Last night I did a live stream video for CEDAWinLAW explaining why I am supporting their campaign for a new Women’s Rights Bill to implement properly the UN Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women which Margaret Thatcher ratified in 1986.
Despite this happening 36 years ago it has still not been properly implemented by the government causing widespread hardship, discrimination and lack of opportunity for millions of women. Recently the UN committee supervising the implementation of the convention has taken the current government to task for its failings though you would not know this from coverage in the mass media.
This to my mind illustrates how marginalised women – particularly elderly and middle aged women – are treated by society.
The good news is that it looks like the Scottish government under Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish National Party leader, is planning to introduce a new bill of rights for women. She may run into a dispute with the Westminster government which does not want devolved administrations implementing UN conventions until the UK government introduced legislation. At the moment there is no sign of the UK government doing this which is why we need a strong and powerful campaign to get it done.
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Last year was the year when Brexit limited the right of millions of people to travel and work across 27 EU countries – ending not only the freedom of movement for people to come to the UK but also go abroad.
The situation has also been made much worse by the global Covid 19 pandemic which saw a huge shutdown across the globe where people could not go on holiday or visit countries for work.
While all this was happening there was an almost unnoticed countervailing trend which is seeing massive new opportunities for the young and tech savvy to leave the UK and the US and work elsewhere.
Countries across Europe and much of the rest of the world are falling over each other to attract bright young entrepreneurial and tech savvy people to come, live and work there with special visas and tax incentives and ignoring normal restrictions – including the new ones imposed by the EU after the UK left – to stop people staying there.
Post Covid 2022 could be the year of the rise of the digital nomad – that young, free wheeling person who with a laptop can run a business anywhere from any country.
This phenomenon was highlighted this weekend on the website Dispatches Europe which has just launched an updated guide to cope with growing number of countries now offering opportunities.
The link to the guide is here. Basically much of Europe is covered plus the range of places goes from the Arctic Circle to the Caribbean.
For the most adventurous the most extraordinary place is Svalbard – a Norwegian island nearer the North Pole than Oslo ! You do not even require a visa to live there -only an address and a job – and you can stay as long as you like. It is cold -in the summer the sun shines for 24 hours a day and it is totally dark all winter. Intriguingly for a place with only 2000 residents it is nearly as diverse as London with 70 different nationalities finding their their way there. Watch the video below and seriously watch out for polar bears.
At the other end of the spectrum is the former Portuguese Cape Verde Islands nearer to the Equator than Lisbon. This year the authorities have released visas to attract Europeans and Americans to go and set up businesses there. just created Remote Working Cabo Verde, a tax exempt digital nomad visa designed to attract 4,000 foreigners, The visa is just 54 Euros valid initially for six months but extendable for up to a year. A video is below.
In the Caribbean visas have been set up for Aruba and Curacao, both self governing parts of the Netherlands and in the EU, the new Republic of Barbados, ( expensive visa costing nearly £1500) Bahamas and further north in Bermuda ( though the latter is aimed at high rollers – they can include staff and chauffeurs- and is expensive). So far 400 have come.
I wrote up a piece on Aruba when I visited it two years ago on a cruise – it is almost in South America as it is only 22 miles from Venezuela. It is a fascinating desert island. The link is here. The only thing you have to beware of is you can occasionally find a boa constrictor in the bath – but Aruba’s pest control are used to dealing with them. ( some foolish person brought them to Aruba and they have escaped and bred)
An even more ambitious digital nomad project is planned for Italy where they have over 2000 ghost villages in the country and want to attract remote workers there- the fund could top 1 million Euros. So far one Tuscan village has jumped the gun- Santa Flora is offering 200 Euros a month rent subsidies for apartments there – and wants people to decide to settle a buy a home. So you can swap our drab winters for vineyards and olive groves.
Other countries planning to attract digital nomads include Spain and Croatia has just started a scheme – allowing you to be based on the Dalmatian coast and able to rent a place for 350 or so Euros a month. The visa is for one year in this EU country and digital nomads are exempt from income tax. They have to earn over $31,514 a year (just under £23,200), to qualify.
Compare all this to London and the UK. The UK does not seem to have any special digital nomad visas relying on a normal visa application to work here. It is regarded as an expensive country, housing costs are through the roof, public transport and fuel is expensive, though its cities are well known for cultural and night life. The best city for a digital nomad is said to be Newcastle-upon-Tune which has a good night life and is cheaper to live than elsewhere.
What seems to be clear from all this is that for many young people – the attraction of all round beach life ( unless you go to Svalbard), cheaper accommodation, combined with high speed internet and for young as opposed to old people, not too expensive health insurance make it a one way bet.
Boris Johnson has made much of claims of ” Global Britain” and the wonderful future he promises all of us. But looking at all these offers abroad I think clever young tech savvy people will see the wonders of a global life and opt to leave the country as soon as possible.
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This year my blog hit another milestone since it was launched in 2009 after I left the Guardian . The number of hits on the site topped three million – 3,113, 413 to be exact.
Last year this blog received 286,840 hits and over 203,000 visitors. This is smaller than the previous year but still a substantial number for a single handed blog. It is also the year when I started to solicit donations for my investigative work and I have now received close to £2000 in four months.
Part of the reason for the drop is that Back to 60 campaign which I still support has now morphed into a broader campaign – CEDAWinLAW- which people have needed time to get their heads round. Back to 60 was a simple single issue campaign concentrating on getting full restitution for 3.8 million 50s born women who have had to wait up to six years for their pension. Now it has changed into a much bigger campaign covering ALL discrimination against women based on a UN convention which we ratified in 1986 but have never fully implemented- the UN Convention on Eliminating All forms of Discrimination Against Women.
This is now making its mark – two of my highest blogs hits last year- relate to the new CEDAW campaign getting 6500 and over 8,800 each.
The top blog came from a tip off from a reader, Rosie Brocklehurst, who received a threatening letter from the Department for Work and Pensions as part of an anti-fraud exercise to gather information from pensioners. The top line was : ““If you fail to be available for this review and do not contact me, your entitlement to State Pension may be in doubt and your payments may be stopped. ( Bold type my emphasis). This had 25,652 hits.
The second highest at 20,643 came from a 50s woman whose Freedom of Information request revealed the Department for Work and Pensions had never conducted an impact assessment on the effects of raising the pension age for women from 60 to 66.
One older blog which exposed the huge £271 billion savings made by successive governments putting money into the national insurance fund made the top ten blogs – adding another 9828 hits – taking it to an astonishing 331,000 hits since it was published.
One controversial blog leaking the maladministration findings of the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s draft report on 50s women over the raising of the pension age had 9,688 hits. Senior members of the WASPI campaign who knew this wanted me to take it down for fear the Ombudsman would change his mind. This turned out to be groundless and a lot of people were given advance warning.
More next year on Whistleblowers
Next year as well as following through CEDAW, keeping an eye on pension developments, I will also be taking up more and more whistleblower cases -involving doctors in the NHS, Sellafield and other areas. One case I took up last year was the plight of Dr Usha Prasad, a cardiologist who has been dismissed by Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust after exposing an avoidable death there. The combined blogs in her case have topped over 8000 hits. Expect more of this.
Global reach of the blog
An analysis by WordPress shows that my blog has a very big UK audience – over 264,000 hits out of the 286,840 last year – with the remaining 22.700 coming from overseas. Biggest overseas hits were from the United States ( 6821), Spain (3071) and the Republic of Ireland ( 2143). But on a much smaller scale it also has a global reach covering almost every country in the world, including hits from the Marshall Islands, Greenland, Russia, China, India, Mauritius and nearly every country in South America, Asia and Africa plus Canada, Australia and New Zealand and the whole of Europe.
Next year will be challenging – I already have enough new stories to investigate -plus a some long term investigations which take a while to come to fruition. Please continue to donate to my blog to keep my investigations going.
The government is once again going to save hundreds of millions of pounds in future pensions bills by keeping young mothers and caring grandparents ignorant of the consequences of a law change that came into force when George Osborne was Chancellor of the Exchequer.
For once the Department of Works and Pensions is not behind these savings. Instead it is HM Treasury via HM Revenue and Customs. And the way the government is getting away with this would not be obvious to anyone unless they had an encyclopedic knowledge of social security regulations.
When a young mother is giving birth to a new born probably the last thing on her mind is whether she will get a decent pension. Yet laws introduced in 2013 which reformed and effectively ended child benefit as a universal benefit have had an extraordinary hidden knock on effect on individual pensions that will be paid out in 40 to 50 years time. It also hit home much earlier for caring grandparents who took on child care responsibilities – the very group of 50s women who have already lost tens of thousands of pounds by the raising of the pension age from 60 to 66.
The law change introduced by George Osborne after his 2012 budget was to stop paying child benefit to people whose individual income exceeded £50,000-£59,000. Those who were already receiving child benefit and didn’t know about the change or didn’t tell the Inland Revenue were hit with stiff fines.
As a result mothers who were aware of this widely advertised change didn’t put in a claim. What they didn’t realise is without a claim for a benefit that would be denied – they would also lose their national insurance credits while they brought up a young family. This can make a huge difference to the amount of state pension they can claim decades later.
There was a double whammy in all this which hits home much sooner. Grandparents and other close relatives who were happy to help with childcare for a struggling young family are entitled to additional credits on their final pension called Specified Adult Childcare Credits. But if their daughters haven’t registered for child benefit they get nothing.
Both groups get nothing
If either group suddenly finds this out all they are entitled to is just three months national insurance credits- even if it is years in arrears.
Now if you think this all sounds rather fanciful all this information is taken from a bundle of documents prepared for an appeal to a tribunal to take place next year. The case is being bought by grandparent Judy Lynch from Harrow in north London, a woman born in the 1950s who has already lost £40,000 in back pension by the raising of the pension age from 60 to 66 and stands to lose another £800 a year from this law change. Her NI credits were five years short of getting a full pension. Her case was highlighted in The Times by journalist David Byers recently.
She has written to the tribunal to tell them her daughter did not claim child benefit in 2016 precisely because she knew she would not get it. But the form contains no information that she would lose national insurance credits towards her pension nor has she ever received a letter telling her the consequences of her decision. Nor is it made clear that if grandparents helped her with the childcare that they would not be able to claim additional national insurance credits.
George Osborne has managed to get away with this for at least six years before MPs in a Westminster Hall debate in the Commons caught up with it. When they did the then financial secretary of the Treasury came in for strong criticism from all parties including a Tory backbencher, Craig Mackinley. He attacked the system.
He said: “There is no withdrawal of child benefit for a couple both earning £50,000—the high income child benefit tax charge does not apply, even though the family income is a generous £100,000. In another family, in which only one parent is working and earning, say, £60,000, and the other is not working, there would be a full claw-back of the child benefit given.”
The severest critic was Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central : “Organisations such as the Women’s Budget Group have long argued that the UK Government’s approach to balancing the books is gendered and does not stand up to the most rudimental scrutiny from an equality perspective. This policy is a key example of that. Budgets and spending reviews come and go, but we are yet to see any real strategic direction in tackling gender inequality.”
“The notion that a woman has to know her partner’s intimate financial details is quite unusual. My husband and I have separate bank accounts. I have no idea what he earns, but I was expected to phone up and give intimate details to someone over the phone. That will be all the more difficult for a woman in a situation of financial coercive control, and it will give the male parent a huge amount of control.”
Anneliese Dodds, then Labour’s shadow Treasury spokesperson said:” New research on the high-income child benefit charge indicates that much larger numbers of people are being drawn into the system than were initially. The Institute for Fiscal Studies indicated that since the £50,000 threshold has not shifted upwards, about 36% more people— 370,000 more families— will lose child benefit in 2019-20 than in 2013-14.” The government of course denied that it was targeting women again.
Jesse Norman said: “The hon. Member for Glasgow Central said that the charge is a gendered policy. I do not think that is true at all, and many other aspects of Government policy do not reflect anything like that position, as she will be aware. For example, there is extensive work in supporting women as entrepreneurs and women in business.”
More recently, Liz Truss, who is also women’s and equalities minster, has backed this up claiming that women affected have plenty of time to make up lost national insurance credits to get a full pension.
There is one other twist to this story. The government has part privatised the handing out of child benefit forms to a private company, Bounty Joy Ltd. This firm gives out vouchers to women in maternity wards and child benefit claim forms. The firm has one director Alan Chan, a Canadian resident in the United States. He has a correspondence address in Stevenage, Hertfordshire and employs 19 people to cover England. The company has yet to produce a single account. I think this may have to be the subject of another investigation.
In the meantime lots of people are having to put up with yet another sleight of hand by Conservative ministers so they can hide savings. Again women are the main losers. And George Osborne has form on this. After all it was he who boasted in 2013 at a global finance conference talking about the raising of the pension age :“I’ve found it one of the less controversial things we’ve done and probably saved more money than anything else we’ve done.”
Gareth Thomas Labour MP for Harrow West and her local MP, who has already written to HMRC and the DWP about this and now intends to raise the issue again in Parliament. He described the revelations about the arrangements as ” scandalous” for both young mothers and grandmothers also condemning the privatisation of benefit advice to young mothers when they are ” at their most vulnerable.”
He attacked the government’s decision not to disclose to people that could lose national insurance credits by not applying for child benefit in the forms available at hospitals and is to press ministers to change the policy on this and the system which means mothers and grandmothers can’t get back most of the credits if they later find out.
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This is to say thank you to my readers who have followed and supported my blog over the last year.
Since I asked for donations in September I have received well over £1900 from supporters which has been very heartening for me. It is great to know my work is appreciated and I am absolutely delighted to get such support from so many readers. Thank you again.
I will be continuing my forensic work on this blog next year and you can also follow my stories on @BylineTimes which is well worth a subscription as the website and the paper have brilliant writers and investigative journalism that you don’t see in mainstream media.
Never more has there been a need for investigative journalism to keep this government under scrutiny and also to follow up what is happening behind the scenes in Whitehall, the National Health Service and some very serious individual cases where people are being shabbily treated by the state, the NHS and private industry. And to investigate thoroughly it needs persistence as these institutions prefer you to go away. I will be writing a review of the last year after Christmas.
In the meantime despite the pandemic have a lovely Christmas and here’s hope for a much better New Year.
Please continue to support my blog and my investigative work.
In the dying days of last week’s Parliament the government finally quietly agreed that shopworkers alongside other workers who serve the public should get greater protection from abusive customers.
Ministers are using the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill to make it an aggravated offence to assault or abuse people who are serving the public. At present it is up to the judges’ discretion whether it is under the present sentencing guidelines.
It follows years of campaigning by USDAW, the retail workers union, to get more protection for shopworkers and growing evidence, sadly, of more violence, abuse and threats, from customers to staff.
The government chose the House of Lords to amend the bill last Wednesday night.
Baroness Williams of Trafford, a junior home office minister, said: “The amendment places in statute the aggravating factor applied by the courts in cases of assault where an offence is committed against those providing a public service, performing a public duty or providing a service to the public.
…..”This includes assault occasioning actual bodily harm, wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, malicious wounding and threats to kill, as well as an inchoate offence in relation to any of these offences. These are the assault offences most likely to be experienced by front-line workers. Importantly, the provision also allows the court to apply the aggravating factor to any other offence, where the court considers this factor relevant.”
“This amendment will reinforce in statute the seriousness with which the courts should treat these offences. It will send a very strong signal to the public that assaults of this kind are totally unacceptable. The Government want to ensure that all those who serve the public can feel protected from abuse when working.”
Baroness Trafford added: “
“During the pandemic we have all seen some appalling stories of how shop workers have been treated. USDAW has been really good in standing up to that.
I pay tribute to John Hannett, the former general secretary of USDAW, to Paddy Lillis, the present general secretary, to the staff and to the many hundreds of thousands of USDAW members who have not let this issue rest. I also pay tribute to some really good employers, the supermarkets that understand the problems their staff have. The Co-op, Tesco and many others have stood up and backed the union and its members. This amendment has also been led by the work of Daniel Johnson MSP in Scotland. He got his Private Member’s Bill through last year. “
The move was welcomed by all peers include Lord Coaker, who as Vernon Coaker was Labour MP for Gedling in Nottinghamshire, and an USDAW member, who proposed a specific offence to protect shopworkers resulting in one year’s imprisonment.
The union itself described it as ” a step in the right direction” after years of campaigning for it.
Former Tory minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe said: ” That is against a background of 455 security incidents a day, according to the BRC,[British Retail Consortium] and very few prosecutions.
Inadequate police response
“The police response to these incidents has historically been inadequate. We need to ensure that the police have the right resources and can put a higher priority on prosecuting these retail crimes. This is particularly important given the role of retail workers in enforcing Covid restrictions such as masks, but also in addressing knife crime and shoplifting23>
She succeeded, in getting a promise from the minister to review how the new measures were working in a year’s time.
This was backed up by Lord Dholakia, a Liberal democrat peer, who said: “forces such as Thames Valley Police inform local shops that they will not send out officers to deal with shoplifters who steal less than £100-worth of goods. How can this foster trust and build confidence? It cannot; it means that many businesses feel as if they are alone in this fight—a fight that is a risk to their very business.”
Green Party peer Baroness Natalie Bennett also pressed the minister whether the change in the law would cover threats over the phone or on line. The minister thought it would.
One extraordinary omission in this debate was any reference to the fact that Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, is about to submit an application from the United Kingdom to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s new convention outlawing violence and harassment at work.
This change in the law speaks directly to both the spirit and letter of the new convention and will certainly be used as an example that the UK is complying with it. Yet it seemed to have passed ministers and peers by. Perhaps this government is so disjointed that Therese Coffey has not talked about it with Priti Patel, the home secretary. Given all the furore on everything else perhaps she forgot to tell her.
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Former consultant also says old X ray machines at Epsom Hospital put staff and patients at risk from radiation when they are fitted with pacemakers
Dr Richard Bogle, the former head of the cardiology department at the Epsom and St Helier University health trust, admitted to an employment tribunal that the trust should have reported the death of a 76 year old heart patient to the Coroner and the Care Quality Commission three years ago.
The doctor under cross examination from barrister Matt Jackson described the death as “tragic ” and admitted the trust should have informed both the coroner and the CQC. He said that although he was on ward duty he did not know anything about the patient and ” couldn’t have been expected to know about all the patients at St Helier hospital.”
The details came out at a recent tribunal hearing under Judge Anthony Hyams-Parish, brought by Dr Usha Prasad, a cardiologist who has been dismissed by the trust even though the General Medical Council has exonerated and re-validated her as “fit to practice” medicine. She decided to make two protected disclosures under the Whistleblowers Act after the trust covered up her findings on the death. You can read a series of previous articles on this blog about the battle Dr Prasad has had with senior staff at the trust.
The disturbing case of patient Mr P
The patient known as Mr P was admitted in August 2018.Dr Prasad’s witness statement said :”He died of heart failure on 5 September 2018 having been previously admitted from 5 to 15 of August to Ward 6 which is a ward run by cardiology and respiratory medicine at St Helier hospital. Mr P had been admitted with breathlessness and diagnosed with pneumonia. However, an echocardiogram had been ordered by Dr Foran (Cardiologist) which showed evidence of “severely impaired left ventricular systolic function…. [with a] drop in left ventricular function since last scan, previously mildly impaired.” The echocardiogram was performed when Dr Richard Bogle was assigned to the ward and the results could not have been known by Dr Foran. The pneumonia was successfully treated by the respiratory physicians and Mr P was discharged after about 10 days. The echocardiogram had shown signs of severe left ventricular failure but the results were not recognised by the chest physicians or cardiologists on the ward. The patient was discharged after having largely recovered from the pneumonia during his first admission and then was readmitted on 4 September with severe left ventricular failure from which he died shortly afterwards on 5 September 2018. The certified cause of death was heart failure.”
Dr Prasad was assigned by Dr James Marsh, the medical director to write up a report on the patient’s death. Her conclusion was that it was a Serious Untoward Incident Level 5 – that is the hospital caused severe harm to the patient leading to his death. This would lead to a report to the coroner and the CQC. The coroner could look at how the patient died and the issues surrounding it to help prevent other deaths.
What followed were attempts by other senior consultants to water down the report and delay its completion which Dr Prasad refused to do. Those involved in this exercise included Mr Karim Bunting, the quality manager at the trust and Dr Simon Winn, Clinical Director for Acute and General Medicine, She was asked to make the report in her words “inaccurate” and Dr Winn drafted an alternative version. He accepted that a serious mistake had been made by not recognising the result of the echocardiogram but put the emphasis on the lack of communication between the respiratory physicians and the cardiologists. He did not accept it as an avoidable death.
It is not known whether thepatient’s relatives were properly informed about the circumstances of the death or which version of the report they have been shownif any.There is a duty of candour if someone has died.
The second disclosure of failings at the hospital that came out at the tribunal concerns serious radiation risks from old X Ray machines at Epsom Hospital – which are used when pacemakers are inserted into patients. This puts staff and patients at risk.
Dr Sola Odemuyiwa, consultant cardiologist at Epsom Hospital from 1994 until 2016, He disclosed how an audit by Dr Abhay Bajpai, – specialist in pacemaker devices and electrical rhythms, appointed to take over pacing at Epsom in addition to his other duties – revealed stark contrasts in radiation levels between Epsom and St George’s hospitals. Using a dosimeter, he compared radiation insertion of a similar number of devices at St George’s. With similar average screening times, the total radiation received was substantially higher (up to a hundred times greater) at Epsom than at St George’s.
He says in his witness statement: “When I saw the histograms – the Micrograys of radiation from Epsom a skyscraper beside which the values from St George’s, looked slipper thin, (I attach the relevant data) my heart drummed against my ribs out of apprehension and angry self-reproach as I recalled with dismay how for twenty years I may have been gorging my organs on X-rays. My anxieties ballooned when I learned that Abhay’s readings came from Libra, the more modern of the two machines and that I was often given the older Endura machine, which emitted even higher levels of radiation.”
“Drs Yousef Daryani and Abhay Bajpai, my colleagues on the Epsom site continued to press the Trust over the safety of the X-ray machines. In February 2016, Abhay presented his audit data again at a meeting between Cardiology and Radiology departments. He thought the machines should be replaced. The senior radiographer said she could not change the past but that the machines were working properly.”
He then sought figures for radiation doses he had received during his career at Epsom Hospital.. “The Radiation Protection department at George’s were most helpful and sent me dose records from 2005 to 2008. Where are the data from 1995 I asked. They said they could not retrieve the data from the archive of the Mirion Technologies Dosimetry Services Division.”
The trust itself is adamant that there is nothing wrong with the machines. A long e-mail trail between the consultant and trust officials ended with the Trust insisting that the machines are safe and regularly checked.
Sally Lewis ” our image intensifiers are old and due for replacement “
Sally Lewis, a radiologist and medical examiner at the trust, wrote to Daniel Elkeles, then chief executive of the trust, saying there had been confusion about the reporting of the differing level of doses at Epsom and St George’s using different methods. She said if they had exceeded safety levels it would have triggered an alert.
She admitted; ” We are well aware that our image intensifiers are old and due for replacement … newer machines will with new technology produce lower dose readings which is something we always strive for.”
Dr Odemuyiwa disputes her findings. He said: “The manager misunderstood the report from the Radiation Protection Service. The absorbed dose of radiation, the amount of energy deposit in a small volume of tissue, and the equivalent dose, the impact that dose has on that tissue are numerically the same. The former is measured in mGy and the latter in mSv or milliSievert. Colon and prostate are more sensitive than the head for example.”
A year after leaving the trust he was diagnosed with prostrate and bowel cancer.
He explained to me in an interview: ” When you are fitting a pacemaker you are lying over the patient and are very close to the imaging equipment. If you are going to receive too much radiation the most sensitive organs to cancer are the prostrate and the bowel.”
Dr Odemuyiwa: ” When you are fitting a pacemaker you… are very close to the imaging equipment”
Since he announced his support for his colleague, Dr Prasad, Epsom and St Helier University Trust have declined to revalidate him so he cannot practice medicine.
The trust were contacted about what they intend to do after these revelations but have not responded.
Epsom and St Helier University Trust say on their pinned tweet on Twitter: “We put the patient first by giving outstanding care to every patient, every day.” Draw your own conclusion.
A second blog will look at what the hearing revealed about the issues surrounding the treatment of Dr Usha Prasad. The tribunal is expected to issue its findings in the New Year.
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The UN committee monitoring progress by the UK to implement the UN Convention to end all forms of discrimination against women and girls (CEDAW) ratified by Margaret Thatcher in 1986 has severely criticised the foot dragging by the British government under Boris Johnson to fully implement it.
In a strongly worded report the Geneva based organisation “recommends that the State party incorporate all the provisions of the Convention into its legislation without further delay to ensure that the rights of women are guaranteed systematically and on an equal footing throughout all territories under its jurisdiction, including Northern Ireland.
“ It also recommends that the State party, in accordance with its obligations under the Convention, take proactive measures to ensure that the Convention is given effect in all of its overseas territories and Crown dependencies”.
The damning criticism comes after 35 years of delay by successive UK governments to properly implement a convention which the country signed up to years ago.
The committee’s findings sharply differentiate between the foot dragging actions of the UK government under Boris Johnson and the progress promised by the Welsh and Scottish governments. It is also pleased that Jersey has decided to implement the convention.
It says; “The Committee takes note that the Welsh Government commissioned research on how to foster equality and human rights in Wales, including through the incorporation of the Convention, and the new Programme for Government for 2021 to 2026 confirms the Government’s commitment to incorporate the Convention into Welsh law.
“The Committee also welcomes that the Scottish Government’s commitment to incorporate the Convention through a new Human rights Bill following the recommendation by the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership. Further, the Committee welcomes that the Convention has been extended to the Crown Dependency of the Bailiwick of Jersey in 2021.”
The decision will place pressure on Johnson’s government which has been antagonistic to Scotland and Wales implementing UN human rights conventions – witnessed by Johnson successfully going to the Supreme Court to block Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish leader, from legislating to cover all parts of the UN Convention on the Rights of Child.
At the heart of the matter is that successive governments have not gone far enough in equality and human rights legislation to implement the convention.
It says: “the Committee deeply regrets that the State party has not taken necessary measures within its jurisdiction, including in Northern Ireland, to incorporate all the provisions of the Convention into its legislation despite the fact that the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998 do not give the full effect of the Convention. The Committee also remains concerned that the Convention has not been extended to all of its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, including the Crown Dependency of the Bailiwick of Guernsey.”
It calls in particular for an “over arching strategy ” to implement women’s rights.
It says the UK must “Develop, without further delay, a unified and overarching national strategy for the incorporation of all the provisions of the Convention into its national legislation throughout its jurisdiction (including Northern Ireland) as well as its Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies (including the Crown Dependency of the Bailiwick of Guernsey), and take all necessary measures for the implementation thereof.” It also critical of the UK government’s failure to make a proper post Brexit impact study on women’s rights”
Action called to tackle women’s rights post Brexit
It says the UK must “undertake a thorough impact assessment of its withdrawal from the European Union on the rights of women, including women in Northern Ireland, and adopt effective measures to mitigate the negative effects.”
The report goes on to urge the government to “consider establishing a national oversight mechanism to coordinate and monitor the implementation of the Convention, with the effective participation of its national human rights institutions and women’sorganizations”.
It says the recent establishment of an equality hub in the Cabinet Office is not good enough.
It expresses its concern”that the Government Equalities Office nor the Equality Hub specifically target the rights of women protected under the Convention, nor do they address the State party’s implementation of the Committee’s recommendations. Also, the Committee regrets that the State party has yet taken any actions to establish a national oversight mechanism in reviewing and implementing the Convention.”
This is a pretty damning conclusion by the UN about the state of women’s rights in this country. To campaigners like Jocelynne Scutt, president of CEDAWinlaw , it pinpoints exactly what they have been saying is missing in UK law – no overarching rights for women which could transform the situation on equal pay , pensions, job rights, protection from violence and could also have changed decisions taken in our courts. This will be a real test on whether Boris Johnson believes in real equality for women or just sticks to warm words.
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They can’t or won’t explain internal NHS procedures used to dismiss the perfectly competent cardiologist Dr Usha Prasad
The long drawn out saga over the dismissal of cardiologist Dr Usha Prasad by Epsom and St Helier University Hospital Trust reported earlier on this blog continues. I will be reporting soon on a lengthy Employment Tribunal recently finished where Dr Prasad made serious protected disclosures about patient and staff safety at the trust and senior consultants were cross questioned about the way they treated Dr Prasad.
In the meantime two retired cardiology consultants Professor Jane Somerville and Dr David Ward, who are championing Dr Prasad’s cause, have tried to get explanations from two of the most senior people in NHS England, Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director and Zoe Penn, Medical Director for the NHS London region and lead official for professional standards. Dr Zoe Penn took time out during the pandemic to sit on the internal Maintaining Higher Professional Standards panel which decided Dr Prasad’s future.
At the heart of the matter is a ruling by the internal tribunal that Dr Prasad is ” not fit for purpose” to do her job. This was made by Claire McLaughlan, the never practised barrister who chaired the inquiry. with Zoe Penn. She has refused to explain what that term means which led to the two retired consultants going to the senior NHS officials for an answer.
What the panel could not rule was that Dr Prasad was ” not fit to practice” medicine even though the trust tried its best to be able to do so by sending 43 cases to the General Medical Council to show her failings.
The GMC not only threw out the Trust’s cases but decided to revalidate her to keep on working – taking away the power the trust had to stop her medical career.
Professor Powis’s response to this is: “Fitness for purpose is a phrase used to refer to behaviours which are not in keeping with the doctor’s ability to practise in a particular professional role but do not breach the threshold for GMC action, to be distinguished from those which are not in keeping with GMC requirements on good medical practice and therefore may have an impact on a doctor’s licence or registration (“fitness to practice”).”
This is a cut and paste job from Claire Mclaughlan’s findings and takes us no further. It almost suggests the panel was upset that the GMC had ruled she was competent and made up something else to get rid of her.
Nobody can point to where in employment law this phrase comes from – let alone any case law of anybody being dismissed for being ” unfit for purpose”. Any employment lawyer who reads this blog is welcome to come forward to explain with some case law.
The other disturbing disclosure from Professor Powis is the way he dealt with requests from the two consultants for an inquiry into the whole saga.
As they say : “How is it possible for Trusts to use cost threats, expensive lawyers and dubious (and unregulated) “independent management consultants” (aka hired guns) of the type used in this case, to push whistleblower claimants into submission and thereby achieve the “desired” outcome, i.e. their dismissal? It seems to us that this case is a particularly bad example.“
They also say: “NHS Improvement has a duty to oversee behaviour of NHS Trusts. Will it continue to overlook the gravity of this and similar injustices? It is time for a review and improvement of NHS disciplinary and dismissal processes which should include senior NHS managers as well as medical personnel. “ Professor Powis’s response was to refer the case to the regional medical director for London, Dr Vin Diwakar, a close colleague of medical director, Zoe Penn. He is a distinguished clinician and a former medical director of Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
But was he the right person to do this review? He sits on the committee in charge of the re-appraisal and relicensing of medical directors in London with Zoe Bell. Given she was also on the same panel that found Dr Prasad was” unfit for purpose”, it is not surprising that Professor Powis in his own words was ” assured that a fair and independent process has been carried out.”
A really independent review would have called someone outside the London region to do this just as the General Medical Council did when a cardiologist from the North East reviewed her case. His solution would be like Epsom and St Hellier University Trust appointing a friendly cardiologist who would find in their favour at the GMC.
Professor Powis said: “It is not the responsibility of NHS England and NHS Improvement nor that of the National Medical Director, or NHS England and NHS Improvement more generally, to intervene to resolve in individual employment matters,… although we will consider whether employment matters could indicate wider problems with how a trust is being run.”
However perhaps the most damning issue he is silent about is the disclosure in Dr Ward and Professor Somerville’s letter about the behaviour of the former chief executive of the trust, Daniel Elkeles ( now at the London Ambulance Service) during this period.
I quote:”. It would appear that the CEO acted outside his powers by offering to bribe Dr Prasad to “drop all the actions you are taking against ESTH” and leave the Trust in exchange for which ESTH will “agree to cease the MHPS process”…..By offering these terms he was, in effect, cancelling the investigation. We think this is highly irregular. Do you agree? “
What this shows is that Professor Powis is prepared to ignore unethical behaviour in one of London’s health trusts. Either this internal official process was necessary or it shouldn’t have been brought. It is not a bargaining chip to negotiate with a competent consultant. Frankly I think it is akin to blackmail – drop your complaints against the trust or we will make sure you will regret it.
What this nasty little saga shows is that unaccountable officials at the top of the NHS are either too frightened of health trusts or happy to go along with unethical behaviour in the NHS. It is also reveals that this complicated MHPS system is in need of a radical overhaul. It is like those at the top “unfit for purpose”.
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Step will strengthen rights for women and men facing bullies and workplace sexual harassment
Unless any MP objects next month the UK government will start drawing up a submission to the International Labour Organisation to ratify a new convention outlawing violence and harassment at work.
The announcement hardly noticed by anyone was made by Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, in a written answer to Parliament this month. MPs were told if there were no objections within 21 days a ratification submission to the ILO will be drawn up and it will come into force a year later. This will make the UK the tenth nation in the world to ratify this convention and it is the culmination of two years of work following an initiative started under Theresa May when she was PM.
Rare case of political unity
In a rare case of unity in the present polarised world that characterises the UK, the action has all party backing. It has the support of the Westminster Tory government, the Welsh Labour government, the Scottish National and Green Government and the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein Northern Ireland government. It is supported by both the CBI and the TUC and has the strong support of many international NGOs, women’s groups, Care International and the human rights organisations like Amnesty International.
The convention took time to draw up and it is – for an exclusively work orientated convention – remarkably inclusive..
Stephen Russell, policy officer at the TUC, says the convention itself is very broad based and also through ILO procedures means the UK will have to produce reports every two years on how it is being implemented.
The convention covers “persons working irrespective of their contractual status, persons in training, including interns and apprentices, workers whose employment has been terminated, volunteers, jobseekers and job applicants, and individuals exercising the authority, duties or responsibilities of an employer.”
It is also covers not just the workplace but also work related trips, accommodation provided by employers, harassment on social media, office parties and other work related social activities and commuting from home to work.
According to the TUC and the government the UK had a big role in drawing up the scope of the convention. One of the leading figures was Amanda Brown, deputy general secretary of the National Education Union , which represents teachers. She is on the governing body of the ILO and was on the committee that drew up the scope of the convention.
Therese Coffey said that the government already has the legal framework to meet the requirements of the convention in both criminal and civil law but proposed to go further following recent consultations on sexual harassment in the workplace.
She said she would introduce ” a new proactive duty requiring employers to take steps to prevent their employees from experiencing sexual harassment and introducing explicit protections for employees from harassment by third parties, for example customers and clients.”
The issue of sexual harassment and violence against women has been highlighted lately in the police and Parliament where one former Tory MP. Charles Elphicke, was jailed for assaulting a member of his staff, The House of Lords has also introduced compulsory training for peers after some were accused of harassing women, including Parliamentary staff.
Only Fiji and Uruguay have ratified this, Namibia is next
So far internationally only two countries, Fiji and Uruguay, have ratified it. Another seven countries are in the process of ratifying it, including Greece, Italy, Namibia, Somalia, Ecuador, Argentina and Mauritius. Namibia will ratify it from December 9.
While the UK has ratified four UN conventions covering the rights of the child, eliminating all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), racial discrimination, and the rights of the disabled, but has not introduced all encompassing laws to implement the conventions.
When Scotland tried to implement in full the ratified UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Boris Johnson instructed lawyers to go to the Supreme Court to block the move and succeeded. Similarly the government is not keen on implementing CEDAW in full with a Women’s Rights Bill.
Jocelynne Stutt, president and patron of CEDAW in Law, said: ” This is a step in the right direction but does not go far enough in sexual harassment cases. There is harassment of tenants by landlords, there is rampant harassment of students in education, and sexual harassment in the home. None of this is covered by the new convention and the UK has not ratified the Istanbul Convention which comprehensively covers sexual harassment and violence towards women.”