Category Archives: Social care

Suffolk’s NSD – a Noddy Style Democracy?

Sadly, at full council yesterday the Conservative administration used its large majority to carry on with its horrifyingly unformed proposals of divestment  – and STILL without any public mandate.

I’m sharing below the speech I made against this decision. Unfortunately, despite its undoubted brilliance, and despite equally superb and  accurate speeches by my leader Kathy Pollard, deputy leader, David Wood, and colleague John Field, all the backbench conservatives voted with their leaders rather than their consciences  to support this unformed, uncosted, un-budgeted,  and undemocratic piece of ideologically-driven decision-making.

So in the years to come, folks,  you need to remember that this decision to ‘divest’ is NOT a coalition decision. This is NOT a national decision. It is NOT based on national cuts . No, the responsibility for the NSD  lies squarely in the hands of Leader Jeremy Pembroke, his Cabinet  – and all the Tory backbenchers on Suffolk County Council with huge reservations – not one of whom had the bottle to vote so in public!

My speech against the NSD

In September this council agreed  – via its socking Tory majority –  to push through the Cabinet recommendation , the NSD

–  Which stands for… what exactly?  Me, I think Noddy-style Democracy sums up the process pretty fairly!

Now there are lots and lots of reasons to object to this Enid  Blyton fantasy, the NSD, but I’m only given 3 minutes.

So, I won’t mention their spurious 30% cuts, nor the value of the services they want to sell off or throw away .  As regards its  lack of logic and responsibility to the people of Suffolk – I’ll confine myself to quoting the Deputy Leader :

“If people don’t value a service, it won’t be delivered. If no-one comes forward with an offer to deliver it, that’s proof it’s not needed.”

(What a superbly Toytown approach to service delivery that is, by the way! So, if no-one comes forward to unblock your loo, is that proof your loo’s not blocked? )

No, my three minutes is going on the democratic deficit that led to this decision – and the democratic deficit that underpins your  subsequent  ‘consultation’.

Now, I missed last meeting for serious personal reasons and so couldn’t cast my vote against the NSD. Did it matter?  Not a jot!

Why? Because the future of Suffolk’s services lies

  • not in the hands of its half a million plus electors,
  • not in the  hands of the 75 county councillors who represent them,
  • – and, – NOT  – in the hands of the  55 Tory councillors opposite who hold a majority vote.

NO, it  has been made by my esteemed colleagues, the Leader and  cabinet.

These ten people have unilaterally decided to  ‘transform Suffolk public services”.

Last September, Council also agreed “proactive and wide-ranging engagement across Suffolk to establish whether the key NSD proposals found favour with the communities.”  Note that  weasel word ‘engagement’ rather than ‘consultation.’

I’m sorry Jeremy, but your ‘proactive and wide-ranging engagement’ is a farce. Nowhere in your ‘engagement activity’  did you ask the VITAL question, “Shall we do it?”

Instead you askedDo you understand it?” And indeed, by 21 November you had 528 responses – 63% of who DID ‘understand’  Jeremy, the concept of ‘selling the family silver’ is very easy to understand.

What people don’t understand  is WHY you’re selling it without asking the family first.

So we Lib Dems decided to hold our own ‘engagement process’. We  actually walked around, we delivered 23,000 leaflets, we visited not a single town, once – as several of the Conservative councillors say they did – but town after town over and over again and talked to many residents  about your NSD.  And, you know what? People had never heard of it.

They were appalled, Jeremy!  We didn’t get 528 responses– we’ve had over 1500, and rising.

Aren’t you – even a little bit – aware of  just how angry most people are?

Or maybe this is the area where YOU ‘don’t understand’!

Now, some of my constituents think your plans ridiculous,

Some  of them think they are reprehensible.

But maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe they’re just WRONG.

Couldn’t you all  just admit you’re wrong?  There are lots of my colleagues opposite, who I know are privately very unhappy about what’s happening and how.  Of course you are. You’re friends of democracy – no fans of fairytales. You represent the people of Suffolk with as much passion and dedication as I do.

So why not go for it! Why not summon up the courage of all those thousands of crosses on your ballot papers?  People voted for democratic values. For Suffolk values!  NOT for Noddy Style Democracy. Suffolk is not Toytown! Playtime is over! So lets  consult properly – and LISTEN to the replies. The people of Suffolk aren’t  children. They don’t need fairy-tales. You can trust them to make grown-up decisions!

When is a wheelchair not a wheelchair: NXEA

Today the 10 Minute Rule bill for Epilepsy (Bill 112) passed its first hurdle! Yayyy to all MPs who stayed to vote. Boo to those who didn’t without good reason, particularly those who sat through PMQ but left the chamber immediately afterwards.  Please could they do better next time (4 March, second reading). My MP had a good excuse for absence – and wrote me a helpful letter to boot!

This bill is one of the first moves being made in parliament to raise awareness of epilepsy and recognise how very poorly people with epilepsy and their needs are treated in comparison with others . Valerie Vaz gives details here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/hi/house_of_commons/newsid_9220000/9220887.stm.

To mark this I’m sharing the disgraceful story of a Suffolk mother, Avril, whose two-year old daughter’s serious health problems include constant and  intractable epilepsy. Avril deals bravely and resourcefully with really horrible medical crises on a daily basis. Yet she also has to deal with appalling treatment from people who might be expected to help her. Her battles with public transport, and NXEA in particular, are a case in point:

The family can’t go out frequently but when they do, Avril’s daughter has needed to travel on public transport in her buggy, and now she’s older, in a wheelchair that looks like a buggy. And this is where the trouble starts.

“We’ve always had problems with train guards and bus drivers telling us to “just fold it up, it isn’t a proper wheelchair “etc.  In the end we got a medical letter to say she has to stay in her buggy to show to the people who refuse to believe us. We also have a letter from NXEA customer services to show train guards who question us being in first class with a standard class ticket because that’s where the wheelchair space IS.  So that prevents some of the trouble – but then on trains we also need to use ramps.

The last time we travelled on a train was from Manningtree to Ipswich. Manningtree has no lifts and a subway so we asked for assistance to cross the track and were told to take our pushchair down the subway. When we tpointed out the wheelchair was too heavy and not safe enough , he said “that’s not a wheelchair, it’s a pushchair”  Like we would make it up?  I told him we had confirmation it was a wheelchair and we required assistance.

Although he did grudgingly take us over, he insisted on reading the letters, handing them back without comment as our train pulled in and wandering off without releasing the ramp for us.

So here we are. The train ‘s about to leave and there’s a choice of either lifting her on or sitting and waiting for another half hour and hoping the same chap would get the ramp out next time… Would you have fancied your chances? We didn’t.  And anyway, as well as a sick 2 year old there’s her tired 4 year old sister to consider. So we manhandled my daughter and wheelchair onto the train ourselves – you know how high those intercity trains are – without the aid of  the ramp.  Her wheelchair weighs over 16kgs, my daughter weighs 12kgs, and then theres the oxygen and everything else that we have to carry for her.

I’m not one of these women who won’t get their hands dirty or who expect the men to do the lifting, but I was still feeling the pain in my c-section area the following day.

Our rare family day out was spoiled, but my  main anger and biggest concern was my daughter’s safety – and the fact we were being given trouble when we needed help.”

Avril complained at Ipswich – her local NXEA station – but although NXEA run services from Hertford to Harwich and Stratford to Sheringham, you have to complain locally. Avril was told that the letter had been passed onto the manager at Colchester, as Manningtree falls within the Colchester Manager’s responsibility. She called yesterday – 24th November – to find out progress to be told that her letter (of 17th October) had disappeared in transit! In short, the typical runaround!

NXEA installed barriers to prevent passengers evading their fares – but where are their internal barriers to prevent managers evading responsibilities!

On another tack, National Express East Anglia currently covers Suffolk Essex, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.  Avril cannot be the only mother in East Anglia who has this problem. Surely it might not be beyond the wit of man for this vast company – which has  a monopoly of East Anglian rail  transport – to have sufficiently responsive internal systems to come up with a solution that will allow Avril and her daughter, and others like them, to travel without this difficulty.

At the moment they have to rely on whether individuals are ‘nice’ or ‘nasty’. What kind of service is that?

“It’s tough looking after my daughterand dealing with all the dramas and appointments that she comes with. Sometimes its nice to just be able to go out and try to forget that things aren’t ‘normal’. And then you meet an idiot like we did and it’s rammed down your throat again…..

My daughter will be using this particular wheelchair until she outgrows it at 4.  Not sure I can cope with another 2 years of the stress that comes with public transport. “

Post scriptum

Following another letter directly to the Managing Director of NXEA, an article in the local paper at Manningstree, and this blog, Avril did get a full apology from NXEA and a commitment to improve staff training on this issue.

Improving epilepsy care in Suffolk!

Tomorrow, Wednesday 24th, there will be a 10 Minute Bill about Epilepsy care and education, straight after Prime Minister’s Questions

There is still time to write to your MP and urge them to attend and support this bill. It would only take ten minutes of their time. You can find and contact your mp here: http://www.writetothem.com/

I wrote to my own MP, Therese Coffey, as follows:

Dear Therese,

his is  Caroline Page,  Woodbridge County Councillor here. I’m contacting you as my MP about an issue in which I have I have both a personal and a campaigning interest  – the care and  education of people with Epilepsy.
You may be  aware that there is going to be a reading of the Ten Minute Rule Bill on Epilepsy and Related Conditions (Education and Health Services) Bill straight after Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday 24th November.
I don’t know if  you are attending PMQ this week? If so, I would be grateful if you would stay stay in the chamber for an extra 10 minutes afterwards  to support the bill.
Although nearly half a million people in this country have epilepsy, it remains a Cinderella condition – kept hidden, inadequately recognised and poorly funded. People are often anxious to keep this condition secret because they fear stigmatisation, ostracism and discrimination. Yet 70%  of people with epilepsy are seizure free and leading ‘normal ‘ lives.
Statistically, there should be at least 4 MPs currently in the House of Commons who have it -and 30 more who will have/have had a seizure at some point in their lives. Yet only one MP has mentioned that they have epilepsy!
Suffolk has no specialist epilepsy care within the county meaning that patients need to travel outside to specialist units. As a result simple changes and ‘tweaks’ to medication (ones that could make the difference between functioning and non-functioning in society) may need a six or seven month wait for an appointment to discuss. If the tweak or change is unsuccessful there will then be another wait  to report back, another wait before a new medication is assessed etc. Gaining control of the condition may therefore take years without good cause, years in which the patient and those around them become prey to lower and lower expectations.
As a result local hospital doctors may then have an unduly limited expectation of outcome (suggesting social care solutions rather than addressing the health problems of patients with epilepsy).
And epilepsy impacts on more than just health.  50% of students with epilepsy fail to reach the academic level predicted by their IQ, with effects that can be life-long. This is because a good educational outcome for  students with epilepsy is not just about medical care and risk assessment, but also ensuring that schools and teachers manage the impact that the condition/ medication has on learning.
Indeed I have known for years a 17-year-old who has severe epilepsy, a high IQ, a good work ethic, and a supportive family  yet has managed has only one GCSE despite going to one of the best state schools in Suffolk.
It has cost the health service, central government and SCC an extraordinary amount of money to support her to this low level of attainment. And unless she can improve on this she will cost the health service, central government and SCC a great deal more over subsequent years. This is a waste on many different levels and is no benefit to anybody in the equation.
(I must point out here, that this situation is shared by many other students with other chronic conditions reliant on powerful medication – all of whom can also be added to  this failure.)
Yet this failure is by no means inevitable. Recently the National Centre for Young People with Epilepsy  have discovered it’s neither expensive nor unduly challenging to turn this situation around via a training programme for schools. The charity is currently rolling out an intervention programme to improve the dire educational outcome of young people with epilepsy (Here’s a link to their successful education pilot study in Surrey: http://www.ncype.org.uk/dmdocuments/EpilepsyChampionsPilotReport.pdf )
The impact – and cost to us all – of poorly addressed epilepsy has been raised in parliament recently by MP Paul Maynard.  I gather also that neighbouring MP and doctor Dan Poulter has recently put in writing his concerns about (specifically) Suffolk provision .
Can I urge you to add your voice to his at parliamentary level – whilst I campaign  more locally –  to ensure a significant slice of our population is able to achieve their potential contribution to our society (and, indeed to this economy)
Best wishes

Lehmann House: (NOT) having your say…

On Friday I went to the public meeting at the threatened  Lehmann House in Wickham Market. Here the portfolio holder for Adult and Community Services, Cllr Noble,  plus officers  gave a presentation  explaining why the council were making big changes  – including almost certain closure – to this valued local resource.

Need I mention that these changes form yet another wobbly plank in the Heath Robinson contraption that is Suffolk County Council’s  NSD (New Strategic Direction)?

Just to remind you , Lehmann House offers 38 places (28 for older people with special needs because of dementia, two of which are respite places to give carers a rest, plus 10 places for permanent care to frail older people).  It has a lovely kindly atmosphere, home cooking that the residents can’t praise highly enough and is deeply deeply valued by the residents and their relatives and carers. There are generally several people from Woodbridge in Lehmann House at any given time..

The public who filled the room  – mainly carers, residents and relatives – listened in disbelief as the administration urged them to ” have their say on the future of Suffolk County Council’s residential care homes.”

Hardly much of a say, as one person pointed out, when there are only three options and none of them is keeping things as they are.

“People can’t complete your online consultation unless they pick one of your three options. What if I  don’t want one of those options? I can only continue to the next page if  I agree with you,” said one.

In fact so many people made  so much fuss about this particular point that they extorted a promise from those in charge to change the online questions and allow people to disagree with the options SCC is offering.   Lehmann House – 1: SCC – 0.

Oh – let me remind you of the options on offer:

  1. Close the homes and commission alternative services from the independent sector
  2. Sell all of the homes as going concerns
  3. Close a number of homes  and transfer the remaining ones to the independent sector.
    In addition to Lehmann house, the other  homes tipped for closure are Ixworth Court in Ixworth,The Dell in Beccles, Wade House in Stowmarket, Davers Court in Bury St. Edmunds, and Paddock House in Eye

But why does Suffolk County Council provide no option to keep things as they are? The head of the council adult care department says “I haven’t the money to keep care homes running.”  End of story.  No figures are given – here or elsewhere – to back up this bold assertion. No acknowledgement that in fact it isn’t his money, but Suffolk residents’ money. No suggestion whatsoever that Suffolk residents  should be accorded the respect of being in on the decision-making rather than consulted after the event!

The administration added that Lehmann house will have to close anyway sooner or later because ‘not all the rooms have en suite facilities and the next generation of consumers will want them‘ . How this ties in with their other assertion that there will be so many old people in Suffolk  twenty years time that we won’t be able to look after them all I am not sure. (If they thought about it, maybe people might prefer a care home place without en suite rather than no care home place at all. And maybe people would prefer to live in the centre of a small town within easy reach of shops and sociability with easy access for relatives by foot, and bus as well as car.These questions are not included on the consultation questionnaire)

As one parent said “I am 91 years old. My daughter is 70. If she doesn’t have a place here, how can I look after her?”

Heartrending.

Besides which, as the entire room said loudly , what does twenty years on have to do with the price of fish? what  interest do these particular patients, carers and other family have in talk of alternatives to care,  putting more money into supporting people in their own homes, community initiatives?

“All the people here have no alternatives. They have been in their own homes. That time is now over. What does it matter to themwhat other people do in 20 years time? We want to know what’s happening to this home now…

Is there any chance we can keep it open?”

And thats where life gets interesting.

Whilst no-one would confirm that Lehmann House would close, the answers given suggested that the staff and residents of Lehmann House hadn’t a chance of taking over the premises at a peppercorn rent (as someone suggested) because  its not only that care homes are too expensive to run. They are also too valuable. SCC wants to close the six homes so they can sell them, leaving  the money (presumably) to be put into funding the transfer of the other homes to the independent sector. This would appear to give them two bites at the same cherry of  savings  – indeed, for all I know, might turn rather a neat profit on the closing of places such as Lehmann. A quick buck – but at what cost?

In which case the closure of this treasured home may depend less on intrinsic factors and more on its value to a speculator. After all, as I said, Lehmann House IS  in the centre of a small town within easy reach of shops and sociability by foot, and bus as well as by car..

So  the jury is technically out. Technically.

I’ll put my money on Option 3 being the one that mysteriously is the peoples’ choice at the end of this figleaf of a consultation.

Woodbridge Town Council report Nov 2010

New Strategic Direction: When is a Consultation NOT a Consultation?

SCC has finally embarked on a consultation on the administration’s  New Strategic Direction proposals (proposals that were that were announced seven weeks ago on the 23rd of September) with an online survey for members of the public to respond to, on the Suffolk County Council website. I believe this survey closes on November 18th . Seven weeks to anticipate (and indeed according to the Leader, this was over a YEAR in the planning) and  just three weeks to make a comment. And then only if you are computer literate. This shows the  respect our administration have for the views of the people who elected them.

I am not sure what the administration plans to do to reach the many Suffolk residents who do not easily use or access computers.

We are told the responses from this consultation will be used to provide a report for the Full Council meeting on the 2nd of December.

http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/CouncilAndDemocracy/AboutSCC/NewStrategicDirection.htm

Update: only responses recieved before November 15th will be used in the report to Full Council. So a considerably LESS than three week consultation for those who find the link.

You can’t OBJECT to the NSD on this survey, mind.

Ipswich Road made safer for pedestrians

The refuge island at the top of Ipswich road which I have been pressing for for a couple of years, and which I have funded from QoL  is finally being built.  Sorry for the inconvenience – but it will be worth it! The solar-powered flashing ‘30 ‘sign for halfway down  Ipswich Road (just before the blind bend) which I have also been fighting for has been ordered and should be installed shortly.

When these are in place we might consider looking at what else needs to be done to slow traffic  – and particularly traffic entering Woodbridge from the A12.

Martlesham Creek footpath revamp

I’mvery very pleased to be able to announce the temporary closure of Footpath 6 Woodbridge (Martlesham Creek) from Kyson Point westwards to Footpath 11/12 Martlesham for resurfacing! This stretch of the path is a nighmare in all but the driest weather,  and I have ben pestering the relevant  officer for a while now to see what she could do. Hopefully its closure until Februaryfor proper building up and resurfacing of the quagmire it has become  will result  in many happy years walking for both residents and visitors

SCC Care Homes ‘Consultation’ (as long as you give one of the pre-selected answers, that is!)

At the October Cabinet meeting the Cabinet announced they were looking at the future of SCC Care homes in the county, that is,  looking to divest the services that the Council provides.  They say this is ‘due to the cost of running care homes and ensuring that the care homes are of the highest quality for residents’. They have considered this solely in terms of money rather than the needs of the increasingly ageing population of Suffolk. This is of concern to us because of Lehmann House in Wickham Market, which is one of the homes for which complete closure is postulated

The  options on offer are:

Close the homes and commission alternative services from the independent sector. The council would close all of the homes and sell the sites, and re-commission the required places from the independent sector, as they state that places bought in independent homes are cheaper compared to the cost of providing in house. This relies on there being places  to buy and also brings up issues of who is  ensuring these places are of a suitable standard

Sell all of the homes as going concerns The council would sell the homes as going concerns to one or more new providers who would take over the care of residents, the employment of the staff and the maintenance of the buildings.  Residents could continue to live in the homes and the staff would transfer to the new provider or providers. It was pointed out at Cabinet that many homes could not be sold as going concerns because they were too expensive

Close a number of homes and transfer the remaining homes to the independent sector. This option would involve the closure of a number of homes and transfer of the remaining homes with an agreement to develop new services and facilities to replace the existing homes, which could include new residential homes or very sheltered housing.

Within the papers there is a list of six houses that ‘might be’ (read ‘are being’) considered for early closure

Lehmann House in Wickham Market

Ixworth Court in Ixworth

The Dell in Beccles

Wade House in Stowmarket

Davers Court in Bury St. Edmunds

Paddock House in Eye

An initial  12 week consultation  – that is, 9 weeks longer than the administration has allowed for the NSD – starts 1st November 2010 (consultation ending  24th January 2011) will ‘seek stakeholders’ views’ with a plan for divestment of the homes in March 2011.

You will notice that although there has been no costings attached to this  – beyond the assurance that some council-run Care Homes are ‘too expensive’ (right up there with the ‘feel’ that Bury Road P&R users will just switch to London Road) there is NO OPTION  to maintain the status quo in the  consultation. So much for the democratic process, eh

I am visiting Lehmann House this Friday. You can respond to the consultation, and read the report that went to Cabinet at this address;

http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/CouncilAndDemocracy/Consultations/carehomesconsultation2010.htm

Bury Road Park and Ride to close despite its popularity. Sums don’t count!

Also on Oct 12th the Lib Dems ‘called-in’ Cabinet’s decision to close the close the Bury Road Park and Ride site in January, just after Christmas in the belief  that this would save significant amounts of money. We continue to believe that the three Park and Ride sites are valuable for Suffolk and Suffolk residents alike, and, in addition to contributing to our ‘greenest county’ aspirations could contribute significantly to the Suffolk exchequer is managed sensibly.

The rationale for the closure was based on things like ‘a feel’ for the situation (I kid you not), and without business analysis to explain a sudden drop in profits that coincided with transferring the new contract from  Ipswich Buses to First. Additionally, there was no mention of the cost of changing the contract, and the information they chose to provide  about the level of use was not per site sites. This was particularly interesting because, when we tracked it down, it durned out that the usage at Bury Road is much higher than at Martlesham – nearly double!   We also discovered that the County has just  received £830,000 in European funding to promote sustainable transport around the town of Ipswich, while only recently the Government has committed to spending £25m in Ipswich on sustainable transport including new bus stops and real time information.

None of this was accounted for in the SCC decision, no was there any consideration of introducing a charge for concessionary fares. (This is extraordinary because charging for concessionary fares was due to be introduced in all three Park and Rides three months later and the figures for projected increase in income MUST therefore be available. It is unbelievable that they were not considered as part of this decision-making process – or indeed part of the scrutiny).

We estimate that if each concessionary user paid £1.50 for the service, then the Park and Ride would actually bring around £644,000 worth of income into the County, rather than the current apparent deficit of £800,000.  Our survey of nearly 500 regular users suggests that 10% or less would refuse to pay this modest charge: the decision was based on the administration’s ‘feel’ that 50% would refuse. Again, were there hard facts? No way!!!

Unfortunately the scrutiny committee refused to refer the decision back to Cabinet, with the voting split on political lines rather than those of scientific financial planning. There were 13 out of 14 Conservatives voting for the decision to be upheld, the two Liberal Democrats on the committee voting for the decision to be referred back with support from the one Labour member.

For more information including the original papers, please head to;

http://apps2.suffolk.gov.uk/cgi-bin/committee_xml.cgi?p=detail&id=1_14828

Lose CONNEXIONS – Upcoming Cabinet Items

November’s cabinet meeting has a significantly reduced agenda compared to many meetings in the past. Two issues have specific interest for  people in Woodbridge:

Development of a New Integrated Youth Support Service. Alas, like so very many of the SCC administration’s  ‘positive title’ initiatives this is  misleading. This  is not looking at yer actual ‘development’ at all but  the possible divestment of open access youth clubs (destruction rather than development in other words), and to approve the establishment of a ‘Divestment Fund’ to enable communities to take over the running of existing SCC provision or start up a new type of provision.  The Youth and Connexions service will no longer exist in their current form. Although this is supposed to be up for consultation, we are told in advance that ‘the new service will have fewer features, but have more investment in targeted support for vulnerable people.’

I have already been approached by the heads of two separate youth services worried about the impact of this on their community

http://apps2.suffolk.gov.uk/cgi-bin/committee_xml.cgi?p=doc&id=1_14859&format=doc

The Cabinet is also being asked to agree SCC’s future role in effective management of Suffolk’s natural environment, and to support a bid for the County to be a pioneer authority in delivering the Government’s Total Environment agenda.  The report describes how within the New Strategic Direction it is possible for the County Council to contribute to delivering the Government’s green agenda.

How this links in with the Park and Ride closure , for example, or the fact that the Council’s carbon footprint for private vehicle use went UP this last year while its usage of sustainable transport went DOWN remains to be seen.

http://apps2.suffolk.gov.uk/cgi-bin/committee_xml.cgi?p=doc&id=1_14860&format=doc

Please don’t forget that members of the public are able to ask questions of the administration at each Cabinet meeting.  Please head here to find out more:

http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/CouncilAndDemocracy/CommitteesAgendasReportsandMinutes/PublicQuestionTimeatMeetingsoftheCountyCouncilandCabinet.htm