On the trail…
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…with the March for the NHS A few shots from another wonderful gathering arranged by the People’s Vote for the NHS. It was held in Nottingham on March 28th, with a large crowd marching from the Forest Recreation Ground into the Market Square, where a host of great speakers including organiser Rehan Azam, Green Party PPC Lydia Davies-Bright, local nurse Lisa Clarke and others addressed the crowd.  

Number crunching…

100 business leaders, including Tory donors and supporters, put their name to an ‘open letter’ endorsing Tory policies – welcomed as a triumph by the party. 400 medical professionals write an open letter in 2011 urging the government not to proceed with the Health and Social Care Bill, saying it will do “irreparable harm to the NHS” – completely ignored.   Here’s the letter, and the list in full: Health Bill concerns (04.11.2011) SIR – As public health doctors and specialists, we are concerned about the Health and Social Care Bill. The Bill will do irreparable harm to the NHS, to individual patients and to society as a whole. It ushers in a degree of marketisation and commercialisation that will fragment patient care; aggravate risks to individual patient safety; erode medical ethics and trust within the health system; widen health inequalities; waste much money on attempts to regulate and manage competition; and undermine the ability of the health system to respond effectively to communicable disease outbreaks and other public health emergencies. While we welcome the emphasis placed on establishing a closer working relationship between public health and local government, the proposed reforms will disrupt, fragment and weaken the country’s public health capabilities.

NHS: the hard questions
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…If the Today programme won’t ask the difficult questions about the NHS, I will When David Cameron woke up this morning, surely he must have had a little tingle of nerves about his appearance on the Today show. On the NHS alone, his record as PM has left enough questions to fill the whole three hour show; surely a short sharp burst from Sarah Montague was going to be an excruciating experience. Today’s researchers had plenty to choose from. For years, long before that insidious document, the Health and Social Care Act was enforced on the system, alarm bells have been ringing. The BMA, the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Royal College of Nursing, countless doctors, nurses, academics, public policy experts, unions, campaigners – in the interests of word count I’ll leave it there – have been warning, no pleading with the government to change course, and for the public to wake up to the ominous reality of what the Act means. But to Hell with what they think. Without even acknowledging a word of it, the only person our Prime Minister chose to quote today was Simon Stevens – a private healthcare man charged with reforming the public NHS. Of course, this is hardly a surprise. Cameron isn’t likely to quote the medical professionals who actually have to carry out the work (unlike me, see below). When you’re lead around by Oliver Letwin, the author of public-service destruction manual ‘Privatising the World‘, you’re not […]

Antibes & Juan les Pines
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It’s the schizophrenic nature of my existence as a freelance journalist that I find myself one day covering the world’s largest real estate exhibition in Cannes, the next walking along the ancient stone walls of Antibes, only 12 minutes away by chugger train but in an utterly different world. I had arrived filled with a sort of neurotic momentum. That forced pace that always builds up during a week of tearing around the miles of temporarily-carpeted drags between the row upon row of neon stands of the Palais des Festivales in Cannes.   – But the further I walked through the still stones and flowered walls of Antibes, the slower I walked. My frequency changed. I could physically feel my muscles and my mind untangle with every step I took through the Old Town. With tired eyes I took in all the new colours and gentle light from the bouquets and ornaments that twinkle on the pale beige walls and wooden doors along the narrow rues and alleyways. After a little while I turned some little corner, somewhere around the Musee Picasso, and found myself face-to-face with a Spitfire-grey Mediterranean Sea. I’d allowed myself a few glances out over the previous six days, but somehow between the masts of multi-million Pound yachts dolled-up with corporate banners, and an ocean of ruddy-cheeked middle-aged men in suits braying to each other over the sound of Euro-pop, the Mediterranean doesn’t seem quite so idyllic, or natural even. This time it felt much more […]

NHS Reinstatement Bill
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A new Bill plots the way back for the NHS – but it’s not Labour who are behind it First published in the New Statesman on Wednesday March 11th Later today, in the dusk of this parliament, a new Bill will get its first and perhaps only reading in the Commons. It’s unlikely to set pulses racing in any of the main party machines, but in certain circles the NHS Bill [3] represents the last ditch to save a dying public service. It is the result of three years of patient work led by two leading public health experts, Professor Allyson Pollock and Peter Roderick of the Centre for Primary Care and Public Health at Queen Mary, University of London. In the bill, they say, lies a trail of breadcrumbs to take us back to a different era. A time before the Health and Social Care Act; before the NHS was such fertile ground for profiteers. A time when money allocated for patient care wasn’t routinely squandered on futile bidding wars, failed private experiments, a contrived internal market and debilitating PFI repayments. “We’ve been working on this ever since the Health and Social Care Act came in,” says Allyson Pollock, speaking to me earlier this week. “We knew this time would come. What we’ve got in the Health and Social Care Act is a destructive reorganisation which has started the breakup of the NHS. “If we don’t bring in legislation then privatisation and the breakup of the service will continue; […]

In Pictures: Lace Market, Nottingham
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In Pictures: Hockley, Nottingham
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ONE TOUCH OF NATURE
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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?
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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
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Medical politics in 2014
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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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[Show slideshow]

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

In pictures: Belfast
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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
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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
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…before our eyes. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/01/nhs-privatisation-experiment-unravelling-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
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lies far beyond the wards… http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/01/real-root-ae-crisis-lies-far-beyond-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 […]