Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Health Care American Dream ...? Or should we stick to the NHS?

I want to try and express my fear about what I believe is happening to health care in the UK. To get across my point it may be worth sharing what little I know about the situation in the USA.
I know that in the US there is an extremely limited 'national health service'; that everyone is expected to have health insurance - a considerable expense for families and individuals; that it costs a fortune just to give birth. There was once a programme on television called ER - but I don't know of any other television programmes or films about hospitals or health in the USA ... (Now think UK - Holby, Casualty, Doctors - I don't watch them, but they do roll off the tongue, without a second to think about it).
I know there was fierce opposition to Obama Care - promoted by Obama to make health care in the USA more fair and inclusive. And by fierce I mean - well, savage! It brought the country to a virtual standstill with public sector workers unable to get paid, because Republican senators refused to agree public sector budgets, unless Obama dropped his plans for Obama Care! Obama held firm, and did not give in to them.
I know of a (elderly) person, in the US who had an operation followed by intensive therapy, due a nasty fall. Luckily, in the fortunate position of being able to pay for health insurance over the years, care was swift and reactive ... and very costly - $10,000 a day. Yes, a day. While in post-op intensive therapy the room was shared with another patient. So, after only 20 days - well, you can do the sums yourself.  This patient was not having to pay of course - it all came out of the insurance. Fantastic you are thinking ... ? Maybe.
But I also happen to know that this patient and his partner spend a good proportion of their lives jumping through 'medical hoops' to the point that I get the impression it has almost become their raison d'etre. A massive and stressfully dominant intrusion into their everyday existence. Every little blemish requires a biopsy. Nips and tucks are apparently 'essential' to their well-being.
Sadly, I think US medical insurance holders are in danger of becoming (if they haven't already!) cash cows.
The providers of medical services have realised they have a relatively large pool of 'middle class, well-heeled people who have all been sold the insurance, and who are paying their annual premiums - and there ensues a beautiful 'dance' between the insurance companies and the medics, who they can milk more and more money from these 'sick' people by persuading enough of them that, for their own good, they need some other procedure, or investigation, or prescription - putting more money into their overflowing coffers.
Okay, you get my point. But stick with me here, because I am about to seemingly veer right off course. But I think it is an interesting, and potentially relevant comparison.
Okay, now - just go and check online, what sort of property you could generally buy in the USA for that $200,000 (the cost of that 20 days of post-op intensive therapy I mentioned earlier) - compare the prices of houses there in the US, to here. I know, they have a lot more space which is why I believe THEY needed some alternative economic driver other than land and property - and what better than people's own health ...
So long as everyone who can afford to pays their health insurance, and the health practitioners can persuade people to follow up every single little ache and twinge - KERCHING!! They are raking it in.
And, perhaps with the housing market and mortgages in the UK looking increasingly unsustainable as a primary economic driver, a back up plan needs to be put in place.
Bye bye NHS. Hello Health Insurance!

Friday, 20 November 2015

Save A Life Programme for ALL Offenders.

A few weeks ago I sent an Email - straight to 'the top'. Yes, I sent it to Michael Gove himself, as I thought this was such a positive, simple, win-win, relatively cheap idea, to contribute to the rehabilitation of offenders, and to give everyone involved something of true value. And after all, going straight to the top where someone is actually in a position to make a decision is often seen as a good way forward.
"Dear Mr Gove
I work in a Probation Office - as a Programmes Administrator, now with one of the new CRC's.
My idea came out of hearing the BBC News recently, an item about the general lack of people knowledgeable in CPR lifesaving techniques. It occurred to me that it could be a win-win situation, if every offender given a custodial or community sentence be required to complete a short 'Save A Life' Programme - as a RAR, or part of every Community Payback Order, Post Sentence Supervision, or Licence on release from custody.
If this was a compulsory condition, think how beneficial it would be ... The Programme could be delivered by 'outside agencies' so needn't take up Probation time. It would be an important life skill - literally. It could be good for offenders' self worth and self confidence - and mean that everyone, regardless of what they had done, their background, where they had come from, or where they were going - would have the ability to save a life - possibly 'paying back in the ultimate way'.
The general Programme could be created to cover CPR, and other useful first aid/life saving actions - such as choking recovery, stopping blood loss, recovery position, and use of community defibrillators.
I hope you will seriously consider this idea, and how it could be implemented to help our society, and also give a positive role to all offenders. It could be very good from a criminal justice system PR point of view - never easy when it comes to the perceptions of the general public and offenders! Imagine: 'He once shoplifted, but last week he saved a child's life'."
I have had no response or acknowledgement from Michael Gove's office as yet, but I would like to see how much enthusiasm there is out there for this as an idea? If I do ever get a response from the Justice Secretary, I will let you know ... but I'm not holding my breath!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Schools - a means to an end, or an end in themselves?

Today in the News is a story about a new Grammar School - well, no, NOT actually a new grammar school, because that isn't allowed. An 'annexe to an already-existing grammar school' in Kent, several miles from the existing school (that gets around the school rules you see) -

I feel a bit frustrated by the emphasis placed on schools - ALL schools, whether private, public, state, free, academy status, or even grammar. The thing is, I went to what was considered to be one of the best schools in the locality, with a high academic achievement, and a selective exam to gain entry. There were (at that time!) a few 'free places' to girls (only) with the ability and right address; others had to pay a high price to 'get in', in the form of school fees. I was popular, and have turned out well (I think), but I didn't excel academically; actually I felt that there was a gaping lack of any sort of pastoral care, and when I look back, I can see that ... let's just say the school had it's flaws. I left at 16, and they were more than happy to bundle me out of the back door as soon as they knew I wasn't destined for the Home Office, the Foreign Office, or some other high profile successful career which they could add to their PR and statistics for their future marketing and reputation. School certainly weren't the 'best years of my life'.

Our own sons on the other hand went to the local very ordinary (ie NOT "outstanding") local market town state comprehensive school, with no extra tuition, very little parental 'control' along the lines of homework monitoring, nagging or checking. What we did do was always encourage them to follow up on their interests. Facilitated what they showed an interest in - for example we bought each of them computers at a quite early age; we took them to participate in chosen sporting activities, music activities, bought guitars, a digital piano. Took them places (but never made them fill out those 'activity sheets for the kids'!) and we always answered their questions if we could. We encouraged them to think, and to think they could achieve and go wherever they wished to get to. We ate together, talked about lots of things over family meals - sometimes light hearted, and other times deep, political even - real-world stuff. Oh, and we put them first - but didn't make them the centre of our own lives, if that makes sense.
They have both done brilliantly in their own ways. One of them went to Trinity College Cambridge, and graduated with a First Class Honours degree and various awards - and is now doing his 'dream job'. The other went the Apprentice route after realising he preferred a more practical hands-on approach, and that he was more driven by earning money, and not mounting up a uni debt. At the age of 21 he's earning more than I've ever managed, and (with a little bit of financial help towards the deposit, from the bank of mum and dad) has organised a mortgage and bought a house.
It's not about the school, or at least only a very small part of it is. It is about the individual - and love, care, support and encouragement to think about what they want to achieve and assist in pointing them in the relevant direction. The main cost is awareness and time.
I'm afraid I can't help feeling all this stuff about Schools is quite honestly something of a red herring!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

NEW New Labour

Tony Blair is saying the new New Labour must be for "ambition and aspiration" - but if the majority of people wish they were somewhere else, somewhere better, its like EVERYONE trying to get out via one small exit. There is going to be a big crushing problem.
The other words he uses are "compassion and care" - that's more like it, and is the USP for Labour supporters, as many Tories simply don't understand or indeed have either.
In general I don't imagine, like me, many Labour supporters are people driven by power, money, materialism and consumerism. That doesn't mean we don't appreciate good things, or that we are (all) on our uppers - it means that 'stuff' is not the be- all-and-end-all. Some of us may have plenty, it is just that we tend to be generous rather than greedy. Generous of mind, and money. Not money-grabbing, 'me, me, me!' types, who because of what we have, feel absolutely entitled to keep it ALL.
The impression I get is that for your average Tory, it doesn't matter whether their money was made through hard work by themselves, or inherited from others, back down the line, - it is THEIR BLOODY MONEY and they don't want to share it with 'scum like them' who (in their eyes) are a bunch of losers, lazy scroungers, who deserve to just stay down, and out. They are blind to vulnerability, misfortune, family breakdown, illness; difference from them.  If that is where ambition and aspiration lead, I most definitely don't want to go there. And if this is why all those people voted Tory, then I think that new New Labour need to make them see how damaging that sort of ambition is. The aspiration everyone is talking about new New Labour 'needing', needs to be turned into something that is about the many, and not the individual. Aspiration for a civilized and harmonious society. Aspiration for sharp intellect, and improved innovative education for young people. Aspiration for family values, where we stick together, and look after our nearest and dearest. An approach to life where people have a sense of generosity, a spirit of kindness, which amounts to holding out a hand to others to help them up, when they are down. Letting them in, when they are out.
I for one don't want to be part of a society in which a 'them and us' division is encouraged, based on stuff and money, power and success; where spending and 'getting more' is seen as the right and only way. Where global corporates dominate our every decision. And that is NOT meant to be anti business to all you Tories I can hear shouting 'FOUL!' - it is pro opportunity for ALL - a fair chance for individuals, groups of people, and businesses. How many small shops, and business ventures do you know who have been successfully able to rise above the relentless and ever present crashing waves of the 'big boys' - who have the power and money to biff anyone else off the agenda, if they so choose? How many can really survive to trade and make a proper living - one which can support a family? Yes, there will be some, and that is very good and totally positive. But there are certainly not enough.
So I hope that new New Labour will consider very carefully how they package and sell their new shiny version of 'ambition and aspiration'. And they don't forget their unique selling points - 'care and compassion' - otherwise the 'big boys' will have 'em again, and again and ...

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Tory peer offends as the press seize on the chance to spin another distraction to reality!

What a wonderful exercise in spin, obfuscation, and distraction. Some thoughtless woman who is a Tory peer opens her mouth about people not knowing how to cook - in the same week the Lords refuse to join forces with the Commons 'canteen', in case the Champagne isn't up to scratch. ...Oh dear, you really couldn't make it up, and even worse - she used to work in - yes, you've guessed it - PR.
The mischievous right wing press - who are actually a bit pissed off with the right wing - seize on their chance to be 'bitchy' as hell; and in the process wind up their left wing friends about 'how the poor can't cook'
Right, so - here is the truth of the matter, in my view. Very few people - rich, poor, (and if you still believe in that awful old thing called 'class') or of any 'class' still bother to cook. Because for over a generation we have all been seduced into buying expensive high profit 'convenience' foods from corporations who can make a much better margin on the pre-packaged 'shove it in the oven, and heat' sort of food, than they can by selling you a celeriac for a pound with which you have the basis for a wonderful tasty and nutritious soup, which will feed many, and with some fresh bread and butter, will also fill them up!
When you are busy, and working long hours - and haven't a clue about how to make a celeriac soup (look, my Microsoft dictionary doesn't even have the spelling of celeriac in it's bank of words and is underlining it red, as 'wrong'!!); you are hungry, the kids are hungry - you are probably going to buy something ten times more expensive, and ten times less nutritious from the supermarket. Fact.
Come the revolution - I want everyone to learn to make a decent stew; some tasty dumplings. Be reminded how to peel potatoes, chop veg; and do interesting things with fruit - I'll even be happy for them to add a bit of cream! Whip up some batter for a good old 'toad in the hole'. Learn to make a sauce - if I can, anyone can. Heck, to be encouraged to take up the challenge of buying the best, cheapest and more nutritious foods, or better still - grow them! As with many things which are sad and wrong today, Capitalism, Corporations and profit have an awful lot to answer for.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Probation in the new world of NPS and CRC

As anyone who works in a Probation Office will know, life has been pretty dire since the flotation of the idea - Transforming Rehabilitation. During 2013 the new world of Probation did indeed start to transform, at quite an alarming rate, with the sort of passion and verve of someone on a serious mission.
It felt to me like it was all definitely going to happen - regardless - under the very noses of the professionals who were frantically working flat out to keep their heads above water with the demanding workload, in the face of the funding cuts of recent times.
So here we are now. Imminently to be carved up into two brand new Probation services - NPS (National Probation Service), and CRC (Community Rehabilitation Companies). The staff from the old Probation Trusts have been assigned and 'sifted' to one side or the other, with some being given the chance to express a preference. My understanding is that like the cats' whiskers, around 8 out of 10 staff with a choice, went for the new Civil Service option - NPS. A relatively 'known quantity' from day one - a central-government run organisation, where all the most serious, notorious, and high risk offenders will be managed, along with the kudos of advising Courts on appropriate sentencing. And that left everyone else either assigned or sifted into the CRC - a temporary offering while the bids were submitted from a variety of prime providers to take on the newly 'privatised' Probation Contracts from the Ministry of Justice. Here, those big and mad enough to take them on, will be paid by results. Which I believe means that they get some of the money up front to manage the low and medium risk offenders inherited from the old trusts - along with all the newbies, ie. those offenders being released from prison, having served sentences of under 12 months. But that they only get the balance of the wonga, if that lot keep on the straight and narrow, and keep their noses clean for a certain period of time.
Explaining all this to my very clear-thinking husband this morning I rather feel he nailed it. "So, the NPS are going to be like 'community prison warders' monitoring serious and notorious offenders, not to mention, having to carry the can if things go badly wrong?". "And the CRC brigade, well, they are going to be the ones doing the original work of professionally trained probation officers and staff; working with people to rehabilitate them, to meet the requirement to stay out of trouble, so that the outfit they work for get paid in full?".
Put like that, and the fact that these changes now feel like they are a 'done deal - it does make me think, that the CRCs are going to be where more of the traditionally- understood probation work will be needed, along with the necessary professionally-trained staff to carry out the work.
I am not sure that accords with how anyone else is viewing this transformation - whatever their position and point of view in all this.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Parenting - to work, or not to work (outside the home)

Two years ago, I wrote the blog below, about looking after children - the costs, the choices, the attitudes, the issues. The recent budget made financial concessions, but only to those who have NOT chosen to stay home, and do the job themselves.

I have never been able to understand a woman who feels happy to argue that she needs to be able to continue with her 'career' outside the home, but thinks it fine to expect other woman to look after her child/ren, at a bargain-basement price.  OK, I know that is a controversial way of putting it, and it is a deliberately provocative way of describing a complex issue. Also, I don't think it matters whether it is a man or a woman (mother or father), or any other suitable adult who looks after a child, but the point is looking after a baby and/or young children (especially when yours!) is surely the most important job in the world? Some parents may even want to do it for themselves, given the choice.  I realise that is NOT every parent's choice, it is tremendously hard and demanding work done well; some would even admit, it can be quite boring - but I would hope that all parents at least recognise the patience, skill, not to mention endurance necessary to carry out the job well.

If you have a child, it is your responsibility to provide good care for him/her. If you choose to work, that is your choice, and it may, not surprisingly, cost a lot of money.  Also, some parents may not be the best people to care for their children for a whole variety of reasons, and in those cases good quality adequate support (whether financial or practical) should be available for the sake of the child.

Tax breaks and benefits should be accessible to enable one parent to choose full time parenting if they wish to. Shamefully the recent budget did NOT take account of those people. If both parents choose to work then my feeling is that they have to accept that good quality childcare is going to be expensive, after all it is a very important job, extremely hard work, doing what those parents have elected not to carry out themselves.

And finally, if people don't want to look after their own children, or pay for the price for someone else to take on that hugely important task, maybe best to choose not to go down the parenting route at all's a thought.