Jul 252014

Here’s a batshit insane story, to quote from one of my Twitter acquaintances, Adrian Short:

Batshit insane Tory MP David Tredinnick wants more astrology in healthcare: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-28464009 …

And here’s the story he links to:

A Conservative MP has spoken of his belief in astrology and his desire to incorporate it into medicine.

David Tredinnick said he had spent 20 years studying astrology and healthcare and was convinced it could work.

The MP for Bosworth, a member of the health committee and the science and technology committee, said he was not afraid of ridicule or abuse.

The MP in question goes on to describe astrology as something with a “proven track record”.  Proven, I suppose, as much as Tory economics has shown itself able to serve the nation equitably.

But Short makes a follow-up comment which really does interest me:

Which makes me wonder how we regulate negligence and misconduct in medical astrology.

Considering that so much of what the public-sector NHS is now carrying out is under the immediate control and management of private-sector companies, and considering that clinical negligence has been taken out of scope of Legal Aid provision, you might very well ask the same question of traditional non-batshit-insane medicine: without emanation of the state, without Legal Aid, effectively you have a system built not only to enable wide-ranging freedoms for medical corporations to do as they wish but also for MPs like David Tredinnick – and the similarly curious – to bring to our GP surgeries such prejudice-based treatments.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d suggest that it was all part of a whole.  Instead, I’ll simply remind us that battles must be fought by those most affected.  And we are now clearly those most affected by all this prejudice.

Jul 102014

I thought I’d be as formal in my post’s title as possible today.  As of yesterday, I have an official complaint lodged with NHS England about procedure and process at our local pharmacy.  This comes on the back of an error committed last year by the pharmacy I used to use.

I’ve had epilepsy for most of my life, though with a gap of about ten years in my thirties where I didn’t require medication.  Last year, a Chester pharmacy dispensed a number of 300 mg Epilim tablets instead of the normal 500 mg I take.  The size was very similar; the colour identical; the blister pack had only a slight difference in hue on one side.  For a couple of days, I took them without realising – though fortunately no side-effects were felt.  I complained to the pharmacy’s head office, received the corresponding apology and on my following visit for my next prescription it was explained to me how procedures were being changed to avoid a repeat of the issue.

Actually, that next prescription also included a pair of 300 mg tablets.  I was on holiday by then but on my return, I notified both the pharmacy (they didn’t believe me, I’m afraid) and the manufacturer, with the suggestion that, in the future, the two sizes of tablets be differentiated better physically.  The manufacturer took down all kinds of personal details over the phone (all the medication I took; all my conditions; name, address, telephone etc.), and I’ve heard absolutely nothing from them since then.

Meanwhile, as a result of what had happened – and after a long prescription issued by the surgery due to computer problems last summer – I decided to change the pharmacy I went to.

Surprise, surprise – for the first time in my life, I was given a generic sodium valproate, stomach-resistant I think it was called (or maybe gastro-resistant – I can’t remember exactly); clearly, however, not the controlled-release branded Epilim I was accustomed to.  I thought nothing more of this as I assumed it was part of a drive to reduce costs by using generic equivalents.

Last week, a member of my family was issued with a double prescription to cover the summer holidays they were shortly going away on.  Only three of the four bottles were available; the young woman at the pharmacy said she’d order a fourth and it’d be ready at the beginning of this week.  We both went in on Tuesday to pick up our prescriptions, in my case me having phoned first to doublecheck that everything was ready.

Sadly, it wasn’t – and so this is my anecdotal evidence accumulating that not all is right in English pharmacies.  From one big national chain to another, problems with procedures and process have arisen again: this time, only half my prescription was ready, and when I got home, I realised only about ninety percent of that half.  In my relative’s case, the fourth bottle hadn’t been ordered; there was no record of anyone having requested such an order; and neither was there any record of any prescription having being issued since April.

We agreed to return yesterday, which we did – only to find, after phoning once more in the morning to doublecheck everything would be ready (they said it would be), that whilst the second half of my prescription had been readied, the first half’s missing component hadn’t arrived (or hadn’t been ordered) (or had been lost) (and we’re talking only twelve tablets here – twelve damn tablets!).  The manager wasn’t there that day, so in the end to calm the justifiably rising hackles of my relative, I asked for a contact number to complain and then phoned NHS England and registered my dissatisfaction.  (Amongst other things in this complaint, I mentioned the fact that on no occasion had either myself or my relative been given an IOU receipt for part-prescriptions not dispensed.  In our experience, this is what other pharmacies do everywhere.  On reflection, we found it most surprising.  One more procedural issue to add to the weary mix.)

Let it be clear, and just to reiterate: my NHS England complaint was all couched in terms of procedures and process, of course; all the time saying I understood the pressures the people in question were currently working under – especially with the backdrop of a savage cutting behind the scenes by this Coalition government of frontline NHS services.

Anyhow.  Today, Thursday, we went back to the same pharmacy.  I entered alone, and spoke to the congenial young manager.  He was honest, took ownership and explained a dire financial background.  I said I appreciated the situation – and accepted his apologies.  I did query one thing: the previous day, to a person who said he was filling in, I had seen the generic sodium valproate I had been given for my previous prescription, and I’d asked him why I couldn’t just have twelve tablets of generic equivalent to complete what was missing.  He went and had a look, came back shortly and said abruptly: “There are no generic equivalents.”

I mentioned this incident today to the manager, who took the information onboard but was unable to explain anything further at the time.  When we got back home, there was a voicemail waiting for me on the landline.  It asked me to phone him about the “generic sodium valproate”, and so I did immediately.

It then transpired that I’d actually been on the wrong epilepsy medication for two months.  The doses had been correct but the delivery technology was different: ie the generic wasn’t given in a controlled-release way.  The manager was most apologetic and didn’t minimise how serious the consequences could’ve been.  I began to feel sorry for him.  I didn’t want to pile further misery onto the original circumstances – especially as I knew an official complaint was already being processed with NHS England.  But I did suggest that perhaps it wasn’t now just a question of procedures and process: that the person who made the mistake needed urgent feedback and coaching at the very minimum.

I have to say, however, I shall have no compunctions about being more assertive about my medication in the future.  If anything changes, I shall question it most firmly.  And I shall check every blister pack I used to blithely take – but, blithely anyway, will do so no more.

A couple of final thoughts: firstly, to err is human, and errors happen.  But the reason we have national corporate chains is so they can learn from mistakes and transmit organically-acquired knowhow – in a timely, accurate and lifesaving fashion – to all their staff and employees, through appropriate induction training, as well as on-the-job and continuous learning programmes.  (That’s the value they’re supposed to add.  That’s the reason we tolerate such huge profit margins.)

I’m not sure that this has been the case here, though – nor on the previous occasion I experienced either.

Secondly, in times of radical change – and whether you agree with the motives behind a particular change or not – everyone can surely agree to accept that managing such flux is a paramount responsibility, especially when we’re dealing with the lives of people who depend on medication to keep chronic illness at bay and ensure that they remain safe, happy, independent and productive.

And again, the anecdotal evidence I lay before you today doesn’t really convince me that this has necessarily happened.

Finally, my relative didn’t get the fourth bottle they were looking for.  Not the make in question.  They had, instead, to settle for something else.  The reason for the preference?  Once more, a method of delivery: a translucent bottle makes controlling how much is left much easier, as does a dropper which allows for better control of the medication.

So.  Unnecessarily unhappy patients, staff, companies and institutions.  A sad – and potentially dangerous – set of situations all around.

At least in these anecdotal cases I put before you this evening.  At least in my own personal experience.

Anyone else – maybe who works on the coalface – who knows whether this is either par for an increasingly depressing course or, alternatively, exceptions which unfairly disprove a rule?

Jul 042014

One of the great things about being a member of a political party is that it teaches you patience, tolerance, understanding and charity.  One of the bad things is when you strongly disagree with the implementation of a fantastic idea, you can’t hold your tongue even as you know someone’ll want to give you a tremendous bollocking.

So what’s on my mind tonight?  Well.  This you see below is.  And it’s a classic example of a brilliant concept – unfortunately and miserably (and, what’s more, without an ounce of self-awareness) implemented about as idiotically as it could have been.

The Facebooking of Labour

Let’s look at the data that’s being asked for, and see how relevant, proportionate, focussed and appropriate it might be:

  1. DOB – not just year, mind, but day and month too
  2. Your first name – though some will surely enter both first and last names
  3. Your email – clearly a key piece of data in order to discover your NHS baby number (not)
  4. Your postcode – hmm, yep, that’s manifestly of incredible utility here

Then in small print (admittedly smaller in my screengrab than on the webpage itself, but small on the webpage too) we get the following statement: “Please note: your baby number is only our best estimate, using census data. We’re also assuming you’re one of the 97% of babies born on the NHS.”

Then in very small print: “The Labour Party and its elected representatives may contact you about issues we think you may be interested in or with campaign updates. You may unsubscribe at any point. You can see our privacy policy here.”  (By the by, the phrase “You can see our privacy policy here” is in standard blue hyperlink colour, but on a grey background and thus virtually impossible to read.  It does nevertheless go to a very complete and I’m sure decently compliant overview of Party procedures and IT policies.)

Anyhow.  Imagine this wasn’t a Labour Party page.  Imagine, instead, this was an angel-funded, heavily-breathing, start-up competitor to, for example, Facebook.  (Just to imagine the possibility is quite difficult, don’t you think?  Just imagining that Facebook could actually have a competitor is challenging.  A terrible sign of the times in itself.)  Or if not a competitor to Facebook, something more prosaically English: say, for example, a revitalised replacement to the NHS patient record #caredata project.  Something where you had to give your opinion on huge changes – but in order to do so, you had to go to a website which asked you to give up your age, name, email and postcode, in exchange for telling you when you were going to – oh, I dunno – run out of money to pay for your healthcare.

We’d be rightly horrified; terribly shocked.  But the Facebooking of Labour, of politics in general, is complete.  Yes.  I appreciate the driver behind the whole shenanigans is the need to generate desperately needed funds for the Party’s relatively depleted war chest.  And I understand the importance of creating a shared love of pragmatic English socialist projects like the NHS and Legal Aid, both of which have been deliberately hollowed out by the Tory Party’s ideologues over the past four years.  But it would have been far better to separate the two objectives: first, allow people with just a single piece of data – year of birth, maybe – to find out an approximate NHS baby number (it is, in any case, very approximate) – and create that buzz of historical sharing in such a proportionate way; second, move on to the next page where – less eagerly, less breathlessly – further contact information could be reasonably and honestly obtained.

Anything else to say?  Not really.  I’ll get a bollocking for this now – or, even worse, will just get ignored.  Meanwhile, people like this are getting stuff like this done to them.

And so this Facebooking – not just of Labour, of course, but of society too – continues enthusiastically apace.

Jun 302014

Two stories which make me understand why the bad-business sponsors behind the ruling Tory Party believe – and intend – that the NHS must die.

First, this one in Spanish and from Spain (robot English here) – basically saying that since patient payment of medicines was brought in two years ago there, one in four of the unemployed (and remember youth unemployment has touched over fifty percent; overall unemployment around twenty-five percent; and more than half a million people left Spain last year because austerity was getting so grim) has neglected to buy the medicines their doctors prescribed them; medicines these professionals presumably judged their health required.

This second story, meanwhile, is in English and is from England – apparently revealing that London hospitals are now postponing treatments for old-aged pensioners until the very last moment, in order to treat and deal with more rapidly the needs of those able to pay thousands of pounds upfront.

Why, then, must the NHS die?  Firstly, because it provided a safety net which kept the wolf from the door of ordinary people.  And people who no longer fear such a wolf will obviously be more picky about their jobs, agit-prop in their politics and generally more confident about speaking back to the government.

Can’t have that.

Secondly, once it is a given that the poor must not only be poorer but must be made to face the consequences and impact of poverty – the depression, fear, desperation and wider mental ill health, as well as so many other conditions associated with a significant inability to make ends meet – there is an equally humongous downside for the bad-business sponsors of the current Tory-run government: if you change the law to make people cough up the dosh precisely when they’re coughing up the blood, and then they decide not to cough up the dosh even as the blood continues to flow freely, the marketplace of these bad-business sponsors begins to contract severely as a result.  Headline stories of twenty-five percent in two years, however they pan out exactly, represent a helluva fall in company income.

All of which goes to explain the real reason the NHS must die.  The wealthy citizen’s ability to jump a queue by paying eight thousand quid for a straightforward operation more than compensates the inability of the poor to keep up with rising “point-of-sale” payment requirements – requirements which have already manifested themselves in Spain, and which will soon begin to manifest themselves here.  And as unemployment increases and the supply of sensible jobs collapses, in this way the poor can be left to suppurate in their own broader misery, making sensitive employment policy-making ultimately quite unnecessary.  (Something which may be happening in Spain (I don’t know), but is – under this Tory misgovernment – clearly the case in England.)

After all, a living breathing NHS would only give wings to those who saw life as it was unfolding; it’d only serve to give the downtrodden the strength of purpose to continue protesting the injustice of it all; it’d only make the weak see the future with hope; it’d only continue to send out the message that – even now after everything we’ve suffered – everyone has a right to have their pain ameliorated by a society of the kind.

Can’t have that.

The NHS must die so that the poor do not rise up – even as the reasons to do so would multiply a thousandfold.

The NHS must die so that the rich can maintain their company income – even as the poor begin to die, unable to fork out on previously profitable medications.

The NHS must die so that life can march on for the impatient privileged few.

Those who find themselves able, when they’re coughing up the blood, to cough up the dosh as well.

Jun 282014

A tweet that just flitted past me reminds me of something else that came my way this morning.  First, the tweet:

Burnham also says we need to throw off “nineties managerialism” #FabSummer

Burnham being Andy Burnham, one of everyone’s (deservedly) favourite Labour highfliers.

And I’m sure no one would disagree with the idea of throwing off “nineties managerialism”.  The question, of course, not being who agrees or not but, rather, what the forces ranged against are busily planning to achieve.

So what do I mean?  Take a look at this fascinating graphic which the Philips Twitter account tweeted this morning (I’ve reproduced it below for ease of reading, but if Philips is unhappy, just drop me an email and I’ll remove the copy from this blogsite).

Digital Healthcare by Philips

As you can see, a lot of what Burnham has been proposing for the NHS, linking medical and social care in a far more connected way, fits in with Philips’ own big data and digital view of how healthcare’s often disparate parts could fit together more seamlessly and usefully in the future.  However, at least for me, a massive caveat jumps out of this graphic.  There’s a bit in the middle, through which everything seems to be required to flow, called “Patient relationship management”.  You’d have thought that, if anything, “Professional care” would be the hub of what should essentially be a caring sector: a sector focussed on delivering patient needs, not structurally managed process.  And the potential is there for doing just that, of course.  From the little I know about big data these days, the opportunities for automating what used to be people-occupied roles – processing automatically data of all kinds and from all sources – is clearly significant.  And such processing can benefit a lot of people – both patients and professionals.

But what happens if this automation I speak of either doesn’t deliver as expected, delivers a world we fear already – or simply allows those with knowledge of these new Dark Arts to regain a managerialist mystique and control over our precious caring and public-service institutions?  There are always options to make such huge change work for the wider populace, I don’t disagree.  But similarly, there are chances for those who see the future quite before the rest of us to feather their virtual and physical nests in time for any encroaching disruption.

It’s an interesting future, that’s for sure.  And that people like Burnham should be equally interested in making it work is a happy circumstance.  But it’s not only people who need to give us comfort during times of upheaval: it’s also the built-in guarantees we should wish to legislate in order to defend the central importance of people over systems.

Big data in healthcare is a grand set of tools.  The question here is: who will end up using them?  The managers or the cared for?

May 252013

My wife decided to buy a Daewoo microwave last week.  She liked the red colour.  She’s special that way – and I mean it in a good way.

She bought it at Asda (I couldn’t remember any more whether we were still supposed to be boycotting them – or, even, if we were ever supposed to be doing so) – and so that I thought was going to be the end of that.

Yesterday, whilst checking out prices for some other appliance online, I stumbled across the Asda Direct website.  As per the screenshot below, it showed the same microwave – only this time with a ten percent discount on the previous lowest price charged (that is to say, the one that my wife had paid the previous weekend).

Asda microwave offer

At the time of my web browsing, my wife was near the local Asda.  I rang her up and suggested she went to the store and asked them if anything could be done about the matter.  As chance would have it, and although she obviously wasn’t going to have the microwave itself on her, she did have the receipt.  She agreed to pop in on the off-chance that maybe a price adjustment might be possible.

Worth a try.  After all, “every little helps”.  Or is that “every penny matters”?

Or should I have said “saving you money every day”?

Or even “Asda price”!

Hmm.  Asda price.  Now that’s an idea and a half.  As you’ll shortly see.

A few minutes later, my wife phoned me back – a little distraught in a first-world-pains sort of way.  In short, the lady at the helpdesk had explained to my wife that she could take advantage of the price change, but in order to do so, she’d have to return the microwave she’d bought, reorder online with the relevant checkout code, wait two days or so for another appliance to be delivered to the store, and only then pick up the latter at the revised price.

Now my wife is Spanish and she sometimes feels awfully frustrated in ridiculous situations like these, especially when she sees herself obliged to overcome her fury at stupidity whilst having to do so by communicating in a foreign language.  So she asked me to speak by phone to the helpdesk manager to try and explain the essentially rubbish nature of the whole process as already explained to my wife by the first woman she had spoken to.

So it was that the manager described the reality as follows:

  1. Asda Direct is effectively a separate company within a company.
  2. A store and Asda Direct compete for business.
  3. The prices of one and the other can vary, even as the latter offers a Collect In-Store service where customers can pick up the products delivered for free at the (allegedly competing) stores themselves.
  4. Customers frequently complain about these kinds of issues.  I refrained from asking why they weren’t being listened to.
  5. When I suggested Asda might like to price-match itself, I was informed that Asda hasn’t offered a price-match facility for years (could have fooled me from the ads).  “Price guarantees”, on the other hand, were currently offered on groceries.
  6. Prices depended on customer demand (understandable) which could vary from online shop to bricks and mortar store to bricks and mortar store – whilst often, for example, CDs were cheaper because they were delivered from the Channel Islands.  I observed that microwaves probably weren’t.  She did kind of agree.
  7. She did confirm that in theory we would have to return the microwave to the shop, reorder online with the checkout code and request Collect In-Store in order to purchase again at the new price.  She also agreed however – all credit to her by now creeping sense of customer focus here – that she would be prepared to give us a £5 gift card as a goodwill gesture to avoid the consummation of the above totally foolish palaver.

At which point we were, of course, ultimately grateful – again, in that very first-world-pains sort of way.  But it did lead me to a couple of inconsequential thoughts on the back of it.  Inconsequential – or perhaps not so very.

Firstly, it might indeed have been an example of good customer service – but the customer might not have been my wife.  Imagine how much it would have cost Asda to process a return of product to the store, an online order, and a delivery of the very same product from their Asda Direct arm to the store in question.  I don’t have the data but I’m pretty sure it would have been more than the value of the gift card my wife was given.  Yes.  The helpdesk manager might have been helping my wife out on my insistence – but she might just as easily have been calculating the odds pretty damn quickly and doing what her business’s procedures clearly didn’t want to contemplate: that is to say, the sensible thing.

Secondly, let’s imagine what such internal-market dynamics might do when applied, say, to public-sector corporate organisations like the NHS.

No.  I don’t have the knowhow to lay it out before you in black and white.  I don’t have the skill or wherewithal to define with precision and accuracy the implications of such structures.

But I do have the prescience to fear the possibility not only for simple corporate abuse but more significantly – as in this case – utter procedural stupidity.

Internal markets aren’t the only way.  They don’t have to even be the best way.  As in the above-mentioned situation, they can even be the worst way.

Bad enough when applied to the sale of consumer durables.

With the potential for a negligence by almost criminal default when applied to sensitive matters such as patient care.

May 112013

I’ve been tracking the Coalition’s war against the professions for quite a while now.  I guess you must have been too.  In these pieces, written almost a year apart, we can remind ourselves how medieval politicians are; why dequalifying the professions is a bad move; and why Cameron & Co are really no better than 21st century witch doctors.  I’ve also watched, miserable, as the Welfare State has been dismantled pillar by pillar (more here, here and here) out of rank and disagreeable prejudice.

The latest example is complex in its detail (.pdf file) but simple in its impact:

The Criminal Law Solicitors Association (CLSA) has read the consultation on competitive price tendering (CPT) produced by the Government ‘Transforming legal aid: delivering a more credible and efficient system’ and this briefing is our initial response. A formal fuller response will be made shortly.

Here is point 1 of its response, to give you a flavour of what’s going on:

A. Why the proposals are socially divisive, dangerous and against the public interest.

1. It transforms people into mere economic units by denying them the simple human dignity of choice. These Stalinist proposals to require people to abandon their freedom of choice and to force them to be represented by a lawyer allocated by an impersonal call centre are deplorable. Winston Churchill said: “The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country’. Clients are people and if they are legally aided when accused of crime they do not cease to be such. The process of arrest and prosecution are demeaning enough without this added humiliation of denial of choice. In contrast, unlike the majority of the community, the political and wealthy elite who will of course retain the economic ability to purchase their choice of legal representation. It is a socially divisive and shameful proposal. We cannot believe that were a politician, MOJ civil servant or wealthy person accused of a crime they did not commit would be content with being represented by a solicitor randomly allocated by a call centre. But the ‘little people’ (Including low paid, the youths, the students and most people who will qualify for means tested legal aid in the Crown court) are to be denied the same choice even when as tax payers citizens will have paid through taxation for the right to be legally aided.

What’s clearly happening here is yet another example of prejudice-based governors ignoring the opinions and sidelining the intelligences of evidence-based professionals.  From teachers to GPs to nurses to lawyers, before and again now, it’s apparent that evidence-based professions pose a serious risk to the incompetent unprofessionalised politicians.  As I tweeted some minutes ago, here, here and here:

@geektrev It’s OK. I managed to get there. :-) I wrote a lot a year or so back on destruction of Legal Aid as pillar of Welfare State.

@geektrev Think it’s part of deliberate wider deprofessionalisation of society (teachers, doctors, nurses etc).

@geektrev Evidence-based professionals present a threat to prejudice-driven politicians and need to be neutralised. That’s what’s happening.

So none of this surprises me, and none of this confuses me.

A century ago, there was nothing more difficult to deal with for the professionals of learning than the self-taught man or woman with a chip on their shoulders.

Today, there is nothing more difficult to deal with for the citizens and subjects of an educated state than a self-made politico or politica with a driven belief in their own prejudices.

And that’s essentially what’s happening as we witness so many generations of structures being destroyed before our very eyes; as we witness aghast the collapse.

Anything we can properly do to halt this careering towards a 21st century Dark Ages?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps we are hardwired quite otherwise.  But, even so, even assuming there is nothing more to be realistically done, I do suggest at the very least you bear witness to what is happening – I do suggest you sign this petition:

Save UK Justice

Responsible department: Ministry of Justice

The MOJ should not proceed with their plans to reduce access to justice by depriving citizens of legal aid or the right to representation by the Solicitor of their choice.

If a government which claims to act out of a desire to create more societal freedoms finds it necessary to intervene from a prejudiced standpoint in the workings of society’s fundamentals – from the NHS to Legal Aid to social care to education – then surely we need to draw in the most vigorous terms the rest of our nation’s attention to the contradictions involved.

You cannot create a civilisation of the free based on top-down reorganisations mandated by throwbacks to foolish and primitive times – times which never existed, even as the self-interested rose-tinted spectacles claim to demonstrate they did.

You cannot create a civilisation of the free based on such prejudice – or, indeed, on such back-scratching self-enrichment.

Perhaps it’s time we realised a civilisation of the free isn’t, actually, the goal of these leaders – leaders who, in any meritorious field of endeavour, would be considered to be on the worst side of incompetent.

Puts quite a different slant on everything, once you accept that to be the case.

Don’t you think so?

May 092013

I love the web, I can’t deny it – but, curiously, I’m not a real fan of all those money-saving websites out there.  There is one, however, even I have heard of – founded by the always excellent Martin Lewis.  So it was that when I got an utterly unsolicited email from what I believed to be his site, I thought perhaps there was more to it than met the eye.

Here’s a screenshot of the email in question – it should be clear enough for you all to be able to read it and fully understand the implications of the content.

Money Expert unsolicited email

So.  What do we conclude?  Under this government, and as is all too apparent (or, at least, as is all too apparent according to this email), numerous areas of the NHS are now officially unable to guarantee either the safety of patients or “their welfare needs”.  Clearly the situation demands drastic action, but instead of focussing on the funding and support which the NHS should be receiving, sites like Martin Lewis’s moneyexpert.com are encouraging us to buy into privatised health.

Or are they?  Because, if you look carefully, Martin Lewis’s site is famously called moneysavingexpert.com – though to a sad soul like myself, only interested in wonky politics, at first glance this information had escaped my less-than-beady eye.  And this is the (admittedly and self-confessedly “out-of-date”) information it currently provides on private health insurance – essentially, stay away from it because the NHS will do us very nicely, thank you:

Private medical insurance is a luxury, not a necessity. There are three main reasons to buy it: to leapfrog the queue for non-urgent treatment; to choose when and who operates; and to get more comfort and convenience during treatment.

Don’t assume private always means better.

The NHS provides comprehensive medical treatment to anyone in the UK who needs it, regardless of their ability to pay – although you may have to wait. Getting fast NHS treatment may be something of a postcode lottery. Yet a good GP is worth his/her weight in gold.

What’s more, the “squeakiest hinge gets the grease”, so by being persistent, you may be bumped up waiting lists, especially if you’re prepared to grab a cancelled appointment at the drop of a hat.

Remember even if you go private, the doctors and specialists aren’t “private” doctors – the vast majority are NHS medics boosting their income. And it’s often the NHS specialists who are at the cutting edge of modern medicine.

Compare and contrast that with my above-mentioned unsolicited email.

So who then is moneyexpert.com?  Well, the limited company which appears to be responsible for it dates from May 2003, some two or three months after Lewis’s site was created.  The former claims to be no more than an intermediary – yet the content of its email hardly gives the impression of a simple hands-off enabler of financial transactions.  Lewis’s approach is much more consumer-focussed: the customer being the user of his web.  In the case of the moneyexpert.com email above, however, it would appear the real customers are the organisations selling the health insurance.  And, potentially and indirectly, perhaps those who are pushing wider government sell-offs in the area of privatised healthcare as well.

I would be interested to know how Martin Lewis feels about such competition.  Both sites are clearly established on the web; both are clearly looking to capture similar markets.  Nothing wrong in that either.  True competition does, after all, tend to guarantee better deals for consumers.  But I do wonder whether moneyexpert.com is as clear as it should be about the chances that its sales approach might be confusing people into believing it is actually Lewis’s site.

Especially when the content of such emails uses the highly-charged and tendentious issue of NHS privatisation to lever new business.

And especially when – in relation to all the obfuscation surrounding the NHS and the Coalition – ordinary people really don’t know who to rely on, or turn to, in order that they might understand the truth.


Update to this post: someone who appears to be doing a fairly even-handed and evidence-based job of sorting out the obfuscation is Steve.  His latest post has this to say on mortality figures at NHS hospitals:

[…] There is growing consensus among statisticians, academics and, increasingly, among sections of the media (the Straight Statistics and Computer Weekly websites and even, very quietly and cautiously, one BBC News writer) that the claims of ‘excess mortality’ at Stafford hospital are – at best – utterly spurious and inaccurate.

And yet they continue to be recited, rote-fashion, as simple, unchallenged fact by the right-wing press and even by the BBC (just this evening on Look North during a segment on the inspectors’ visit to North Cumbria Hospitals Trust, one of the 9 hospitals targeted in spite of having average or lower SHMI mortality rates).

The weaknesses of HSMRs and of the data entered to create them are not difficult to identify. The articles on these weaknesses are not encrypted or hidden. And yet they continue to be conspicuous by their absence in the mainstream media while false figures are recited as fact.

You really do have to wonder just why that is.

Apr 282013

This is what’s happening to Legal Aid.  Essentially, citizen access to due legal process is being dramatically reduced and gamed in favour of people and organisations with loads of dosh.

This is what’s happening to the NHS.  Essentially, patient access to due medical process and the right to doctor-patient privacy is being dramatically controlled and gamed in favour of people and organisations with lots of power.

This is what’s happening to our police.  Essentially, the subjects of this green and pleasant land are becoming just another monetised calculation in the deep pockets of transnational law-and-disorder.

This is what’s happening to our education system.  Essentially, the students and teachers of England are, both, becoming part of a secretive and overbearing experiment to change the ideological bent of society in the future.

And this is what’s happening to our social cohesion.  Essentially, the government – having failed in its attempt to impose a full quiver of mean-tested benefits through its attacks on the disadvantaged – now aims to shame the elderly well-off into giving up their rights. Attempting once again, this time at the other end of the spectrum, to achieve the aforementioned objective.

Essentially, old against young; rich against poor; sick against healthy … people like Iain Duncan Smith playing their favourite game of bloody divide and rule.

Essentially, what’s happening is that legal rights, health, policing, education and the ability of our society to band together are all being pulverised by the monetising ideology of those who run the world: those who have the time, energy, knowledge and resources to fill in forms, understand documents and read executive summaries.

Which ain’t going to be you or me.  Which ain’t going to be any of those who struggle in evermore precarious lifestyles to get to the end of the month.

Essentially, what’s happening is that our blessed unwritten constitution is being radically rewritten in the most underhand of ways.  No consultation.  No public recognition of their aims.  No voter awareness that the law, patient care, justice, learning and the socialising nature of humanity are being progressively re-engineered to fit “one best way” only.

To fit just one way.

Quite covertly, these people have analysed every significant centre of human liberation, of equal opportunity and of citizen empowerment which we’ve managed to fashion in the last sixty years.

And having done so, they’ve worked out how to dismantle each and every brick which made up those walls that served to protect us so – that served to protect us from the wolves.

The wolves that have never left the doors of poverty.

The wolves that now await each and every one of us.

This is a revolution conducted by a group of people who have burrowed into the very innards of the establishment.  They have turned it inside out as a hedonist may pick away at the meat of a lobster.  Rather pink and expensively pursued by the money-mad, this is the call to independence of the corporates.

Independence of ordinary people; independence of ordinary lawyers; independence of ordinary police officers; independence of ordinary health workers; independence of ordinary educationalists … independence, that is to say, of the general desire that societies have to work together.

Sounds a bit mad of me to suggest that this might be the case?  In truth, how else can we describe it?  If someone takes over your legal, health, police and education systems – as well as attempting to detonate the ability of a people to defend themselves judiciously as one – what could we call it if not a call for someone’s savage breaking away?

A breaking away, if you like, from all that England and the United Kingdom used to mean.

No wonder some Scots are burning to escape.

Who wouldn’t want to leave such a sorry state of constitutional hijack?

Apr 062013

In 2011, these questions were being asked of the Tory Party and its relationship with a financial services sector which – at the time – was bankrolling over half its total income:

There is no suggestion that any donor has made personal appeals to introduce policies that would benefit them, or gained from their donation in any way. But the extent of the Square Mile’s bankrolling of the party will raise questions over whether the Conservative-led coalition may be treating its financial supporters favourably.

This very Friday, then, we got this story from the Guardian:

Hundreds of millionaires working in Britain’s banks will save an average of almost £54,000 when the top rate of tax is cut this weekend, according to figures compiled by the Labour party.

The changes mean that 643 bankers, each earning more than £1m, could get a combined tax cut worth at least £34.6m.

The previous day, meanwhile, we had Mr George Osborne pressing the left’s buttons in the following way:

During a visit to Derby, where Philpott lived on benefits with 11 of his 17 children , Mr Osborne told the BBC: “Philpott is responsible for these absolutely horrendous crimes and these are crimes that have shocked the nation. The courts are responsible for sentencing, but I think there is a question for government and for society about the welfare state and the taxpayers who pay for the welfare state, subsidising lifestyles like that. I think that debate needs to be had.”

Whilst today, as the clock struck twelve (don’t you just love the melodramatic histrionics of that phrase!), thousands of millionaires received tens of thousands in tax cuts.

Even as tomorrow the Observer newspaper explains how NHS hospitals are gearing up to concentrate on creating a two-tier set of services, where private patients will inevitably be given priority.  Evidence of which I reported on as long ago as late 2011:

The point of this post is to underline that this is probably the first in what will become a long line of junk mailshots on the subject of unsolicited health services –  a long line which we shall just have to learn to disregard.  Unaccustomed as we have been to see health as simply one more consumer item, the ability to filter out deliberately scarifying messages in terms of this “product” is something we have yet to properly acquire.

Judge for yourself – forewarned is, after all, forearmed.  For this is just the beginning of the two-tier freemium NHS.

More in a similar vein from early 2012 can be found here.

My conclusion to all of this?

  1. Whilst the NHS ethos of free-at-point-of-use is being surreptitiously driven underground by growing corporate-capitalist markets (oh, if only they really were free-market forces …), since 2011 even I in my relatively humble housing-estate have been the object of rapacious health-service providers, aiming to scare my family into premium lifestyles.
  2. Whilst the “subsidised lifestyles” of the Philpotts of this world are used to abuse the reputation of the 99 percent of benefit recipients who don’t abuse the Welfare State (curious, eh?, how that 99 percent pops up all over again), the very same Welfare State begins to redirect its efforts to “subsidising” the 13,000 millionaires who really do begin to abuse the system.

Essentially, what this is all about is a huge sleight-of-hand shifting of public resources from the subsidising of lowly-paid corporate salaries, as per the New Labour post-Thatcher socioeconomic contract of its tax-credit heydays, directly towards the interests of a) a growing and influential number of private lifestyle service-users who will now take priority over the less well-to-do and lower-tier needs; and b) an increasingly influential 1 percent in society who will soon learn the true advantages of the Welfare State as per Cameron & Co.

By distracting people and cleverly whipping up prejudice about the “subsidised lifestyles” of the 99 percent (the disabled, the pregnant, the working mums, the working poor, the sick, the young and the aged), all this time they’re shifting all that very public resource into the pockets of very private patients, very private bankers and very private millionaires.

And so it is that no one seems to be realising what the aforementioned Coalition is really privatising: it’s not just the NHS, in quite sub-Thatcherite and expected mode, but also – in a particularly novel move, even for the most vicious of a historically vicious English right – the whole bloody Welfare State itself.  Not content with reducing the rights the 99 percent may have to properly claim their part of the action, this Coalition of the Damned goes even further: actually increasing the sleazy access to the public purse the top 1 percent will enjoy in the future!

For the poor and aged, for the disabled and sick, expect to become a band of bottom-tiered citizens.

For the rich and botoxed beautiful people of the top-tiered NHS, meanwhile, expect to become a CCTVed group of wealthily sociopathic Philpotts – secure in the presence of its expensive airs and graces that such madness is only in the eye of the beholder.

And if the beholder is poor, this means nothing at all.

Except the honour of funding – through one’s blood, sweat and tears – the “subsidised lifestyles” … of the rich.

Mar 192013

I previously suggested we devise a parallel set of institutions to our existing corrupt and corrupting ones, with the aim of encouraging revolution – though of a bloodless kind – to take the place of a clearly failed social and/or neoliberal democracy.

This morning, an NHS consultant tweeted as follows:

Met a colleague in the corridor this morning. He thinks the NHS is doomed and we need to get out and go private. Sad but true.

And so I quickly wondered what permutations the term “private” could possibly – or, even, constructively – lead to in what, at least to date, we have been told is potentially a far more empowering world than the one the NHS originally came out of.

Developing the train of thought, and on the back of my previous Revolution ’13 post linked to above, I tweeted this in response:

Inconceivable we could set up a parallel #NHS for England? Community health services run on mutual, cooperativist & socialist lines. #coop

What do you think?  Would there be enough interested parties for the first stage of my Revolution ’13 thesis to focus on finding a substitute set of health service provisions?  Using tools created for the Third World and other less wealthy parts of the planet (more here), we could revert their revolutionary and necessarily cost-effective approaches to medical cover “in the wild” to the job of supporting poorer people in what to date has been described as the First World.  A First World which is surely – gigantic step by gigantic step – becoming pocked and marked by holes of tremendous poverty and inequality.

No.  I’m not for one minute suggesting we give up the fight for the NHS.  But I am suggesting we put in place measures to save our perishable and finite souls from the medical Armageddon this government may yet manage to visit upon us.

WDYT?  Would it be interpreted as a sign of weakness?  Would we care if it was?

Would we have the right not to contemplate the alternatives, given the seriousness of the situation itself?


Update to this post: this piece, on GNU Health, has just come my way via the opensource.com newsletter.  It’s really worth a read.  An excerpt below:

In 2006, Luis Falcón founded GNU Health, a free health information system that recently recieved the “Best Project of Social Benefit” award given by the Free Software Foundation.

GNU Solidario is the non-profit NGO behind GNU Health, started as a free software project for Primary Care facilities in rural areas and developing countries. Since then, it has evolved into a full Hospital and Health Information System used by the United Nations, public hospitals and Ministries of Health (such as in Entre Rios, Argentina), and private institutions around the globe.

GNU Health/Solidario and the United Nations International Institute for Global Health—UNU IIGH—signed an agreement in 2011 to train health professionals around the world on the system, as a way of promoting free software in public health, especially in emerging economies. Since then, both organizations have been cooperating and expanding their network of partners to deliver health in a universal way; which, also works towards the UN’s Millenium Development Goals.

The resulting interview is fascinating.  Well worth your time – and perhaps, in the end, your money.

Mar 072013

Rick has a lovely piece on defending bureaucracy as a Good Thing.  It starts off like this:

Gus O’Donnell presented a thought-provoking programme on Radio 4 this morning, In Defence of Bureaucracy. He presented two arguments. Firstly, you can’t get much done without basic organisation. Secondly, bureaucracy, with its formal rules, offers protection from the arbitrary whims and prejudices of those in power.

I suggest you read it in its entirety.  It’s not just a piece about bureaucracy in government.  It’s also a piece about bureaucracy in the private sector.  This paragraph, for example:

Bureaucracy is the corporate equivalent of the rule of law. It protects people from arbitrary decisions inside the organisation. Rules and procedures give people clarity about their roles, their scope for decision making and their boundaries. Like the rule of law, they protect employees from random and vindictive treatment by their bosses. It has become very fashionable to deride bureaucracy but working in organisations with fewer rules and procedures can be just as unpleasant. Trying to second guess the whims of a maverick autocratic boss can be every bit as energy draining and innovation stifling as working in a bureaucracy.

In essence, as a set of democratic societies, we could not have arrived at where we are if it hadn’t been for the law-engendering instincts of overarching rules, processes and procedures.

It’s clear, therefore, that our impulsive perceptions of bureaucracy need a makeover.  We need to perceive it with a greater sense of its complex contribution to latterday civilisation.  Therein the rub, of course.  There’s plenty of evidence that bureaucracy – and its fairly widely independent relationship to political masters – makes it a perfect vehicle for doing ill too.  Just because a bureaucracy religiously ensures that rules, processes and procedures are followed to the letter doesn’t mean that only good may necessarily spring forth: if the rules, processes and procedures in question are malignant in nature, the result will be unkind.  What’s more, pretty consistently – even remorselessly – unkind.

The most obvious example is how the Nazis appropriated the Weimar Republic’s institutions.  But we also have an example much closer to home:

Patient interests were neglected for years by NHS mangers as hospitals concentrated on cutting waiting times at the expense of good care, the head of the service admitted today.

Sir David Nicholson accepted that he was “part” of an environment where the leadership of the NHS “lost its focus” and which indirectly led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of patients at Stafford Hospital.

Now it still seems the latter case is being the subject of much political football – the Tories have recently blamed the previous Labour government for, I assume, its attachment to targets (perhaps, in this case, the wrong ones – that is to say, the easiest ones to measure); meanwhile, the Labour opposition is calling for Nicholson to resign his current responsibility as driver of highly unpopular government-organised change at the NHS.

As I’ve said on a previous occasion:

If you think about it, the pyramid which reaches pointy-headed to the sky is actually totally absurd.  As the work gets more complex and challenging, we use fewer heads to decide what needs to be done.  The chances of committing errors, of stressing oneself into illness, of failing to achieve one’s targets … these are all bound to increase with the traditional pyramid we are all used to.

Surely this is madness.

Surely we need if not a cylinder, at the very least a pyramid without a considerable part of its upper superstructure.

And as Shuggy concisely points out:

From the Hootsmon:

“Excessive hierarchy must become a thing of the past. Upward communication must be encouraged and constructive criticism should be positively received.”

The remedy for this is, apparently, to give those at the top of the hierarchy more power:

“Headteachers should be seen as the chief executives of largely autonomous organisations…”

Kier Bloomer being desperately stupid in a way that only intelligent people can be. I’ll make this my last post on education for some time because this stuff makes me so depressed I can’t stand it.

Again as I’ve said on other occasions, where we currently find ourselves is here:

Where managerialism takes over, and where hierarchies reduce the number of people involved as the tasks get more complex, we get the big-hitter striker syndrome: a man or woman at the top on whom everyone is focussed. A man or woman on whom everything depends. A man or woman who will one day fail; or perhaps, over time, frequently fails – but has the physical presence to convince us they are, even so, actually succeeding; and so deserve the massive salaries they command. […]

Bureaucracies and top executives – or corporate law and CEOs, if you wish – are complicated relationships, after all.  It’s true, of course, that bureaucracies can act as a dead hand on individually dangerous and maverick leaders.  But as the Nazis showed us, and as the concept of charismatic leadership more widely demonstrates, a stratospheric leadership structure can just as easily use a bureaucracy to escape conviction and control as that very same bureaucracy can serve to ameliorate the former’s wilder instincts.

If we want to continue to believe we can use bureaucracy as a force for good, we need – first and foremost – to sort out the ever-growing dysfunctionality of pyramidal structures, as well as the inefficient concentrations of wealth that accompany it.

Feb 102013

This piece just published by Seema Chandwani on Labour Left describes all too clearly what’s happening to the NHS at the moment:

Across the country, the NHS is being dismantled, downgraded and closed down. These decisions are reckless and defies commonsense considering the  growing population. Regardless of the rhetoric from Cameron, the systematic collapse of the NHS is at the heart of Tory ideology as recently exposed by the release of government documents from the Thatcher era. What we are seeing now is an attack on the NHS to fulfil Thatcher’s once defeated plans.

And whilst the Twittersphere I find myself in appears to be vociferous enough, no hugely physical manifestations in the real world seem to be taking place.  The government is proceeding apace with its plans, it would seem.  Nothing too contrary prevents it.

Seema has this to say on the subject (the bold is mine):

The biggest weapon the Tories (and their Lib Dem friends) have to fulfil their vision is public apathy and naivety. The media’s coverage of what this government is doing to the NHS has been intentionally weak and we are being drip fed myths of desired improvements by a manipulating Tory regime. As I have a diabetic brother and my younger sister is being treated for suspected MS, being apathetic, naive and manipulated cannot be an option for me, I am sure that each one of you have similar reasons or experiences why the NHS is important to you.

Actually, I would wager that the vast majority of English people have very direct reasons or experiences to value the NHS.  If not at a personal level, then almost certainly at a familial.  So this – this personal experience, or lack of it – cannot be the reason the English are not now dramatically out on the streets, defending their future wellbeing and health.

Perhaps, then, the explanation lies elsewhere: are the English, in fact, political cowards?

I don’t mean everyone.  I don’t mean the activists.  I don’t mean those of us who love and hate politics in equal measure.  I mean ordinary people: people living their lives; people the politicians are supposed to serve and represent; people who only have the time to survive, work and occasionally live.

Does a certain level of poverty – or its horizontal threat – make of us all little cowards in some way or another?  When you still have a little to lose, do you prefer not to make waves?  Is the fear of losing everything a matter which leads us to kow-tow to those who are hurting us?  And is that precisely the place where we find ourselves now – as a people, as a community and as a nation?

The Tories don’t really have us by the balls, do they?  They simply have us by our cowardice.

Feb 092013

There’s a campaign of sorts being waged here – perhaps rightly in parts but unfairly in the main.  Charles Moore at the Telegraph describes the uncaring NHS thus:

It is officially calculated that, between 2005 and 2009, up to 1,200 patients at Stafford Hospital died needlessly. Let us imagine that a comparable disaster occurred in any other institution or enterprise in this country. Suppose that hundreds of customers of the cold food counter at Sainsbury’s or Tesco died of food poisoning. Suppose that, at an army barracks, large comprehensive, steelworks, bank, hotel, university campus or holiday theme park, people died, and went on dying for years, at rates that hugely exceeded anything that could be attributed to the normal course of nature.

He then goes on to argue (the bold is mine):

What would happen? In all cases – though more quickly in the private sector than in the public – the relevant management would be sacked.  […]

As, for example dear Charles, happened here is that?

The Bhopal disaster, also referred to as the Bhopal gas tragedy, was a gas leak incident in India, considered one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.[1] It occurred on the night of 2–3 December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Over 500,000 people were exposed to methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals. The toxic substance made its way in and around the shantytowns located near the plant.[2] Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259. The government of Madhya Pradesh confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release.[3]Others estimate 8,000 died within two weeks and another 8,000 or more have since died from gas-related diseases.[4][5] A government affidavit in 2006 stated the leak caused 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.[6]

Or the punishments meted out more than twenty “quick” years later …

Civil and criminal cases are pending in the District Court of Bhopal, India, involving UCC and Warren Anderson, UCC CEO at the time of the disaster.[7][8] In June 2010, seven ex-employees, including the former UCIL chairman, were convicted in Bhopal of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of about $2,000 each, the maximum punishment allowed by Indian law. An eighth former employee was also convicted, but died before the judgment was passed.[1]

Oh, but India isn’t Britain.  We do things differently here, don’t we?  The DWP and its disability assessment contractor Atos being a case in point.  According to a Mirror investigation last year, in seven truly short months:

[…] 1,100 [disabled] claimants died after they were put in the “work-related activity group”.

Thirty-two a week, that is.  And no way of working out whether these deaths are directly due to government policy or not.

No way at all.  Fortunately for the government and its contractors.


Family, especially the traditional family, especially for the right-wing believers amongst us, is a crucial first step to building a society.  And a crucial part of that crucial first step, as I think we can all agree, is the love most of us are lucky enough to receive from that grouping.

Big companies build on medium-sized companies which, in turn, build on the small.  And the small are nothing more nor less than duplicates of – even participants in – family life.  So where in all of this nexus of actions might go the idea of that love which – in other circumstances – serves to protect us all?

After all, I would say that most families don’t abuse their members – and this, probably, out of love.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that environments where only money and profit motivate organisations – as well as, eventually, even the people’s souls which they are made up of – become uncaring of and selfish about their constituent parts, reverting – as they tend to do – to pursuing the lowest common denominators of rank behaviours.

As a result, Charles Moore seems to be saying that the solution to managerialism in the NHS is more managerialism: more private means and ways which twenty years later might get punished.  Here, I think he is quite wrong.  The private sector, in part, is thus named precisely because it keeps its secrets as close to its chest as possible.  Until boardroom flame wars become – as a rule – public property, nothing will convince me that a private-sector managerialism is more transparent than its public-sector counterparts.

He does, however, also point out, quite rightly I think in this case (again, the bold is mine):

Within hours of the report’s publication, Sir David Nicholson, the chief executive of the NHS, appeared on the BBC. Sir David was head of the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority between 2005 and 2006, and was therefore the senior leader responsible for Stafford Hospital. He sounded quite chirpy. He pointed out – in case we might have doubted it – that he was “a human being”. In that capacity, he said he was “shocked” by what had happened at Stafford Hospital, and “sorry” too. But he fastened quickly on Mr Francis’s comforting words that the problem was the “culture” rather than any specific bad leadership. Sir David felt “pretty sure that I know broadly what we need to do”: he was staying.

This reverting to spreading the crap amongst each and every member of an organisation, as well as no one in particular, is a common enough tactic in corporates everywhere (by corporates, I mean the structures – not whether they are necessarily private or public), and is a tactic which should be condemned wherever possible.

So on this we can, indeed, ultimately agree.

For there is one final issue here which I guess you will feel types me as naive, and yet relates to the above matter of culture.  Referencing once again the importance of family and love to counterbalance the perhaps innate selfishness of humanity, a society which multiplies its basic hierarchical structures of father, mother and child up into these large pyramidal corporations which now dominate our landscapes – without the prophylactic that true love of self and others can help to generate and perpetuate – is surely now bound for a destruction of sorts: at the very least, the kind of careless ignorance of pain and suffering which those at the top acquire all too quickly.

If anything characterises business and government today, it is the ability to see in others quite rapidly one’s very own failings writ immensely large.

And yet, at the same time, to be entirely oblivious of one’s own part and responsibility in the encroaching disaster.

All you need is love?  Well.  Not all.  But it’s a tool we could well begin to learn to value again, and see ourselves incorporating in to at least elements of our work lives.

If for no other reason than to set some of this saddening world to a rights we have deserved for far too long – and yet clearly missed out on so very tragically.


Nov 252012

Let me explain.

I’ve been away for a couple of days in a hotel room.  The hotel was fine but it wasn’t my home.  I wrote a couple of pieces whilst I was there.  The pieces were more reflective than has been my custom of late.  We need more reflection.

At least, I need more reflection.

I’ve just arrived back home and sitting back in my familiar surroundings, anything but luxurious but – even so – comforting and family-underlining, the rain pitter-pattering on the sitting-room window, the recorded football on the tele, so it is that I am reminded of the great importance of familiarity in general: because for our politicians and rulers, you see, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt but – instead – too much confidence on the part of their subjects.

To feel safe in your castle as all Englishmen and women are supposed to feel is the greatest challenge to all political rulers who aim to desegregate a tapestry of national expectations.  Whilst you fear losing the very soul of your life, you will be cowed into almost any kind of behaviour.  But if you feel your loved ones are protectable behind the four walls of your home, then almost anything may be contemplated.  I can, in this sense, understand those who argue against gun laws – not, I hastily add, because I believe in anyone bearing arms at all but, rather, essentially because I appreciate now more than ever the importance of feeling permanently in control of one’s own destiny.

Which is what I think most profoundly is behind the assertions of such a constituency.

And that sense of control is what Disability Living Allowance aimed to provide; that sense of control is what the NHS which kept the wolf from the door was looking to add; that sense of control is what many of those top-down policies of empowerment we berated New Labour for engineering simply steamed ahead and implemented, day after day, to a wider benefit of us all.

To want to eliminate all those things is, in a sense, the UK equivalent of a rampant US desire for nationwide gun control.  Our “guns” – what allowed the British to protect themselves from the elements – are inventions such as the NHS, Legal Aid and the Welfare State.

As well as a wider network of social-care instincts.

Thus we come to understand that home is a shield which rightly emboldens us all – and DLA, the NHS, Sure Start and all were astonishing extensions of those shields I allude to which allowed us to believe, precisely, in better: better ways of seeing, thinking and living.

I tweeted rather sadly this morning the following sequence of ideas:

Did civilisation get too expensive for those who rule? Is that what this Coalition is all about? Reducing the costs of Western compassion?

And to me, it doesn’t half feel as if this is the case.

They can’t, of course, say that universal education has created a mass of highly intellectualised people which perhaps in many matters knows better than our governors.  They can’t admit this because they are tied hand and foot to the concept of meritorious pyramidal organisation.  Those at the top must be better than those at the bottom, because otherwise those at the top couldn’t be at the top.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy which, if questioned, would lead to all kinds of awful potentialities: maybe, for example, an utter and total reworking of that aforementioned – and for me, quite dreaded – pyramid of often dysfunctional relationships.

And the Lord forbid that such eventualities might take place.


Chris has a pertinent observation today, when he says:

[…] there’s a belief that the only knowledge that matters is direct experience; Tim seems to think that only the poor can truly understand poverty.This is doubtful. And what’s even more doubtful – in fact plain wrong – is that direct experience of poverty is necessary to know which policies are best to relieve poverty.

Something which I’d be inclined to agree wholeheartedly with.  Being evidence-based is far more important to the justice and fairness one can bring to bear on a matter than whether one was born rich or poor.  Being a person of kindly outlook – with an awareness of others, an empathetic personality and the ability to actively listen – are all far more useful to one’s ability to reach out than whether or not one has suffered personally the disadvantages of deprivation.

Such disadvantages may drive one unremittingly to help others, of course.  On the other hand, they could just as easily encourage us to trample whenever the opportunity presented itself.

It is in the essence of an individual where we must judge people’s integrity – rather than in terms of the origin of the acts themselves.

And so Chris is equally interesting when he concludes with these final biting lines:

It is not the background of Cameron, Freud and Osborne that stops them making effective anti-poverty policy. It is their ignorance and ideology.

Only I wonder if it is truly ignorance and ideology.  To be honest, I think it might be the biggest and most unpleasant practical joke of latterday political times.  A humongous practical joke, in fact.

For them, we are simply buttons to be pressed.  And if you really want my opinion, whilst I admire all that New Labour achieved, I’m going to be blaming Blairism, iPods and technological gadgets equally for this unending robotisation of how a society must function.


Social mobility means you walk the streets with your frozen hands clasping firmly a PAYG phone.

Social mobility means you can never know if your parents will ever see their grandchildren.

Social mobility means you will never live in a face-to-face community again.

Social mobility – of this kind, I mean – leads us to a desperate scrabbling for a smidgen of human warmth.

And without that warmth, we have no hearth.  And without a hearth, we have no home.  And without a home, we have no shield.  And without a shield, above all we are as defenceless as the men and women who once occupied the caves.

Oh yes.  We have running-water and central-heating, but without the wherewithal to properly purchase it, it all becomes a mirage.

Hold on to that home.

Hold on to that shield.

Embolden yourself before it’s just – infamously – too late.

Oct 152012

I admit it.  I’ve been naive all my life.  I remember when it started.  At the age of ten, I was elected head of my junior school house.  I still remember its name.  We were the Eagles – golden and proud.  Then shortly after the election, I was struck with what was later diagnosed epilepsy.  I was off school for a few weeks – maybe months.  I was given barbiturates to prevent the attacks.  But the barbiturates made me sleepy.  So they proceeded to give me uppers as well.  Even so, for quite a time, my GP thought I was faking it.

The proudest moment of my life – head of house – and I was struck down with an infirmity which prevented me from shining as I had long wished.  I thought this was just the way of the world.  I thought that’s how it had to be.

Life kind of repeated itself in my middle age as I had a nervous breakdown.  I’m not stupid, not unintelligent – but I’ve never fulfilled what you might have cared to call my promise. I never liked playing the highly political game of career chess.  The world doesn’t reward those who are not prepared to play that game.  Favours people wanted to do me always seemed – to me – more like ambushes.  Maybe I was right; maybe I was wrong.  But in the end it meant I never fulfilled what you might have cared to call my promise.

I’m currently getting a bit of flak from people close to me: gentle flak to them but painful to me.  They don’t appreciate what I do on these pages because these pages don’t interest them; and maybe because there’s little to appreciate in them too.  I’d even be happy to take onboard their criticism if it was based on them having read what I write.

But it isn’t.

On the other hand, I can see what they mean.  What is the point of registering a century for future generations who will almost certainly find what I write to be TLTR?  The essence of the latterday web lies precisely in its ability to promiscuously choose what is valuable – and fiercely disregard the rest.  Individual authorship isn’t what writing is all about these days.  Skimming off the cream which has risen to the surface, whatever its origin, is what we’re up to now.


Anyhow.  My naivete originated in that time I was struck down with epilepsy – just at that moment that I was beginning to flower as a human being.  I had to suffer its unpredictability – falling down at the back of science labs and in school playgrounds as I strove to pretend nothing was happening – until about the age of sixteen when I was placed on different medication.  That seemed to work.  But the naivete  was well entrenched by then.

There was a world for the healthy and there was another world for the unwell.

And my world was now the latter; the former always to be beyond me.

I am minded to write these words as a result of having read a long but hardly TLTR piece on the subject of ME.  If you want to find out more, click here to the piece in question.  If you do, and you take out the time you really should in order to read its sad litany of insulting behaviours, you’ll not only realise where I’m coming from today but will also have learnt what other people are going through.

And I ask myself if we were all so very naive.  I ask myself if it wasn’t just me.  I ask myself if our generation in particular, those of us who now find ourselves between the ages of forty and sixty, was especially predisposed to believing in honest society, honest politics and honest business.  Especially at the mercy of those prepared to take advantage of the foolish.

Yesterday I posted a rather muddled and confused article on the subject of how the BBC public service ethos is being destroyed from within by commercial forces: forces which are targeting the global affluent at the expense of the British voter.  I think it was so muddled because – for me as the naive kid I was – the BBC became a cornerstone of my life.  Even more so than perhaps the NHS, the BBC was to me fundamental.  Some of us follow football teams – I, meanwhile, used to read the credits on TV series.  Every Wednesday, Wednesday I think it was, I’d scurry down to the newsagent’s to buy the latest copy of the Radio Times.  I so did want to work for what I truly treasured, loved and valued.

I sent in a couple of scripts when I was older.  I got some useful and generous feedback.  I went on to university and studied Film & Literature – with a creative writing module thrown in for good luck in my final year.

And even when I was in Spain, the BBC was never too far away.  During the disintegration of Yugoslavia, my wife’s short-band radio was always to hand.  When Amazon started delivering to Spain, we’d buy videos of “Miss Marple” and “Fawlty Towers” and other oases of good programming.  Even when it was “Inspector Morse” and “Poirot”, it seemed like the BBC was in some way responsible.

So when I read and begin to get the impression that the BBC is just one more brand to be cunningly sold off on the backs of the British voters, one more brand to be moulded and recreated in the image of a government which stands threateningly over it, one more brand – no longer that cornerstone – of a British society which must now operate entirely in terms of the money it can chase … well, how am I not to be confused by the cultural dissonance this process generates in what formed such a key part of my childhood?


I do have one question though – one question which needs an answer: were we all naive some time back to such an extent that – under our silly noses – our society, our politics and our businesses were always thus?

Or, alternatively, is this government – this generation we form a part of – now truly changing the ground rules of our whole existence?

Is what’s happening to you and me, this earthquake-like disorientated wandering around, actually a gear shift of a change in how society is organised – or simply a painful falling away of the veils of naivete we once held so close, quite despite our better judgement?

Is what’s happening to you and me something that every generation’s had to face?  The ultimate loss of social hope?  The acceptance of inevitable injustice?  The inability to fight for anything but oneself any more?

Is what’s happening to you and me why we need so very much a new generation of young people?

For let’s face it, folks: those of us between the ages of forty and sixty have proceeded to mess up the world big time for everyone else.  Out of malice or naivete – either way, we’re the generation that’s massively failed to fulfil its promise.

And maybe what’s missing right now from this world is humility: a generational humility, a humility people your age and mine have failed to express.  An acceptance of the casual crimes committed against humanity in the name of complex civilisation.

An admittance, in fact, that we were wrong all along.

Time we all did a figurative Eli Scruggs perhaps?