Sunday, July 31, 2005

What a prom

To the Albert Hall last night with various people from Southampton City Council. Cause for celebration was that about 20 young people from the SOuthampton City Orchestra were participating in the event. Some were playing alongside the BBC Symphony Orchestra during Respighi's Pines of Rome and others were playing a piece they had developed themselves with the help of a group of musicians called Between the Notes,

A happy evening but one that will surely stick in the memory forever of all the young musicians involved.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Harry Potter

Have just finished the latest (it has been difficult to find the time but it's not exactly challenging) and was left wondering if the world was one big Hogwarts who would be in which house.

Tony Blair (but just like HP it's a close call between this and Slytherin)
Ming Campbell
Esther Rantzen

Derek from Big Brother
Quentin Letts (with very little help he could be Snape)
Michael Howard (c'mon - he can obviously speak parseltongue!!! - those sibilant consonants!)

George Galloway
Eric Forth
Jeremy Clarkson

I can never remember what this house is all about so ideas welcome!

Apathy rules

Happily most of my constituents are more engaged - here is a conversation I had this morning

"Hi, X, How are you? I expect I'll see you at the Hospital meeting later"

"Er, no, er well, probably not."

"Really, I thought you would have bound to have been there"

"Well, there'll be plenty of other people there without me"

"Don't leave it to everyone else. If everyone took that attitude there'd be nobody there!"

"Yeah, I suppose you're right"

To be fair - in the end he was right too as there were lots of people there but I really am thankful that a lot more people took the decision to make their feelings known.

Comments on the Consultation

Full document is available on the Trust's web site.

I am urging everyone not to complete the standard consultation form (which many of us believe will give meaningless answers). Instead of this the best thing to do is write a letter with your genuine concerns to this address:

The Mount
Church Road
SO50 6ZB

Tel: 023 8067 3673 Fax: 023 8067 3674

But - here are some of the points I shall be chasing up (and some comments and observations) which may give you food for thought.

p3 of the document claims that "older people would prefer to be treated at home when it is safe and appropriate to do so"
I would agree with the claim that recovery, and return to independent living, can be hastened with the appropriate care and it is particularly important to try and keep people out of the acute beds in Southampton General Hospital. What the PCT appears to have ignored is that there is a top class rehabilitation unit at Romsey Hospital which is well used by local GPs. Some of the local GPs have suggested that getting a grip on the discharge planning from Southampton would be the most useful change but this doesn't appear to be something that is even being considered.

A recent independent study has shown that 84% of people in local community hospitals could have been receiving their care in a more appropriate setting e.g. at home. Apparently this is not happening because the local support services are inadequate.
This is actually very insulting to those people who are currently in beds in the local hospitals. I suspect none of them think they are needlessly taking up a bed - and neither do the GPs who admitted them.
The PCT have been very coy about this survey but I now have my hands on a copy. The 84% were actually those who were not clinically assessed as being acutely ill. If you think about it it is clear that many community beds are either occupied by those who are terminally ill or who have a chronic condition that has got worse and needs stabilising.
A closer look at the document and it is clear that over half of them were assessed as needing 24 hour nursing support (some needing consultant support). Clearly these people are sick and frail and it beggars belief that we are suggesting that their use of a community hospital bed is inappropriate.

The same study also shows that there are a significant number of people in an acute nursing bed (eg General Hospital) who would be more approprately cared for in a Community Hospital Setting. Doh! So here we have some much vaunted survey which actually highlights a need for at least some community beds

So what are the implications if more people are cared for at home?
Think on this.
Currently, if someone is poorly and in a community hospital then all their care needs are taken care of. In addition to their health needs they are washed, fed and provided with TLC. There is someone always on call and there is peace of mind for relatives (and sometimes even a short break for a carer)

With home based care anything deemed a nursing need is paid for. If someone is frail and needs help with washing, dressing, eating etc this is personal care and these services are provided by Social Services. These services are also means tested. At a time when someone is ill they have an added from of stress. They also have to cope with a number of people coming in at different times of the day. This can be distressing for older people who like a routine and like familiar faces. There is also no peace of mind for relatives.

It is not clear what communication there has been between PCT and Social Services and who will pick up what bill as Social Service are already overstretched.
Are there enough people to provide these services which are already overstretched because of the poor wages in the sector?

Financial data is scant so we have no idea how any nursing support teams will be composed or what the cost is? I assume that rapid response teams will have to have a minimum of two people on at any one time in order to be able to lift someone? We are not told how many teams or what area they will have to cover.

These staff will have to be retrained but there is no timescale for implementation (but we are told that implemetation will start in Nov 05 which leaves little time for further consultation, planning or training)

How will community numbers compare with current staffing numbers? What extra infrastructure is needed and has this been costed?

On p5 the document says "Anyone who needs hospital care will get it, either at one of the community hospitals or another facility" Clearly if they shut all community hospitals then other facilities will have to be used but it is not sure what or where (if it is a nursing home who will pick up the cost?)

The document contains some stats on projections of numbers of elderly people but gives no analysis of what the increased health input will entail.

We are told that there has been an increase of 20% in the number of emegency admissions over the last three years. There appears to have been no analysis of how much of this was down to the disastrous out of hours services.

The Govenment mantra is choice - where does choice come into these proposals if all community beds are closed?

p14 claims that the PCT are committed to providing bed-based care settings. It is not clear how this is going to be achieved if all the beds are closed.

I could go on and on and on (a bit like a duracell battery) but as this is by far my longest posting ever I will just end by encouraging people to e-mail me if they have any questions.

And more Romsey Hospital

No excuses - it has dominated the week.

A quick recap for those not familiar with the situation.

The local Primary Care Trust (Eastleigh and Test Valley South working in alliance mode with the New Forest) is consulting on "Community Services for Older People". You may well think that this is a laudable aim but the sub plot is that apparently a whole host of wonderful home based services mean that there will be a reduced need for community hospital beds in the future.

So, tucked away in a 44 page document are proposals 1a-1d which involve closing combinations of hospital beds in the New Forest and Option 2 which sweepingly suggests a complete closure of community beds in five local hospitals - including Romsey.

The PCT did not help themselves at the early public meetings as the piece of paper placed on the chairs at each meeting asked people to tick one of the options! The net result was that the PCT appeared to be setting community against community and, although according to the Trust this was not the intention, this action meant that the local MPs would present a united front on this one. I can honestly say that there are many things that Julian Lewis, Desmond Swayne and I are poles apart on but this issue is beyond party politics. It also meant that I attended meetings in Fordingbridge and Lyndhurst so I was fairly familiar with the presentation by the time this morning came. It also meant that I have noticed a few subtle shifts in emphasis over the last few days although I get quite alarmed when presenters (who are paid quite large salaries from the public purse) do not adapt the prepared script to local circumstances.
Best example of this is last night in Lyndhurst when one presenter blandly mentioned that they were consulting on the closure of hospital beds - to be shouted down by the audience. She had neglected to mention (hopefully she was aware) that the Fenwick hospital in Lyndhurst had been closed (temporarily) for some time.

A couple of people from the League of Friends had kindly offered to save me a seat which was a good job because when I arrived, just after 10, the hall was full. By 10:30 I reckon there were twice as many people outside the hall as inside. I asked if more people could be let into the side hall and provided with a sound relay and was initially told this was not possible but when the PCT checked they were allowed to have some extra people standing. Not ideal but better than nothing.

One funny moment when a gentleman from outside shouted very loudly through the window (I swear he must have been a sergeant major) "Why not come outside as there are more of us out here." People were angry and many could not come back for the 2 o'clock session so the PCT have been urged to hold another meeting - preferably in the evening.

Rather than give a blow by blow account of the meeting I shall list, on a separated posting, the reasons why the proposals are flawed but ultimately I was impressed by how well behaved the meeting was when ultimately it was also clear that passions were running high - although there was one unfortunate moment when people started shouting the Chief Exec down when he was only trying to answer questions that had already been asked.

Actually, it's pretty clear that there is a rapid backtracking on the proposal to close all community beds. I like to think that the hospital will be safe but it is still important that people write in with their views on the consultation.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Romsey Hospital

Have spent a lot of time on this this week (in between preparing for a speech on domestic violence at Netley) and was frustrated to learn that the Primary Care Trust have changed the venue for the public meeting on Friday.

A meeting was originally planned for the Town Hall (rumour has it that they had only booked the Court Room which holds a max of 70 people................) but this has (wisely in my view) been transferred to the Crosfield Hall. I have checked and they will allow time for people to walk over from Town to Crosfield Hall.

It is important that we get as many people there as possible to show the strength of support for our local hospital so any blog readers who are anywhere near Romsey on Friday please come along!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Yes I have missed something!

Was describing my concerns re the Westminster kiosk at lunch to be assured by the Chief Whip that I shouldn't be too concerned as Portcullis House could withstand most things - probably including a 747 knocking into it. I don't advise any one to road test this theory.

He then casually mentioned that there were more bombs so we have all decamped to a nearby tv monitor. This latest event appears to be on a different scale to those of the 7th July and we all have our fingers crossed that there will be no casualties.

Strong whiff here of stable doors being closed as we are now being challenged to show our passes!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


It is far from reassuring to see security being ramped up at this place. The latest addition is the black snakes of painted steel that have appeared in various locations around the parliamentary estate and we have been told that more precautions will be in place after the recess.

All of this but no one seems bothered by something I had noticed recently. On the Tuesday after the bombings I walked past the entrance to Westminster Tube Station and noticed that there is a brand spanking new booth situated there - selling newspapers and souvenirs. There is absolutely no need for this booth as papers etc are available inside the tube station. I also noticed that said booth has spaces at the base (handy for tucking in a helping of explosive?). Oh - and I should mention that several hundred MPs have offices in Portcullis House which sits squarely on top of Westminster tube station.

I duly contacted Serjeant at Arms office asking if there had been a risk assessment and apparently it was down to Westminster Council and the Met police. I was helpfully informed that the new booth was a replacement for the old one (from memory fairly close to Big Ben) which had been deemed a security risk.

Can't quite understand this as blowing up Big Ben might be totemic but relatively few people live or work in that area compared to Portcullis House.

Am I missing something here?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

British Naturism

A little bemused to be on the mailing list for this worthy publication (not all MPs are - I checked) but was even more surprised to find our beloved leader gracing its pages. His picture stood out but I hasten to add that that was because he was one of the few people in it who was fully clothed...

And the other end of the process

The debate after the "End of Life Care" debate was initiated by Evan Harris on time scales for abortion.

This is another difficult issue and I ended up staying to listen and make a few interventions. Complex issue and there was universal support for Evan's suggestion of a Committee of both Houses to look at the problem - apart from the Minister that is. I think that she is wrong. Subjects like this are almost the most difficult - partly because we have to make up our own minds and justify our points of view - balancing personal opinions with the bigger picture.

The bigger picture is that the rest of the world are discussing these issues so it seems odd if we do not review the situation.

Life and death

I had been asked to sum up on behalf of the Liberal Democrats on a debate called "End of Life Care" initiated by Frank Field. It was a difficult debate to prepare for as I was not sure whether it would deal with palliative care or some of the thornier issues around physician assisted death.

It was actually deeper and more philosophical than that and I was interested to note that Frank Field had actually wanted a debate on "dying" but it had been renamed. Evan Harris suggested that this was because the debate had to reflect some area of Government responsibility and dying was something that the Government could not be held responsible for! No one confirmed or denied this but it is certainly the case that death is the last taboo and I will be rereading the debate tomorrow to try and reflect more deeply on some of the issues raised.

I will try to update a link when Hansard is printed.

West Tytherley School

On Sunday afternoon there was a special church service to celebrate 150 years of the school. The school choir were the star turn but it always makes me feel slightly old when I don't know the hymns because they were written after I was born. Event was followed by a "Victorian Tea" on the school playing field but it was really a chance to chat to people and soak up some of the sunshine.

National Trust rents

This is a big issue in Mottisfont - where a large number of properties are owned by the National Trust. Tenants have received shock demands for increases ranging from 20-65%. I will admit that it has been a couple of years since the last rent rise but the most peculiar aspect of all this is that some people have improved the properties at their own expense and these people have been faced with the largest increases. There is a phrase to describe this sort of behaviour but it is not very ladylike.

Most villagers accepted that there were limits to what I can do but I had a bit of a job persuading one that I could not singlehandedly change the 1907 Housing Act singlehandedly and overnight (even then that might not have been the complete answer to the problem) - so sometimes attending meetings such as this is more about managing expectations than promising the earth.


Well, we won and that is all there is to say on the subject really.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Learnt a new word this evening. I was a last minute substitute to speak at a Hansard society meeting on blogging. The main focus was on the impact of blogs, such as Jamies Blog, on the political process.

Some of the discussion ranged around comments and I had asked whether Jamies Blog attracted very many negative comments and mentioned that political blogs attracted comment from the main opposition party.

There was a strongly expressed view (supported by much vigorous nodding of heads round the room) that comments were often an irritant and most people logged on to a particular blog to engage with what the author had to say - not the commentators.

Apparently, people who persist in commenting in negative vein are called "blogroaches". Food for thought.............

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Too close for comfort

Have often said that politics is my "roller coaster ride" but those who know me will know that the "Big Max" is not my thing. Unfortunately, I feel as though I have been throught the parliamentary equivalent of the Big Max.

Last Wednesday life seemed good. There was a real buzz about the place when the news spread of London's success in the bid to host the Olympics in 2012. No sooner was I out of the Whips office than the announcement was being made in Central Lobby.

Fast forward to Thursday morning. I travelled in on the bus and was aware of a lot of "siren noise". It registered as being something more than the background noise. During the walk between bus stop and Portcullis house I saw three minibuses full of police, sirens blaring. Struck me as odd and I mentally registered that I didn't want to be where they were going. Confirmed when I saw the bright red mobile command unit with lights flashing and sirens blaring.

Somewhat bizarrely I then went to my office and started work.

e-mail from Gallery news mentioned "power surges" on the tube. Registered disbelief but carried on with in tray. Only realised that something "was up" when received pager messages from daughter and husband in rapid succession (son, Nick later told me that he had been allowed time to try and contact me by mobile).

It all seemed somewhat distant. There were TV pictures , there was a ministerial statement but there was also an air of unreality and some things (business questions) carying on as normal. Jumped at the chance of a lift home.

So, the message seemed to be that we are British and we deal with these things. This is fine when they don't impinge on the every day but I can tell you that I my heart was pounding as I boarded the bus this morning. But to everyone else I would have appeared cool, calm and collected.

Fast forward to this evening. I had accepted an invitation to the IPPF reception on the terrace at the House of Lords.

The crowd was thin and we soon realised that many attendees had been prevented from entering because of a "threat to the building". Blitz spirit prevailed and the speeches had started but by this time I had noticed that the river was eerily silent. Minister's (substitutes) speech was interrupted by an armed police officer telling everyone to move off the terrace and into the Cholmondely room. Five minutes later we were moved further indoors. The Minister (substitute) carried on where she left off.

Eventually I made my way back to the office as staff were being allowed out of the building. We had no idea what the threat was and no one communicated what we should be doing. I feel vulnerable in a way I have not felt before and can't help feeling that we should somehow be better informed than this. On an individual level staff were clearly doing their job but I can't help wishing that we had been treated as grown ups.