What’s wrong with Special?

All the Same

© Alexey Lisovoy | Dreamstime.com

I’m at a loss to explain it…why is this government working so hard to eliminate anything that is different?  Same old, same old, seems to be their template for the future.

Once we Britons were known for our originality, if not eccentricity, and we provided the World with thousands of innovative inventions that have shaped everyone’s lives.  We’ve always celebrated “the different”… be that people or things…and these islands have always been home to the special, the unusual and the anomalous.

Now “anomaly” is spoken of as equal to wrong or unfair…something that must be wiped out or at least ignored.  It is becoming “the norm” for Government to seek out and dispose of anomalies.  As evidence I cite:

The Pasty Tax – said to remove an anomaly in the application of VAT on hot food but which puts up the price of the workers’ lunch.

The Heritage Tax – the chancellor says this will avoid the anomaly of not having VAT on repairs to old buildings, but zero tax encourages the owners of listed buildings to keep them serviceable for the Nation.

The Abolition of the 50% tax rate – the chancellor believes that everyone should have the same top rate.

I suppose these instances have highlighted the current trend to make everything the same…and the Government would probably argue, make things fairer…but then a state where everyone is the same and there is nothing worth striving for is surely the life of a drone?

This is not a new situation, though…just look at the way we run junior school sports days (no winners or losers), allocate university places (by quota) and fill jobs (by quota).  We are on the road to everything of equal value…and with it…mediocrity.

NHS Bill – the devil’s in the detail

Last month I commented that the NHS Bill risked losing hearts and minds and drew some parallels with the way differences of opinion on NHS reforms have been handled in the past, that is, by just ignoring them. Well, the reality is now upon us and whether we like or not, the thing is signed.

Many of the arguments against the Bill have been deeply emotive with health sector groups denouncing the Bill with evangelistic fervour…an ideal scenario if you want to dilute and detract from the smaller voices warning that the Bill is privatising health care by the back door. If you’re wondering whether this is the case or whether I am just scaremongering, then maybe it’s worth considering that this Bill has been ushered hastily through at a time when surveys show record levels of satisfaction with the NHS.
Being a “business person”, you’d think I would see the sense in privatisation and in most markets I can, but how can directors of private companies put patients first when their statutory duty is to put shareholders first?

These questions are the ones that generate a most unhealthy response in me:

  • Once hospitals are forced to take the Foundation route, they become independent of government and subject to GATT rules (showing my age) and EU competition. What will happen to them should they start to fail?
  • What will happen to the supply contracts currently in place with NHS orgainisations that are being scrapped? We’re talking about everything from cleaning to catering to IT and building maintenance. Will they be novated?…or worse, who’s left to manage the suppliers?
  • Even before the bill was passed, we had an example in Hounslow where the new GP consortium has appointed a multi-billion dollar American company to vet patient referrals according to a set of rules. How is this improving patient choice?
  • What happens when GPs start running out of money to commission services? If I should suddenly get ill in March, would I have to wait until the new financial year in April until I get hospital treatment?
  • Where will the 1 million staff work whose jobs are set to be privatised by 2014?
    Most patients do not see GP practices as private sector organisations, but they are, and at least in the past we have had referrals to hospital staff to provide treatment for the patient independent of profit considerations.

This Bill will take that safeguard away…and personally I would rather be treated by an NHS not-for-profit organisation than a “multi-billion dollar American company”.

NHS Reform – follow the money

follow the money

© Photographer Juha Tuomi Agency: Dreamstime.com

The Government’s NHS Bill is causing more unrest than any other bill I can remember…and yet it appears that it’s being pushed through far too quickly for something as important as this, leaving outsiders and insiders alike feeling railroaded.

The recorded aims of the Bill is to: create an Independent NHS Board; promote patient choice; and reduce NHS costs seem reasonable; so what’s going wrong?

Firstly, Mr Lansley’s approach to consultation has yet again got stakeholders’ backs up.  The Government seems to have learned nothing from the last major upheaval following the formation of the NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT) in April 2005.  By August of that year, health sector bodies were complaining about the lack of consultation, an issue which dogged the life of the Programme and made every change unpopular with front line staff regardless of its expected benefits.

And now history is repeating itself…the latest news is that David Cameron has organised a summit with healthcare professionals to discuss how to implement the reforms excluding his critics.  Press reports say that some of the Royal Colleges such as the Royal College of General Practitioners have been excluded.

In life, most successful people learn that it is better to engage with their dissenters and work through the issues patiently and methodically…or face challenge at every step.  Half-hearted attempts to “listen” won’t cut it, especially where an institution as precious as the NHS is concerned.

The Government have already had one “pause for thought” and are saying that they are not planning a second indicating that they will be pressing on with what seems to be the most unpopular reform to hit the NHS…even in the light of an e-petition on the government website attaining 120,000 signatories calling for the bill to be dropped.

Secondly, what are we all missing in the small print?  I have been hearing the arguments for and against, but I am now beginning to feel uneasy enough to see for myself.  I thought I’d have my own reading of the Bill, which seemed like a good idea, except that the bill has over 350 pages, containing over 280 clauses.  Not many people will have read the Bill and I doubt whether those voting on it will have put in the time and effort to understand the consequences of its reforms.

My suspicions have increased…in situations like this my key thought is “follow the money”…who will be benefiting financially from this? Is that why it needs to be so complicated?

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be reporting on my findings.

Watch this space.

The Nasty…Party?


© Photographer Iva Villi
Agency: Dreamstime.com

Something’s been bothering me over the last few weeks…something I couldn’t quite put my finger on…until last Saturday night.

I was jigging along with the rest of the crowd singing along to Kaiser Chiefs’ “The Angry Mob”, when I had a light bulb moment.

The Country is in dire straits, people are feeling the pinch, unemployment is high, prices are rising, housing is slumped and it all seems a bit too much for most people, me included…but it’s the way we deal with it that I believe is starting to divide the Country.

There seems to me to be worryingly large groups of people in the UK who are responding to the pressure by saying “if I can’t have it, why should they“.

  • Street gangs – last August, looting shops, burning homes, wrecking livelihoods.
  • Hester’s bonus – pressured to give up payment he’d been promised for doing his job.
  • Sir Fred’s knighthood – the first knighthood removed without evidence of a criminal offence.
  • Bankers’ generally – demonised as a whole because they are seen as highly paid individuals.

All evidence of what we are turning to…mob rule.

The mob resents success…is jealous of anyone who seems to “have it”.  It’s called “tall poppy syndrome”…but whatever you call it, it’s nasty.

How can we possibly create jobs in the UK if we can’t attract businesses to set up here?  Who will set up business here if we don’t welcome the successful?  It’s a downward spiral and one we don’t need.

Maybe now I realise that the Kaiser Chiefs attract far too many shaved heads with much too much camouflage clothing, but it was worth it to experience the mob mind…the anger was palpable.

In the words of the Chiefs, “We like who we like, We hate who we hate, But we’re also easily swayed”.

Catch ’em Early

Catch 'em EarlyStatistics in the news show that 1 in 5 young people are NEETs (Not in Employment Education or Training).

What a waste of money, talent and…well, life really.  For if you believe as I do that gainful, engaging employment is essential to a person’s physical and mental wellbeing then this is a dreadful situation for anyone to be in.  It’s damaging to the individual’s self-esteem and detrimental to society as a whole.

I also believe that the wave of unemployable teenagers we are now seeing, is as a result of the way we prepare them for their working life…or don’t.  Formal education is obviously a major part of this preparation and one we have consistently tinkered with for the last 30 years.  It’s not achieving that which must surely be our aim…employable people.

While I’m on the subject of preparing them for life, how does shopping as a hobby, celebrity culture and downplaying others’ achievement help?

Even if the Government’s reforms in Education manage to bring the system’s output back in line with what business needs, we will still have this wave of unemployed and unemployable young people to deal with.

I think that anything we can do to shorten the time it takes the next generation to “get up to speed” with life then that is worthwhile…otherwise each new person needs to reinvent the wheel themselves and that is just a waste of the work that has gone before.

After 16 years in education, there used to be the option to carry on or to seek an apprenticeship.  In that way the skills that one human being had learned in their employment were passed on to the up and coming employee.

Thank goodness this approach is again being recognised for the employability it can bring and is now being supported by Government.

I have worked with some amazing young people in entrepreneurs’ groups who have had the self-esteem and confidence to start their own business and have achieved more than I ever could at their age…as a society, we’ve still got it in us.

Pay the Piper


I’m going to jump on the Bank Bonus Bandwagon today and throw in my two pennies’ worth.Stephen Hester has been turned into a scapegoat in the worst way…following the demands of the baying mob representing the British public.

Finance sector pay has always been a glittering prize for the types of people who can do the work against the “City mentality” which is often fickle, crude, cutthroat and sexist…but if the UK finance sector isn’t worth saving, why did Mr Cameron stand up in the EU last month to exclude us from new taxes on financial transactions?

Pay in the sector is in a whole other ballpark compared with the rest of us mere mortals, but that’s what it is and forcing one bank to reduce its staff rewards can only have the effect of reducing the attractiveness of that bank as a place to work.  Perhaps that’s the reasoning…it’s the taxpayers’ bank so let’s turn it into another public sector institution.

I do understand that the sour grapes of the majority of people who don’t earn anywhere near his salary and bonus must taste vile, but I do not agree with his breaking under the pressure.  Think of the £500K the taxman is missing

We attracted him to the job by offering him a market-aware pay package.  The man has done the job he was asked (maybe he wasn’t asked to do enough, but that’s down to the RBS Board), for the payment he was promised and now we don’t want to pay him.

If I was him I’d have taken the pay and then resigned…it would have been interesting to see who would take on the poisoned chalice…and even better if the public got what they deserved in his place.

Who’s going to apply for that job when he leaves?  Someone with a “vocation” to run the taxpayers’ bank?  Well, one thing I will predict is that it won’t be anyone who has a real option to work elsewhere.

It reminds me of the fairy story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.  The villagers were desperate for his services and promised him a pretty penny if he achieved their goals…and when he did the villagers refused to pay him.  The people got their comeuppance in the worst way possible…

Let’s hope it’s just a fairy story.

What would Nye Bevan do?

Concerns over Poly Implant Prostheses (PIP) implants.

The news about Poly Implant Prostheses (PIP) implants has been breaking like waves on the shore over the last few months.  It’s a worrying situation if you happen to be an NHS patient who has had implanted material, but at least the NHS will stand by its responsibilities and offer you treatment if you have concerns that an implant is failing.

As for the people who have chosen to pay for implants, while I wouldn’t want to detract from their concerns the situation is different.  Let’s consider the scenario without the pathos.

If we were talking about, say, a tattoo instead of an implant, both a matter of choice, both carried out by a skilled operative, both using products to enhance a “look”, there is a strong parallel…

…and then let’s imagine that we found out that the ink used could break down in 10% of cases and slowly poison its host…how would we apply the logic?

Firstly, anyone that became ill as a result would still be treated on the NHS.  Anyone who did not become ill would probably still look for someone to sue for damages.  Now that the focus is on “whiplash” scams, it would be an ideal cash cow replacement for the personal injury lawyers.

So, let’s now revert back to the implant clinics who claim they “can’t afford” to compensate the people they have helped to injure.  Where is their surgeons’ Professional Indemnity Insurance?  Why is no one making a claim against it? Why should the Tax Payer foot the bill instead?  If it was a tattoo it wouldn’t even be suggested…

Well, if surgeons do have successful claims made against their PI Insurance, then their premiums would rise enormously to prohibitive levels and they would be unable to practice…is that their fault or should they have an implant approvals body to fall back on?

Funnily enough, we have an option in Wales, the Surgical Materials Testing Laboratory, based in Bridgend will approve medical products, but England has no such approvals agency.

England seems to rely on the European CE marking…pip, pip!

New Year, New NHS Experience

When did we become so surly?I hope your New Year has been less eventful than mine…sort of through the looking glass for me as I moved to the sharp end of the NHS instead of the cloudy world of NHS Spine connectivity.

My Mum had a DVT on Boxing Day and as we sped to hospital with the blue light flashing, I had time to reflect on the service that our software supports.

So far so good. The paramedic and the ambulance crew were excellent, even though they were working under difficult circumstances, it being the “holidays” and all.  With an ambulance headlight out and no maintenance team to fix it…crew working out of their area so no directions for the hospital…skeleton staff only, so we had a team leader attending our call out (this turned out to be a good thing)…we had a smooth passage into NHS land.

The A&E was an eye-opener.  The staff were jogging along, the assessment was soon underway…in fact all surprisingly acceptable considering the regular reports in the Press of poor treatment in hospitals.

The problem I had wasn’t the staff at all…but the patients and their entourages of moaning relatives.  When did our society turn into such a surly, ungrateful bunch?

In the end, I stopped engaging with anyone but medics to avoid, as best as I could, the waves of negativity swirling around the beds and waiting areas …but how on earth does it affect the staff?

I can only assume, from the blank faces, that they cope by turning off any external emotion and therefore any ability to communicate using the interpersonal skills available to them.  No tone of voice, no pace, no smiles, no frowns, guarded eye contact…a kindly bedside manner is out of the question until they work out what you are…a pain or a patient?

…and who can blame them?

The behaviour I saw was often rude and verging on aggressive…one chap was loudly complaining that his 9 am appointment the next day meant he was going to have to get out of bed far too early…the rest were complaining about having to wait, the prescribed treatment, having to smoke outside or not getting a mobile signal…on and on…

Yes, I know people are under stress in a hospital environment, but are we now so self-absorbed that we can’t have empathy with the NHS staff? The people who are trying to help us within the constraints of the resources available to them?

The answer seems to be no, we can’t.

Tale of Two…Extremes

Two news items last week caused me some thought…firstly, expectant mothers are to be allowed elective caesareans on the cash-strapped NHS because women are too scared to give birth naturally in today’s maternity wards and secondly, the Human Rights Commission finds that care of the elderly is abusive.

Two extremes of life and we can’t seem to get it right at either end…

As a society, we are extremely short of “care” and “kindness”. So what’s behind it?

A look at our animal roots could provide an insight which is over simplistic (hopefully)…when resources are scarce, animals isolate the old and restrict births to preserve the strongest in the herd…

Please prove me wrong…random acts of kindness needed urgently.


Welcome to the Anthill

“You’re one in a million” used to be an appreciative term…there’s no-one like you in the world…but times have caught up with us and now the world’s population is likely to hit 7 billion by the time our next MerQury Newsletter hits the internet.

I suppose we aren’t really feeling it much out here in the countryside as most of the birth boom is centred on cities (although 5 of our female staff are pregnant or have new-borns)…and then not much of a boom in Europe anyway. Working in the health sector, you become very aware of the growth in the “aging population” and acutely aware of the strain on all health resources that this brings…as a female in the UK my life expectancy is running at around 81.7 years.

See the BBC site and put in your date of birth to see where you fit in the scheme of things.

I’m around the 2,907,285,744th person to be born and so I am one in 2,907 million…doesn’t have the same ring, does it?