Monday, 31 January 2011

An NHS comparison

I have spent today watching the Commons debate. It's still going on as I write this.
Mr Lansley set out his proposals, spending a lot of time on 'patient centred care' and 'GP commissioning'. He spent very little time talking about the price competition or the new regulator, Monitor. It was misleading to say the least.

He compares us constantly, with false figures, to France. Or just to Europe. But the reforms will lead to us having a system like America. And this graph shows perfectly that we already have better care than America.

The YouGov survey found that only 27% of people back moves to allow profit-making companies to increase their role the NHS.

Less than a third of the public supports the NHS reforms. So how can the Government go ahead with them?
The Conservatives promised the NHS was safe with them, that they would not cut, nor inflict any more reforms on it. There was no mention of it in the Coalition agreement.
So they have lied. Badly. In short they have absolutely no mandate for this reform.


Sunday, 30 January 2011

Why the NHS works

Mr Lansley thinks the NHS doesn't work properly. Read this post from an actual NHS doctor as to why it does.

Why the NHS works

I saw a patient last week, who has recovered from major surgery. He has had brain surgery and is now likely to do very well. I am pleased. He is well.

The whole process worked beautifully. He was diagnosed quickly and effectively. He was assessed further at the local hospital who referred on to the Regional Centre where he was well looked after, nursed excellently, and when he came to see me, he and his wife were delighted.

He is an ordinary working-class bloke from Dullsville, who has been looked after.

His care, I reckon, would have cost around £200,000. He knows that. We, the healthy, paid for him to have his treatment.

This is the NHS that I joined as a Junior Doctor 36 years ago.

I get a bit fed up of politicians and journalists telling me that the NHS needs reform.

It blinking well doesn't. What it needs is aforesaid politicians to go away and do something else with their time. I'd rather they dredged their moats, or tended to their duck houses.

Leave us alone.

Original post here

No-one claims the NHS is perfect. But that doesn't justify abolishing it. Which is what these 'reforms' are tantamount to.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Save Our NHS

I love our NHS. Last year when I went to my GP complaining of numbness from the waist down she sent me straight to the hospital. I saw some lovely nurses who made me comfortable, then a very nice doctor who didn't make me feel too embarrassed when she had to check in certain areas that no-one should ever have to see.
She booked me an MRI - for the following day. When one of my American friends needed an MRI for suspected cancer he had to wait till he could afford to pay for it. That thought makes me shudder. Luckily it wasn't cancer. But what if it had been? He could have died by the time they raised enough money to pay for the scan.

Yesterday another American friend posted a link to an article from an Arizona paper where a child had an emergency transplant surgery cancelled because of budget cuts.
I saw a tweet where a 5 year old boy was selling his artwork to pay for cancer treatment.
This shocked and horrified me. What sort of world do we live in where people can't get life saving treatment because they can't afford it?

Up until last May I would have been relieved that, thanks to the NHS, it could never happen here. Except that now, there's every possibility that a few years down the line, it could.

Andrew Lansley promised he would protect the NHS. Now he proposes to dismantle it. He doesn't word it like that of course. The word 'privatisation' is never used lest we should realise what he is up to. He tries his hardest to make it sound like he is doing this for the patients, using terms like 'GP commissioning' to fool us into thinking it will be about us.

What it really amounts to though is the gradual demise of the NHS and the introduction of private healthcare companies. Mr Lansley thinks that the NHS should be financially competitive. Enter the private healthcare companies. The NHS will have to shrink to make way for these companies and GP's will be able to refer patients to whichever hospital offers the best care. Sounds reasonable right?

Except the private firms are profit run. They can afford to spend a few years offering the same treatment but at a lower cost, which the GP's will jump at because they have a budget to deal with. The NHS will be gradually squeezed out. Once the risk of going else where is gone, these companies can then set the prices they want. Who will be able to complain when there is no other option?

GP's should be focusing on patient care, not budgets and financial concerns. So either patient care will suffer or they will employ outside help. Once again enter the private firms.

Make no mistake, these firms are out there, circling like vultures, ready to pick at the carcass of the NHS. One can also see the glee in their faces, the pound signs in their eyes. Give it 10 to 15 years and wham, bam, welcome to the New America.

I for one think that healthcare should never be linked to profit. People should always come first. With private healthcare this is not their concern. They are a business, they are there to make money. That's why they exist. If there were no money to be made they'd vanish.

And Mr Lansley knows there are risks but refuses to release the details. He claims it will impede ministers. I am cynical enough to think it's probably because he doesn't want to give the public information to use against him.

The NHS is a fundamental part of Britain. It needs improving of course, but it is there for all of us, whenever we need it. It doesn't matter if we have no money, if we are rich or poor; in the NHS we are all the same.
This is why we must save it. I don't want to live in a country where my fellow citizens could be denied treatment because they can't pay. I don't want to live in one where money is the first concern over someone's wellbeing. One where someone could die while they save up the money for an operation.

So I will fight for our NHS. I hope you will too.

These sites can help you fight
NHS Support Federation
Keep Our NHS Public
38 degrees Save Our NHS

Friday, 14 January 2011

One month before Heartbreak

It's almost one year now since I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
My life has changed forever in the last year, in ways I could not have foreseen and would never have dreamed could happen to me.

I now have to have someone else to change my bed for me because I can no longer do it myself.
I have to get a taxi to the doctors surgery 10 minutes walk away because I can no longer walk there.
Last week I had to leave the shopping centre after 5 minutes because my head was hurting so badly.
I have a rail on the wall so I can shower.
I can't open a can with my left hand anymore.
I have to swallow my dignity and discuss my bowel and bladder functions with a nurse.

If you're thinking this is not a fun way to live you'd be right. It isn't. I am slowly coming to terms with it but I still grieve for the life I no longer have. For the opportunities that I will no longer to able to take.
I wanted to learn the violin, to learn the tango and Irish dancing, to walk the Pennine Way and Offa's Dyke.
None of these things are options for me anymore but I am slowly learning to accept it.

I am learning to adapt. I bought a tumble dryer because I can't walk to the launderette anymore. My family bought me a small dishwasher because I can't wash up by hand. I buy pre cut vegetable and ready grated cheese so I can still eat healthily and not waste precious energy. I buy ready meals for when I am too tired to cook.
I still struggle with getting taxis everywhere because I know that the bus would be so much cheaper but I just can't use it.

These are all things that Disability Living Allowance - DLA- helps to afford. Without it I don't know what I would do. But I am now faced with the prospect of losing it.
The coalition government in it's infinite, non disabled wisdom has decided to do away with DLA and replace it with Personal Independence Payment - PIP. And they are re-drawing the eligibility criteria so less people will be able to claim.

Make no mistake, DLA is not easy to claim. The form is 48 pages long and took me weeks, with the help of a friend, to complete. The only way to deal with having a chronic condition is to try and pretend it's not there. Claiming DLA strips away your dignity and forces you to confront every tiny thing that is wrong with you. It asks the same questions over and over, worded in a slightly different way, to try and trip you up. And it requires medical evidence from a professional. It is the most difficult benefit I have eve had to claim.

And despite MS being incurable and progressive, it was only awarded for 2 years.
So next year I will have to claim all over again. Except if the reforms go through it will be a different benefit. One that is designed to be given to as few people as possible. If I should end up having to use a wheelchair then I would have trouble claiming, despite that meaning my illness is worse. If I should end up being unable to live independently and go to a care home, the Mobility part of DLA would be taken away. I would end up completely reliant on friends and family to go anywhere or else be stuck in staring at the walls all day. Every day.

The government claims that DLA is unsustainable. Do they have any idea how insulting it is to people like me to be told that? Do they realise that just because they decide not to pay everyone those illnesses won't just vanish?
DLA has the lowest fraud rate of all benefits simply because it is so hard to claim.

The government have also admitted they have not done any assessment to determine how these cuts will impact on disabled people. This means they have proposed a series of cuts without any idea of how they will affect the very people they are targeting. This is alarming as well as inherently unjust.

There is a miasma of fear that is very nearly palpable running through the disabled community. We are dependent on these benefits to lead any kind of ordinary life. Not a luxurious, jet set one, just an ordinary one.

The public consultation for DLA ends on Valentines Day. I beg you all to do what you can to prevent the reforms so me and people like me can continue to live a nearly normal life.

Sign the petition against the reforms.
Write a letter to your MP. You can use a template letter so it takes hardly any time at all to do.
Write to Maria Miller the non disabled minister for disabled people.

Help us to spread the word about the campaign. People need to know just how bad it could get. And it will be bad. If you read my previous post you'll see Ali's story of how she will take death if she is refused because she can't face abject poverty and homelessness again. Her story is not the only one. I've seen many posts like that. People are so scared and so desperate that they think suicide is their only way. Many of them feel that secretly the government would prefer that because then it will no longer have to support them. Who can blame them when that is what is implied when told we are 'unsustainable'?

Ask yourself this - what sort of world do you want to live in? One that treats it's disabled and vulnerable as people or one that treats them as a burden?

And remember that most, including me, aren't born disabled. One day it could be you.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

A heartbreaking story

This is Ali's story. She is facing a reassessment that could leave her without benefits and ultimately without food and her home. This is the reality that many disabled people are facing and the decision that many will choose.

Original post at Purple Noise

The beginning of the end

Just a quick note - I'm talking about suicide in this post, MY suicide. If you don't wish to read this, please click the X now. Some people don't like reading about such things, some people think it's wrong to talk about it before the event, some people are simply upset by the subject. I respect anyone's choice not to read this post, so please take this as your only warning and leave now if you wish.

So the time I've been dreading is nearly here. Any time from next month onwards I could receive the letter which changes things forever. The white envelope with "this is not a circular" emblazoned across the front, its contents demanding that I outline in excruciating detail every little thing I face on a daily basis. Guilty until proved innocent. The migration from incapacity benefit to ESA requires that I be reassessed, the fact that things haven't changed for me since my last assessment doesn't matter. It's not enough for them that I write "unchanged", I have to sit myself under a microscope and allow myself to be scrutinised until they are satisfied that I am not a fraud.
There are a few ways this could go:
I fill in the form, they accept that and I move to ESA with no problems.
I fill in the form and they "require further evidence" in the form of a face-to-face medical examination.
I get refused without a medical.
I get refused after having the medical.
Any result other than option 1, and I will end my life. The form itself is difficult enough when I had to fill one in a few years back I ended up in hospital from the sheer stress of it all. I know that once I have spent the amount of energy it will take to do the form, I won't have any left for anything further, medical included. I will not be having a medical. It is simply not something I am able to go through, I just don't have the ability. The last medical I attended very nearly killed me. The only thing that prevented me deleting myself back then was some serious input from friends who arranged an advocate to attend the medical with me, and by some stroke of luck an understanding examining doctor who within 5 minutes called the assessment off because on seeing how distressed I was she said it would be torture to force me to continue. There is no way I would be that lucky again, and knowing how it was last time there is no way I would be able to survive that process again.

To fail this assessment at any stage would leave me in poverty and ultimately homeless. Many people don't understand how this would happen, so let me explain. To fail to qualify for ESA would mean initially to claim Jobseeker's Allowance. OK, so for a few weeks I'd have less money to live on but would still survive on basic rations and have a roof over my head, fair enough. But soon I would be made to attend interviews, workshops and sessions all supposedly designed to help me find a job. Let's leave aside that many of these sessions are soul-destroying; pointlessly "sitting in a room for 8 hours a day with a couple of newspapers and a broken computer" seems to be a common theme from those currently subject to such an arrangement. But the point is - I can't work. Now if I can't work, how am I supposed to attend these sessions? If I was able to get to the required sessions, I would be able to get a job and wouldn't be in this position in the first place. So what would happen is, I don't manage to attend the session. Depending on the policy at the time (it seems to change quite often depending on which bare-faced liar - sorry, government minister - is speaking) I would face either a reduction in JSA, or no benefit for a fixed period of time, or get the benefit cut altogether. And there's the problem: no benefit means no home, no food, no nothing.
There is also the double-whammy of my Disability Living Allowance renewal, which will take place some time this Summer. Usually this would be a stressful enough process in itself. However this time we are told that any information used in the DLA assessment may affect existing IB/ESA information. Meaning that I could in theory be subjected to two assessments in a single year, both with the same possible outcomes of failing and losing everything.

I've been homeless before, and I'm not doing it again. I've slept under bridges, on stranger's floors, in the stairwell of a block of flats. I've given blowjobs in return for a coffee and sometimes a bath, I've slept with men to secure a warm bed for the night. I've washed my knickers in the sink in Asda's toilets. I've gone months without brushing my teeth. I once allowed a homeless guy to touch my breasts in return for him going into Tesco and stealing me a pack of sanitary pads, not wanting to steal myself and not being able to get them any other way. I've recovered from a paracetamol overdose, alone, lying in an alcove underneath a multi-storey car park.
I do not wish to go through any of that again, nor should I have to. However if I fail this reassessment - which is a likely outcome - I would be forced to. Unless I choose the only other option: death.

So I have my plan. I know how I will die if the time comes. I have undertaken much research to choose the method most likely to be successful for me, and I have acquired the means necessary to do so. Don't get me wrong I'm not about to voluntarily pop my clogs in the next 3 days or anything. But I would much rather die in comfort in my own home than wait until I'm on the streets with no resources to finish the job properly, so I have made the preparations while I can.
Let me get something straight here: I don't want to die. Sure, I've felt suicidal in the past and made attempts on my life in the past, but on the whole I want to try to live. Everything I do is based on survival, from moving house to a place that feels safer, to injuring myself as a way to cope with the otherwise uncopeable. It's an oft-quoted phrase by people who talk about suicide, "I don't want to die, I just can't face living any more". And that's the position I would be in if I was forced into poverty and homelessness, I would rather die than live like that. I want to make this clear, I'm not just some loony who was going to kill herself anyway. If I press the button it will be as a direct result of the assessment process. The process which has been made increasingly more difficult to pass even for those who are terminally ill or in hospital at the time. The process where those examining are given targets and incentives for failing people. The process where time and time again it has been proved that the examining professional has lied and written down something completely different to what the claimant has told them, or disregarded medical evidence provided by a clamaint's own doctors. The process that may not even include a doctor, where someone claiming on mental health grounds could get assessed by a physiotherapist. The process which is based purely on numbers and luck, and not on an individual's actual circumstances and needs.
That is what will kill me.

Friday, 7 January 2011

A letter from my MP

Just before Christmas I wrote to my MP expressing my concerns at the DLA reforms. I didn't expect much because he is a staunch Tory but I had to at least try.

Here is his reply

"Dear Ms Thomas,

Thank you for contacting me about reforms to Disability Living Allowance.

I believe that the Government owe a duty to disabled people to promote their independence and equality and I also believe it has a duty to ensure that it has the right governance in place to deliver this support efficiently and sensibly.

The Government is already undertaking a large-scale reform of the welfare system, for example the Universal Crdit and it's flagship Work Programme. These welfare reforms are designed to protect people in the most vulnerable situations, including disabled people. The Government has made it clear that it is steadfast in its support for the principles of DLA, as a non-means-tested cash benefit contributing to the extra costs incurred by disabled people.

However, DLA is currently a poorly targeted and unsustainable benefit. Almost three million people receive this benefit at a forecast cost of £12 billion per year. We now have a disability benefit which is confusing for individuals to understand, based on unclear criteria and often results in inconsistent rewards, and since 1992, both the case load and the cost of DLA have grown to a level that is unsustainable. Change to DLA are long overdue and must address questions of fairness and value, while supporting disabled people to lead independent lives. We must ensure DLA better reflects the needs of disabled people today, rather than in the 1990's, and that it enables support to be targeted to those with the greatest need.

The Government wants to bring disability benefits into the 21st century by replacing DLA with a new Personal Independence Payment. This is an opportunity to improve the support for disabled people and enable them to lead full, active and independent lives. The Personal Independence Payment will maintain the key principles of DLA, but it will be delivered in a fairer, more consistent and sustainable manner. It is only right that support should be targeted at those disabled people who face the greatest challenges to leading independent lives and this reform is required to enable that, along with a clearer assessment process.

The Government has launched a formal public consultation on DLA and wants the views of disabled people to be fully reflected in any change it makes to DLA and has asked disabled people and their organisations to join the debate on reforming DLA. You may wish to make your views known and you can contribute to the Consultation by visiting website:
I want to assure you that those who are genuinely sick, disabled or retired have nothing to fear. This Government does not regard caring for the needy as a burden, but as a proud duty.

I hope that this reassures you and thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Yours sincerely

Robert Syms
Member of Parliament for Poole."

Cutting through the waffle, this says to me 'We are paying too many people. We don't want to pay that many people. So we are re-drawing the boundaries to endure that those we don't want to pay don't get through.

We want to pretend we are caring but what we are really concerned about is how much money we will have to spend and our reputation'

I have no faith that my own MP will stand up for people like me.

Cross posted at Where's the Benefit

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Once again Clegg leaves me scratching my head

Nick Clegg promised to scrap fees then promptly votes to treble them once he got a sniff of power.

'The tuition fees are necessary to address the deficit' the Coalition told us.
'It has to be done' they insist.

The deficit must be addressed and everyone must play their part' is what we keep being told.

Nick Clegg is currently desperately trying to show his party still has credibility by winning the Oldham seat. He is there campiagning at the moment. And by all accounts he is having trouble persuading people after the tuition fee rows.

He says
" "paradox" was that though fees will go up – to £9,000 a year at top universities – "as more young people look at the scheme, they will realise that it will be cheaper and easier to go to university than it is now," especially for "bright kids from poor families. 21,000 a year, on an average career path, would pay back £7 a month, compared with £80 under Labour's current scheme. "A majority of graduates will not pay back all their loans," ".

I'm fairly sure I won't be the only to not see the sense in this. If he is desperately trying to reassure people that most graduates won't pay back their loans at all then how exactly is this going to help reduce the deficit?

It begs the question of why fees needed to be raised at all. Could it be that the rise isn't actually necessary? One must wonder. In the meantime I shall go on scratching my head...


What a farce

In an article from today's Telegraph, the watchdog for MP's expenses is planning to relax the rules under which MP's can claim.
Why? Because MP's are angry about it.

IPSA said it received complaints that some MPs whose primary home is in London but represent seats outside London are unable to see their children at weekends, because they cannot afford family-sized accommodation in their constituencies.

Boo hoo. If a person with a child who lives with the other parent wants to claim social housing they cannot claim it for that child. You can only claim larger than a 1 bed if the child lives with you. Why should MP's be any different?

And if their constituency is outside London why isn't that their primary residence? If the primary residence is in London and you want to see more of your kids, here's an idea - MOVE!.
It's what IDS expects everyone else to do. Other parents travel at weekends to see their kids, what makes MP's so different?

In the long run, Ipsa’s review document also raised the prospect of eventually shifting away from the current system of detailed rules for every sort of expense claim and adopting a “principles-based” regime that gives MPs much more discretion over claims.

And will therefore be open to more abuse.

And here's what's really made me angry:
Under pressure from Tory MPs angry at IPSA, Mr Cameron has warned that the body must address members’ concerns and become more "family friendly" by April, or face possible abolition.

In other words, do what I say or I'll get rid of you. Are we still pretending we live in a democracy?

There is national outrage all over the country about the cuts to benefits, the rise in tuition fees, the slashing of jobs. But David Cameron is carrying on. A few squeals from MP's about expenses and he's threatening to abolish the watchdog.

Just goes to show doesn't it?


Tuesday, 4 January 2011

New figures for benefit checks

Figures release by the DWP tell us that the new benefit checks will cost over £100 million a year. That's in addition to the £500 million ATOS have already been paid.

The coalition have gone crazy, it's the only answer. The alternative - to work with the NHS and patients own consultants - is staring them in the face yet they won't take it up.

Perhaps they are scared that these checks would be more accurate and therefore tell the world that benefit claimants aren't scroungers?