Thursday, 29 January 2009

Will there be a doctor on call when you need one? - the European Working Time Directive.

Gordon Brown may say he is doing everything he can to support jobs and businesses in the recession - but just last month his colleagues in the European Parliament did the opposite when they voted to end Britain's opt out from the European Working Time Directive. Many others have already pointed out that this puts additional strains on British employers and employees at exactly the time they need it least.

However, if you think this is just an issue on the factory floor and doesn't affect you please then think again. Please think about the implications if you, or a member of your family, are of suddenly in need of emergency care in one of our Hospitals.

Last week the Royal College of Surgeons warned that warned that “Patients across the country will be placed at risk and their quality of care will suffer as hospitals prepare for the full implementation of EU regulation to reduce doctor’s hours to 48 hours per week by August 2009. The Royal College of Surgeons has learnt that unsafe levels of staffing are already starting to be experienced as the UK is running out of available surgeons to fill the gaps in NHS rotas." Their conclusions are reached after hearing the concerns of over 500 different surgeons from across the UK.

As a doctors wife I often listen to doctors having heated discussions about what is happening in the NHS and try to consider what the implications may be for my family. These are my thoughts:

1. Most medical professionals are extremely hard working and dedicated - they usually shy from being "political" in public as the last thing they want to do is undermine patient confidence - When we hear statements like that above we should listen.

2. No-body wants doctors to work dangerously long or anti social hours that put patients lives at risk.

3. Before qualifying as a surgeon, junior doctors need to observe many hours of different operations. If I am ever under the knife of a newly qualified surgeon then I want to know that they have had the benefit of watching many others before them. I understand that it is extremely challenging to achieve this level of experience in just 48 hours a week.

4. In addition, in certain specialities it is necessary to have long on-call hours to make sure that emergencies (like emergency surgery) can be covered when the need occurs. I understand that in Germany, medical professionals have suggested that a 61hour week is acceptable. We should listen to our professionals and allow them the flexibility they require.

Nearly two years ago I joined junior doctors campaigning against the MTAS scandal (see the picture). I heard many trainee surgeons explain how this has already reduced training hours. Back then the junior doctors held up a "You're Fired" poster, to emphasise that, due to government incompetence, highly skilled people were exiting the UK. Today, hundreds of thousands of people face an uncertain future and we should not allow our government to make the situation worse.

Tomorrow I will visit one of our hospitals with Geoffrey Van Orden, a member of the European Parliament who voted to keep the opt out. We will meet one of the elected members of the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons and we hope to learn more about this critical issue from those on the front line.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Update on my terrible road... and where the money goes

I was delighted that the local police were out in force on the A1307 yesterday, and across this part of Cambridgeshire keeping an eye out for dangerous driving. Like many of the rural roads across the region traffic has increased but the infrastructure has not kept up - 10 people have died on a 10 mile stretch of this road in the past two years.

Working with my local MP, local councillors and the community group Access 1307 I have helped campaign for improvements for over 3 years. There have been some achievements this year. New warning signs, roadworks started yesterday at one blackspot, more promised for another - however like most rural road improvements these are piecemeal, require huge lobbying searching after very limited funds. A long term strategy for investment is needed - but the bureaucracy does not help

On Friday I attended a meeting of the Regional Assembly's Europe Panel - looking at the hundreds of millions of pounds that are spent, or could in theory be spent from EU funds in our region. One must remember that this all started as British Taxpayers' money - but the bureaucracy often makes it difficult to align the money to local needs (like roads and infrastructure).

We heard some good news - contributions that will be made towards improving the A14, how a massive co-operative grain store helps British farmers put British food on our plates, progress on a project to get some of those freight lorries off the road an onto the railways, as well as work to help the unemployed retrain BUT we also heard how complex the bidding process can be, how the "match funding" requirement can act as an obstacle, how various projects can not meet certain "criteria" because they involve capital (ie physical) investment. I believe we made some good suggestions for how the funds could be better applied, we asked for evidence of projects that were missing out and much better tracking of the money. There is much more to be done.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Absurd EU Grants

This morning an email hit my inbox from the Tax Payers Alliance and Global Vision announcing the joint campaign that they intend to run over the next few months highlighting the need for radical change in Britain's relationship with the EU. One of the issues they will address is "absurd EU Grants". I welcome any scrutiny of the effectiveness of government grants - its our tax-payers money that is being spent.

Minutes later a large package hits my door mat. These relate to a meeting that I will attend on Friday to "scrutinise" the EU grants that are currently opperating in the East of England. Over an inch of finely typed papers and sums that add up to hundreds of millions of pounds.

A lot of these projects have aims that sound very worthy, "promoting low carbon economic growth", "expanding skills", "engaging with Employers", as well as supporting those involved in "mass redundancies", addressing "innovative town centres' economic revitalisation". The problem is that as I read through the papers it is very hard to see any assessment of where the money has gone or if it has been well spent. Lots of workshops have been arranged - more are planned. But actual results? There are some...but ploughing through the mountain of papers there a few tangible markers to help me scrutinise the real benefits. A lot of money, a lot of bureaucracy, incredibly complex - but how helpful?

The accountability of this system also leaves a lot to be desired - earlier this year I asked to be one of the elected local councillors in the region on the "scrutiny" panel - I can ask questions but the panel appears to have very little ability to control or change the system.

So I will go to the meeting on Friday, ask some questions, hopefully learn a bit more, and complain that the value for money is not being considered. I will let you know if I am enlightened any further!