human speech is and it drops right off at the high range which is things like running water, rustling paper, birds, etc.  The consultant shoved a camera up my nose to see whether there were any blockages up there that might be causing the problem (not a pleasant experience and there was nothing wrong up my nose) and then pronounced that I needed a hearing aid, an MRI and they would send for me shortly.

I was expecting a 6 month wait at least but was pleasantly surprised to get an appointment for a month later for an MRI and then to be measured for a hearing aid the following day.  I was even more surprised to actually walk out with a hearing aid on the day, expecting to have to wait months for one to be ordered or for someone to die so I could inherit theirs!

So that was a week ago today and what a difference it’s made.  I walked out of the hospital and the first thing that struck me was how loud the world is.  I could hear people talking, car doors slamming, birds singing – I really hadn’t realised how bad my hearing had got.  It does take some getting used to though.  Running water is particularly loud, especially the toilet flushing.  I’ve had to ask for a new keyboard at work because the clattering of the nice Dell keyboard I had was too loud and noisy places can be a bit overwhelming.

It’s well worth having though and if anyone is experiencing problems with their hearing I would definitely recommend going to get it checked out.  Saying it’s been life changing would be exaggerating a bit but it’s made a real, positive difference.  It’s a tiny thing and unless they’re looking for it, most people don’t even notice it’s there.  After a while I forget I’m wearing the hearing aid but when I take it out it sounds like I’ve got cotton wool stuffed in my ear.  Even after just a week, if I didn’t have it I’d really miss it.

Mutton Jeff

Mad Hamish

Whut?

I went to the ENT clinic at the hospital yesterday to see if they could figure out why my hearing is so bad and came away being told I’ve got to have a hearing aid.  I’m 33 years old for god’s sake, hearing aids are for old people!

I must say, I wasn’t expecting to have a diagnosis (of sorts) and a cure (of sorts) on my first visit.  I’ve got to go for an MRI to make sure there’s nothing wrong with my head and I’ve got to get fitted for a hearing aid some time in the new year.  Which is nice.

My knees are buggered, my eyesight isn’t great, I get eczema and rosacea, I suffer with a bad back on and off, I’ve had asthma for years … I’m a wreck!

If I was an animal they’d put me down.

Scottish doctor says English students should sell kidney to pay tuition fees

What an organ head

A Scottish doctor, Dr Sue Rabbitt Roff, has suggested that English university students should sell one of their kidneys to pay for their tuition fees!

Roff has written on the British Medical Journal website in favour of the right to sell your organs for profit and suggested that those wishing to sell a kidney should receive the national average salary of £28,000 which they might like to use to pay university fees.

Alternatively, we could stop Scottish MPs imposing racist tuition fees on English students by creating an English Parliament so they can’t vote n things that are non of their business.  Slightly less extreme than selling your kidney to subsidise free university education in Scotland.

GPs told to double prescription costs in England

According to the BBC, GPs in England are being put under pressure by PCTs to half the amount of medication they are prescribing patients to bring in more income from prescription charges.

Currently you can get up to 2 months’ worth of medication on one prescription but PCTs have been telling GPs to cut that to one month, doubling the cost of repeat prescriptions at a time when they have just gone up to £7.40 per item in England.

Prescription charges have been free in Wales and Northern Ireland for a while and became free in Scotland this year on April Fool’s Day – the same day the British Department of Health put the price up to £7.40 in England.  The British Department of Health says that it can’t afford the £450m cost of providing free prescriptions in England but the British government still manages to find £20bn per year of English money to subsidise free prescriptions and other benefits in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and £4bn to bail out Portugal.

The Brits are taking the piss once again, where are the riots on the streets over this sickness tax?

Free prescriptions for Scots and increases for England on April Fool’s Day

On the 1st of April, the British Department of English Health is putting prescriptions charges up to £7.40 per item.

On the 1st of April, the Scottish government is abolishing prescription charges.

The Welsh and Northern Irish already get free prescriptions so from April Fool’s Day, the English will be the only people in the UK who have to pay for prescriptions.  Not only will we pay for our own prescriptions, but we’re also paying for the free prescriptions the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish get by way of the £20bn a year Barnett bribe.

According to the British Department of English Health, it would cost £450m to give free prescriptions to English people and after giving all our money away to the Scots, Welsh, Northern Irish and the EU we apparently can’t afford it.  Two and a half days of EU membership fees would cover the cost of free prescriptions in England.  I know what I’d rather the money was spent on and it isn’t Greek sewers, Albanian roads, French farmers and Spanish fishermen.

Shropshire Hospital cuts

I went to a public meeting last night at the Holiday Inn in Telford on the proposed changes to hospital services in Telford.

The main shocker of the night was that David Wright MP not only stayed after the photographers had left but what he said while he was in the meeting actually made sense.

In Shropshire we have two main hospitals – the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital (RSH) and the Princess Royal Hospital (PRH) in Telford.  In addition to the two general hospitals, there’s the specialist orthopædic hospital at Oswestry and a handful of cottage hospitals.  The RSH and PRH are where all the main hospital services are – A&E, vascular, pædiatrics, maternity, etc.

Shropshire is unusual in having two general hospitals, especially for the relatively small population of the county.  We gave up 10 of our cottage hospitals to get a general hospital built in Telford so it came at a price.  But now the hospitals are running out of money thanks to the British government’s cuts to the English NHS and services can’t be sustained at both hospitals.

A year ago there was a proposal to move services from the PRH to the RSH which were shelved because of the opposition.  It wasn’t the first time moving services from Telford to Shrewsbury was suggested either – whenever money is tight the hospitals trust has always chosen a starting position of keeping all services in Shrewsbury.  This time, however, the proposals are a little more balanced with some services moving from Shrewsbury to Telford and others moving from Telford to Shrewsbury.

If the proposals go ahead, consultant-led maternity services will be moved to Telford rather than Shrewsbury where they are currently provided.  Consultant-led pædiatrics will also move to Telford, reflecting the fact that there are far more children in Telford than Shrewsbury and more social deprivation which leads to poor health in children.  Acute surgery will move to Shrewsbury and both hospitals will retain A&E services.

The hospital at Telford is a much newer building than Shrewsbury and there is a lot more room for expansion at the Telford site.  The RSH was built in the 60’s and parts of the building are structurally unsound according to a report that the hospitals trust have just released.  The report dates from 2007 so cynical types might wonder why the report has only just been released when it backs up their proposals and why the imminent condemnation of parts of the RSH wasn’t a problem a year ago when they wanted to consolidate services in Shrewsbury.  But that doesn’t change the fact that the RSH is structurally unsound in places and there is no money to fix it up (especially not after Gordon Brown took £1bn out of the English NHS’ building fund as one of his final acts as Chancellor).

Telford has the largest population in Shropshire by a considerable margin and the fastest growing population too.  It makes sense to put services where they will be most used and that’s at Telford, especially in the case of maternity and pædiatrics.

The four consultations being held in Shropshire are finished now and the next three are being held in Mid-Wales.  The RSH – and to a lesser extent, the PRH – provide services to patients from Powys where there is no general hospital.  Some of the services the hospitals in Shropshire provide are only sustainable because Powys is in their catchment area and Powys health board pays for patients that are treated in Shropshire but I don’t agree that this entitles people in Powys to a say in how our hospitals are configured.

People in Shrewsbury seem to have latched onto the extra 18 miles Welsh people will have to travel for some services as an argument for keeping all services in Shrewsbury.  From what people who have been to the other public meetings have said, there seems to be an attitude in Shrewsbury that they have an entitlement to keep all services in the town and that any cuts should be made to the PRH which they see as a subordinate hospital to the RSH rather than one half of the same service.  In fact, one very brave man from Shrewsbury announced to the 200 or so people in the room that everything should be moved to Shrewsbury because it’s the county town.  He did make it out in one piece but that’s possibly more to do with the fact he made a sharp exit than the restraint of the people in the room!

I asked a question around the contribution to the running costs of the hospitals from Powys health board.  Whilst the health board pays for treatment of one of their patients, the hospitals cost money whether they’re used or not – how much is Powys health board contributing to the running costs of the hospitals and the reconfiguration of services?  The answer I got from the CEO is that they’re not contributing to the reconfiguration of services but they provide approximately 10% of patients and about 10% of the hospital trust’s income.  What he didn’t mention, though, was that the patients that come to Shrewsbury do so because their treatment is something that can’t be done in a cottage hospital or GP’s surgery – in other words, they are the expensive treatments.  The current CEO’s predecessor told the Shropshire Star that treating Welsh patients costs the hospitals £2m per year because Powys health board doesn’t pay the going rate for treatment so unless something has changed since 2008, he misled the meeting last night.

The question that got the loudest applause was when one lady – a former nurse – stood up and asked why we are taking Mid-Wales into account when they get a lot more money than we do in England.

Outside the meeting a group of communists were handing out “no more cuts” trades union propaganda.  I handed mine back and reminded them we don’t have any money.  The man walking past me at the time was slightly less polite to them.

In an ideal world we would retain a full range of services at both hospitals but there isn’t enough money to pay for them so until the Brits stop using our money to subsidise the celts, we have to accept that there will be cutbacks to our services in England and this proposal – despite being far from ideal – is the best solution for the whole county.

NHS Database: All or Nothing

I arrived home from work this evening to find a letter from the NHS.

This letter was informing me that unless I opt out by the 31st of May, the NHS will create a “summary care record” in their spangly new multi-billion pound database.  The pitch informs me that in the first instance only details of any allergies, bad reactions to medicines and any medication I’m currently on will be included but “other important information such as serious illnesses, long term conditions and/or test results” will be added to the record.

Now I don’t have a problem with the whole NHS knowing that I have an allergy to penicillin, nor do I have a problem with them knowing that I have an inhaler for asthma.  In fact, not only don’t I have a problem with it, I positively welcome that information being available to anyone in the NHS that needs it because if I was taken into hospital for some reason and was unable to speak for myself, it’s important that the medical staff know that I have asthma and that I have an allergy to penicillin.

It makes sense that a serious illness should be on the record but if I’m knocked unconscious and taken to hospital, do they need to know that I have arthritis?  If I’d been to the doctors and had a routine blood test, would they need to know?  I don’t think they do and I’m not prepared to give the NHS or any other agency that plugs into the database in the future (and there is very little doubt in my mind that this database will be added to, shared and linked into other databases in the future) permission to record any medical details they see fit about me in a database that’s available to tens of thousands of people in the NHS and beyond.

There is no way to control the amount of information that they record in the “summary care record” – you either agree to nothing or you agree to whatever they decide to put on there and whilst you can view your own record any time you want, you can’t remove anything from it.  If it was possible to choose what type of information was recorded on the “summary care record” I would happily agree to it but as I’m not allowed any control over what goes on it and where it goes I’m going to opt out.

It’s time to do away with BMI and start using common sense

A year and a half ago I wrote about English PCTs weighing and measuring children and sending letters to parents telling them if their child is classed as obese on the fundamentally flawed BMI chart.

Back then I said:

The parents getting the “very overweight” letter will presumably put their child on a diet and the parents getting the “underweight” letter will presumably start trying to fatten their kids up.  Both sets of parents, you would hope, will be fretting over the health of their child.

But what if the BMI is wrong and the child isn’t obese or underweight but is a perfectly healthy child that simply has a large or small frame?

Too much faith is put in statistics and arbitrary scales and targets and not enough in common sense.

Mrs Sane showed me an article in Reveal magazine today about a woman whose daughter was weighed and measured and then a letter was sent to her to tell her that her daughter was obese.  She isn’t obese, she’s normal and one of four children, none of which have problems with their weight.  But because she was 1lb over the “normal” weight for an “average” child with an “average” build her mother got a letter telling her her daughter was obese and therefore at increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type two diabetes and cancer.

Luckily for the young girl in question – who, from the photos, looks perfectly healthy – her mother didn’t believe a word of it and has kicked off instead.  But like I said a year and a half ago, what about the parents that get the letter and inappropriately start to fatten up their child or put them on a diet?

It’s time to do away the BMI scale and start using some common sense before we end up with a generation of children pushed into an obsession with weight and body image by British government propaganda.

British government selling swine flu vaccines

The British government has started making plans to off-load millions of swine flu vaccines it bought during the swine flu hysteria last year.

As expected, swine flu has proven to be less of a problem than seasonal flu and the third wave predicted by the “experts” and the pharmaceutical companies has failed to materialised.

There are now less than 5,000 in England with swine flu and only 360 deaths caused by swine flu were recorded in the UK.  Seasonal flu kills about 4,000 a year.

All of the deaths could have been avoided if the British government had closed our borders before swine flu had hit these shores but No Mandate Brown saw it as an opportunity to look like a capable leader, the prime minister that saved us from certain death from a modern day plague.

When El Gordo sold off our gold reserves he announced the sale well in advance and depressed the market so badly that the price of gold halved by the time he sold it, losing the taxpayer billions.  Let’s hope the same doesn’t happen with the swine flu vaccines.

Who cares?

Yesterday was National Carers Day and BBC Radio Shropshire marked it with features throughout the day.

One of the features was about an announcement of a new scheme for elderly carers.  More money and support is to be given to elderly carers who need their partners to have respite care.  This annoyed me.

My father-in-law has a rare degenerative disease called superficial siderosis.  As of 2006, there were only 270 reported cases of superficial siderosis and nobody knows what the long term prognosis is other than it won’t get any better.

So how does it feel to be a carer for someone who is disabled, has to be pushed around outside in a wheelchair, is deaf, has no short-term memory and doesn’t feel pain?  My mother-in-law is my father-in-law’s full time carer and it’s pretty damn stressful, not to mention tiring.

My father-in-law used to get respite care in Telford but the care home decided – understandably – that they would rather rent out the only room they had for middle aged disabled people to the council for OAPs for £600 a week rather than leave it empty for 3 weeks a month.  But as this was the only room of its kind in the borough (population 160,000) this means that my father-in-law now has to go to Oswestry, on the Welsh border, for respite.

Telford & Wrekin Council isn’t entirely to blame but they certainly aren’t blameless.  They haven’t invested in respite care for middle aged people but it wouldn’t be such a problem if it wasn’t for bloody stupid British government regulations that insist on care homes in England segregating their buildings based on age groups.

My father-in-law was, until recently, taken to the gym for an hour and a half every week by the council’s Social Inclusion Team.  But a few weeks ago they decided that they wanted paying £38 every time they took him.  They can’t afford it so the council offered to do it for £17 a time.  They still can’t afford it (their household income consists of disability living allowance, carers allowance and a wage for a few hours of work that my mother-in-law does) so they won’t take him.

He goes to a day care centre for a few hours a couple of days a week where they do group activities – it’s the only chance he gets to socialise with people outside of the familiy.  It costs £9.50 each time he goes but it’s been capped by the British government for years.  The cap is being lifted next year so the price will be going up to an unknown amount.  People who pay privately to go to the day care centre pay £26 a time – if it goes up to £26 he won’t be able to go there either.

If you are young or past pensionable age there are plenty of services available.  I don’t imagine there are enough services to satisfy everybody’s needs but the services available to middle aged people are so sparse that they might as well not exist.

Me and the mother-in-law were interview by BBC Radio Shropshire about it yesterday and it was on the radio this morning.  Click here to get the Eric Smith show on the iPlayer.  Skip forward to 06:40 to hear the mother-in-law talking to the reporter and 59:44 for my comments in the news.

Swine Flu vaccinations start next week

A swine flu vaccine is apparently going to be available from next week on the NHS after being fast-tracked through the European Empire’s approval process.

Since the kids have gone back to school the number of cases has started going back up – as it was predicted to do – but there still haven’t been many deaths.

Swine flu isn’t a nice thing to have and ultimately, of course, it can kill.  But so does normal flu and normal flu will kill more people this winter than swine flu has all year so why is there such an emphasis on preventing swine flu when getting a flu jab in the last few years has been quite a challenge for a lot of people who are in the at-risk bracket?

This swine flu vaccine will be rolled out to medical staff, children and ill people from next week but it hasn’t been tested sufficiently to prove there are no side effects.  In the 1997 swine flu outbreak in America, an untested vaccination was rushed out which ended up killing more people than swine flu did.

With four young children – one with a heart condition – we will shortly have to make the decision as to whether we should get them vaccinated.  What is it they say about food?  If in doubt, throw it out.  I’m inclined to say no and take a chance.

Letters in Shropshire Star

I had a letter published in the Shropshire Star the other day:

Easy way of saving NHS cash in England

With all the talk of cutting services at the Princess Royal Hospital, it is worth bearing in mind a few things.  Firstly, the English NHS has been underspending for the last few years by a considerable amount.

Spending on the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish NHS has increased considerably.  Secondly, the Welsh government refuses to pay the going rate to English hospitals for treating Welsh patients – something that costs the NHS in Shropshire approximately £2m per year.

Thirdly, the Welsh are terrible payers – Oswestry hospital threatened to refuse to treate patients from Powys earlier this year because they wouldn’t pay their bills.  A hospital in Bristol actually went as far as cancelling surgery for Welsh patients this year for the same reason.

The Welsh get free prescriptions and free hospital car parking yet we in England still subsidise their health service thanks to the Barnett Formula.

Why do our MPs allow £20bn a year flow over the border to subsidise spending in the rest of the UK?  Shropshire’s hospitals could raise well over £2m a year by charging Welsh health boards the amount for treating their patients and penalising for overdue payments.

Stuart Parr
Telford

Tonight they printed a reply from another reader …

Rules for English are unfair

I agree with Stuart Parr’s letter (Shropshire Star, October 2).  We English are very unfairly treated under the Barnett formula to the advantage of the other countries in the so-called United Kingdom.

Over the last few years this has become the “dis-united kingdom”.  He asks why our MPs allow this disparity and all I can do is point out again that our Government is heavily Scottish-dominated.  The other countries in the UK all have their own assemblies, but not the English.

The Scottish-dominated government will not even stop the Scottish, Welsh and Ulster MPs from voting on English-only matters in Westminster.

All this is very unfair to the English and even Barnett has stated so, but with the majority of English MPs being Conservative our current government is not going to change anything,

We can only hope to achieve parity after the next election and have our own parliament, or better still get rid of the other money-wasting and expense claiming assemblies.

Graham Burns
Newport

Agree with every word right up until the second half of the last sentence.

Why out-of-hours pharmacies are a dying breed

A Twitter friend re-tweeted a request for information about local pharmacies open on a Sunday evening.  Easy I thought, I’ll pop on t’interweb and get the out of hours pharmacy rota off one of the 5 million websites the NHS runs.

Erm no.  NHS Direct has nothing but a list of pharmacies with normal opening hours and the two local NHS websites that had an out-of-hours pharmacy rota only had rotas up to Easter this year.  With all these admin staff the English NHS employs, you’d think one of them would be able to keep an out-of-hours pharmacy list up-to-date.

But while I was going through the list of pharmacies on the Shropshire NHS website the real reason why there are no pharmacies open on a Sunday evening dawned on me and for once it’s not about NHS funding.  It’s Alistair Darling’s fault.  “How is the Chancellor of the Exchequer to blame for pharmacies not opening on a Sunday evening?” I hear you cry.  Well, it’s quite simple …

A couple of years back Alistair Darling was the Minister for Trade & Industry (an English department of course, he is an MP for a Scottish constituency after all) and was approached by the major supermarkets asking for a repeal of Sunday trading laws in England.  He declined despite there being no Sunday trading laws in Scotland where he was elected.  So what has that got to do with pharmacies?  Take a look at a list of pharmacies in your local area and see how many different names there are on the list.  I doubt there will be more than 9 or 10 in a medium sized town.  Boots, Lloyds, Superdrug, Tesco, Asda … all big chains and all banned from opening for more than 6 hours on a Sunday.  Because they have the buying power they are pricing independent pharmacies out of business and because they are cash rich they can buy up the independent pharmacies they are putting out of business.

If NHS services are going to be farmed off to the private sector then Sunday trading laws need to be repealed because people need access to medical services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Burnham is a prick

Andy Burnham, the British Minister for English Health, has written an open letter to David Camoron calling on him to withdraw the whip from Dan Hannan and any other Tory that criticises the NHS.

What a prize prick.

He rubbishes claims the Tories are the party of the NHS as Camoron claims because Dan Hannan has criticised the NHS.  Apparently “every single MP, MEP and member of the Labour Party endorses the NHS” which is a bold claim to make bearing in mind the fact that he cannot possibly have canvassed the opinions of all MPs, MEPs and Liebour Party members.

He asks if Camoron will ban members of Atlantic Bridge – a transatlantic group of conservatives – from attending the Tory conference because they have criticised the NHS.

He calls on Camoron to demand Tory shadow ministers resign from the Cornerstone Group – a traditionalist, eurosceptic, anti-devolution group in the Conswervative Party – because they described the NHS as stalinist and called for it to be replaced.

I have a few points to make about Burnham’s letter.

Firstly, there is no “the NHS”.  There are four National Health Services in the UK and only the English NHS is under the control of the British.

Secondly, it is perfectly possible for a party to be in favour of something whilst some, or even most, of its members have a different view.  The Tories are a eurofederalist party, for instance, whilst the majority of its MPs and members are eurosceptics.

Thirdly, withdrawing the whip or otherwise punishing an MP or MEP for voicing an opinion that doesn’t concur with the official view of the party is a ridiculous suggestion.  What sort of fascist, anti-democratic autoritarian political party would spouse those sorts of views?  That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.

Fourthly, the suggestion that members of Atlantic Bridge should be banned from the Tory conference for criticising the NHS is pathetic and has nothing to do with their views on the NHS and everything to do with the fact that Atlantic Bridge is a conservative organisation.  If they were socialists, like the Liebour Party used to be, Burnham wouldn’t have mentioned them.

Fifthly, setting aside the fact that it would be morally wrong to insist shadow ministers resign from the anti-socialist Cornerstone Group because they think the NHS is stalinist and needs replacing, wanting to replace the National Health Services doesn’t mean they oppose them, it means they want to replace them.  The clue is in the word “replace”, which doesn’t mean “abolish”.

Sixthly – and finally – if you’re going to criticise the Tories then at least do it for genuine reasons, of which there are plenty.  Criticise them for being anti-English or eurofederalists.  Criticise them for being socialists in blue ties or for being vague and evasive on policy.  It will mean being hypocritical but that shouldn’t be a problem for a Liebour minister.

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Is Gordon Brown responsible for swine flu panic?

I went to the doctors this morning because of an irritating bad chest I’ve had for weeks and while I was there I asked him about the swine flu vaccinations and whether they have a list of at-risk patients already (#2 has a heart condition so I’m naturally interested to know).  He said they do have a list of people who are high risk, #2 is low risk with his heart condition as it’s not chronic but as a young child he’ll be one of the first to be offered the vaccine.

Interestingly and perhaps a little unsurprisingly, he said they were being inundated with calls about swine flu and the majority of the calls were from people anxious about swine flu or convinced they had it when they didn’t.  This is presumably why I got an engaged tone for 15 minutes this morning trying to get an appointment.  Does it help that the British government has told the general public that up to 65k people could die from swine flu?  In his opinion it wasn’t the best move, let’s just leave it at that.

The thing is, for the amount of people who have contracted swine flu, the number of deaths has been low.  Lower than you would expect with seasonal flu.  Yes, swine flu is spreading round the population faster than seasonal flu but that’s because we don’t have an immunity to it.  Having said that, Europeans seem to have a better natural defence to swine flu than Americans which would suggest that it may be something we’ve had here before.  Tens of thousands of people already have immunity to swine flu by virtue of having contracted it in the last couple of months.  By the end of the year, if all goes to plan, the whole population will be offered a vaccine.

So why the panic?  Why are the NHS (or, more properly, the British government) putting out information that’s causing panic?  We’re in an era of unprecedented access to information, it’s possible to lay your hands on more information about virtually anything from your living room than ever before.  This is the first major domestic public health problem we’ve had since most of the population got access to Google so perhaps the British government is thinking that the best way to satisfy peoples’ thirst for information is to give it to them, warts and all.  Or perhaps not …

There is a theory (you might call it a conspiracy theory) which quite a few people have arrived at that the Prime Mentalist is behind this.  Not that he has unleashed a swine flu virus created in a secret laboratory in a disused tube station (although I bet you could find someone who thinks that) but that he has presided over mismanagement of the epidemic to give him a crisis that he can use to increase his popularity and stop talk of an election.  How could we have an election in the middle of a swine flu pandemic?  Think of the public health risks.  Think of the disruption when we’re in the middle of a potentially disasterous flu epidemic.  How could you call an election under such circumstances and claim to have the interests of the country at heart?

And, of course, there is the vaccine.  The UK is the only country in the world to order enough vaccine for the whole population.  If and when the vaccine materialises – and assuming it doesn’t kill more people than swine flu does like the vaccine the Americans used in 1976 – then El Gordo will have been the Prime Minister that saved us all from the killer flu that would have killed up to 65k people but for his intervention.

The theory that he has allowed swine flu to take hold and spread scare stories in the media just so he can avoid an election and look good when it fails to wipe out half the population hinges on whether El Gordo’s insanity is so pronounced that he would sacrifice the lives of hundreds of people for personal gain.  I’m quite prepared to believe that he would do it, the only question for me is whether he will get caught out.

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