Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Really bad MPs

So I've just tried to find out if I could get an appointment to see Patricia Hewitt. Her website is here. Working Hard for Leicester West. it says "For information on my next advice surgery please click here". Tonight that page says "This page is currently suspended - please try again later". How long has this been going on?

why our best young doctors may leave the country...

The government has recently introduced a new computerised system to help find specialist "junior" doctors their next job. This has been a c*ck up of monumental proportions and many of our best young doctors are being thrown out on the streets.

10 years ago when my husband and his cohort were applying for jobs the jobs were advertised and they applied for them. Good doctors with good CVs normally got good jobs.

The "MTAS" automatically processes a doctors CV and then the computer decides whether you are given an interview. MTAS is specifically designed so that newer doctors are "not disadvantaged" i.e. it takes no account of experience. Doctors are only allowed to apply 4 times. No advice or councilling or follow up is offered. My grass roots contacts tell me that a whole generation of brilliant doctors are set to leave the country. This is outrageous and MPs should act.

The worst thing is that Patricia Hewitt MP, the Secretary of State for Health is apparently refusing to meet with any of her own constituents if they work for the Health Service. You can see all the comments here and here.

If you scroll down a lot you find this entry...

"Interesting that Ms Hewitt is my MP.
When applying to see her at her weekly surgery i was asked and subsequently informed appointments would not be made with NHS staff(i am a surgeon).
.... with over 5 years postgraduate experience and my surgical RC membership....and no MTAS interview."

In laymans terms this means that this doctor is a high flyer - a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons. He has no job and no MP prepared to represent him.

Why bed cuts are a killer

One of the advantages of being a Conservative Candidate looking for a seat is that I have been able to travel all across the country in recent months. From Norfolk to Devon via the Midlands and London's commuter towns I hear the same stories of bed cuts at the local hospitals.

Last week we were told of rising death rates from MRSA and Clostridium difficile "C-Diff". I'm glad to hear that my local hospital has bucked the trend on MRSA but this other bug C-Diff is a real worry to many doctors.

O'level French reminds me that difficle means difficult and C-Diff is aptly named. It is very difficult to control. It is also a killer. I am told the new strain of C-Diff has a 25% mortality rate amongst older patients. Though NHS Direct is less pessimistic. It is often described as a bacteria but it is more complicated than that. It is a toxin producing organism that causes uncontrollable explosive diarrhea. As a mum, I remember similar explosions back in my nappy changing days. The stuff goes everywhere. The explosion contains spores that can be picked up on the hands of passers by and transmitted to other patients.

C-Diff is resistant to anti-biotics and in many cases the problem is caused by anti-biotics. We all know that a course of anti-biotics wipes out those "good bacteria" that have become so well known thanks to Yakult. Frail elderly patients who are given broad-spectrum anti-biotics to cure the sickness that brought them into hospital, now are unable to fight off the C-Diff that they pick up. The C-Diff diarrhea is so debilitating that patients often can't stand up, let alone start to get better from their original complaint.

Over recent years patients, visitors and staff have been really vigilant at using those Alcohol Gels to keep their hands clean. This has helped the battle against MRSA, but C-Diff is immune to the Alcohol Gel. It can only be removed by old fashioned prolonged hand washing. Across the country though I hear of sinks that don't work, sinks that are now hidden behind the laundry basket and even sinks being phased out in the design phases of new wards!

So what does this have to do with those bed cuts? Because of the explosive nature of the diarrhea the best way to prevent transfer is to isolate those already infected. Today's NHS runs at a bed occupancy rate of 98-100% so isolation is often impossible - there just aren't enough beds. One eminent specialist that I spoke to said that ideally in wards for older people there should be an 80% occupancy rate.

We go into hospital to get better - not to get worse. Our doctors want to cure us. Lets help them to do it and stop those bed cuts.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Bureaucracy -the form filling game.

We've been looking at fundraising to build a "MUGA" in the village. That's a Multi-Use-Games-Area. Not just a tennis court but basketball, football, netball surface too.... and it will give the teenagers something to do thats better than petty vandalism and keep us all a bit further away from that heart attack / obesity target.

So where does the money come from for these things?
First - the Parish council puts in some tax payers money. Then you fill in forms for the District Council and ask for tax payers money. If the site is on the school grounds you could get the County Council to put in some tax payers money too.

Then the Football Foundation might cough up some - I asked them where they get their cash from and guess what 1/3 of it is tax payers money. Then Sport England might help - only 20% of that is tax payers money, the other 80% is from the Lottery (which Gordon Brown clearly thinks of as tax payers money too). The Lottery themselves might give a grant too. Is that tax payers money?

Then of course there are the Landfill charities like WREN. They are very generous to some schemes with their tax payers money too.

Of course the village will pull together, bake cakes, some quiznights and a jumble sale. A few generous private individuals might throw in a bit too.

We will have filled out gazillions of forms and each will have been discussed by very well meaning people at numerous grant-allocation meetings. The village residents will all be truly grateful to each donor for their bit of tax payers money and perhaps the kids will have something to do.

Surely there must be a better way.

What makes a really GOOD selection process?

I have just returned from the final selection in Tiverton and Honiton. A Conservative held seat in Devon where the excellent sitting MP, Angela Browning is stepping down in the next general election.

You might expect me to rant about how cheesed off I am not to have been the winning candidate for this most beautiful seat - but I can't because from beginning to end the selection process was really really outstanding. Why?

First the welcome pack. 75 people applied for this seat and 20 of us were asked for interview. Our invitation came with a copy of the "Welcome" booklet that is set to all new members. This 14 page booklet is packed full of really useful, welcoming information. It should be a showcase for all associations and I certainly will give copies to all those I know. It contains details on the Constituency, the MP, MEPs, local councils and councillors. It describes how the Party works both locally and nationally and gives helpful contact details for each ward. Lucille, the agent, explained "We ask people for £25 for their membership. I think it is good to give them something back".

Then the first round interviews. These again were highly professional with 14 different members of the executive committee representing different parts of the constituency. We were all asked the same probing questions - on subjects from foreign to national to local politics. Follow up questions were allowed - and at the end we were each asked for feedback on what we had thought of the process.

The Big Event, to which all members of the Association and other interested parties are invited to attend. We were each interviewed by Patrick Nicholls, a former MP and and now political journalist. The 100+ audience, in a School hall all had a clear view of the candidate and the sound system and microphones were excellent. Patrick greeted me at the door and said with a big smile "I'm not going to Paxman you"
He then proceeded to Paxman each of us - but without aggression! The questions ranged from Iran to Flat Taxes to Farming to local issues and back to whether we need a next generation of Nuclear Power stations. After interviewing each of us in depth the members were asked to vote for their top 4. Without prompting the members put through 2 women and 2 men.

Tonight, the last four of us "speed dated" with members of the Executive (the 40 or so members most closely associated with the running of the local party). We were then each asked to give a 5 minute talk on what we had to offer and then questioned. Again the questions were wide ranging - from George Bush's foreign policy to what David Cameron has done for the Party to local policing issues, affordable housing and how to restructure the NHS.

Then they voted. As I have said numerous times the best candidate is an outstanding local candidate and tonight there was an outstanding local candidate. Neil Parish MEP has already flown the flag for the interests of the whole of the West Country in Europe. He is making a huge difference to many people of the West Country in the job he has just taken on as Agriculture Spokesman in Europe and I'm sure he will continue to make a difference in Westminster. I wish him luck.

Above all that I have enjoyed this selection for the personal experiences
1. It is beautiful - tumbling rivers, green hills and the Union Jack still flying in the High Streets. Today I went to some very poor areas - where the newest car is at least 6 years old. Even in those streets there is deep pride - no vandalism, no graffiti, clipped hedges.
2. I have strolled along stormy beaches and seen the wreck of the Napoli in Branscombe - an eyeopener on our consumer society.
3. I have met some wonderful and deeply committed people - both amongst members of the Party and in all the members of the public I have talked to.
4. I got to spend a lot more time with my mum, sister and noisy nieces and nephews than I would normally do - they are in a next door constituency!

Thank you to Tiverton and Honiton

Saturday, 24 February 2007


James and Julia have shared with the world their wonderful wedding dance. I'm laughing and crying from watching it. We have just celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary - three children and goodness knows what else later - that day is still crystal clear in my mind.

Marriage is a wonderful glue, for many of us. Just because many marriages do end in divorce doesn't mean that couples should be put off from finding out if it does work for them. However today many are actively discouraged from getting married by the tax implications - let alone the high cost of living and mortgages. Only yesterday we were warned of "the death of marriage". Marriage rates are now lower than at any time since they were first calculated in 1862. That includes the years after the first world war.

I'm down in the West Country today, where many are on low incomes. I watched the video with Sharon. In her late 20s she is still living at home with her parents, two brothers and a sister in a 4 bedroom bungalow. She says she will never be able to afford a home of her own - let alone a wedding dress.

Thank you to James and Julia for letting us into your wedding day. A wonderful advertisement for those thinking about getting married - I wish you all the very best of luck.

Friday, 23 February 2007

On marriage

This is the video ....

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Education - are we teaching the leaders of tomorrow?

I was lucky to meet the Headmaster of one of England's top schools yesterday evening and discuss education and social responsibility.

We agreed that when children and teenagers are bored they are more likely to become disaffected and end up in trouble.

We must teach each child according to their ability - every child should be stretched to achieve their very best. I believe that unless we set and stream our children we are letting them all down. Yet in my local state primary school we have recently had setting removed.

I believe that in the UK we are letting down our best and brightest. I know that by keeping brighter children in mixed classes they pull everyone along - but I also believe that if we are not pushing ahead our best and brightest we are failing to educate the leaders of the next generation - and in this increasing competitive world that is not acceptable.

When I left university in 1989 I went on a 5 month mini MBA-style training course in New York. Recruits from all around the world were joined together. We had trainees from the top universities in Japan, France, Germany, Argentina etc etc. From the US we had recruits from Harvard, Yale and other Ivy League universities. There were a dozen of us from the UK. In a high pressure, intense learning environment it was the UK students that stood out. Our University education had taught us all to think on our feet. When I left university British graduates were the best.

I want to know that this is still true for children at school today.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Time for Young People

So Britain is the worst developed country in the world to be a child. This probably comes as no surprise to many parents.

The other day my friend Gillian was telling me about her son Charlie. Charlie is 15 and has lived in London all his life - he is a good kid. He was always winning sports awards at the same state primary school my children attended. I've always considered himself quite streetwise.

The other day on a crowded bus he was mugged.

Three teenage youths cornered Charlie and his friend at the back of the bus.
"Give me your mobile phone" was the demand
"I don't have one" said Charlie
"You do - I know where you live - and I've got a knife" was the reply.

Charlie tried to catch the eye of the adults on the bus but they hid behind their newspapers. He believed the threat of the knife and handed over his phone.

Charlie is now too frightened to travel on the bus. He won't go out alone and feels let down by adults. His mum is back driving him around. This happened between Chelsea Bridge and Sloane Square - its not just the back streets.

Of course this crime didn't get reported to the police. I have advised Gillian to give her son a clapped out old mobile.

We are all working longer and longer and travelling further. We struggle to make time for our families - for our children let alone our older relations. Blaming the parents alone is not going to solve the problem - and it is a problem.

We live in a society where people aren't taking responsibility, where adults are frightened by children, where the other adult witnesses felt is was OK to hide. The result is that the Good Guys like Charlie have lost their freedom. That freedom is something worth fighting for.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

How Hungary are you for Turkey?

The latest news that bird flu may have arrived on "partly processed carcasses from Hungary" must raise into the spotlight the outrage of British food labelling that I touched on this week.

If a food item says "British" it doesn't mean it is British.

Meat that is imported from overseas and only finishes its processing in the UK can be labelled as "British" in our supermarkets. This is only illegal if the label can be proved to be put there with the "intention of misleading the public" - a qualification that is incredibly difficult to prove.

This sort of labelling law does not give consumers the information they deserve. It also fails to support British producers. David Cameron raised this issue in a speech only last month and I hope that a change in food labelling will be part of the next Conservative manifesto.

As a child we kept Turkeys - I may be the only Conservative party candidate who has actually done so. They don't make good pets - but I do like roast turkey and I do want to support local producers.

If food carries a "little red tractor" label, then at least the consumer knows the food meets certain standards. I would like this to be the minimum standard for my children's school dinners.

I for one will be looking out for the red tractor on the food I buy, or better still buying from my local butcher.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Food, Farming and Waste

Fame at last - I received a letter from the local farming museum asking me to come along and open their new offices on Easter Monday. I love Easter - spring will be on the way and the holiday's message is all about looking forward.

Farmers in the UK could do with some more positive thinking from government. I spoke to my friend Ray, a fruit farmer this week about packaging and labelling.

Lots of us want to buy local food, we want to support our farmers and cut down on food miles. But currently if a food item says "British" it doesn't mean it is British. All it means is that the last stage in the production of this food happened in the UK. Pig carcasses can come from overseas and just be packaged up here - and then they are labelled "British". This misleads the public and does not support our own industry. I understand that changing the law on this issue may result in a bit of a tiff in Brussels - but I think its about time we stood up to the EU in order to support British businesses.

Ray told me that it costs £6.50 to produce a box of apples. £1.50 of that cost is in the packaging. What a waste! New boxes, new liners, new styrofoam trays for each load. A Norfolk councillor with responsibility for rubbish collection told me she was fed up with packaging and waste but knows that she cant solve the problem by herself. So she marched the supermarket bosses and food packagers down to the recycling depot to show them just how much of their packaging ends up in the landfill. Now they are working together and results are happening. To cut down packaging waste we need more than just a change of thinking. We also need a joint effort by consumers, producers, supermarkets and government.

We cut down on waste in government too. Too much time and taxpayers money ends up in the great bureaucratic landfill. Changing the government will deliver the change of thinking. But to put the thinking into reality we will need a joint effort between government, public sector employees and consumers.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Saving our Countryside

It has been a busy month as a local councillor. Most of this month has been spent trying to save our country park. As more and more of our countryside is eaten up by development it is incredibly important that we fight to protect it.

Country parks close to cities are not only loved by many but they play an important role in education. Furthermore education is critical in bridging the divide between city and rural dwellers.

But public spaces are expensive to maintain and like most councils across the South of England money from central government and tax doesn't keep up with increasing costs. So how should these parks and other community facilities be funded?

Maggie's first election motto was "You can't spend money you don't have." A statement that is just as true today as it was back in 1979. (Remember that when you worry about the UK's increasing personal debt burden).

It is especially true for local councils - they aren't allowed to borrow money, often can't raise the same sort of funds that charities or trusts can, they are tied up in bureaucratic regulations and all too often Councils can not keep costs under control. I for one don't want the council tax to keep spiralling out of control. Local government has many pressures on its finances; caring for the elderly, looking after children with disabilities, collecting our bins must be some of the top priorities. I would like to find a solution to the "park and leisure services" quandary that brings in members of the public and the private sector.

So if you find I'm light on blog for the next few weeks its because I'm raising money, finding sponsors, encouraging volunteers, appealing on the Radio and TV, negotiating management contracts and putting my wellies on. All to save our country park. But I want to do it without using more tax payers money!