In Pictures: Lace Market, Nottingham
In Pictures: Hockley, Nottingham

DRAUGHTSMEN, expert in floating architecture, sat in their drawing offices and prepared designs for the new great palace of the seas, that was to carry restless comfort-loving people from one world to another. An exquisite little model of the palace was made in wood, with the innumerable plates and rivets marked thereon, from which model, again, a score of detailed plans were made showing each section enlarged. All this employed the well-paid works of scores of clever people but all this was but a prelude to the real thing. The real thing, after this relatively abstract preparation, was the concrete battle with resistant matter. Work of the disciplined hand was to follow labour of directing mind. At once, with formidable din of ringing blow, you may imagine the workshops in the shipyard beginning to hammer upon the hints provided. An army of workmen, a colony of workshops, a population supported upon this! Frames and plates for the gigantic vessel’s sides, plates for the keel which must be “sighted” till its evenness is perfect, riveting of steel frame ribs, staying by cross-girders, a slow building up of the sides of the sea-monster. You see, then, a mighty scaffolding erected by regiments of carefully divided men, each section of them mastering each piece, as the unearthly forest of pine poles rears itself along the length of the building berth. Meanwhile, more men labouring with trained minds and obedient bodies, hour by hour, week by week, proceed with the making of the bulkhead […]

Doctors or scapegoats?
Open Democracy

This article appeared on Open Democracy: Our NHS, on February 10th 2015 Doctors – the new political scapegoat? Benedict Cooper 10 February 2015 The NHS staff crisis and an over-reliance on locums are a result of political, ‘pro-market’ decisions – so why are politicians like Margaret Hodge so keen to blame the doctors themselves for the market they find themselves operating in? When Margaret Hodge was asked, did she blame doctors for the disturbing rise in locum costs, she quoted a consultant who had told her, “life would be easier and he would earn more money if he came off the books”. Doctors, she told the Guardian, are now profiteering from their profession; “choosing to leave the NHS to work on an agency basis at a substantial cost to the NHS”. She had just revealed some grim findings from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) she chairs. The amount spent on locums in 2013/14 rose by 22.9% from the previous year, to £2.6bn. Shocking as this is, it will have been met by zero surprise by anyone close to the front line of medicine today. As will this week’s figures that show an even more alarming spike in agency nursing costs. As you read this, nurses and doctors up and down the country are sweating and straining to make ends meet. Departments, particularly emergency departments, are being squeezed to suffocating point; battle-weary staff are facing burnout, morale is plummeting, recruitment is falling, So what’s going on? As the PAC rightly pointed […]

In Pictures: Clerkenwell
NHS “scaremongerers”?

Over the course of the last 18 months I’ve written extensively about the changes taking place in the NHS. I’ve met with activists, healthcare assistants, academics, doctors, nurses, politicians, union members and concerned campaigners from the public. Whether they are professionals, patients or campaigners, the thing they hold dear between them is a concept, an ideal. That is the preservation of the NHS according to the principles it was founded on in 1948: a public service, for the people, by the people. This government, which has done so much to damage these principles, denies all charges – instead it dismisses the views of the profession, accusing anyone who criticises it as simply scaremongering. So I decided to compile a list of quotes from the “scaremongerers”, and let the people speak for themselves. These are from the people I’ve met and have been so helpful to me, or from public figures using their position to fight to keep the principles alive….   “We’re here for the young, the old and the in-betweeners. We need to speak out; our NHS is in dire straits. It’s in a critical condition”. Jill Mountford, Save Lewisham Hospital campaigner “We must retain this critical public service, and prevent the establishment of a two-tier system, with the best medicine for the wealthy, and an inferior service for the rest.” Stephen Hawking “Section 75 is the legislation that was dropped in that means that all the GPs working their butts off in the CCGs have to put all […]

Medical politics in 2014

2014 was a busy year for me…. Right at the end of 2013 I started covering medical politics, for various publications including the New Statesman and Open Demoncracy. Over the next 12 months I wrote extensively on the Coalition’s reforms of the NHS as they took place, covering everything from the progress of legislation through parliament, the effects of reforms on the front-line, the growing activist movement against these changes, and the gradual morphing, as I see it, from the public system into a private one. The articles I wrote in this 12 month period were shared over 10,000 times on Facebook and Twitter. But the only reason my writing has had any success is that it’s so closely connected to the movement on the ground. As a freelance journalist all of this work has been produced with my own time, energy and organisation. I have spent the last year marching with protestors, attending committees of parliament, building and maintaining relationships with doctors, nurses, politicians, academics, union members and activists. Below is a summary of these article. The work goes on…   THE NHS is in a critical condition. Sixty-six years after it was introduced as a socialised system to, in the words of the leaflet that was sent out to every household in Britain back in the summer of 1948, “ease your money worries in time of illness”, the whole concept and ideology of its founding is being dismantled. Over the past 25 years the NHS has been subtly […]

In Pictures: London Z1

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Captain Smith

“When anyone asks how I can best describe my experience of nearly 40 years at sea, I merely say: uneventful. I never saw a wreck, and have never been wrecked, nor was I in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort. You see, I’m not very good material for a story”. Captain E.J. Smith

tnt magazine: Belfast
Belfast 118

The following article appeared in TNT magazine in the February 2015 edition; my photos of Belfast can be found here.

In pictures: Belfast
Belfast 149

I took a trip to Belfast in January, to write a feature for TNT Magazine (due to be published in February). Here are some of the pictures I took, of the city centre, the Peace Walls, the Harland & Wolff docks where Titanic was built and a few other sights to be found wandering around this wonderful place..   [Show slideshow] 12►

In pictures: Hoxton Street

Fifty metres back from the trendified beardified playgrounds of Hoxton and Shoreditch lies a funny little place that hipsterdom has mercifully forgotten.  A market stall here, a little cafe there, some nice pubs, a couple of convenience stores, a funeral parlour and a few splashes of more unusual colour, Hoxton Street is somehow utterly down to earth but unselfconsciously vital. It’s a unique bubble; it feels like a normal place where normal people live and work. In a city of self-conscious style and early adoption, it’s a cheery trip down normality lane.

Privatisation is unravelling

…before our eyes. As Circle Holdings, the first private firm to manage an NHS hospital, looks to leaving its contract, we have a depressing example of how privatisation can go badly wrong. Hinchingbrooke Hospital is to lose the private firm that runs it. Photo: YouTube screengrab What a difference (less than) a year makes. In a press release back in February last year [3], private healthcare company Circle Holdings spun that it had, “transformed services at Hinchingbrooke”. The hospital, it boasted, “is now secure for the future”. Which would make the news today that it was walking away two years into a 10-year contract to run Hinchingbrooke – the UK’s only privately-run NHS hospital – a shock, were it not for the sheer, abject predictability of it. The fact that Circle is dumping the contract on financial grounds, citing a lack of funding and pressure on the casualty department, is certainly no surprise to many, not least the National Health Action Party founding member and Save Lewisham Hospital veteran Dr Louise Irvine. She says: “This is exactly what we warned and predicted would happen and illustrates the folly of private sector involvement in our NHS. When the going gets tough, the private sector gets going – and dumps NHS patients. The privatisation experiment has lamentably failed”. It isn’t unexpected, not least because in September last year, when Health Service Journal obtained a damning report by the Care Quality Commission [4] (CQC) in which a litany of shocking failings were revealed, the writing was […]

The root of the A&E crisis

lies far beyond the wards… How restful it must be to be Jeremy Hunt. Lesser health secretaries would regard the NHS’ worst ever A&E performance [3] happening on their watch as a damning indictment. More insecure an operator might take the calling of an urgent summit [4] to discuss the unfolding crisis as a sobering reflection on their own ability. Perish the thought. Outcry from Labour over the alarming figures is merely “an example of the politicisation of the NHS that people find so distressing,” he said, during an urgent question session called today by Labour in the hope of prising some answers from him. Since the figures were published yesterday the Tories have done everything but accept them for the depressing landmark they are. They have continuously blamed unprecedented demand from an ageing population for the surge, combined with the traditional winter spike in admissions. Before we go any further, it’s worth pointing out that A&E attendance in England was actually higher over the summer than the “unprecedented demand” in December [5] that has led to this crisis. But let’s leave that to one side. Even accepting that overall admissions are increasing, it’s facile of Hunt to blame increasing demand on an ageing population alone. Accident and emergency is not an island, entire of itself. Cut the wider social and welfare system, squeeze GPs, and enforce a hugely wasteful internal market [6] – as this government has done compulsively – and A&E figures will go up, hospitals will […]

Black Friday at John Lewis
RW Logo

I took a tour of John Lewis’s main distribution centre on the busiest day of the year: Black Friday. This article appeared in Retail Week (paywall) magazine later that day… How John Lewis prepared for the Black Friday rush By the end of this week 30 tonnes of cardboard boxes will have made their way in and out of John Lewis’s distribution centre at Magna Park. That is more than double the usual weekly amount. That is because of Black Friday, which this year has seen bargain-hunting reach fever pitch in shops up and down the country and ecommerce sites jammed with traffic. Well behind the scenes, John Lewis director of national distribution centre operations Terry Murphy is having a busy day at Magna Park in Milton Keynes. With regular updates from head office on everything from John Lewis’s web sales and traffic, the latest from the pricematch team, and even snippets of info about problems on rival retailers’ sites, there’s a lot for him to think about. “We will send out at least 120,000 units today just for online orders,” he says. “It could be as much as 130,000”. With another 250,000 items going out to stores on Friday alone, it’s a massive operation. Friday was the first day this year that the centre has been fully manned, with extra and longer shifts laid on, agency staff and temporary staff drafted in. Murphy admits that he was expecting something of a lull around 9am, down from the 6am to […]

In pictures: Bordeaux

In September I spent a blissful few days in Bordeaux, exploring this gorgeous town by myself with a notebook and camera in hand. Here’s the article I wrote for TNT Magazine, and below are some of the pictures I took…  

The marketisation myth

  NHS reform and the hollow marketisation myth A metamorphosis is taking place; a mutation of the NHS from a public service into a lucrative marketplace. by Benedict Cooper [2] Published 30 October, 2014 – 11:42 When the chief executive of NHS England produces a 39-page, 15,000-word rescue plan [3] for the health service that, a senior doctor later told me, “doesn’t even mention the real problem in the system”, you know something is up. Not that it’s any great surprise. Simon Stevens isn’t likely to agree with my source that the real problem in the NHS is a prevailing ideological dogma that “private is good and public is bad” among top brass, nor that the aggressive marketisation programme currently underway is all based on a myth. The private healthcare man turned NHS-saviour has only been in his post for seven months after 10 years at global giant United Health Group, and old habits die hard. But the real paradox at the heart of Stevens’ five-year plan is that he calls for ruthless efficiencies and then turns a blind eye to the sort of “grotesque financial waste” that consultant clinical oncologist and National Health Action Party [4] (NHAP) co-leader Clive Peedell says is crippling the system. Peedell says: “Wasteful internal markets, commissioning support units, management consultancy fees, the cost of procurement of clinical services, profit-taking by private providers, the cost of fragmenting pathways due to outsourcing components to private contractors, and PFI deals bankrupting our hospitals; they are draining billions from frontline care in our NHS”. A metamorphosis is taking place; a mutation of the NHS from a public service into a lucrative marketplace. None of this is particularly new – but since the Health and Social Care Act kicked in two years ago, trusts have […]

March for the NHS

“NHS principles aren’t intact”: how the public is trying to protect its health service This conference season, all parties have announced new plans to save the NHS; but how do those members of the public trying to protect their health service feel? by Benedict Cooper Published 9 October, 2014 – 12:45   Campaigners march for the NHS. Photo: Getty It had been another grey morning in a long line of dismal August days, and the streets of Nottingham were still wet from the latest summer soaking. I’ll admit, there was a part of me that feared what I might find as I headed out to meet the NHS march. I was afraid of stumbling across a sad, aged version of the legendary 1936 Jarrow Crusade it was honouring; a musty heirloom handed down through generations of waning engagement in politics and activism. I arrived in the centre of Bulwell, on the outer reaches of the city, and joined a small crowd that had already gathered to greet the marchers. By then the dreary clouds were just loosening their grip over the Midlands sky and the sun was starting to flicker through. *** At first it was just a pulsating dot on the horizon. But it kept on coming from around some hidden bend; a trickle, then a stream of people, heading our way. Pretty soon our little huddle was caught up in a flash flood of bustling colour, sound and energy. Campaigners of all stripes filled the square: unions, healthcare […]