NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 9th January 2016
Friday afternoon was an exceptionally busy time in our local Emergency Department (ED) at the QMC hospital – but it was an insight for me into the process and systems used by the local NHS which, of course, never closes its doors to accidents and urgent health needs.
During my visit I wanted to see for myself how the ED could cope at peak times given the importance of the four hour maximum waiting time target and the occasions when this is surpassed. The management team (pictured below) helpfully explained the triage arrangements and new ‘initial assessment unit’.
Not all patients can be discharged from the ED so I followed the path that around 130 patients typically take each day if admitted into the two longer assessment wards (B3 and ward D57). The ‘flow’ of patients through this process is clearly determined by the downstream capacity in the rest of the hospital, which is in turn affected by the ability of local authority social services departments to ensure safe discharge when acute care is completed.
I was allowed to sit in on an innovative staff meeting drawn from all across the various hospital teams who now cross-audit each other’s performance standards, a process they call “Breaking The Cycle”. Asking frontline staff to devise solutions is often more effective than senior management taking a top-down approach and I’m glad this is now happening more locally.
There are still obstacles and problems I want to be addressed; nursing home residents shouldn’t have to stay in hospital all weekend long just because social services can’t do a reintegration check after a trip to the ED on a Friday; the financial penalties for the hospital need refining so that resources for emergency treatment aren’t unfairly hit.
But overall we are really fortunate to have nurses, medics, ambulance and management staff working so closely together to keep urgent health care going even at times of great stress. This winter is a difficult time for the NHS and I will be watching closely whether needs are matched by the resources allocated nationally.
- It was a real pleasure on Friday to have the opportunity to meet with Stuart Mason and Kadie Kanneh who live in Nottingham and whose seven children are all incredibly musically gifted, and six of whom last year featured on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. I wanted to meet with the Kanneh-Mason’s to learn in detail about how they helped their children gain such strong music specialisms and whether we have the right approach to music education locally and nationally. It was an insight to hear about how each of the children started with one-to-one music lessons from about the age of six and then from age 10 having further one-to-one support on a Saturday afternoon at the Royal Academy of Music. Clearly this involves incredible commitment, but I think that we should find ways for more one-to-one music tuition to be available to all children rather than just assuming this is an impossible goal. I’ll be working with the family in the coming months to challenge some of the conventional wisdom about music tuition and raise questions with some of our schools and other public institutions, because we have to do better to help more children have opportunities to bridge the gap between skilled amateur and performing excellence. See examples of the Kanneh-Mason’s at the links here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jA05iFPhpI or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBb6vMYUAFg
- It was great to see that in a report released on Wednesday, Ofsted rated New College Nottingham as ‘good’ in all areas. This is excellent news, following a difficult year in which financial struggles combined with attempts to improve standards, following a ‘requires improvement’ Ofsted judgment in 2013. I hope that the college can now look more positively into the future, after a merger with Central College Nottingham was announced in August last year.
- Nottingham City Labour Group are holding a fundraising dinner on Friday 15th January at the Mogal E-Azam restaurant in the city centre. The dinner is being held to raise funds for the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum, and the guest speaker will be Jack Dromey MP. Full details of the event are below. Tickets are £20 each, and can be obtained from David Mellen by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Post Office branch on Sneinton Boulevard is to undergo a refurbishment to modernise the branch. The branch is being upgraded to become a ‘main’ branch, which will mean longer opening hours, an expanded range of services and a modernised interior. The Post Office will be closed for the refurbishment from 17:30 on Wednesday 13th January and will reopen on Saturday 16th January at 13:00.
- On New Year’s Day, Stonebridge City Farm in St Ann’s welcomed Solar, their new-born calf (pictured below!), who was named with help from Nottingham Post readers. They also have a job vacancy and are looking for a full time Finance Administrator to join their team. You can view the job advert here, or for further information on the role contact email@example.com
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- On Tuesday I was elected as the co-chair of the East Midlands All Party Parliamentary Group, a new alliance of all the MPs in the East Midlands determined to campaign more vigorously for investment, regeneration and economic development in our region. We already have some strong voices for the East Midlands in the shape of the local councils who come together to coordinate in the form of ‘East Midlands Councils’ and also business organisations too. There is a strong lobby from united MPs in Scotland, Wales, the North East and of course in London for their infrastructure and transport needs. That’s why we felt it long overdue to pull together across the party divide and bang the drum for our part of the world. We’ll be meeting over the coming weeks to get clearer priorities – the five big infrastructure needs for the region; the five areas where the East Mids loses out relative to others; and the five areas where the East Midlands economy will put extra effort in to specialise. If you’ve any feedback at this stage on these points I’d be interested to know.
- George Osborne’s speech warning of the difficult global trading environment caught the headlines this week, coming as it did after he went slower on deficit reduction than many expected in his Autumn Statement in November. 2016 is likely to be a testing year for our economy and I’ll be spending time looking at what more we can do to both protect British prosperity but also ensure that the right decisions are made by a Chancellor who is too often driven by politics rather than ensuring the wide majority of people share in steady and sustained growth.
- On Tuesday the Government made a statement on flooding and on Wednesday the House of Commons debated an Opposition motion on this important issue. The National Audit Office has confirmed that, excluding emergency funding, the Coalition Government cut spending on flood defence schemes by 10% during the last Parliament, despite consistent warnings about the damage caused by cuts, and the risks of increased flooding as climate change worsens. The Government’s £2.3 billion capital programme is welcome, but there are doubts whether this will meet need, especially as the Environment Agency said in 2014 they required more.
- On Wednesday there was an Opposition Day debate on Universal Credit Work Allowance, which provided an important opportunity to discuss the Government’s cuts to Universal Credit. The Government plans to halve the value of the work allowance under Universal Credit, which is the piece of Universal Credit that is essential to making work pay. Starting in April there will be a £9.6 billion reduction in support for working families over the next five years, with £100 million of that coming in 2016-17, initially affecting hundreds of thousands of families who have piloted Universal Credit. According to the IFS, by 2020 2.6 million working families on Universal Credit will be £1,600 a year worse off due to the cuts. Because the Chancellor reversed cuts to tax credits in the autumn statement, we now have a postcode lottery, where new claimants of Universal Credit will receive far less support than tax credit claimants, including those who transfer across to Universal Credit.
- On Thursday there was a Backbench Business debate on the effect of the equalisation of the state pension age (SPA) on women. This provided an important opportunity to discuss the Coalition Government’s decision to accelerate the rise in women’s SPA, which has had a devastating impact on many women who were born in the 1950s. While I support the equalisation of the SPA, the decision to accelerate the rise in women’s SPA has meant that women born in the 1950s did not have much notice of changes and could not readily plan for their new circumstances. The impact of these changes has been further exacerbated by the Government’s failure to communicate the changes. In 2011 the Work and Pensions Secretary committed to looking at transitional provisions to help the women who have been hit hardest by the changes but he has failed to do so.
- On Tuesday the House of Commons debated the Housing and Planning Bill. The level of home-ownership has fallen to the lowest rate in a generation and private rents have reached an all-time high. The Government has failed to deliver any plan for genuine one-for-one, like-for-like replacement of council homes sold through the right-to-buy scheme, and ‘affordable rent’ is not affordable to many families. The Government has presided over a 36% increase of people accepted as homeless and in ‘priority need’ since 2009-10, and the lowest level of house building in peacetime since the 1920s. The Bill will lead to a huge loss of affordable homes to rent and buy which will intensify the spiral of ever higher housing costs. I am concerned that under this Government’s plans, starter homes will be less affordable for many young people and families on ordinary incomes.
- It was the Labour frontbench reshuffle that dominated the headlines this week rather than important campaigns to press for a better Government response on flooding, rail fares and housing. I believe Labour must focus on the concerns of the wider public who aren’t involved in day-to-day politicking, who want a fresh alternative to the Tories, yet at the same time also want reassurance Labour can be a credible, safe pair of hands when it comes to running the economy, taking care of taxpayers’ money and ensuring we have strong national defences to keep the public safe.
- This week the Government also made a statement on the relationship between the UK and Saudi Arabia. The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 other people has caused a major diplomatic and political crisis and caused dismay and outrage around the world. My feeling is that the use of the death penalty is wrong and the Saudi Government were wrong to execute Sheikh al-Nimr, a Shi’a cleric, and three young Shi’a men whose alleged offences appear to have involved taking part in political protests and demonstrations. On Tuesday my colleague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, raised whether it would be appropriate to suspend any co-operation on judicial matters with Saudi Arabia in the light of these mass executions, and following reports of potential breaches of international humanitarian law by the Saudi military which uses British-supplied weapons among others, also pressed for an independent investigation into whether there is a risk of UK arms being used in breach of international humanitarian law. The wider shifts in policy and attitudes across the Middle East are likely to shape world events in the coming years, which is why I will be trying to learn in more detail about countries in the Middle East over the coming months.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
January is often a time when the credit card bills hit hard and problems with personal debt create real difficulty for quite a number of local families.
In these difficult times, there is a whole array of ‘advice’ and I worry that some financial service companies can prey on the vulnerability of those struggling to stay on top of their debts.
That’s why I’d be interested to know if you or those you know have encountered situations with the ‘fee-charging’ Debt Management Plan (DMP) sector. These are companies who charge their customers upfront for the process of renegotiating the terms of repayments on loans that are consolidated into longer but smaller regular payments. But lots of people don’t realise that’s not the only way a DMP can be set up. DMPs are in general a good way to help those who can’t maintain contractual payments and there are good charities I’ve worked with in recent years – such as StepChange – who will actually set up a DMP for free because the creditor is willing to pay for the admin costs (after all, the banks still want to get their money back eventually!).
Yet there are still some unscrupulous firms who will charge a steep fee to the indebted, take their costs in the first monthly payments, all before even paying off a penny of the individuals’ debts.
I think it’s time to regulate away the worst practice here and phase out the fee-charging DMP providers. There’s no need for DMPs to be done in this way because the banks and building societies are willing to chip in their ‘fair share’ of the costs of administering this breathing-space arrangement without any cost to consumers.
Do you know anyone affected by the fee-charging DMP sector? Or anyone who has struggled with personal debt and found it difficult to get advice or get onto a more manageable repayment plan? I’d be interested to know any experiences as this is an issue I plan to raise in Parliament in the near future.