Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The End Of The NHS As We Know It?

Imagine going to your GP in a few years’ time. You’re in pain and need gall bladder surgery fast. Your GP examines you, inhales sharply and gives you that look of impending bad news. “I’m terribly sorry”, he says, “but would you mind hanging on until the new financial year, the surgery has run out of money”.
This is the new NHS planned by the ConDem government.
The policies revealed in the Coalition’s health white paper, published in July, amount to nothing less than the end of the NHS as we know it. Indeed, that’s the point. The government’s idea is to jump feet first into an American style market-based health system. So what does that mean?
As most people understand it, the NHS is the organisation that provides their healthcare – it is the hospitals, the doctors, the nurses, the high tech scanners, the prescription medicines, the ambulance drivers. The health service employs around a million people and even though it is huge and spread out, when any of us receive treatment we understand that we are in the hands of one big organisation that we trust.
The government wants to change all that. Under its plans no hospital, no clinic, no district nursing service or mental health centre will be part of that one organisation. They will all be separated, converted into independent “social enterprises” called foundation trusts.
No doctors, no nurses and no therapists will work for the NHS. They will be transferred, made into employees of their particular institution. All their hard-earned national pay deals and pensions are under threat.
Many NHS managers will lose their jobs and their roles outsourced. Primary care trusts and strategic health authorities will be abolished. Now all the unpopular decisions will be made by unaccountable “commissioning consortia” and private management consultants.
And here’s the sting in the tail. For the first time since 1948, private companies will have the same status as all these former NHS bodies, opening the door for them to make profits from illness once more. All of a sudden the NHS will be subject to laws on competition, meaning every service will have to be tendered and every bit of the health service will have to fight to survive. The admin involved will waste billions of pounds. There will be a new super-regulator called Monitor, a bit like Ofgem in the privatised utilities, whose job will be to enforce market discipline.
At the end of it there will be no one organisation called the NHS. There will just be a brand, a blue logo, and a pot of money to buy treatments with. The taxpayer will still be funding health care, but there will be no unified health service.
To achieve this the government has to do the biggest NHS reorganisation since 1948 – despite Tory health secretary Andrew Lansley promising before the election that he would do no such thing. At the centre of the change is a move to so-called “GP commissioning”. Big groups of GPs, perhaps 80 doctors, will get together to form a consortium which will then most likely employ the same managers to run things who have just been made redundant by PCTs, with outside help from huge health corporations like UnitedHealth.
£80 billion of public money will be in the hands of these ad hoc consortia with no clear accountability. What will happen if your GP’s consortium goes over-budget? The government has said it won’t be bailed out, so the prospect of turning up at a GP surgery only to be told that you have to wait until the new financial year is very real.
But it gets worse. The government has told the NHS to save £20 billion by 2014. GPs in their new role will be the ones having to make these cuts. The respect patients have for their doctor will be eroded when they learn that the latter is responsible for the local ward closure. And what if your GP’s consortium decides to simply stop offering certain treatments to save money? Who would you go to if your GP told you, for example, that they are no longer paying for hernia surgery?
The consequences of the white paper are frightening, but it is not yet law. It can be stopped, but only if NHS staff and patients come together to get the word out on what the policies mean and how they can be resisted. The NHS is the public’s most valued institution – there’s no support for the government’s dangerous plans, but there is a risk of the NHS being dismantled while the public is sleeping. NHS Supporters is a campaign you can join to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Australia: The Greens are the breakthrough story of this election.

Below is a message from the Australian GP Campaign Coordinator.

We had 49 volunteers out campaigning in London under the able leadership of Mat Hines, former Hobart councillor and now London Fed member.

"The Greens are the breakthrough story of this election"

I want to make sure you're the first to understand how significant these results are—and that we couldn’t have achieved them without your support.

Yesterday, the Greens won the balance of power in the Senate, as well as our first lower house seat at a general election in Melbourne. We've achieved so much together this election that it's hard to quantify, but here are some numbers that tell part of the story:

We won a Senate seat in every State, including our first ever Greens Senators in Queensland and Victoria. This gives us the power to shape the agenda of the new Government and achieve real outcomes on issues like climate change, a fair go for asylum seekers, same sex marriage, and improving public schools and hospitals;
Our first ever lower house Greens Member of Parliament has been elected in a general election - congratulations to Adam Bandt who won the seat of Melbourne with a massive 13% swing to the Greens on primaries!
More than 4,500 of you signed up online to volunteer over the course of the campaign - knocking on doors, handing out how to votes, holding Greens stalls and events, and much more;
Together, we raised more than $300,000 from small online donations to run our fantastic, positive campaign advertising on TV, on billboards in capital cities, in major newspapers, and to build the biggest online advertising presence we've ever had; (with special thanks to the talented creative team at Make Believe for all their work on this campaign)
More than 20,000 people became Facebook fans of the Greens- and dozens of State and local Facebook groups sprung up to spread the Greens' message online
For me, as Campaign Manager, the last few months have been both exhilarating and exhausting. What's kept me going is the knowledge that you - the people out there reading these emails - have been working tirelessly in your own communities.

You've shared the Greens' positive vision for Australia with your neighbours, your colleagues and your families, and that's what's led to these stunning results.

You are the heart and soul of the Greens.

Having the balance of power in the Senate from July 2011 isn't a magic wand, but it does mean we'll be in a powerful position to make legislation better, introduce new ideas to the Parliament and push both sides of politics to deliver smarter, more constructive and progressive outcomes for our nation. The results of this election won't be clear for another few days - or even weeks - and the Senators and I will be in touch with the latest developments.

But for today, I just wanted to say thank you.

You've believed all along that we can make tremendous change to Australian politics, and yesterday, your votes created a powerful change in the Parliament. It is truly an historic achievement for the Greens and it has been my absolute pleasure and privilege to be a part of it.

Thank you,

National Campaign Coordinator
Australian Greens

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Hundreds of claimants unjustly imprisoned each year.

Apt message from a friend of mine:

While David Cameron and the ConDems have been banging the 'targeting benefit thieves' drum lately, it is worth bearing in mind that Labour have not been guiltless in such matters. The item below was published 13 November 2009.

"Hundreds of claimants unjustly imprisoned

"Many hundreds of claimants are unjustly imprisoned every year because overpayment amounts are being ‘wildly exaggerated’ by the DWP, welfare benefits expert witness Neil Bateman has told MPs . In one case he assisted with, a woman prosecuted for a £47,000 overpayment had in reality under-claimed benefits.  

"The shocking revelations were made in written evidence to a House of Commons committee currently examining the standard of DWP decision making.

"According to Bateman, criminal judges and defending solicitors do not understand benefits law and it is very rare for a welfare rights specialist to be involved in defending claimants.  As a result, the DWP get away with massively inflating the amount of benefit a claimant has been overpaid.  Where this is more than £20,000 a prison sentence is the likely outcome, with the DWP getting positive press coverage for exposing the criminal...."

The above is from evidence given to a DWP Select Committee. It would seem from the contents of the DWP 'consultation paper' '21st Century Welfare' and all the spin that has gone on around it, that DWP senior civil servants never really learn that sort of thing. Or am I being too kind?

It is extremely worrying that this backdrop of untruth is a basis upon which many of the 'vox populi' suggestions for voting on at the 'Spending Challenge' website are based.


Should we not interpret a Crown Court judge's statement that the DWP "had not done its job properly" -- thereby leading a claimant to risk of harm -- as "criminal negligence"?

Alan Wheatley
GPEW Spokesperson on Disability and Social Care Services

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Royal Mail

The following motion was passed at last night's meeting of London federation of Green parties:

"Royal Mail provides a vital public service to our communities, rural and urban alike. The Government intends to bring forward legislation to privatise and break up Royal Mail. We are convinced that this will lead to widespread closure of Post Offices, jeopardise the uniform tarriff and universal service for letters, and lead to a deterioration of services provided - particularly for small businesses, domestic customers, vulnerable groups and communities. We therefore commit the London Federation of Green Parties to supporting the Keep the Post Public Coalition."

Proposed by: Noel Lynch, London fed Coordinator.
Seconded by: Romayne Phoenix, London Fed Campaigns Coordinator.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Greens on 32%

Actually, it’s the London Green vote in the Australian elections.

Check out this article in the Australian Times...

There are still a few days to go and our Australian Coordinator, Mat, could do with a bit of help at the polling station in the Australian Embassy.

Contact him on 0758 865 9796


From the NO2ID newsletter.

Up to now NO2ID has had reason to be pleased with the new government. It may not have moved as certainly or as far as we would like on mass surveillance projects, but it has shown willing, quickly cutting back the ID scheme and cancelling ContactPoint. But this week's pre-announcement of the idea of using credit-reference agencies to detect benefit fraud is a sign that the ideas of "Transformational Government" have not vanished from Whitehall alongside the terminology.

No-one wants to promote fraud. But that does not mean anything claimed to be an anti-fraud measure is worth its other consequences. The details of the scheme are very sketchy so far, but NO2ID will be taking a very close interest in the costs to privacy as well as the cost-effectiveness of any mass data-sharing that it involves. Fishing expeditions to turn up suspects are a very different matter from targeted investigations.
'Computer says no,' would be a weird way to run a welfare system.

We need to be alert to how information about individuals is used. It must be limited to one purpose, not passed on in detail to government departments where there will be a temptation to find other uses. Nor must the contractors be rewarded without responsibility. They should be subject to the same data-protection spot-checks as would DWP doing the same work for itself. And if they are to be paid a bounty for catching fraudsters, then we should also ask about compensation for intrusions and erroneous accusations against honest people.

Turning to databases and information-sharing as a magic answer to intractable old problems was a bad habit of the previous administration.
If the Cameron government takes up that habit, then NO2ID will fight it every step of the way.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Hustle con

Hustle con

A couple of nights ago I watched "The Real Hustle: Celebrity Scammers" on BBC. It’s on again tonight on BBC 3 at 7pm.

In it a punter is taken for £1,900 in a sham auction con. The ‘mark’ overhears someone in a bar receiving a phone call to say that a certain picture in a nearby junk shop is worth £2000 and is on sale for £50. While that person nips to the toilet, the marks goes to the shop and buys the picture. They are met outside by the person who was on the phone who tells them that the picture is worth £2k and that while he would not be making any money (Oh Yeah!) he has a friend with an auctionrooms around the corner who could slip it in to the auction which was about to start (as if!!). There are about 20 customers at the auction. The first conman tells the marks that they might have to bid the picture up a bit. They are bidding against a phone bidder who they already are told will go to £3k. The mark is at £1900 when the phone ‘breaks down’ and the picture is knocked down to the mark. The con men then organise a deal with the phone bidder and pay the mark with a check, but he has first of all to pay the £1900 for the picture, which he does in cash. He still thinks that he has made a big profit, except, of course that the cheque is a dud.
I'd also like to know how an auctionroom could survive while charging commission to neither the buyer or the seller.

My complaint is that the program itself is a con. Think about it:

3 principal con artists.
About 20 bit players.
Hire of an ‘auctionrooms’
Plus the signs, props etc

ALL FOR A TAKE OF £1,900!!!

On another matter: I watched the One Show, also on BBC during the week. On it the presenter was speaking about the 1933 1d. She stated that the coin was worth about £65,000 – probably correct. However, she was handling the coin, not very professionally, with her bare hands. If I had a £65k coin I would not let someone like that handle it without gloves. My guess is that the coin was a replica.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Everything you wanted to know about GM food but were afraid to ask

Excellent article from the Western Mail.

Behind the headlines: GM food
Prince Charles caused a stir this week with his strongest comments yet on GM food. But why? Farming editor STEVE DUBE investigates

What’s it all about?
Prince Charles doesn’t like genetically modified (GM) food. It gives him nightmares.


As a passionate organic farmer, Prince Charles is worried that the GM genie might wreak havoc once it’s out of the bottle. There have been food scares before – look at Mad Cow Disease.

What does he think might happen?

He thinks GM could be the biggest environmental disaster of all time and says “millions of small farmers all over the world face being driven off their land into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness”.

How does he work that one out?

Well, he knows that farmers and plant breeders have been improving plants for thousands of years by carefully selecting the best ones. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Long live the Brussels Sprout.

But genetic modification is different because scientists extract one or more genes from one species and add it to another.
What’s wrong with that?

Well, no one can control what happens when genetic material from different species is mixed – like putting a gene from, say, a fish into a plant. It might do what you want it to do, or it might change the plant in unexpected ways and even make it poisonous. For example, when scientists tried to increase the starch content of potatoes with yeast genes, they found the starch content actually fell, and there were other undesirable effects.

It can’t all be bad?

Some of it is very good, according to the biotechnology companies. But they would say that, wouldn’t they, because they are investing heavily in GM technology. There are 30 million kinds of plants in the world and just four – rice, wheat, maize and soya – provide 60% of our food. The biotech companies are concentrating on these.
One particular gene, which provides resistance to a type of weedkiller called glyphosate, has been inserted into at least nine different crop plants now on the market in the EU and the United States.

Sounds like there’s a lot being grown?

Too right. The Agriculture Biotechnology Council, the umbrella body for the huge multi-nationals that produce GM seed, says 12 million farmers in 23 countries plant GM crops. And Americans have been eating GM food for a decade or more.

So the gene genie is already out of the bottle then, isn’t it?

Yes. It’s been in our shopping baskets since 1996 when Sainsbury’s and Safeway put the first tin of American-grown GM tomatoes on sale.

So what’s the problem?

Those tomatoes were clearly labelled as being genetically modified. And hardly anybody bought them. European consumers don’t like GM.

So how come it’s in our shopping baskets then?

Any processed food containing maize or soya – and that’s a lot of food – is likely to contain GM material. And it only has to be labelled in Europe if the GM content exceeds 0.9%. But animal feed does not have to be labelled, and nor does food produced from animals that are fed GM – and that’s just about all cattle, pigs and poultry, except those produced organically. There is no GM labelling at all in the United States.

It’s not done the Americans any harm, has it?

Strangely enough, nobody knows because nobody is asking that question, although we do know that American life expectancy is getting shorter and more Americans are dying early from food-related problems. But some scientists have tried to ask questions. Take the mysterious case of Arpad Pusztai.

Who’s he?

Dr Pusztai is a Hungarian-born scientist who worked in the Rowett Research Institute at the University of Aberdeen.

He was a world expert on plant lectins. These are proteins in plants that kill insects and other invaders. Pusztai had published more than 300 scientific papers, when, at the age of 69 in 1998, he spoke about GM potatoes in a World in Action TV programme. He said he had compared rats fed ordinary potatoes with others fed potatoes that had been genetically modified with a lectin from snowdrops.
The rats on the GM diet suffered damage to their intestines and immune systems. That’s when all hell broke loose.

What happened?

The Institute’s director Philip James phoned to congratulate him after the programme. But the following morning his attitude mysteriously changed. Professor Robert Orskov OBE, who worked at the Rowett for 33 years and is one of Britain’s leading nutrition experts, claims the sudden change followed a series of phone calls that started with the US biotech multinational Monsanto, which produces most of the world’s GM food. This first call went to then US President Bill Clinton, who phoned then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who in turn phonedJames.
Pusztai was suspended and later dismissed, his data seized and he was banned from speaking publicly. So he had to stay silent when he read newspapers saying his GM potatoes contained a lectin gene that is poisonous to mammals.

Did they?

No. The misinformation was included in a press release issued by the Rowett Institute. James says Pusztai approved the press release but Pusztai says he knew nothing about it. Even today pro-GM scientists dismiss his research as muddled and based on a schoolboy error.

Does everyone share that point of view?

No. Pusztai is a hero to anti-GM campaigners, who regard him as someone who stuck his neck out for the public good. And they’re not alone. In 2005 he was honoured with a whistleblower award from the Federation of German Scientists.
What happened to his research?

A paper was published by Pusztai and a colleague in the prestigious medical journal the Lancet in October 1999.

Because of all the controversy the paper was reviewed by six scientists – three times the usual number – and five approved it. The paper used data held by Pusztai’s colleague Dr Stanley Ewen, so it was not covered by the ban. It showed that rats fed on the GM potatoes with the snowdrop lectin developed unusual changes to their gut tissue.

No doubt there has been other research, if so, what has it found?

There has actually been very little independent research. The first known human trial of GM food was carried out by scientists at Newcastle University and published in the journal Nature Biotechnology in 2004. It showed that DNA material transfers from GM food into the human gut – disproving the claims of the biotech industry. The Food Standards Agency, which commissioned the research in response to public pressure, said the results were not significant.

It sounds as though more research is needed. Is anyone doing it?

Unfortunately no, and for a simple reason. GM seeds are owned by the company that manufactures them and scientists can study them only if the company agrees.

Is the only research into the safety of GM food done by the companies that produce it?

That’s right. And since 99.9% of GM varieties are designed to resist or absorb pesticides or to produce a toxin that kills any insect that bites it, it’s the first time in history that what amounts to a drug or pesticide is not tested before release by anyone other than the company that makes it.

And the stakes are high. Farmers who sign up for the promise of GM crops have to agree to use fertiliser and pesticides from the seed supplier and not to save any seed. Some are even “terminator” seeds that are infertile. Meanwhile GM corporations are systematically buying up seed companies and taking varieties off the market. Control the seeds that feed the world you become 100 times richer than Bill Gates, because you can say which country has which seed, and you get paid every time someone uses your seed. And once you add green oil – bio-fuel – into the equation you become master of the world – richer than any country. The eight biggest drugs companies are the biggest producers of GM, and the biggest pesticide manufacturers. They began with maize and soya, they had the patent last year for wheat in the US and now they’re working on rice.

What about insulin for diabetics? I heard that’s now nearly all GM material.
It is, but there’s a case in point: some people have an adverse reaction to it and can’t use it.

But won’t GM crops help us to feed the world by making stronger plants with bigger yields?

You’ve heard the propaganda put out by the GM companies, who have a permanent presence at European Commission and easy access to ministers and civil servants that for some reason believe what they’re told. The United National International Assessment of Agriculture, carried out by 400 leading scientists, found no evidence that GM crops increase yields or that they could feed a hungry world. And the US Department of Agriculture reported earlier this year that some GM crop yields are actually lower. GM is not about feeding starving children. People are hungry not because there’s not enough food in the world, but because they haven’t got the money to buy it. GM won’t make their pockets any heavier, and they won’t be able to afford to buy the seed.

Is that why Prince Charles is worried?

Partly. There’s also the environmental impact – the effects of increased pesticide use on insects, birds and other wildlife. And the Prince thinks GM systems and the agribusiness and globalisation promoted by the world’s Big 8 nations such as the US and UK, are behind a worldwide decrease in the number of small farms. And as people leave the land they end up unemployed and disaffected in Third World slums.

Is there any evidence for this?

The UN says globalisation is the biggest underlying reason for the growth in slums – the Prince’s “unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness”.

OK, we know he doesn’t like GM. But surely it’s worth giving it a go?

Perhaps, but maybe not like it’s being done now. Professor Barry Commoner, a distinguished biologist and philosopher of science at Queens College, New York, sums it up like this: “The genetically engineered crops now being grown represent a massive uncontrolled experiment whose outcome is inherently unpredictable. The results could be catastrophic.”

So what’s the answer?

At the moment, it IS the stuff of nightmares. History has shown that we need scientists with the public good in mind to study new technologies and give honest answers about its effects on nature and humans. That way we may avoid disasters like thalidomide and Mad Cow Disease. But while science is powered by the pursuit of money, people like Prince Charles are right to put up their hands and ask why.

Friday, 6 August 2010

A saint?

Today I acquired a little booklet called “The Poems and Parodies of Brother Stephen”

His poems mainly consist of snapshots of a by-gone age in rural County Limerick “When we built the rick of hay” “Teapot by the fire” “The lifting of the latch” “The Oola Farmer’s wife” “The cattle dealing man” etc.

He was the nearest that I have ever come to meeting a saint. However, he was not always so saintly!

He was notorious where I come from but more of a ‘scamp’ than a villain. He was involved in certain anti-government activities and was incarcerated in Limerick jail, then the most secure jail in Ireland. He escaped, disguised as a woman. He was also a bit of a con artist, but most of all liked a drink or three!

Then one day he was in the snug (a small room in old Irish pubs, where one could have a drink in private) when he heard two of the drinkers in the bar discussing him. “Jim Russell (his birth name) is getting to be a right bum, these times” said one.

This knocked him back a bit. My mother said that it also coincided with his girlfriend chucking him. Anyway, he decided to change his ways and go into religion. One problem was his reputation and no local order would accept him. Eventually he found a small order in Warrenpoint, Co. Down, which is about as far away as from Kilmallock as you can get without being drowned.

The Alexian brothers were prepared to accept him but there was still one problem – they wanted a letter of recommendation from his parish priest. Naturally, the priest knew of his disreputable reputation and would not give a recommendation. Nothing daunted, Jim forged the letter!! He joined in 1945, got the habit in 1946 and was professed in 1948.

He spent the next 20 years working among and ministering to the homeless and the destitute in Belgium and the UK. He felt a particular affinity to alcoholics. One of his books of poetry was called “There but for the grace of God…..”

I first met him around this time. My aunt was married to his brother, so we were of close family. In height and physique he always reminded me of Churchill. Anyway, this old man came in to our kitchen and said to my mother “Nancy, I must be getting old. On my way down here I tried standing on the saddle of the bike, but couldn’t manage it”

He was well known for his humour and jolly outlook in life. He once performed at a concert in Effin (a local area) and came on stage walking on his hands while dressed as a woman, complete with bloomers etc. It really shocked some and a few Holy Janes complained to the bishop :-)

Some years later, he appeared on the Late Late Show on RTE. He gave a much sanitised version of his life, but it caused more complaints and the bishop silenced him for several years.

In the early 70’s there was another sex scandal in Britain. A call girl called Norma Levy was found to be having-it-off with a Government Minister, Lord Lampton. Norma’s real name was Noreen Russell – Brother Stephen’s niece. She later wrote a book “I, Norma Levy” about her life. She speaks kindly of her uncle.

In 1973, he was called back to Limerick by Bishop Murphy (another family connection. His brother actually nominated me for my first election in 1969). He was put in charge of the Simon Community Hostel in Limerick City. He and another brother did trojan work. Every night they would drive around the city until they had collected all the rough sleepers and take them back to the hostel, wash and feed them before putting them to bed.

He also ate with his clients and this may have been the cause of his death as he died of stomach cancer in 1975 – aged 64.

My memories of him are of a really jolly, but humble and caring person. If I visualise him, it is always with a big unsaintly smile.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Climate Change deal allows loopholes for rich nations.

Developing countries have argued strongly for minimum 40% emission cuts from industrialised nations by 2020. But new analysis from the Stockholm Environment Institute and Third World Network (TWN), released at the latest UN climate talks in Bonn, showed that current pledges amounted to only 12-18% reductions below 1990 levels without loopholes. When all loopholes were taken into account, emissions could be allowed to rise by 9%.

Sunday, 1 August 2010


Saturday, August 7th. 11am.

Venue: Victoria Park, Ballards Lane, Finchley.

By the Commemorative Cherry Tree.

Please bring along a poem, song, memory or thought to share.

Contact: Gardi Vaswani 020 8445 6312 or Noel Lynch 07961 44 1722.