A Year On
Believe it or not it is a year on since the Francis report was released to the world and announced the sheer magnitude of the abuse and neglect that is now synonymous with Mid Staffs Trust. As surely as the rain keeps falling on Somerset there is article after article about how the NHS is struggling, standards remain worryingly low, as is the morale of the staff. But is this just all newspaper and media hype or is it, as Jeremy Hunt (Minister for Health) would have you believe, all getting so much better? I think the truth is that neither are right, there are some pockets of real strength in the NHS, there are some NHS hospitals that are awful and the majority are somewhere along this spectrum, most doing ok despite the best efforts of the Coalition and their cuts. What all sides say is how much they respect and admire the NHS and the staff who work within it, but then why do the media lump all hospitals into the same bad few. Simple, the same reason as Jeremy Hunt wants you to believe that everything is going fabulously under his leadership, the papers want to sensationalise it to sell more papers and the Politicians want to win your votes. The people in the middle know that they are doing what they can despite the Government and their reckless rule and also despite the bashing of the media.
The NHS and the vast majority of people within it are hardworking, dedicated individuals that have dedicated their working lives to the care of others, and it is an institution that is respected the world over. I do not say this as an outsider looking in, I say this as someone who trained as a nurse, who understands the NHS and the pressures it is under, whose wife works within the NHS and has done for 30 years, whose family have worked in industries that care for others, as I have worked in healthcare for a similar length of time. So I really do know what is going on within the NHS. Morale is low and it is time we all got behind it, yes root out the wrong doers, the people that shouldn’t be in care, the people that are lacking in any sense of duty, humanity and dignity for those they serve, the patients. In relation to this I am in receipt of care via the NHS and some of it has been dreadful, and on one stay in hospital scared me for life, but this is rare and is not cause to lose sight that this is the most wonderful organisation in the world and the people within it should be well paid, well-resourced and well respected.
This year that has passed will not, however, be marked for the improvement within the NHS, this work to strive forward with quality and openness as their banner will be completely over shadowed with other events. It has been 12 months of extreme highs and extreme lows beyond what we could have imagined. If we just look at the favourite subject of the local pub or GP’s waiting room, the weather has taken us from one extreme to another in just a few months. The summer was the best ever recorded with more days of sunshine since records began. This on the heels of the wettest summer the year before. Farmers were in their element boasting record harvests from the ground and the trees and for the first time in many a year described it as a perfect summer for their crops and animals. With hindsight this may have been the kiss of death and what was to arrive on the Jet Stream was not a cold winter but storm after storm after storm, drenching the South West and the coast with a deluge of rain that would not be out of place in the bible. Parts of the South Coasts have been literally washed away with record level waves and force of storms that have acted as Mother Nature’s excavators, severing the rail artery into the South West leaving images that were flashed around the world by the media, leaving Network Rail and many locals just scratching their heads at the devastation.
But this erosion was repeated along the South Coasts and the Coasts of Cornwall & Devon, with sea defences, ironically, defenceless against the destructive onslaught of high tides combined with 80 mile an hour winds. These incredible forces were like a raging gang of JCB’s and bulldozers changing our coast line forever. Certainly our island became a little smaller from these erosive giants. It is plain to see from the twisted metal, fragmented concrete and wasteland which was once promenades that these mind blowing powers of nature achieved in a few hours something the Germans spent five years trying to do, breaching any coastal defence that was in its awesomely destructive powers. These same conditions have been a steady feature for nearly two months, with only the occasional day of respite from the heavy rain and gales. As I write this I see another storm come in and my thoughts turn to the Somerset Levels, which is now a huge lake constantly topped up by the constant rain. No one could have imagine that this area would be so badly affected, with lives, homes and businesses ruined, fields lie under water for over a month. The water contaminated as sewers overflow and the tidal waters bringing in salt water to settle onto pastures, arable fields and crops, now rotting in the ground that once gave forth such wonderful bounty. It will take many years for the Levels to recover from this flooding and there is no end in sight for these poor people.
But there was another storm adding to the destructiveness of this appalling situation and this time it was raging between the Environment Agency and the Government. The relationship was strained to say the least with the Environment Agency (EA) saying that they were restricted with what they could do with their budgets slashed and their priority was to 1st save life, 2nd save property & 3rd save farmland. With such budgetary cutbacks they openly admit they focussed most of their meagre resources on the first priority, to save life, and in my opinion rightly so. But the Government, rather than support the Agency decide to throw it under a bus and this was done in full public glare at the chubby hands of Eric Pickles MP & Minister. You see the Environment Minister, after being under huge pressure to answer what had gone wrong, and who was obviously not coping with the enormity of what was happening, was suddenly in need of an eye operation. Although I suspect it was David Cameron poking him in the eye for messing things up, he was side-lined and effectively replaced with the known to be ruthless Pickles. So we now have Lord Smith, Chairman of the EA trying to manage the situation with his team at the Agency, the PM managing the crises meetings at number 10 and applying resources where he can, and up jumps Pickles on the BBC and said (to paraphrase) that the:
“Government trusted the expert advice of the Environment Agency, which it has proved to be unreliable about matters they were not expert in”
(Follow the link and watch the video clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drwL4MjHmoU in particular from 3m 30s into the clips)
How on earth does this help the Agency who has been working 24/7 for months dealing with this and never had the resources they needed in the first place? These floods started in December 2013 but it was not until the Government were heckled by residents and Prince Charles said how it had been mismanaged that the PM decided this was a good opportunity to look like a hero of the people. However, it was his blinking cuts in the Agency that started this whole process off, and, do I think that it is coincidence that there is a sudden urgency to find solutions now the Tory strong hold, the rich belt along the Thames are threatened, that suddenly you see arrive hundreds of troops with sand bags by the thousands to save these rich homes and contributors to the Tory coffers. Now I have a couple of simple questions:
How does it help the Environment Agency to do their vital work in this time of crises to unleash Pickles on them and destroy any morale they may have had?
And my second question is why does it take the Thames belt being threatened with flooding before the PM said that they would spend whatever it takes to get this crisis resolved and prevent it happening again?
The Agency, via Lord Smith, has decided to fight back reminding the Government of the warning they gave them about the effects of cuts, as did the local people in Somerset who pointed out some interesting facts. The fact that stays with me is that the Somerset Levels is a manmade landscape, with manmade rivers to run off the excess water, but much of this water is from the hills around the Levels and this brings with it silt as it runs down the hills which builds up in the watercourses. This landscape was created by Monks in the 14th Century who even then understood the need to clear these watercourses of silt and weeds regularly to prevent flooding, and this dredging has been done ever since, that is until the Coalition got into power. Never before have the Levels flooded in this way so it is unlikely that it is a coincidence that dredging is deemed too expensive and cancelled, three years of no dredging has a price to pay in the end and this flood is the price.
So who is to blame? Well in my opinion the Coalition are for the original cuts that lead the Agency to have to prioritise as they have done. If the dredging had continued as per pre Coalition budget cuts then there may have been some flooding due to this unusual wet winter, but not to the extent that we have seen. I still fail to see how unleashing Pickles on the Agency as he has done can possibly help the situation. It seems to me a bit like calling an ambulance and then the crew that responds is beaten up by their managers because the patient died in hospital. I would think that this storm between the Government and the Environment Agency, which has prevented the flooding of thousands of homes by the way, will rage longer than the current storms and do near irrevocable damage to people’s confidence in the work of this vital Agency.
Yours most sincerely
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