Thursday, 28 February 2008

Huge rise in C-Difficile Deaths

The Office of National Statistics has published a report this morning showing that between 2005 and 2006 the number of death certificates which mentioned the infection rose by 72% to 6,480, most of which were elderly people. In over half of cases, it was listed as the underlying cause of death.

Those who use Maidstone Hospital or live nearby will not be surprised by these figures. And nor will the hard working nursing staff who have to work within affected wards.

Nursing Times recently reported that nurses were fed up with being blamed for the growth in diseases when they were being told to meet Government targets instead of concentrate on care. Hilary Bulmer, a ward manager at the Kent trust, said: ‘As a nurse you’re always focused on patients but our [former] trust management were more focused on money and targets’. Colleague and acting ward manager Louise Todd said that the Healthcare Commission’s report, which was published in October, supported her view that the trust had lost sight of patient care.
‘It was a realisation that patients are not commodities from M&S or Tesco – they’re someone’s mother or brother or lover in those beds,’ she said. ‘I think that’s what we’d lost sight of, because we were being run in a business-like way.’

I think Nurse Todd’s comments are absolutely spot on. It is time to start giving patients the care they need in the environment they need it in, not that determined by someone armed with spreadsheets and a calculator in Westminster.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

A jam packed weekend

Phew! What a jam packed weekend.

It started in Snodland with more canvassing in the town council by-election. I met some really interesting people on the doorstep including a new couple who had just moved into the area and were very impressed to see the Conservatives out on a Saturday morning, and a farmer who was, to say the least, less than impressed with the farming minister! After which I headed over to Wouldham for a quick meeting with a resident before going up to Burham to help with the delivery of my latest newsletter. A spot of lunch in Eccles and then up to the office for another meeting. Down to my sister’s to handover some t-shirts for the kids from Madrid (my niece’s looked lovely over her flashing tinkerbell dress!!!) before jumping back in the car to Rainham Mark Social Club for a disco in celebration of Meridian Girls Football Club receiving the Charter Standard, the highest award for a grassroot football club. The music was too loud and the girls too cool so I wimped out early and read all the newspapers – it was good to see that the Telegraph has reported what we all knew: alcohol-related crime has risen.

Today I went to Sittingbourne to watch the girls lose, despite playing quite well at times – and given some were still at the disco until 11 they were surprisingly full of beans! Then back in the car and off to the pub to meet fellow Tottenham supporting friends for the Carling Cup Final (which I won’t write about here because I won’t be able to contain my happiness!).

Another busy, yet fulfilling weekend.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

The cost of childcare

I declare an interest: my sister is a childminder. As well as her own 3 children, she minds another 6 or so before and after school and my admiration for her is shared by Ofsted who recently rated her “outstanding”.

She will no doubt be horrified to learn that Ofsted intends to increase its registration fees from £15 to £103, as will the millions of parents who rely on after school care for their children and who will no doubt have the increase passed on to them. It is estimated that fees will rise between 190 and 2,150 per cent in the next 3 years!

A letter from the leading children’s charities in today’s Times newspaper points out the obvious consequence of this proposal: childcare businesses will potentially be forced to close, or they will have to push up prices. The other possible outcome is that childminders will end up breaking the law because they cannot afford the registration fee and if you are in a low income area feel you cannot raise your prices.

This isn’t exactly the family friendly proposals promised by Labour at the last election – at least now those parents who need help looking after their children so they can work and pay the taxes which have helped nationalise Northern Rock finally know the truth about this Government.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Things that make you go ARGH

Sometimes I read or hear a news headline and just have to yell “argh” in response – and this weekend it has happened twice! Yesterday it was the ridiculous suggestion from the Government’s Health Minister to get rid of the single GP surgery and instead use “polyclinics” – an idea that has rightly been accused by the BMA as being very “London-centric”.

Today it is the unbelievably stupid suggestion that oral tests could be dropped from language GCSEs because they are too stressful!! How can you get a GCSE qualification in a language if you can’t prove you can speak it? I am shaking my head in disbelief as I write…not least because I am constantly ashamed about how badly we Brits speak foreign languages as it is. When I go abroad I always try and learn at least ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and will buy a phrase book so that I can attempt to order food and drink – even if I am reading it. Most of the time the waiters or train ticket sellers or shop staff can speak English so often the embarrassment of mis-pronunciation is avoided. But when foreign travellers come here do we help them ask for directions or order a burger by speaking their language? Never! And nor will we if these stupid proposals are implemented. A 15 minute oral test might be stressful but boy how grateful will you be later on it life when you can order yourself something to eat and drink when you are lost, tired and hungry in a foreign land. Can someone please bring some common sense back into our education system?

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Chanting for Chatham Town

After a morning of canvassing in a cold but sunny Snodland, I headed up to Maidstone Road to watch Chatham Town FC take on Whyteleafe. I have never been to the club before so was thrilled to learn that they were established in the same year as my own beloved club Tottenham, and despite being in the Ryman League have won a few honours over the years. I was also pleased to meet Jeff, the Chairman of the Club, and Peter, the Secretary, and was given hot coffee and biscuits at half time – a very welcome treat given how cold it was. Sadly the result wasn’t as good as the hospitality and the team lost 2 nil. But still it was an excellent display of local talent and I shall certainly be going to watch them again soon.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Did I “have a go”? No – I was too scared.

Something deeply unsettling happened last night.

After a long and busy day in the office I gathered my bags and headed home to cook a romantic 3 course meal to celebrate Valentines Day. As I slumped into my seat on the train, my mind still buzzing with work, two teenage lads got on the train. They sat down opposite me with their uniform tracksuit trousers and hooded tops and started chatting to each other in a foreign language I didn’t recognise. About 5 minutes into the journey they started to play some loud rap music from their mobile phones disturbing the whole carriage.

Now I am like most people and don’t really talk on the train and on the occasions when my colleague travels in the same direction as me she delights in loud conversation on totally bizarre topics just because she knows it makes me cringe! However I am also no shrinking violet and when on a recent journey on the tube, two punks in their 20s or 30s decided to have a cigarette on the train whilst we were being held in a tunnel, I piped up and told them to put it out. On that occasion I was the only person who spoke up and fellow travellers buried their noses in their papers and books but there was no way I was going to sit back and let two idiots put my life at risk!

But did I say anything to these two annoying lads last night? Did anyone? No we all sat there pretending to be deaf to their noise. And why? Well I can’t speak for the whole train but I sat there petrified that if I said anything they’d either verbally or physically attack me with no intervention from other passengers. Or they’d follow me off the train. Or they’d do something else – the sort of things you read about it newspapers after other brave people have stood up to anti-social teenagers. I was actually running scenarios through my head, none of which had a positive outcome and all threatened the perfect picture I had in my head of the evening I was about to enjoy. I looked at one of them once and he stared back so hard that I looked away quickly. Not once did I think if I said “excuse me would you mind not playing your music through the speakers of your mobile phone so all of us can hear it” that they’d actually turn it off and apologise.

So I didn’t say anything and instead had to endure their rap. I resorted to pretending to like it and tapped my fingers and feet in time and in hope that they’d think “oh my god a white girl likes our music, we must be so uncool that we shall turn it off immediately” – it didn’t work.

I came off the train feeling angry and disappointed with myself. Why did I not say something? Because I was scared. How pathetic – they were two kids with a mobile phone. But then maybe I have succumbed to the culture of fear that we all read about – and that makes me feel sad and ashamed.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

A short break

Having not taken any time off over Christmas and the New Year (and thanks to an amazing cheap flight with EasyJet) I managed to take a few days off and head for a long weekend in Madrid. Whilst I didn’t quite “fall in love” with Madrid, as the guide book had promised, it was a lovely city to spend a few days wandering around. We went to the three main art galleries (I don’t want to see another painting for quite a little while), gorged ourselves on tapas, and joined in the celebrations as both Madrid teams won their football matches. I am not sure I would have wanted to spend much more time in the city but when you can fly for as little as £20 each way it is worth a weekend away to recharge the batteries.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Labour Wasting £3000 in Snodland

On Thursday 13th March there will be a local by-election for Snodland Town Council for the first time in over 20 years! This is because for as long as anyone can remember, whenever a Town Councillor resigned, a replacement councillor has been “co-opted”. Such a system was fast, efficient and economical.

When Labour were in control of the Town Council, Conservatives always put party politics aside and agreed to co-opt whichever applicant was best qualified, even if this meant supporting someone from another political party.

However following the recent resignation of a Labour Councillor, and despite other members of the Council wishing to co-opt a suitable replacement, a Labour activist wrote formally to the Borough Council demanding a by-election – the total cost of which will be over £3000.

Every penny of this will by paid for by Snodland residents and would have been completely unnecessary if previous practices had been adopted. This money would undoubtedly have be better spent on cleaning up litter or impoving local services and community facilities.

Of course this is not the first time residents have had to pay for a poll or indeed the first time I have written about Labour wasting Snodland residents’ money. Just before Christmas Labour organised a Town Poll on Parking Charges. 93% of residents did not bother to vote but it still cost the Town Council £2000. Again – money that would be better spent on loal services.

The Town Council is not the place for Party Politics. It should just be about doing what is right for Snodland and best for local people. Unfortunately it appears not everyone agrees.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

More Money for Good Causes

The Conservative Party has today published proposals to “end political interference” in the way lottery funds are distributed to good causes.

The National Lottery was established by John Major’s Government to support non-core areas of government expenditure that are none the less vital for the quality of the nation’s life. Since its establishment the Lottery has raised over £20bn for good causes that would not otherwise have received funding. However, since 1998 the Labour Government has diverted £3.8bn away from the good causes and into areas of Government responsibility.

The reforms could release an additional £182m per year for good causes which could pay for:
*74 swimming pools (25m) OR
*173 athletic tracks (6 lane) OR
*3000 grass football pitches OR
*53 regional theatres OR
*The urgent repair bills for all cathedrals OR
*The urgent repair bills for the 16 most at risk historic houses OR
*Restoring the funding to organisations under threat from Arts Council cuts.

As I rarely win a bean, I would prefer to see any of the above make good use of the profit from my lottery tickets!

Local Authority Ratings

The Audit Commission has today published its star ratings for both Kent County Council and Medway Council. The Commission assesses the performance of authorities and the services that they provide for local people, rates them accordingly which in turn enables authorities to implement improvement programmes where necessary.

Kent was rated four star overall and Medway was rated three star. The full reports can be found HERE and HERE.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Surveillance Society

Alice Miles wrote an excellent column in today’s Times in which she highlights the amount of surveillance ordinary people are under. In particular she notes:

“The nine agencies with the power to intercept letters and phone calls – the security and intelligence services, three police chiefs, Revenue & Customs – have been joined by no fewer than 786 other organisations, which, since 2004, have been allowed to ask for communications data such as the identities of whom we phone or write to, and the internet sites we visit. These organisations include all local authorities, police forces, prisons and other bodies such as the Financial Services Authority, Ambulance Service and Independent Police Complaints Commission.

In the last nine months of 2006 these bodies made 253,557 requests for data from personal communications for purposes ranging from protecting public health to collecting tax, or in the interests of public safety or “the economic wellbeing of the United Kingdom”. Which could cover pretty much anything. More than 1,000 mistaken interceptions were made; nearly 4,000 the previous year.

In the same period, the Home Secretary authorised 1,333 warrants to intercept telephone calls or letters. And about 350 bugs were placed by police and Revenue & Customs in the year from March 2006-07.”

Gordon Brown tried to mock Nick Clegg, the Liberal Leader, when he raised this in the Commons today by suggesting that merely by asking the question Clegg was against CCTV. This is not about CCTV, an essential tool for fighting crime. This is about Big Brother – and it has gone too far.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Leaving the UK

I went out with colleagues in Snodland this morning and I was sad to come across 2 people who wanted to leave the UK because they were “fed up with everything”. What disappoints me most is that this not the first time I have heard this on the doorsteps. People are becoming increasingly disillusioned with this Government and what was said to me this morning, and indeed before, is that they’ve worked hard, paid their taxes and feel that they get nothing in return. Two other people said to me today that they feel that the Government are completely bullied by Brussels and “unlike the French never stand up to Europe” and one of the chaps who said he was going to leave said the final straw came when he heard the patriotism was no longer going to be taught in schools any more. I sympathise with them. This Government is weak. It capitulates to Brussels all the time and we never say no to anything. I can understand why people are so fed up but I hope that they are still around at the next election so they can hit the Government where it really hurts – at the polling station.

Paper making

Yesterday I went on a tour of the mill at Aylesford Newsprint and was absolutely fascinated by what I saw. Thinking back over the years as a consultant to many companies I haved toured a dog food factory, a chocolate factory, a salt extraction factory, and a sewage treatment plant but what I saw yesterday was amazing. The first thing you notice as you walk from the car park to reception is how quiet it is – as I walked past a pond two rabbits were merrily nibbling away on the grass completely oblivious to the huge warehouses behind them.

I am real geek when I visit places like this. I love learning about processes I never knew existed and yesterday was no exception. As I went around the Mill I learnt so much about the recycling process mainly because of the professional approach to the tour – you literally start by watching the kerbside recycling lorries dump the magazines and papers you put in your blue box and walk through the same journey they make ending up as reels of paper heading back to the printers. Literally hundreds of thousands of miles of recycled paper is made in Aylesford and as I saw it put into lorries for transportation to clients there is a jolly good chance you’ll be reading a newspaper which was made at the Mill tomorrow. And you can take comfort in the fact that it is all made in strict accordance with key environmental objectives.