Ay up me Dutch!

The fascinating story of the ‘twinning’ between one of Nottingham’s most famous boozers and a wonderful real ale pub in Amsterdam. I wrote it up for Nottingham cultural magazine Left Lion. leftlion.co.uk The Lincolnshire Poacher’s Brother From Another words: Benedict Cooper “Oh! You’re from Nottingham!” the smiling, bearded barman bellowed as he loomed over my table, the tang of some powerful herb tingling my nostrils. “I went to the Poacher last year!” Sitting in an alley on the edge of Amsterdam’s red-light district talking about the Lincolnshire Poacher has a surreal kick to it, especially when you’re getting passively stoned. We all know it’s one of Nottingham’s magic little corners: the huts, the cubby hole, the regulars, the irregulars, the live music tinkling around the yard when the door’s left open on a warm summer night. But these are our dusty little secrets, aren’t they? How does some Viking-esque beer-pourer in Holland know and love the Poacher? For that, he has to thank a towering Dutchman called Henk Eggens. Striding up Mansfield Road in the summer of 1989, on a short trip to Nottingham, Henk found himself at the door of a newly christened Lincolnshire Poacher. Henk knows a thing or two about pubs; he has his own little ale joint, In De Wildeman, in a seventeenth-century gin distillery in the centre of Amsterdam, founded on his own staunch principles of real ale, good service and a friendly, neighbourly, music-free atmosphere. Something about the Poacher and its founding landlord Neil […]

Junior doctors are warning us

This article first appeared in the New Statesman on January 15 2016 Junior doctors aren’t just going on strike. They’re trying to warn us There’s a bigger story than just pay and conditions, warns Benedict Cooper. By Benedict Cooper On a bitterly cold afternoon in Nottingham’s Old Market Square, a group of junior doctors stood shivering together, banners in hand, pleading with the people hurrying by in thick winter coats and scarves to listen to their reasons for why they and colleagues throughout England are on strike. A few stopped, tapping their feet in the chill air; some even signed their petition. On the surface it’s about pay. But there’s something more serious going on – a lesson we ignore at our peril. Doctors are deeply concerned about safety on the wards. Why do they feel they have to take to the streets to tell people, rather than going through the official channels? Because that’s a dangerous game as well. Take the case of Dr Chris Day. When Day qualified in 2009, the idea that he was destined to cross swords with the Secretary of State for Health would have seemed ludicrous. Now he is embroiled in a dispute with the highest levels that has implications for the future of the controversial, and often misunderstood practice of ‘whistleblowing’. It all started one night back in January 2014. Day was working through the night on ICU at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, part of Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Trust. When two locum doctors […]

The attack on Kunduz Trauma Centre

This article was first published on OpenDemocracy in November OUT OF THE DARKNESS of the Afghan night, in the skies over the Kunduz Trauma Centre, the faint drone of propellers could be heard. Then, the bombing began. The intensive care unit (ICU), where the most critically ill adults and children silently lay, kept  alive only by ventilators, was first to be hit. For the next hour the American AC-130 gunship circled its target, unleashing “concentrated volleys” of rockets on the medical centre. As staff escaped the building and fled, they were cut down by machine gun fire from above. What they saw in that terrible hour on October 3, and in the grim aftermath, was enough to test the most conflict-hardened medic. Patients burning to death in their beds in ICU; two killed while lying on the operating table; the decapitated body of a colleague; the charred remains of children lying in the blood and the dust. Frantic efforts to temper the chaos followed: a desk in the undamaged administrative building was converted into an operating theatre to perform emergency operations on staff and patients left dismembered, with open chest wounds, ruptured abdominal blood vessels and severe shock. While the sun came up, the hell continued. As the wounded were rushed out to ambulances dispatched by the Ministry of Public Health to take them to hospital, fresh clashes erupted outside the compound leaving one ambulance riddled with bullet holes as it took patients away. _ What isn’t up for question […]

The law students who took on the DWP

First published in the New Statesman, September 30th 2015 Law students had to help a man in debilitating pain fight being declared “fit to work” Disabled claimants are increasingly vulnerable, with justice more difficult to access, and the need to be reassessed after being declared “fit to work”, By Benedict Cooper The first Paul Crane knew of having his benefits cut off was when his landlord called up to ask where the rent was. It was the start of a harrowing time. After ten years of receiving support for debilitating pains – caused when gamma knife radiosurgery to repair a haemorrhage on his brain stem caused radiation damage to surrounding tissue – he had suddenly been declared “fit to work”. Paul’s life has never been the same since the operation, which repaired the haemorrhage but left parts of his brain and spinal cord permanently damaged. Every day he is haunted by stimuli – light, noise, crowded places – anything that sets off his “excitable nerves” will leave him in agony with migraines, cause numbness and dizziness, or leave part of his face sagging. Even sneezing or tiredness can cause a traumatic flare up. He says: “Tiredness causes pain and pain causes tiredness. I don’t socialise much, I’ve let people down too many times. I go fishing, which is my only relaxation but even that sometimes is too much”. Over a decade of suffering and being prescribed a cornucopia of drugs – none of which have fully worked – Paul has learnt to live with the pain. But a new regime at […]

The Spokesman

An article I co-wrote with Zenn Athar for the Nottingham We Deserve campaigning newsletter was reproduced in The Spokesman, the publication founded by Bertrand Russell. The article is below.   The city has been on the front line of some of the most radical and, many argue, damaging reforms to the NHS since its creation. The Nottingham We Deserve investigates. by Benedict Cooper and Zenn Athar When five of the UK’s leading dermatologists quit the QMC in December, Nottingham was thrust into the middle of a gathering storm of political debate. To many their departure was the latest symbol of a health service breaking down, and a workforce under increasing pressure.The doctors wouldn’t be drawn on the issue, but sources quoted deep discomfort about a big decision that had quietly happened away from the public’s eye: the unit was to be run by Circle, a private company. Unite head of health Rachael Maskell says the case in Nottingham was a key moment for many campaigning against the growing influence of private healthcare companies like Circle in the service. “It showed the strength of feeling people have towards the NHS,” she says. “It’s not just an ideological step they took, it’s also a clinical point of view. The consultants were willing to forfeit their careers to protect care in Nottingham”. So why the strength of feeling? And what made the doctors quit? As activists in Nottingham and further afield know, the QMC case is just the tip of the iceberg. Everywhere […]

There is no closure – just grief

New Statesman, August 28th 2015 The headlines about “parity of esteem” between mental and physical health remain just that, warns Benedict Cooper. I don’t need to look very far to find the little black marks on this government’s mental health record. Just down the road, in fact. A short bus journey away from my flat in Nottingham is the Queens Medical Centre, once the largest hospital in Europe, now an embattled giant. Not only has the QMC’s formerly world-renowned dermatology service been reduced to a nub since private provider Circle took over – but that’s for another day – it has lost two whole mental health wards in the past year. Add this to the closure of two more wards on the other side of town at the City Hospital, the closure of the Enright Close rehabilitation centre in Newark, plus two more centres proposed for closure in the imminent future, and you’re left with a city already with half as many inpatient mental health beds as it had a year ago and some very concerned citizens. Not that Nottingham is alone – anything but. Over 2,100 mental health beds had been closed in England between April 2011 and last summer. Everywhere you go there are wards being shuttered; patients are being forced to travel hundreds of miles to get treatment in wards often well over-capacity, incidents of violence against mental health workers is increasing, police officers are becoming de facto frontline mental health crisis teams, and cuts to community […]

Nursing in crisis

This piece appeared in PRN Magazine in July 2015 Nursing in crisis: The disappearing numbers   A pay-freeze, a row over safe staffing and new rules to kick thousands of nurses out of the country: it’s been a stormy summer in medical politics. Benedict Cooper reports. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the government has it in for the nursing profession. In the last two months alone, a string of policies have put pressure on a workforce already in strife, and laid some shaky stones to step over next.First NHS England asks NICE to halt an investigation into safe staffing – to the approval of the Department of Health but the dismay of safe staffing campaigners. Then the Home Office chips in with tough new rules to deport non-EU migrants earning less than £35,000 a year, which the RCN says could lead to the loss of 7,000 nurses. And, finally, to round off a torrid month, in his budget the Chancellor delivers the news that the pay freeze on all public sector workers is to continue – for four more years. “Getting tough on migrants might play out well with the public, but anyone who has worked in an NHS hospital knows how crucial these workers are for the service.” Take any one of these decisions in isolation, and you will find nurses reeling as a result. Take them all together, and it begins to feel like a concerted effort. Getting tough on migrants might play out well with the […]

I’m voting to save the NHS

I’m embarrassed to admit, that I used to dismiss talk of the ways the NHS was changing. I’d read a few things, but never really understood what it all meant.  I never really grasped the true nature of the health service, its history and the way it is being altered today. I shrugged off talk about private companies taking over, and counter-argued with the fact that the population was growing, ageing, and as a result the way we funded its care needed to change. But for the past 18 months I’ve covered medical politics for a number of titles, including the New Statesman, Open Democracy, and others. It’s been a fascinating, often painful education. I have met with nurses, doctors, academics, politicians, campaigners, patients and concerned members of the public, who have spelled out what is happening to our NHS. The other day I had a particularly sad conversation, with a nurse I was interviewing for a feature. He described the death of what he called a “moral economy” among NHS workers. He said: “There was almost a family environment in hospitals before. That’s been taken away; the market has ripped the heart and soul out of the service”. In 2015 we face a lot of big issues as a country – low productivity, public expenditure which well outstrips our national income, environmental challenges, the need to find a fair balance on immigration and so on. They’re all important, but I’m not expert enough to make any big statements on them […]

Election special: PRN Magazine

A special election report for PRN Magazine analysing the main party manifestos and how nurses felt they were being represented in the campaigns. http://www.prnmagazine.com/election/2015/5/3/election-2015-special-report

Doctors or scapegoats?

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 […]

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 […]

The marketisation myth

  NHS reform and the hollow marketisation myth http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/10/nhs-reform-and-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 […]

Open Democracy: Our NHS

I have written various stories for Our NHS, part of Open Democracy, a progressive news site dedicated to preserving democracy and fighting for social justice. These can be viewed here: Labour’s Andy Burnham moves to strike out “Hospital Closure Clause” Benedict Cooper 7 March 2014 Labour confirmed yesterday that it would be staging a last ditch attempt in parliament on Tuesday to strike out the deeply unpopular “Hospital Closure Clause”. Government brushes aside NHS Free Trade Treaty Concerns Benedict Cooper 27 February 2014 MPs raise concerns about the impact the forthcoming trade treaty, TTIP, will have on the NHS – but Minster Without Portfolio Ken Clarke says it will make no difference. Hunt seeks to shed his duty to keep our medical data safe Benedict Cooper 7 February 2014 Ministers dodge Labour grilling on the care.data controversy.

‘Clause 118 would leave no hospital in England safe’, New Statesman, January 2014

Clause 118 would leave no hospital in England safe Rules are pesky things when you’re trying to get things done. Especially when it comes to health care and you’re making such big changes that they can be “seen from space”. But for Jeremy Hunt et al, they’re more of a bore, not real obstacles. If the rule book tells them they can’t do exactly what they like, it’s very simple: they just rewrite it. It’s a luxury of the rich and powerful when irritations like Lewisham happen. The public claimed a victory, Hunt feigned defeat. But it was only a simpering type of defeat; he knew he’d be back. Hunt’s costly setback at Lewisham – costly for the taxpayer of course – said a lot about the government’s plans for the NHS in general. The way he has responded since, contriving to stack the law in his favour, says even more. It speaks volumes for the sheer determination he and the rest of the cabinet have in seeing their plans through, and the powerful means they have to back it up. Means like Clause 118 of the Care Bill. Or as it’s known in some circles, the “Hospital Closure Clause”. Another obscurity in the legislative blur, its purpose is nonetheless stark. If it is nodded through in the next few weeks, another checkpoint on the road to private health in the UK will be passed. In short, Clause 118 will allow Jeremy Hunt and any future health secretary to close […]

Driven to suicide by payday loans

WHEN DANNY took out his first payday loan he had no idea what a terrible cycle he had just stepped into. A cycle that would see him make repeated suicide attempts as he got deeper and deeper into debt and found himself eventually struggling with a sickening 30 different loans at once. Danny is no stranger to suffering. Growing up family life was so dangerous that at the age of 12 he was taken into care, and placed in the tough new environment of a boy’s care home. “I had nobody there to support me,” he tells me. “I didn’t have much family support. It was me on my own fighting the world”. When he came out of the care system, at the age of 17, and was placed into his own accommodation, Danny was left to manage almost single-handed. It wasn’t long before the bills came flying in and, floundering, he ran out of options. “At one point I didn’t have any money; I was out in the high street and had people coming up to me in the street asking if I needed cash. They targeted me because I was a vulnerable person. “So I went to Wonga for a short term loan. But I didn’t think it was as short terms as it was. I borrowed £100 and it was £130 after 30 days”. Helpless, he started borrowing more money just to pay the interest on the first one. It’s become known as ‘rollover borrowing’ and is […]

‘Europe’s Credit Report’, Property Week, April 2013

I wrote this feature for Property Week based on a round-table discussion I attended during real estate conference MIPIM 2013. The event, chaired by Property Week editor Mike Phillips, featured some of Europe’s leading real estate experts to discuss a range of key topics affecting the market in 2013.

Culinary Adventures on the Trans Siberian Foodway – October 2012

An article I wrote on the weird and wonderful food I ate along my trip from London to Vietnam by rail has appeared on the We Blog the World Website