Friday, 27 June 2014

Morecambe Bay campaigners launch new alliance to fight NHS sell-off

Community campaigners from across Morecambe Bay are joining forces to build a new alliance to oppose the sell-off of NHS services at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, the Westmorland General Hospital and Furness General Hospital , under the heading of ‘No Health Sell off at Morecambe Bay’.

The group will be launching the major campaign on Saturday 28 June in the town centres of Lancaster and Morecambe to gather support from local shoppers and deliver a stark warning over the future of the NHS in the hands of the current government.

They will be in St Nicholas Arcade in Lancaster and in the Arndale Centre in Morecambe between 11am - 1pm.

A contract for pharmacy services worth in the region of £25 million is currently up for grabs which could mean a private company (named provisionally as Alliance Boots) would be brought into to profit from medication provided by the NHS. But campaigners fear this will be just the tip of the iceberg as the contract is not just about medicine dispensing but it is about taking swathes of other services out of the NHS by stealth.

Campaigners also fear that selling-off NHS pharmacy services will put more emphasis on sales and that the contract will be about driving down costs not improving patient care.

Local campaigner Jean Taylor said “Community campaigners will be out in force across Morecambe Bay to build support to oppose our NHS being sold-off to private companies for profit “.

“We fear that selling off NHS pharmacy services in our area will put more emphasis on sales and that the contract will be about driving down costs not improving patient care. We will be spreading the word far and wide that our NHS is not for sale.”

The current plans of the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust, which is currently under Special Measures, were aired at their 'Better Care Together' stakeholder meeting last Saturday in Kendal. They include the downgrading of Westmorland General Hospital - the only Trust hospital still rated as performing adequately - and the outsourcing of hospital pharmacy services to Alliance Boots.

Boots is able to offer a lower bid (for now) because of its offshoring skill in avoiding UK taxes. The Medact charity has recently launched a campaign to get Alliance Boots ('based' in tax-haven Switzerland) to pay its fair share of UK tax on its activities in the UK. According to a recent study commissioned by War On Want, Boots makes over 40% of its UK profits from contracts with the NHS yet has avoided an estimated £1.21bn in tax since 2007 - enough to pay for 85,000 new nurses for one year, or to cover the prescription charges for the whole of England for almost three years.

Morecambe Bay Hospital Trust under Special Measures after 'Inadequate' rating.

Royal Lancaster Infirmary

The University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMB) has been placed under 'Special Measures' following an inspection report made public today by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). The report has rated the UHMB Trust 'Inadequate', mainly due to poor staffing levels.

'Special Measures' involve action by three organisations: the CQC, Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority. All are independent but funded by the Department of Health, working closely together. (See Special Measures information sheet)

As part of the special measures, NHS regulator Monitor will appoint an Improvement Director to provide support and expertise and also to hold the Trust to account.

Failure to comply with warning
While hospital care at the Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal was rated 'Good' overall, both Furness General Hospital in Barrow and the Royal Lancaster Infirmary (RLI) were rated 'Requires improvement' across a range of  areas, with at least one area of each hospital being found 'Inadequate' or 'Poor'. The inspectors 'concluded that the trust had failed to comply with the earlier warning notice.'

You can read all the reports on the CQC website.

RLI Medical Care 'Inadequate'
A key area of concern at the RLI was Medical Care (including older people’s care) where it was found that all staff are caring, compassionate and very hard-working, and so rated by the patients, but hampered by inadequate staffing levels across the grade range, which resulted in increased risk to patients, inadequate nursing care and significant loss of dignity.

Struggling with budgets
The Trust achieved Foundation status in 2010, having been dogged for several years by the need to make heavy savings to meet budget targets. This was just one more of a series of expensive and complex NHS reorganisations as one government after another had looked at ways of monetising the nation's needs for health care.

Matters came to a head in 2011 when a scandal erupted over revelations about a series of avoidable deaths at the Furness General Hospital maternity units in 2008. With the recent lessons from the Mid-Staffordshire Hospitals Foundation Trust humanitarian disaster fresh in mind, this resulted in a spotlight being brought to bear on a wide range of critical organisational failures across the Trust.

The Trust was temporarily taken over in 2012 by government watchdog Monitor following a series of  CQC inspection warnings and checks. See previous report: 'Watchdog threatens closure of RLI A&E Department'.  Trust Chief Executive Tony Halsall 'resigned' in early 2013 with a golden handshake and the entire Board has since been replaced.

A further scandal erupted when it was revealed in 2013 that the CQC had deliberately suppressed an internal review that highlighted weaknesses in its 2010 inspection of the UHMB Trust and that the Commission had "provided false assurances to the public".

While key areas of concern, such as the A&E, Maternity and Stroke hospital services were effectively targeted for improvement in 2013, the Trust was still struggling with its budget, and in May 2013 circulated a consultation document (see VL report) looking at ways to shave a necessary £30 million from its £250 million annual budget - a reduction of 13%.

At the same time the Health Trust also faced the challenge of adapting to the  fundamental changes to the NHS brought about by Conservative Health Minister Andrew Lansley's new Health & Social Care Act which gave responsibility for commissioning medical services to newly formed, GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups.  New private contracting arrangements and deep cuts to social care services led to A&E departments coming under additional pressure nationwide while reorganisation and 'fire-fighting' expenses ate into budgets across the NHS.

CQC Warning
In October 2013 a further CQC inspection found significant failings in the care provided at the RLI and issued a further warning.

A follow up inspection in January 2014 found that although steps had been taken to resolve some of the issues, the medical wards were still failing to provide adequate staffing levels.

The inspectors concluded 'that the Trust had failed to comply with the earlier warning notice.' 

"Staffing concerns were also identified in other clinical  areas such as the surgical wards, radiology, dermatology  and paediatrics, where there is a shortage of specialist  staff.  Staffing issues within the hospital have been recorded on  the trust’s risk register for some considerable time;  however, the trust has been unable to address these  concerns effectively."

Praise for the Front-Line staff
The inspectors were careful to note that there was no fault on the part of any individual front-line staff or their mid-level line managers, who all showed a high level of caring; rather that they were challenged in carrying out the work to which they were committed by  inadequate staffing levels which made it impossible to always maintain high quality systems of care. Recruitment remained a 'fundamental concern'.

Blame for the high-level management
The report went on to say that " responses and improvement actions are seen as lacking vigour and pace. The trust’s governance and management systems are  inconsistently applied across services and the quality of performance management information requires improvement. 

"We also found that performance  information and learning from incidents was not  effectively used to drive changes and improvement.  There have been improvements in both the maternity  and accident and emergency services as a result of  targeted and focused work by the trust, and patients are  positive about their experiences of these services."

Trust response
The Trust's Chief Executive Jackie Daniel issued a statement on her blog today (read  full statement) saying:

"Over the last two years we have seen significant improvements in areas such as mortality, staffing levels, A&E, complaints management, maternity, record keeping and appointments, many of which are recognised in these reports. It isn’t all fixed and there is much more to do but I am confident that we have progressed, although at times not at the pace needed.

"There are a number areas highlighted that need urgent attention, particularly in our medicine division. It is clear that some aspects of safety and quality within this division were not meeting acceptable standards. It isn’t good enough; the CQC standards should be seen as the minimum standard of achievement. Our priority must always be the safety of everyone who uses our hospitals; therefore it is alarming to receive such a poor rating in these areas. 

She went on to say "I am confident that together with our partners, we have an emerging strategy through the ‘better care together’ programme to transform health and care services across Morecambe Bay.”

Better Care Together
'Better Care Together' or is a 'consultation' process looking at regionally centralising some hospital services  and replacing them locally with 'care in the community' options.  In 2015/16 about £2bn from the NHS budget will diverted from hospital funding to be put into the Better Care Fund, intended to help the NHS and local councils provide more integrated health and social care, mainly via contracts with private agencies.

Trust plans currently underway were aired at their 'Better Care Together' stakeholder meeting last Saturday in Kendal. They include the downgrading of Westmorland General Hospital - the only Trust hospital still rated as performing adequately - and the outsourcing of hospital pharmacy services to Alliance Boots. One reason why Alliance Boots was able to underbid its rivals was because of its skill at UK tax avoidance.
The Medact charity has recently launched a campaign to get Alliance Boots ('based' in tax-haven Switzerland) to pay its fair share of UK tax on its activities in the UK.

Costs of privatisation
UHMB is not the only Trust caught in the struggle to maintain quality standards in the face of tightening budget restraints. Monitor estimated last week that there is a funding gap of just over £5bn for 2015-16 in the NHS in England's £78bn commissioning budget for all secondary healthcare - which makes up about three quarters of its total budget and includes hospitals and mental health services.

Even after all realistic efficiency savings are made, Monitor says, a deficit of £1.6bn will remain in this section of the budget.  The concerns over the NHS budget in England come after recent research by the Nuffield Trust suggested the NHS in Wales was facing a £2.5bn funding gap over the next decade.

But with about 225 parliamentarians and 145 Lords with recent or present financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare, the increasing government pressure on quality public health resources to skimp services to skim profit for private investors and contractors can only be an obstacle to quality public healthcare.

It will be interesting to see what solutions the newly-appointed 'Improvement Director' will find.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Local Cinema Round-Up for 25th June to 3rd July by Peter Clarke

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day  listings of what's showing on local screens every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, and reviews.

New releases this period include comedy with Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie (15); two musicals with Walking on Sunshine (12A) and From Here to Eternity: The Musical (15) and a football documentary with Seve (PG).

Local cinemas have ceased showing the films Godzilla and Oculus. Also it seems likely this period will be the last chance to catch Jersey Boys, 3 Days to Kill and Belle. However we welcome the return of Frozen, Rio 2 and Noah.

There is little by way of high culture at the moment, with the single exception of NT Encore: A Small Family Business.


22 Jump Street
Director: Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Jonah Hill, Peter Stormare, Channing Tatum, Amber Stevens, Ice Cube
The movie finds Police officers Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) working undercover at a local college to investigate supply of an illegal drug. Actually the movie is a deliberate re-hash of the earlier '21 Jump Street', but this still makes it a zany comedy with humour ranging from slapstick thought parody to the surreal. Well rated and very enjoyable.

Director: Amma Asante
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Emily Watson. Sarah Gadon, Matthew Goode, Tom Wilkinson, Sam Reid
Inspired by a painting and set in England in the eighteenth century, Belle tells the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Mbatha-Raw), an illegitimate mixed race daughter of Admiral John Lindsay (Goode), She and her cousin are raised by Lord Mansfield (Wilkinson) and his wife (Watson) where both girls are groomed for marriage. Lord Mansfield comes to finds himself presiding over a slavery case whereas Belle becomes attracted to the aspiring lawyer John Davinier (Reid) who awakens her social conscience. The movie benefits from a very strong performance from Mbatha-Raw and it addresses issues of slavery and social inequality via the medium of a period romance. A fine, enjoyable and serious film.

Edge of Tomorrow
Director: Doug Liman
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Jonas Armstrong, Bill Paxton
In the near future aliens attack the earth and Major Cage (Cruise) is killed in battle. However he becomes enveloped in a time loop in which he repeatedly re-lives the combat and his death. However he learns more with each incarnation and increasingly becomes a more formidable solider. The film is based on the novel 'All you Need is Kill' by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and it is difficult to write a review that does not refer to 'Groundhog Day'. However the movie in not without moments of dark comedy that adds to the entertainment.

Director: Chris Buck
Certificate PG
Cast Includes Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad,Alan Tudyk, Jonathan Groff
This Disney musical animation is loosely based on the fairy tale 'The Snow Queen' who has condemned a kingdom to eternal winter. It is up to Anna (sister to the snow queen) and a loner Kristoff to undertake an epic journey to find the Snow Queen and convince her to lift the icy spell. This is a magical movie destined to become a classic. It will appeal to families and children of all ages.

Jersey Boys
Director: Clint Eastwood
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, John Lloyd Young, Christopher Walken, Vincent Piazza
A film version of an award winning musical telling the story of the formation of the rock group 'The Four Seasons'. This in an entertaining movie that succeeds in recreating the rock and roll era. The highs and lows of the working class band members are explored against a backdrop of fine musical accompaniments.

Director: Robert Stromberg
Certificate: PG
Cast Includes: Angelina Jolie, Miranda Richardson, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley
In part a re-telling of the tale of sleeping beauty but from the point of view of the villain of the story, Maleficent (Jolie). Maleficent was driven to evil following an act of betrayal which cost her the ability to fly. She battles to save her shadowy forest kingdom and plots revenge by placing a curse on the infant Aurora (Fanning), daughter to the king. Aurora herself becomes caught in the conflict between forest and human kingdoms. This is a rather dark fantasy for a Disney film, but a great tale with powerful characters and impressive special effect.

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins
A movie based on the biblical story of Noah and the flood, but it takes quite a bit of artistic license. Crowe and Watson as Noah and Ila respectively give excellent performances and this is epic movie which very much goes its own way. With stunning effects and some surreal sequences this is a very entertaining film.

The Fault in our Stars
Director: Josh Boone
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Nat Wolff, Mike Birbiglia, Willem Dafoe
A romance between Hazel (Woodley) and Gus (Elgort), teenagers who have just months to live when they meet at a cancer support group. The movie is based on the best selling novel by John Green and it is predominantly aimed at a young adult audience. With an excellent dialogue the film is a very moving love story that could easily leave you in tears.

X-Men: Days of Future Past
Director: Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Ian McKellen, Peter Dinklage
The film starts in the year 2023 where a war has resulted in the near destruction of all mutants. Trask (Dinklage), leader of Trask Industries, had developed robot soldiers that can destroy mutants under the Sentinel Program. The mutants send Wolverine (Jackman) back to the year 1973 in order to stop Mystique (Lawrence) from killing Trask as it was this death that resulted in the creation of the Sentinel Program. This is a fine movie worthy of the X-Men franchise that will not disappoint.

Tour de France fever spills into Lancashire from across the Pennines

"Le Tour" licks off in Yorkshire next month. Image: Yorkshire County Council
The "Grand Depart" for the 2014 Tour de France might be starting in Yorkshire, but Lancashire is getting in on the act, if only to offer support.

Lancashire County Council advising people to plan ahead if they want to watch it, or travel nearby, when the race begins in under two weeks' time.

The first two stages of the world's biggest cycle race will take place in the Pennine areas close to the Lancashire-Yorkshire border on Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th July with disruption expected as hundreds of thousands of people gather to enjoy the spectacle.

The route does not involve roads in Lancashire and there are no planned road closures in the county like there are in Yorkshire, but there are many points very close to Lancashire where the race can be seen

Many of the roads across the border will be closed to people travelling into Yorkshire from very early in the morning. Disruption is expected on nearby roads, and trains will be very busy.

"Le Tour" jumpers in miniature. Image: Harrogate Council

Yorkshire has embraced "Le Tour" with huge enthusiasm, with yellow bicycles 'dressing' buildings across the county and some 20,000 woollen mini-jumpers knitted and on display in towns along the route (except in Masham, where the local council took them down for health and safety reasons...)

The Keighley and Worth Valley Steam Railway is expecting record passenger numbers. Image: John Freeman

While the road closures have dismayed many drivers, train companies who will offer the only means to get around the county in areas affected are overjoyed, although the Keighley and Worth Valley Steam Railway are still trying to work out how they will be able to print the expected thousands of tickets using their antiquated 1950s ticket machines.

Travel on Sunday 6th July will be particularly affected. For most of the day, the only available roads to the east of the area where the stage will be held will be the A66 to the north and the M62 which crosses the race. These roads are expected to be very busy.

Lancashire County Councillor John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: "This is a great opportunity for people to cheer on some of the best cyclists in the world at the Tour de France.

"We're expecting lots of people from Lancashire to go and see the race, but to avoid disappointment, we'd advise you to set off early and head for one of the spectator points on the route.

"It's best to decide where you would like to see the race and ensure you plan your journey. The 'spectator hubs' along the route will have other events taking place which will help pass the time waiting for the race.

"This is a superb, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I'd encourage people to visit our website to make sure they don't miss any of the action."

• The official site for Le Grand Depart is at:

• People planning to watch the tour can download a spectator guide and pick up useful travel tips by visiting and searching for 'Tour de France'

Details of the race route are as follows:

Day One, Saturday 5th July: Leaves Leeds and after passing through Skipton completes a loop round the Yorkshire Dales ending in Harrogate.

Day Two, Sunday 6th July: Starts on the famous York Race Course and after a circuit of York heads back to Harrogate before turning south for Keighley, Hebbden Bridge and Huddersfield before finishing in Sheffield.

Keighley and Worth Valley Steam Railway will be operating a special intensive train service in connection with the Tour de France event. The Race will pass through the Keighley and the Worth Valley on Sunday 6th July and Haworth Park has been designated as an event “hub” by the Tour organisors. Please note that most roads in and around the Valley are closed on the Sunday.

Anniversary abseil for Lancaster University Chancellor

Sir Chris Bonington. Photo courtesy Lancaster University
From Everest to Lancaster University’s Bowland Tower, Sir Chris Bonington knows no bounds.

As part of the University’s 50th anniversary celebrations, the Chancellor and pioneering mountaineer abseiled down the 150-foot tower for charity.

“It is very special for me in this, my final year, as Chancellor and very fitting to make the abseil to celebrate our 50th Anniversary," said Sir Chris. "The view from the top of the tower is brilliant, much better than from the Shard which I abseiled down a few years ago.”

Sir Chris, who will be 80 in August and who retires as Chancellor later this year, is an outstanding mountaineer who led the expeditions that made the first ascents of the South Face of Annapurna and the South West Face of Everest. He realised a dream in 1985 when he reached the summit of Everest.

He said he had greatly enjoyed his time as Chancellor.

“It’s been inspirational and brought me a lot of joy. It’s broadened my horizons hugely and I feel privileged to have been the Chancellor of a top ten university which is also a friendly, happy place.”  

Sir Chris was joined by over 70 charity abseilers, both staff and students, all raising funds for the Student Hardship Fund, Ageing Research, Food Security, St John’s Hospice in Lancaster and the Dukes Theatre’s ‘MAKE Project’, which provides creative opportunities for young people.

The event was run by abseiling experts, Langdale-based Highpoint Mountain Guides, who provided help and guidance to all participants.

And Now For Something Completely Different... at The Dukes

The new, live sell-out show at London's O2 by comedy legends Monty Python is to be screened at Lancaster’s Dukes cinema next month.

The sell-out show will be beamed live from the capital on 20th July, with further opportunities to see it on the big screen on 23rd and 24th July.

The London organisers say this will be the last time to see the surviving Pythons together before they pass on and cease to be.

Monty Python last performed together – including the late Graham Chapman – at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles in 1980, and were last on stage in Britain 40 years ago.

When the remaining five members – combined age 357, as they are fond of reminding people – announced they were returning for a Monty Python Live (mostly) show, tickets sold out within a minute and more dates were quickly added.

A statement from the Pythons said: "Thanks to the wonderful invention of moving pictures, The Last Night of Monty Python is coming to a cinema near you.

Join the crowd live from London's O2 in a final weepy, hilarious, uproarious, outrageous farewell to the five remaining Pythons as they head for The Old Jokes Home … on the big screen, in HD."

• Tickets for the screenings are priced £13/£12 concessions. For online bookings, add £1 per ticket booking fee. For more information or to book, call The Dukes Box Office on 01524 598500 or online at

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Police Commissioners criticise government's taxi reform plans

Plans to cut red tape for taxi and private hire drivers have been slammed by Police and Crime Commissioners across England and Wales.

Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire's Police and Crime Commissioner, has joined forces with a cross-party group of PCCs to highlight the risks associated with the new Deregulation Bill – which they believe could put people in danger of being raped and sexually assaulted.

Currently only licensed private hire drivers can drive a marked private hire vehicle, and all drivers are regularly re-licensed.

But under the new Bill the Government want to see that changed, and allow anyone to drive a private hire vehicle for their own use when the registered driver is not using the vehicle.

And the group of Commissioners – led by Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd - is lobbying Ken Clarke to get that measure removed from the Bill, which is currently going through Parliament.

Mr Grunshaw said: "Residents need to be able to have confidence that when they get into a marked private hire vehicle the driver is licensed and is who they say they are.

"These new measures put everyone at risk, and with the thriving night-time economy we have in Lancashire – and the number of university students in Lancaster, Preston and Ormskirk – it is not a risk we want to take.

"I know the Government does not intend to put people in danger through this Bill, but I hope they take notice of the genuine concerns Commissioners have and seriously re-considers introducing these measures."

The Government has said it wants to change taxi regulations to free many families from the need to run a second car, and save them money. But the concerns raised by PCCs have been backed by licensing officials, police, the taxi trade and organisations that work with victims of rape and sexual assault.

Proposals had already been drafted to streamline taxi and private hire legislation after the Government asked the Law Commission to draw up a draft Taxi Bill, but it has now chosen not to introduce that Bill and instead rely on the reform measures detailed in the Deregulation Bill.

Along with Clive Grunshaw and Tony Lloyd, the other Commissioners backing the campaign are:
  • Sir Graham Bright, Cambridgeshire (Conservative)
  • Vera Baird, Northumbria (Labour)
  • Kevin Hurley, Surrey (Independent)
  • Alan Charles, Derbyshire (Labour)
  • Martyn Underhill, Dorset (Independent)
  • Martin Surl, Gloucestershire (Independent)
  • Richard Rhodes, Cumbria (Conservative)
  • Jane Kennedy, Merseyside (Labour)
  • Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire (Labour)
  • Ron Hogg, Durham (Labour)
  • Sue Mountstevens, Avon and Somerset (Independent)
  • Anthony Stansfield, Thames Valley (Conservative)
  • Winston Roddick, North Wales (Independent)
  • Stephen Bett, Norfolk (Independent)
  • Barry Coppinger, Cleveland (Labour)
  • Simon Hayes, Hampshire (Independent)