Monday, December 27, 2004

NHS Targets

Good letter in today's Guardian from Prof Alan Maynard on targets for GPs, money quote:

"Donald Irvine and the General Medical Council have at least one thing in common: they have no idea how many doctors are not competent to practice safely. This is because they, like the Department of Health, live in a "data free" world where available statistics are ignored and many activities of doctors are simply not quantified."

Good call, although targets are often criticised, most of them are there to make sure that patients recieve the best quality service possible. The Conservatives are pledged to abolish all NHS targets as soon as they are elected. Targets may be a hassle for good staff in the NHS, but identify the bad ones. We need better targets, not no targets at all.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

More RPG news

I'm always concerned that there's not enough roleplaying on this site, so I've linked to the latest RPG stories at ENWorld for the very latest D20 news.

MMR will get it's day in court

Despite being critical of the motives of some people involved in the MMR scare, I am very pleased that Legal Aid has been reinstated to around 100 families attempting to sue the MMR drug manufacturers as reported here.

There would always have been a cloud over MMR if the big drug companies had won their case simply on the basis of having more money. Now both sides can air their arguments in court and the best side will win. It's certainly a victory for justice being seen to be done.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Nonsense about MMR

Anyone looking at AOL's front page news story

MMR Cheat GP Jailed
Doctor given nine-month jail term for forging results of blood tests to reassure parents over MMR jabs.

would be excused of thinking that the GP in question David Pugh was involved in covering up the "dangers" of MMR. Well, nothing of the sort, he was one of those unethical people busily making money out of the MMR scare, taking £70 apiece from parents for giving seperate measles, mumps and rubella jabs to their kids. Except that he couldn't even be bothered to keep the inoculations in a proper way and so they tended to be useless by the time they were injected into the kids. Then when that was discovered, he covered it up instead of owning up.

Consequently some of the children he "treated" are walking around even now without proper protection from three common childhood diseases. Nine months is a very lenient sentence for someone who would risk children's lives in the pursuit of money.

And a new computer

My Christmas present to myself, brand spanking new PC. Now all I have to do is spend Christmas getting all my stuff transferred over. In the meantime, Lewis has a response to my post on Foundation Hospitals here. I think he's basically right, but his conclusion is wrong, a privatised NHS replacement would not be any better. But that post will have to wait to the weekend.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

I'm back

Congratulations to Guido Fawkes for winning the Blunkett wager, £50 on it's way to him as soon as he gets in touch with how I can get it to him. Terrific visit to Norfolk, successful Christmas shopping and I even had time do to the tourist thing around Cambridge.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

A very merry early Christmas

As I'm working through Christmas, I'm taking the chance to visit some of my family who have settled in Watton and Dereham, Norfolk (just south of Iain Dale's stamping ground) to have an early Christmas. I'll not be back until Saturday so no posting until then.

In the meantime, why don't you check out some of my favourites and especially Lewis who is a fellow NHS Inmate over at Musgrove Park, Taunton and whose blog "From Across the Pond" is an interesting read (even if I disagree with him most of the time)

Monday, December 13, 2004

Foundation Hospitals

I was prompted to write this post by a superb report in today's Guardian, there's some here and here with some extra bits in today's dead tree edition

Firstly, I need to say that I am proud to be a card carrying member of the Labour Party and of UNISON, both of whom are opposed to the Foundation Hospitals policy and I'm also running for election as a Staff Governor of the Yeovil District Hospitals Foundation Trust, which should come into being on 1st April 2005. My position on foundation hospitals is positive, but reserved and I'll touch on that later in this post.

Now, to the point of the post, I doubt that the name of Anglian Harbours NHS Trust will mean anything to anyone who didn't work in NHS Finance or lived in the Lowestoft area in the mid 90s. That trust is, and probably will remain, unique the only NHS Trust to ever go effectively bust.

I'm not saying that YDH is ever likely to go bust, nor any of the other local trusts that I have knowledge of, but the main thrust of the front page article in today's Guardian was that the first wave Foundation Trust Chief Executives are chafing at the red tape that the Department of Health and their Strategic Health Authorities are placing on them. This drives at the heart of the problem.

1. Foundation Trusts are meant to give hospitals commercial freedom and the responsiveness to react to local need, but,
2. No Foundation Trust will be allowed to fail, for fear of the political backlash.

Because no Foundation Trust will be allowed to fail, although for obvious reasons no government minister or DoH official will come out and say that, the government will feel that they need to keep tabs on local Chief Execs, make sure that they spend the Treasury's money wisely, because without that tight control, the centre's scared that a Foundation Trust will go mad and go bust.

Today, if today is an average working day, close to 1,000 businesses will start up in the UK, some of them will become successful, but most will end up closing down. The fact that some of those businesses will fail does not mean that the capitalist system is flawed, neither would the failure of a foundation trust mean that the whole policy is flawed, but the government's opponents would not take such a pragmatic view. It is because of that worry that the first Foundation Trusts are shackled in red tape.

I have heard from a few people, dotted around the NHS over my eight years in the service, that "money will be found" and they laugh at attempts to impose financial responsibilty on their areas. This kind of comment comes more from clinicians and former clinicians that have become managers. What's so frustrating and worrying about their comments are that they are right. If you are a department head, a matron or a clinical director and you want a new post created then you have two ways of doing that, you can do it the proper way, get Management Accounts to cost it up, provide a business case of how that's going to improve patient care, go to meetings and finally get it approved, or you can just appoint someone, circumventing whatever financial controls exist. Actually there's a third way, con another manager into appointing the person on their budget so they get the flak instead.

If you pick the second route, then you need a hard head, you will get told off, but you'll be okay if you adopt the the high moral ground argument, after all, your distractors will be talking about merely money, you are only interested in patient care. Eventually you'll get the funding in some future budget round and everything will be okay. But the money has to be found from somewhere and currently, that's from taking money from the pot available for developments, from those managers trying to play by the rules. But under Foundation Hospitals, the rules change, or would if Foundation Trusts were allowed to run free.

I don't want there to be any bail-outs of Foundation Trusts that are doing badly in either patient care or financial stability. I want failing Trusts to be wound up and all the managers (including the senior clinicians, hell even including the likes of me) in that Trust to be sacked. I say that because I want there to be a wake-up call to the kind of managers I've described, the kind of managers that are far too numerous in today's NHS. If there's no bail outs, then those managers that are responsible will get to see the fruits of their labour and the irresponsible ones will have to shape out or ship out.

Foundation Hospitals has the potential to transform the whole NHS for the better, but only if the centre has the confidence to let the trusts grow-up .

Sunday, December 12, 2004

D&D 44th best Christmas Present ever

According to TV Cream anyway. I'll even forgive them getting E.Gary Gygax's name wrong.

"Amplified by the almost permanent presence of The Hobbit on ‘70s and ‘80s English Lit. syllabuses, Dungeons & Dragons offered those who were unpopular in the playground some solace in an imaginary Tolkein-esque world they could control. Manufactured in Standard and Advanced D&D flavours by US company TSR, and based on an original premise by R. Gary Gigax, it mixed medieval Britain with magical folklore and monsters to create a fantasy magpie's nest in which an unlimited number of pretend, non-cardiovascular, but meticulously detailed battles and adventures could take place. How to play? Extensive rule books (but no board) and fiendishly complicated challenges (requiring the appointment of a “Dungeon Master” to preside over events) made it difficult to get to grips with, but AD&D soon established itself as a sort of lunchtime school club sub-culture in much the same way as chess, astronomy and orchestra rehearsals (largely due to it being legitimised by an allocation of early-lunch tickets). A typical game exposition: “Your attempt to cast a spell on the Orc fails and he strikes a blow with his axe. You lose three stamina points”. Much talk of druids, clerics and the Call of Cthulhu; players would grow up with real ale and Marillion-aping folk pub bands called Arcadian Pentangle. For the less dedicated, the Fighting Fantasy books by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson were a portable alternative. For the disinterested, there were at least the multi-coloured, translucent resin dice with an unexpectedly large number of sides (our favourite was the tangerine dodecahedron)."

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Coolest job ever?

As I'm an accountant, I sometimes have daydreams about having an exciting job. Just spotted in the documentaries on LOTR:ROTK:EE a job that someone really did, Barad-dur Destruction Lead. How cool is that?

Interesting Coincidence?

Was just flicking through the channels and caught on Bravo+1 the tv spot for London's Olympic bid. I hadn't noticed the similarity between that ad and Labour's Proud of Britain party political before. Surely Lord Coe isn't being used by Tony Blair's re-election bid?

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Return of the King

Like any self-respecting geek I've bought the extended cut on DVD. Still got an hour to go of it, but I have to do the review now.

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: Special Extended DVD Version (£29.99)
It's Return of the King, why haven't you bought it already?

Rating 5/5 (of course)

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Most pointless news story ever?

From the AOL Sport Channel (unlinkable)

"Southampton Chairman Rupert Lowe believes Harry Redknapp will revive the club's fortunes after his controversial move from Portsmouth"

Well, yes of course he would, he was the guy that signed him to an 18-month contract only yesterday.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The strange world of UNISON elections

It's coming up to time for UNISON to hold it's General Secretary Elections. In order to stand, a prospective candidate needs 25 branches, 2 regions, 2 service groups or the NEC to nominate them.

We invited all four people wanting nomination over to our branch to hear what they had to say. Dave Prentis asked a full-time official to organise a representative to come and talk to us on his behalf.

Said full-time official (I'll not name the person concerned) phoned me on Monday, and commented "I think it would be a disaster if Dave Prentis isn't elected, don't you?". When I replied that my job as Secretary was merely to enable the branch to make it's feelings known, he noticably cooled.

As it happens our branch didn't decide to nominate Dave Prentis, we nominated Jon Rogers of Lambeth UNISON, I didn't vote, but I agree with Jon that full-time officials ought to be doing what the members want and not think that they ought to ignore what we have to say.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Melanie Phillips Update

When I posted my comments below about Melanie Phillips' piece on Muslims I didn't expect her to see them in this off-the-beaten track part of cyberspace so I emailed her at the same time.

I didn't get a reply but am pleased to note that she has acknowledged my post and updated her blog entry accordingly, something I never believed that she would do.

So kudos to Melanie and I'm glad she's proved me wrong.

Strange Priorities?
So David Davis thinks that you ought to be okay to shoot a man in the back, but

he thinks that fast-tracking a visa application (even without the Home Secretary's knowledge) is a sacking issue.

When exactly did the Tories lose the plot?

Monday, December 06, 2004

Welcoming OCS

It was great to see about half of the OCS workforce who will be joining (or rejoining) the Trust in February after eight years of the cleaning service being contracted-out. Once the private companies were prevented from using the poverty-level wages they offer staff as a way to undercut the NHS, the in-house team proved to deliver the best service over the four private companies.

Busy Week

I'm going up to Norfolk to visit my family for a few days next week so have to cram in a lot of work. It's Management accounts month end, so that's busy, also there's more budget setting for 2005/06 and Agenda for Change costing.

On Monday morning I'm going to be meeting some of the OCS cleaners as they are coming back in house from February, in the afternoon going to attend a review on the weekend working trial in HSDU.

Tuesday morning brings the bi-monthly full meeting of the JCNC (Joint Committee for Negotiation and Consultation) that's were the representatives of the staff-side (trade unions and professional bodies) meet with the executive directors of the Trust.

Wednesday has the Agenda for Change Subgroup Leads meeting, I'm staffside lead of the Modernisation subgroup alongside Pat Jenkins, our Director of Operations. At lunchtime a hustings meeting for the UNISON General Secretary elections, Malkiat Bilku is attending along with representatives of the Dave Prentis and Jon Rogers campaigns. Roger Bannister was invited to send someone but it doesn't look like he's going to respond.

Thursday, I've cleared completely so I can actually do some Finance work.

Lastly Friday, I'm in Taunton all day for UNISON's Regional Health Committee.

It's going to be a busy week.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Welcome to Sunnydale delayed again...

From the Eden Studios site.

"We are pleased to announce that after two years and over 15,000+ copies as well as 1,000 limited editions, the Buffy RPG Corebook has sold out.

We are currenlty at work at revising and expanding a new edition of the corebook to be released early next year. This new revised/expanded edition will update the corebook to cover seasons 6 and 7 of the Buffy the Vampire series including detailed developments on the Original Cast. The rules will be expanded to cover the changes made to the cinematic Unisystem debuted in the Origins Award winning Angel RPG Corebook as well as errata changes.

Welcome to Sunnydale will need to be revised to better suit the new revised corebook and has been pushed back to be released with the revised corebook in March 2005."

Welcome to Sunnydale's been on the release schedule for Buffy RPG since the Core Rulebook was released in August 2002, it's now over a year overdue, they've released the preview (a pdf of Chapter 1: Boca del Infierno) and it's been pushed back again?

At least it's quicker than Warhammer FRP's Realms of Sorcery, scheduled for 1987, eventually released late 2001.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Green Ink Brigade II

Flicking through the pages of the Western Gazette this week, the letters pages were relatively calm, but this letter caught my eye. It's worth reprinting in full, the writer's words in italics, my fisking in bold

"Now what do you need if you're a Blandford householder in a conservation area? You need a whacking great 3G base station over six storeys high with another five to follow glowering over the Georgian rooftops."

So what's the point of this? Is he saying that only people in a conservation area deserve to be "protected" from mobile phone masts?

"And what do you need if you're a frail elderly person in a Blandford nursing home? You need a base station pumping out radiation from 50 yards away to resonate with the brain waves in your flagging neurones and break up the DNA."

Oooh, I think I saw that on a Star Trek episode.

"And what do you need if you're a Blandford houseowner? You need 20 per cent knocked off your housing equity."

Ahh, it's a pity the poor houseowner time

"Why? Don't ask me. Ask Blandford Town Council."

But I'm sure he's going to tell us why.

"Residents of the conservation area flocked into a recent town council meeting with our well-founded fears. Also present was Phil Holdhurst of Savilles whose job it is to plant a base station among us."

Remember, one man's well-founded fears is another man's superstitious claptrap.

"My research, from an early report on the USA Environmental Protection Agency which stated that mobile phone masts were a B1 carcinogen risk factor..."

Now, it's getting interesting. I went to the EPA site and all I could find on the site was a piece saying that the control of radiation from what they call cellular telephone towers is the responsibility of the Federal Communications Commission. So I doubt that the EPA have reported anything on the matter. I went over to the FCC site and here's what they have to say.


As discussed above, radiofrequency emissions from antennas used for wireless transmissions such as cellular and PCS signals result in exposure levels on the ground that are typically thousands of times less than safety limits. These safety limits were adopted by the FCC based on the recommendations of expert organizations and endorsed by agencies of the Federal Government responsible for health and safety. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that such towers could constitute a potential health hazard to nearby residents or students."

Enough said.

" the recent Dutch TNO report which found headaches and nausea even worse near 3G base stations, is that these things are very dangerous."

I couldn't find any such report on the TNO website but it's not surprising that if you live next to something that you think is going to cause headaches and nausea that's exactly what you will experience, it's not evidence of anything other than a placebo effect. If someone points me in the direction of a report which has double-blind testing, a decently sized sample and a statistically significant effect then I'll believe them.

"As a healer I am extremely sensitive to this sort of radiation and begin to feel nauseous if it resonates in my body."

Did you know that James Randi has a standing $1 million prize for anyone who demonstrates paranormal ability, being able to sense RF at the levels even near a base station would qualify for that prize, so why hasn't he applied?

"Back to the council meeting. Mr Holdhurst knew no more about the health risks than the boy doing the paper round knows about the Guardian's views on GMOs. Also Crown International had not bothered to produce a photographic mock-up of what the base station would look like - something which takes a few minutes on a computer."

There are no proven health risks, there's not much else to know.

"The council turned down the application. Of course, they only have an advisory power these days but it was a small victory. And then, when Crown International bestirred itself to produce the mock-ups (which we judged to be several metres too short) the town council reversed its previous judgment and concluded that what we all need for our greater well-being is a 20-metre base station in our midst."

"Thank goodness for the professionals at Nordon who quite rightly judged that conservation area and a 20-metre base station mast are completely incompatible."

I'll be fair here, a mast in a conservation area, should be denied planning permission unless it's able to blend into the surroundings, but bringing in spurious health "risks" is just plain lying and it causes people to feel ill, hardly ethical behaviour for a healer.

"As for the unprepossessing loads of idiots on the town council. If the best they can do to protect the interests of the town and fellow citizens is to wish a huge irradiating mast in our midst shouldn't they be disbanded altogether?"

I'll pass no comment on the Blandford Town Council, having never met any of them, but calling people idiots because they disagree with him tends to suggest that he's lost the argument.

"All one can say is that if Blandford Town Council in its advisory capacity were advising fleas on how to suck blood, no one would be scratching."

I'm not bright enough to decipher his passing shot.

In the interests of fairness I'm going to email him this post with the invitation to have a right to reply.

Melanie Phillips vs Muslims

As a blogger, I try not to comment inaccurately but one of the reasons why my comments are always open is so if I have errored, other people can and will correct me. Melanie Phillips on the other hand, is a professional columnist, people pay her to write and so, I believe, she has a duty to undertake reasonable research for her topics.

So, we have this piece in which she says the following.

"no fewer than 88 per cent [of young Muslims in the UK] want schools and workplaces to accommodate Muslim prayer times —five times daily — into the normal working day."

Which does give the impression that Muslims are demanding the right to disappear from the workplace five times a day. Now I happened to know that one of the prayers is before sunrise and another is after sunset, and it didn't seem like all the prayer times would fit into the normal working day so I decided to do some research. Five minutes of googling later I had my answer, the prayer times doesn't fit into a normal working day.

I work normal office hours, 8:30am to 5:00pm with an hour for lunch. The first has to be taken before 7am and the last after 6pm (1) so they don't affect work, the second and third can be taken either end of a 1pm - 2pm lunch break. The only one that might affect work (and only in the winter) is the fourth prayer which should be taken within 20 minutes of the sunset, but even there there is an exception which says that you can delay it until about 90 minutes after sunset if it's not possible to pray earlier. So if I were Muslim and my employer said that it wasn't allowed for me to take a quick break at 4:15pm, then I could pray at 5:00pm and that would be okay.

So why has Melanie decided to misrepresent the situation in order to support her argument? I don't know, but as she doesn't provide a comment facility I guess we'll never know.

(1) because the prayer times are based on the sun, the times are only correct for December, in the summer, the first prayer has to be earlier and the last prayer has to be later.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Happy Weekend

This week has certainly seemed to drag but the weekend's here. I'm not going to blog tonight, but be back tomorrow in between preparing for tomorrow's D&D sessions. I've got a newbie campaign in the morning and in the evening Session 9 of the World's Largest Dungeon.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

David Laws vs Yeovil Hospital

Yeovil's MP David Laws (the man who wants to privatise the NHS) is in the local paper (no link yet) yet again attacking the service we provide. Actually he has been pretty quiet lately, there's not many things that a three-star trust providing a five-star service does wrong but he wouldn't praise us for anything would he.

His gripe this time is length of waiting lists, presumably if Laws ever became Health Secretary there wouldn't be waiting lists as long as your wallet could bear it. Interestingly the claims are very vague

"A number of constituents...Some of these waiting between six months and one year" and ended with a hopeful fish "I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has experienced similar difficulties"

As it happens we do have one specialty, Bone Densitometry, where the maximum waiting list is 28 weeks, which is between six months and one year, but only just and that's only because currently we have only one consultant rheumologist in post, with one vacancy out to advert.

Friendly Wager

I'm not going to blog on the Blunkett issue, I don't know enough about the whole thing and it's not really a public matter anyway despite what the Daily Mail thinks. However I have offered a wager with Guido Fawkes and he has accepted.

If David Blunkett is still Home Secretary when Big Ben strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, Guido will donate £10 to the Chalice Well Trust, Glastonbury. If he isn't, I will give £50 to the charity of Mr.Fawkes' choice.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Demise of the NHSU

I'm a bit worried by plans to axe the NHS University as reported here. The NHSU has only been operating for a year and will be replaced in July 2005, meaning it's a lame duck until then.

I've not had any direct contact with the NHSU so don't know how effective they were being, but the reasons for the NHSU to come into existance are still around now. The NHS as a whole is by far the largest employer in Britain and has an vast pool of staff with the talent to go further, they just need the chance. At the same time we have a real skills shortage in most areas, so we are reliant on expensive agency workers or taking skilled staff from other countries. We need to solve this, and the only way we can is to grow our own, we should make it as easy as possible to do this.

I hope that the new NHS Institute for Learning, Skills and Innovation will help when it comes into existance next year.

Running for election

As Yeovil District Hospital is going for Foundation status, I've thrown my hat into the ring to stand for one of the five Staff Governor seats. We were only allowed 100 words for the nomination form and that's way too short for a windbag like me. Still I managed to fit this in.

"I work in Finance as an Assistant Management Accountant but more of you will know me as UNISON’s branch secretary. In that role I have given advice to many staff and taken your concerns and feelings to the highest level. If elected I would carry on working with management on behalf of all staff.

If you wish to vote for me to work for you on the Board of Governors then please consider voting for Sue Chesterman who I have worked with and would make an excellent Governor."

Sue Chesterman is the CSP rep for the hospital and she's also Deputy Secretary of the Staff Side where I'm Vice-Chair. I've advertised this site on the nomination form so I'm expecting a flood of literally couples of extra visitors. If elected I'm going to use this as a forum for letting people know what I'm up to on their behalf.