Will your complaint get heard as the Government forces the Parliamentary Ombudsman to curb its service?

Rishi Sunak: Postponing the cash to improve the Ombudsman service

The Parliamentary Ombudsman has already – as I wrote in an earlier blog – faced a critical report from MPs on the way it handles some of its work.

And Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, has also turned down any prospect of new legislation to modernise the service by combining its work with the local government and social care ombudsman.

Not content with that, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, has now postponed a three year funding programme which would have allowed it to introduce changes to improve matters.

Instead The Treasury has decided to give it just one year’s worth of funding and instructed it to concentrate on handling complaints arising out of Covid 19 pushing aside other grievances..

Details of this latest bad news has not been put out in any press release by the Ombudsman but has been hidden away in the correspondence section of the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committtee.

A letter from Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, to William Wragg, the Tory chair of the committee, reveals the not very bright future for people wanting to take the NHS to the Ombudsman or for the 1950s born women hoping for compensation for maladministration over the six year rise in the date they could claim their pension.

In the letter Mr Behrens says “We will postpone the launch of PHSO’s new three-year strategy until we can secure the three-year funding settlement necessary to deliver it. Instead, we will use 2021-22 as a bridging year to lay the foundations for the new strategy and focus on addressing the significant operational challenges facing PHSO’s service.”

Severely affected by Covid – 19

He goes on to describe what next financial year will be like:

“PHSO’s service has been severely affected by the ongoing COVID-19 situation in a number of ways, from the impact of school closures on the availability of staff, to pressures on the NHS that mean services are taking longer to respond to PHSO’s requests for information.
“As a result, PHSO is closing substantially fewer cases than usual and, in turn, this means a growing number of complainants are waiting for their case to be allocated to a caseworker.
“Although we have started to recruit some more caseworkers, it takes a minimum of six months to train new staff and even with additional caseworkers, it is clear that complainants will face increasingly long wait times unless we take further action.”

Delaying revealing the size of the complaints waiting list

I asked the Ombudsman to give me details of how many cases they were and how long they were taking. I also asked about the size of the waiting list. Simple questions enough if they are on top of the job. Instead they have decided to turn it into a Freedom of Information request which will give them a month or two to reply. I will report back when I have the figures.

In the meantime the letter says: “This means we will prioritise the quality and productivity of PHSO’s core complaints-handling service. We will also use 2021-22 to carry out preliminary work to support the new three-year strategy, such as improvements to some of PHSO’s core systems and processes, and highlighting
opportunities for Parliament to make essential improvements to PHSO’s legal framework, such as removing the MP filter.” The latter point is that all complaints have to go through MPs at the moment.

The whole situation is not good at all. But I am not surprised that the government is not keen on funding or modernising the service. A more efficient service will bring to light injustices – which means a bad press for government services – and ministers don’t like bad publicity. Far better to deprive the Ombudsman of cash and keep the announcement hidden in the correspondence column of a committee.

Updated:Why the archaic Parliamentary and Health Ombudsman needs a modern make over

Rob Behrens: The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Pic Credit: Ombudsman’s Office

If you have a complaint about a government department or the National Health Service your last port of call is Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. He is the current post holder of an institution set up 54 years ago by the second reforming Labour government led by Harold Wilson.

A report by MPs today is both critical of the performance of the Ombudsman – particularly over transparency – and of the government for not even considering new legislation to give the Ombudsman fresh powers and bring its work into the 21st century.

The minister blocking any change is Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister. He has ruled out any new law that could streamline the operation by combining its work with the local government and social care ombudsmen; give it powers to initiate investigations and strengthen its work dealing with complaints.

Michael Gove: Blocker in chief in making sure the Ombudsman can’t do his job properly Pic credit: BBC

No doubt as one of the country’s leading power couples – Michael Gove and Sarah Vine – are able to use their influence through the current ” chumocracy” to deal with any complaints they might have without having to resort to anybody like the Parliamentary Ombudsman But for ordinary people it is quite different

As the Chair of the Public Administration, and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Tory MP William Wragg MP said:

“The Committee appreciates the pressing priorities facing the Government, including, of course, the current pandemic. But reform of the legislation governing the PHSO is worthy of parliamentary time. The PHSO represents the final stage in a complaints process that can be traumatic for complainants and may include serious matters such as the death of a loved one. It is essential that people have faith in a transparent, effective organisation. The current out-dated legislation undermines this crucial ambition”. 

No action yet on long standing 50s women complaint

This leaves questions about how good Rob Behrens is in doing his job given the current restraints. He is currently looking at whether women born in the 1950s are entitled to any compensation for maladministration for failing to notify them of the raising of the pension age. And he is taking his time about it – despite MPs encouraging and recommending WASPI supporters to follow this route. Indeed the report includes a complaint from Frances Martin:

Her submission said:( I have left the capital letters) “There Is Still No Definitive Time Line For Finalisation, Nor, Importantly Has There Been Any Attempts To Provide An Impact Assessment, Notwithstanding, All Of The Above I Am Without Any State Aid Benefits Since Nov 2015, Am Redundant In A Jobs Blackspot And Have Been Excluded From Financial Assistance Through Rishi Sunak’s Furlough Scheme. As A Woman Of Over 60 Am At Greater Risk With Regard To The Covid Outbreak. None Of These Facts Seem To Have Been Considered By An Organisation Which Purports To Be Fair/Impartial Etc And Certainly Is Not Best Practice In Any Organisation That I Have Worked In Both In The Uk And Overseas.”

Both the MPs and the general public have raised a number of shortcomings. For a start he muddies the waters on the cases he takes up. The MPs report he conflates cases that “are not ready to be taken forward” and “should not be taken forward” so we don’t know what he is doing. He doesn’t report on the number of partial decisions.

He was accused of misleading Parliament by not proactively reporting that you can’t directly compare the figures for the number of cases referred to him over the last two years – because a new digital case system has made it impossible.

Since this blog was published there has been a sharp exchange of views between the Ombudsman and the chair of the committee over whether Rob Behrens misled Parliament by not proactively reporting the number of cases referred to him accurately. Mr Behrens accused the committee of being ” factually inaccurate” in suggesting this. William Wragg, the chairman, stood his ground and said MPs felt there were discrepancies in his evidence and it was important the Ombudsman updated information to MPs in a timely manner. He said that did not mean he was misleading Parliament. Letter exchanges are here and here.

He comes out well in treating people with dignity and respect and listening to their claims. But comes out badly for the time he takes to come to a decision and explaining it to the complainant.

More seriously he doesn’t seem to check back with the complainant that he has got all the information or give them a progress report.

” systemic disability discrimination in the Ombudsman’s office”

The report also contains some very critical comments from the public about the Ombudsman’s handling of some cases. MPs don’t investigate them but attach them to the report.

In one just known as A7 on the death of a disabled child in NHS care the person wrote: “In my and the experience of other parents of disabled children, rather than impartially investigating concerns concerning disabled children, with parity of esteem, investigations seem to be focused on justifying the actions of health professionals, however, unreasonable that behaviour is.”

The person added: “This seems to be a manifestation of the systemic disability discrimination found in poor parts of the NHS spreading to the PHSO office.”

Another from Dr Minh Alexander and Ms Clare Sardari on “a mishandled referral to the Care Quality Commission under Regulation 5 Fit and Proper Person, about an NHS trust director who had been found guilty of proven whistleblower reprisal and breach of the NHS managers code of conduct (an under-declared family interest), who was subsequently convicted of fraud and also criticised for her attempts to resist the proceeds of crime process.”

Ombudsman can’t “deliver accountability and good governance”

They conclude: “There was a lack of rigour by the PHSO in pursuing compliance with its recommendations for corrective action by the CQC, notwithstanding its lack of enforcement powers. It seemed to us that a procedural box had been ticked and thereafter, the PHSO was not interested in enough in ensuring that there was learning or genuine remedy of injustice.”

“We do not consider that the PHSO model is robust enough to deliver accountability and good governance in public life, because of insufficient powers and the lack of a duty on the PHSO to enforce improvements and corrections. It does not seem good value for money (budget 2019-20: £25.942 million) and we ask parliament to consider an alternative model of conflict resolution.”

I could go on with other examples. Suffice to say both Mr Michael Gove and Mr Rob Behrens seem to have a lot of explaining to do. Mr Gove for not bothering to do a thing about updating and strengthening the Ombudsman’s role and Mr Behrens for not being up front with complainants on how he is conducting his investigations.

Botched internal inquiry hearing into Dr Usha Prasad at St Helier Hospital as doctors fight death from Covid- 19

Dr Usha Prasad

Epsom and St Helier University Hospital Trust has hit the headlines by allowing the Times (behind paywall) access to their intensive care unit to see the heroic work of doctors and nurses fighting to save people’s lives from the scourge of Covid 19.

This highly commendable act brings home to the public the work of the NHS saving lives and the heartbreak caused by the Uk’s appalling death toll from the pandemic.

Yet while all this was going on the trust chose to hear an appeal by Dr Usha Prasad in the very week when Covid 19 admissions are expected to peak taking away highly skilled consultants away from the front line caring for patients not only fighting the scourge of Covid 19 but from other life and death surgery involving heart, kidney and liver disease. They also tried to take away consultants working for other trusts and a private hospital to bolster their case against her.

Professor Stephen Powis Pic credit: NHS Improvement

The timing of the appeal hearing appears to go against advice from the top of the NHS as prescribed by NHS Resolutions and by Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, NOT to hold such hearings when the NHS is under such pressure.

I checked with the press office of NHS Resolutions and they have supplied me with the guidance for such hearings. They really should only be held if there is an absolute necessity and immediate risk to patient safety.

  The guidance says: “We recommend that serious consideration should be given at this time as to whether alternatives to exclusion or substantial restrictions on clinical practice can be considered, so that the practitioner is not removed from the workplace at a time when there is such immense pressure on clinical staff. “

In Dr Usha’s case there was no immediate risk to patient safety as she is currently a locum cardiologist at Pinderfields Hospital in Yorkshire. There have been no complaints there, quite the opposite, and neither have the General Medical Council ruled she is not fit to practice.

Yet the trust decided to rush ahead with this hearing and not surprisingly, in the current situation, came to grief.

The original plan was for a one day hearing with five witnesses for the trust in the morning and for Dr Usha Prasad’s witnesses in the afternoon. The hearing was organised by Bevan Brittan, a law firm ( more taxpayers money for lawyers). The chair was Claire McLaughlin   an independent consultant, and Associate Director of  the National Clinical Assessment Service with an interest in the remediation, reskilling and rehabilitation of healthcare professionals. The case was also being followed by Dr Zoe Penn, Medical Director NHS England ,London Region and Lead for Professional Standards. She is sitting on the panel with Claire McLaughlin.

It went wrong from the beginning. Instead of starting in the morning, it didn’t start until the afternoon. Two of the five witnesses didn’t attend because, unsurprisingly, they had urgent clinical duties in the middle of a pandemic. None of Dr Prasad’s witnesses were heard as there was not enough time and there will have to be another day set aside for the hearing.

Dr Richard Bogle cardiologist: Pic credit; richardbogle.com

The five people who were due to attend for the trust were extremely busy. They are Dr Richard Bogle, cardiologist at Sr Helier and St George’s ( see CV here):Dr James Marsh, medical director for the trust; Dr Peter Andrews. clinical director and renal specialist; Dr Yousef Daryani, a cardiologist from Ashtead Hospital; and Dr David Fluck, medical director, from the Ashford and St Peters NHS Foundation Trust. The last two did not attend.

Dr James Marsh: medical director. pic credit: Epsom and St Helier University NHS Trust.

Who is missing for the trust is Dr Perikala, the more junior doctor, who made the patient safety allegations in an anonymous letter to among others, Jeremy Hunt, then health secretary presumably expecting he should rush down to St Helier Hospital and put a stop to Dr Prasad immediately. His letter – the subject of three employment tribunal hearings – for some reason does not factor in this hearing.

Altogether I find as a layman this is an extraordinary state of affairs- petty bureaucracy run riot. The tragedy is that this is happening when thousands of NHS patients are dying and medical staff are completely stretched. It undoes all the commendable work the trust has done to bring public attention to how the NHS is doing its best to help people in their direst hour of need.

Revealed: The poor health in old age scandal

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, gave evidence on the damning statistics effecting the healthy living prospects for the elderly Pic credit: gov.uk

Today the House of Lords published an extremely worrying report into the prospect for millions of elderly people being able to enjoy a healthy old age.

I had not realised that Theresa May’s government had committed in 2017 to the Ageing Society Grand Challenge – a promise by 2035 that everybody in the country should be able to enjoy an extra five years good health in retirement. I have a feeling like the notice of the first raising of the pension age it has had little publicity.

Readers of my blog who have followed the BackTo60 campaign to get 3.8 million women born in the 1950s full restitution for their lost pensions will greet this aim with a hollow laugh – given there is growing anecdotal evidence that many women in their early 60s are already falling ill while working before they can even claim their pension. I wrote a blog about the figures in 2018 – see here.

But what this report confirms is not only that life expectancy has flatlined since 2011 but prospects for a healthy retirement has got worse particularly for the poor. The report reveals that the chances for a man to get an extra five years healthy retirement will take not 14 years as promised by the challenge but an incredible 75 years. They will be long dead by 2096.

For a woman it is actually worse – chances of having an extra five years healthy retirement is receding and getting worse by the day.

Figures in the report confirm what the Office for National Statistics has disclosed that Britain is slipping down the league table of advanced countries for those living longer – with men, who on average die earlier than women, have a higher increase in longevity than women. See my blog on this here.

Growing equality gap between rich and poor areas

But what is deeply disturbing is the huge gap between those in wealthy and deprived areas.

The report says: “In England in the period 2016–18, the difference in life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas was 9.5 years for males and 7.5 years for females. The differences in healthy life expectancy are 18.9 years for males and 19.4 years for females.”

The report notes: “the health situation is somewhat similar to other countries that have experienced
political, social and economic disruption and widening social and economic inequalities.” The report also noted that “in some of the key social determinants, inequalities are widening in England”.

The largest killer of men is heart disease and for women it is Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. Heart disease deaths are falling while dementia is on the rise which explains the changes in longevity.

In a 2016 analysis of 20 countries, females in the UK had the lowest rate of improvement in life expectancy, followed by those in the USA. For males, the UK had the second-lowest rate of improvement,
after the USA.

The report concludes:” Inequalities in healthy life expectancy are stark, with people in the least deprived groups living more than 18 years longer in good health than those in the most deprived groups.”

This also hit ethnic minorities very badly as evidence given by Professor Chris Whitty , the chief medical officer to peers. He told them: “People from ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty in older age; 29% of Asian or Asian British people and 33% of Black or Black British people over the age of 65 live in poverty, compared with 14% of White people.”

Will it get better or worse?

So what is to be done and will it get worse ? For a start it will get worse because of Covid19 as the report was mainly written before the pandemic took hold and it is known that Covid killed disproportionately larger numbers of the elderly saving the DWP over £600m a year in pension payouts. In a postscript to the report the peers from science and technology committee say both short term and long term effects are an unknown.

On the positive side new technologies and robotics and new drug trials to treat diseases promise to make life better for the elderly provided they can access them.

Peers warn that unless growing inequality is tackled by the government – these benefits could widen the gap between rich and poor as wealthier pensioners would be able to benefit while the poor would be left behind.

The report also exposes the lack of a government strategy at the top to tackle this.

Peers say: “The Government is not on track to achieve the Ageing Society Grand Challenge mission to ensure five years of extra healthy life by 2035 while reducing inequalities, and does not appear to be monitoring progress towards the mission. It is hard to see how the target could be met without significant changes to the way it is managed.”

For those who criticise the House of Lords as an irrelevant institution – this report shows the House working at its best – it is a very thorough, well researched report – drawing attention to an overlooked issue and warning the government that it needs urgently to act to take this seriously. Whether it will, given the complacency of some ministers, is another matter.

The full report can be accessed here.

Top cardiologists back Usha Prasad’s fight against ” badly behaving ” health trust

Dr Usha Prasad

Just before Christmas I carried a blog on a tribunal held in Croydon looking into allegations of sexism and racism brought by Usha Prasad, the sole woman cardiologist employed by the Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust. The case centred round an anonymous letter by a junior doctor who believed she put patient safety at risk and sent it to the chief executive, the Care Quality Commission, the General Medical Council; Jeremy Hunt, then secretary of state, and one of her patients.

She lost the case at a bizarre hearing presided over by employment judge Katherine Andrews which would only discuss whether the letter was racist or sexist.

But now two very eminent cardiologists Professor Jane Somerville and Dr David E Ward, have come forward to speak out in her defence – and raise much wider issues about how our National Health Service is being run and how trusts are using taxpayers’ money to pay large sums to lawyers to silence people who raise uncomfortable issues they would rather brush under the carpet.

Professor Jane Somerville, now 87, is one of the country’s leading cardiologists. She recently was awarded the World Heart Federation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Cardiovascular Health for defining the concept and subspecialty of grown-ups with congenital heart disease (GUCH) and being chosen as the physician involved with Britain’s first heart transplantation in 1968.

David E Ward has recently retired as a cardiologist at St George’s Hospital, in South London.

Jane Somerville: Pic Credit: World Heart Foundation

This is Jane Somerville’s detailed comment:

“There are many serious problems that are illustrated from this sad report of the ruining of a young doctor’s career as a cardiologist. She was an obvious target for bullying, harassment, and victimization by management at all levels. Why? Because she was Asian (foreign), small and female. This is such easy picking for those in charge to establish a continuous stream of it as indeed is shown over years.

“What is of more concern is the failure of the regulatory bodies and support services on which we have been brought up in medicine to believe they will be there for us to help give advice and support when in need. Just to name a few involved in this case: BMA, legal representation, GMC, MPA or MDU and indeed, the civil law itself. This is particularly important as the offending trust can afford on taxpayers money to engage the best advisors and the young doctor cannot afford to enlist such help.

questioning integrity and fairness of the judiciary

“Now from this case, one is forced to question the integrity and fairness of the actual judiciary. This is something one hopes in a civilised country one would never need to do. However in this case it is clear to assume that what has been reported is true, that the judge was biased against Dr Prasad with more than one example and did not allow relevant evidence (letters) to be shown.

  “It is clear from the beginning of this case which started with simple complaints related to poor bureaucratic and system management which was influencing safety and comfort of patient management and continuing a few months later with acceptance from the trust with anonymous letters from her junior colleague and unacceptable behaviour in contacting one of her patients, that the trust was not interested in being even handed to her and worse, wanted to get rid of her.

bullying trusts

 ” In these current times of enormous difficulty and pressure in the NHS where it is clear that junior staff and nurses are needed and should be valued and cared for, that one must wonder why anyone would want to work in this trust or other trusts who have shown similar behaviour, victimising a young useful doctor. Despite what claimed, doctors who draw attention to something wrong for patients or staff safety (whistleblowing), have little or no protection in the bullying Trust.

The Department for Health with all its talk needs to address this matter urgently and stop just giving lip service to the excellent recommendations (Sir Robert Francis QC) that have been made to them. They must be made responsible for this bad behaviour by trust managers which alas is not unique to Dr Usha Prasad.

Dr David E Ward

Dr David E Ward commented earlier on my blog as aceofhearts44. He is now happy to repeat his view in his own name.

“I know Dr Prasad as friend and colleague. I and a senior eminent British cardiologist have been supporting her cause for sometime. It is astonishing that what was initially an anonymous complaint has led to a chain of events culminating in the dismissal of a small, female doctor of Asian descent. It smacks of bullying, victimisation and other behaviours doesn’t it?
Something is seriously amiss in this story. It needs to be exposed. It’s heartening that a respectable journalist has taken an interest (we tried unsuccessfully to get others involved). Let’s hope justice is done. Sadly I’m not optimistic. We will continue to support Dr Prasad in any way possible.”

Something seriously wrong in the NHS

These are not the only people who are concerned. I have had a number of people contact me – some in confidence – who are raising similar behaviour elsewhere – and want me to look into other cases. Since this is not a mass circulation blog – with the exception of the campaign I have backed for justice for the 1950s born women who are having to wait another six years for their pensions – it suggests to me that there something seriously wrong in the NHS and needs a thorough investigation. Otherwise I would not have such a strong response.

A bizarre tribunal hearing on the treatment of Epsom’s health trust’s sole woman cardiologist

Dr Usha Prasad.

Dispute could last a decade

Last week by Zoom I attended a tribunal hearing – just one in a long running saga between the Epsom and St Helier University Trust and their former consultant, Dr Usha Prasad.

This dispute which is by no means over – she has already had one employment tribunal, one employment appeal tribunal, a reference back to the original employment tribunal – and has still to go to a General Medical Council hearing and an another tribunal over her unfair dismissal claim.

The hearing took I attended just one day but it felt to me that I had just stepped into an unreal world of interminable hospital politics. The issue goes back to 2012 and won’t be settled until 2022. And all this, by the way, is being funded by the taxpayer using NHS funds.

Dr Usha Prasad is a well qualified cardiologist who has been popular with patients but ran into difficulties with staff at the trust and complained she was subject to gender and racial discrimination, bullying and harassment. There are also whistleblower issues which are yet to come out at another hearing.

Three years ago she featured in the current trust’s chief executive’s report for receiving a Patient First Gold Badge award for giving ” a wonderful extra five years of life” to an 81 year old patient suffering heart disease. She is pictured here with chief executive Daniel Elkeles.

Dr Usha Prasad with the trust’s chief executive Daniel Elkeles at the award ceremony Pic credit: Epsom and St Helier University Trust

Behind these happy scenes however all was not well. Usha felt she was not being treated well by some of her fellow male colleagues and relations between her and her junior doctor Dr Aran Kumar Perikala were strained.

Anonymous letter sent to Jeremy Hunt

The centre of her complaint surrounded an anonymous letter which turned out to have been sent by him in 2015 to Daniel Elkeles, the chief executive, the Care Quality Commission, the General Medical Council, and to Jeremy Hunt, then health secretary and to one of her patients. It was signed as representing the entire cardiology team at St Helier Hospital and made very serious allegations that Dr Prasad was putting patient safely at risk.

Jeremy Hunt.

She saw this attack by a fellow Indian doctor as sex discrimination and also as racist. It went to an employment tribunal headed by employment judge Katherine Andrews (more about her later) and her complaint was rejected. She appealed to an Employment Appeal Tribunal who upheld three of the letters but said that sending an anonymous letter to a patient and to Jeremy Hunt was going too far. The EAT ordered it to be referred back to the employment tribunal which held a hearing last week.

The hearing was unbalanced from the start. The trust was represented both by a barrister and a solicitor at enormous public expense. She appeared as a litigant in person ( funding herself) but was helped by Philip Howard ,a part time consultant at St Helier, who acted as Mackenzie friend, a pro bono role.

The part time judge, Katherine Andrews -a solicitor – was appointed as an employment judge by Chris Grayling when he was Lord Chancellor in 2013. Coincidently Grayling is also the Tory MP for Epsom and Ewell and is familiar with the workings of his local health trust.

Judge rules clinical judgement is irrelevant

From the start the judge brusquely limited the hearing to the contents of the letter and nothing else. Two other consultants at St Helier, Dr Sola Odemuyiwa, and Dr Ranjit Shail, a consultant physician, who wished to testify about Dr Prasad’s abilities were ruled as ” irrelevant” by the judge as they had no detailed knowledge of the letter. She ruled as ” irrelevant” any discussion about the clinical judgement of Dr Prasad. An issue that her brother in law, Dr Anand Kamath, working as a NHS dentist had committed suicide after being bullied by a primary healthcare trust over a complaint about his record keeping ,when this started, was also deemed to be ” irrelevant ” by the judge.

This left Philip Howard a very limited role to help defend her. His description of the circumstances of Dr Perikala writing the letter were illuminating. He told the hearing that he wrote the letter while all the other consultants were on holiday, did not consult them about it and paid a ” rare” home visit to one of her patients without her knowledge. He was only unmasked when the chief executive thought the entire cardiology department were of that view and other consultants objected. He told the tribunal that the patient had received excellent treatment and had no objections.

You would have thought that he would be the key witness that should be cross examined about why he acted alone and what his motive was. But the hospital trust’s lawyers did not call him and the judge ruled that as it was his belief it didn’t matter whether he was right or wrong. In other words the man can say anything he liked to a lot of important people and as long as he believed it, it didn’t matter a jot.

Not a level playing field

The trust has taken the matter to the General Medical Council where his behaviour could be questioned and certainly the issue of clinical judgement will not be brushed aside there.

The judge ruled against her but she has asked for the whole matter to reconsidered because she has received new information. Some of the time was spent arguing that she had missed legal deadlines to present new information. Given one side is using full time professional lawyers – and she is having to bring a case while still working elsewhere for Mid Yorks Health Trust – on loan from Epsom and St Helier University Trust. – it is hardly a level legal playing field.

Since the first tribunal hearing in 2017 she has effectively been suspended by the trust on full pay and faced losing her job. There are still two hearings to go.

One has to ask why the Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust is spending so much time and taxpayers money on this protracted dispute rather than using the cash to treat patients. When I earlier raised this with the trust they said they didn’t discuss issues about individuals working for them. They have also refused to give me details of how much taxpayer’s money they are spending on disputes.

This story is not over and I shall return to it when there are more developments.

The scary chaotic privatised Covid-19 national survey and me

The ONS survey promises they could not fulfill

Inside story of how the government can’t even organise a Covid- 19 survey let alone sort out the pandemic

Much has been said of the government’s expensive muddle and mishandling of the Covid -19 pandemic where millions if not billions of taxpayer’s cash has gone down the drain. Contracts have gone to the Vote Leave chumocracy, apps have failed, people have unnecessarily died in care homes and it has been bonanza time for private firms.

What has been missed is that while all this is happening the Department for Health through the Office for National Statistics and Oxford University have undertaken a randomised survey of 220,000 people to find out about the spread of Covid -19.

This is not just a once off questionnaire but those taking part in each household can opt to participate for a year. For the first month they are swabbed once a week and then monthly. The aim is to provide the government with a detailed picture of the pandemic’s progress and once approved the effectiveness of any new vaccines.

The scheme has been branded with trustworthy names – who would object to helping researchers at Oxford University or the Office for National Statistics.

Private company bonanza

But in fact the work is yet another bonanza for private companies and labs just like test and trace. What could possibly go wrong?

Well it did and this blog is my personal experience and my wife Margaret’s experience.

It started with a package being posted through our front door.

We were invited to ring a free number to sign up. Then within a week you would have an appointment. A pleasant socially distanced study worker would turn up, take your details, show you how to administer your own swab and send it off to a lab. You would get the result – if positive – within 24 to 72 hours from Public Health England. If it was negative you wouldn’t hear. You would also be eventually paid £50 in vouchers for the first visit and £25 for subsequent visits.

Sounds a doddle. It wasn’t.

First try and ring up and get an answer. I got through on the sixth attempt. And it is not to Oxford University but to IQVIA, an American multinational based in Durham, North Carolina, not Durham, England, with an income of $11.11 billion – effectively a health care data mining company. They have set up offices in the UK and guess what they are under staffed – hence the difficulty in getting through.

I was told to expect a call from NatCen, a private social research company, based in London that were in charge of appointments.

Rhe survey organisation must have been going wrong – they sent out this standardised apology to me and plenty of others.

A week went by, two, three, then a month and nothing. Finally there was a knock on the door and a genial man called Kirk asked me who I was.

” We have been trying to ring you for weeks and couldn’t get you. We got someone else who was already on the programme”, he told me

The reason was simple. The mobile number they had for me was not remotely like mine – they had put in someone else’s in their records

The came the swab – straightforward. We were told if we heard nothing after 48 hours we would be in the clear.

Then SIX days later we took a call from Hertfordshire County Council. It was for my wife – we are both in our 70s – she was Covid 19 positive . She had to self isolate for another four days. I was negative but had to self isolate for another seven.

The woman didn’t seem to know why we had been tested together, didn’t know about the national survey, and then told my wife not to have another swab in case it was a false positive.

This was scary because my wife did not have ONE SYMPTOM, no temperature, no cough, nothing. But we had to quickly cancel a hospital outpatient appointment for that day and cancel a visit due the next day from a physiotherapist.

The advice from Herts County Council was contradicted the next day by another study worker pointed out that the survey required people who were positive to take another test. He was puzzled that she – given we are part of the vulnerable group susceptible to Covid 19 – had no symptoms. He could not explain why we had been contacted by Herts County Council and not Public Health England.

Even after we got the invalidated result they still sent us the wrong result ( Note they spelt our surname wrong

After scary days of waiting to see if anything developed we had another call from IQVIA. It was to tell us that Lighthouse Laboratories – the privatised mega lab consortium – set up by  Medicines Discovery Catapult Ltd and UK Biocentre Ltd- who tested the swab had got it wrong. She was not positive and the test had been invalidated because the lab had used the wrong compounds to test it.

Nor were we the only ones – an entire batch – was wrong. Imagine the distress this would cause.It wasn’t the first time either. The Independent reported in September that tens of thousands of people had been cleared of Covid- 19 by the same labs when they were positive.

We now await our promised vouchers. I see they are provided by Sodexo – a private company which I remember was responsible for the hopeless failed privatisation of the probation service. They also provide child care vouchers. I wonder what they can to do to muck things up. I can’t wait.

Amazing new digital exhibition celebrating how migrants around the world came to the aid of the NHS

Author and Poet Michael Rosen, recently recovered from Covid-19, narrates this short video on the exhibition

Migration Museum reveals the huge contribution of people overseas who came to the UK to work in the NHS

The NHS has been in people’s minds ever since the Covid-19 pandemic began and will continue to be so if there is a second wave of the virus.

During the worst part of the pandemic people came out in their thousands to clap and cheer the nurses, doctors, paramedics, care workers and ambulance drivers who work long hours in difficult circumstances to try and save people’s lives.

The Heart of the Nation exhibition puts a human face on the thousands of people who come to work and settle in the UK and take jobs in the National Health Service. People often say without them the NHS could not function and this exhibition rather proves the point.

It is not a sentimental account of the role of migrants helping the NHS to provide services for the last 72 years. It is a hard hitting. Some of it is “in your face”. It doesn’t pull punches about what it is like to be an immigrant in the UK.

A picture from the past: Nurses accommodation for new arrivals

It illustrates how migrants have over the years faced racial prejudice, hostility from landlords and even includes a racist cartoon in the national press. that would never be published now. It highlights migrants who found the traditional British diet tasteless and too heavy in carbohydrates which nowadays would be no problem with such a modern diverse range of cuisine in the UK. It includes some very tragic stories – including migrants who died in the Covid-19 outbreak while working in hospitals valiantly trying to save the lives of dying patients.

And it goes behind the scenes in the NHS to show the large number who work as porters and in the labs and stores.

But it is also a celebration – including a Spotify playlist of the music the migrants chose – and tales of young nurses dressed up to the hilt dancing all night to reggae and R & B only to shower and rush back to work at 7.0 am. And one of them was a founder member of a Notting Hill Carnival band designing the first colourful costumes that are a trade mark of that event.

As Allyson Williams said: “Carnival means so much to me. It has always been a celebration of our freedom and emancipation and acknowledgement of our ancestors. Here in London it’s all about family, community and inclusivity. “

“A story that needs to be told “

Aditi Anand, head of creative content at the Migration Museum and curator of the exhibition, said:

“Heart of the Nation highlights the vital role that migrants have always played in the NHS and the extent to which, just like the NHS, migration is central to the very fabric of who we are in Britain – as individuals, as communities and as a nation. Now more than ever, this is a story that needs to be told.”

You can download the digital exhibition here. As a Friend of the Migration Museum myself I am a supporter. But I think you will not be disappointed. It is an eye opener and reminder in times when populist nationalism is on the rise that Britain is also a very diverse and international country and all the better for it.

Revealed: Dramatic rise in benefit and disability claims from women born in the 1950s

Disclosure undermines ministry claim of no link between poverty and bad health and loss of state pension

DWP case undermined by new figures


Days after the Court of Appeal rejected the judicial review brought by the BackTo60 campaigners the House of Commons library produced a set of previously undisclosed figures showing huge leaps in the numbers of 50sborn women claiming universal credit[UC] or Jobseekers allowance[JSA] and employment and support allowance [ESA].

Claims for UC and JSA – which of course were non existent when the pension age was 60 – have gone up by an average of 382 per cent between 2013 and 2019. The figures are still relatively low (from 7582 to 36,531) but the trend is overwhelmingly upwards. It also excludes those who are battling on or using up savings rather than claim.

Claims for ESA – a difficult benefit to claim unless you are hospitalised and involving a 25 page questionnaire and work capacity assessment – have soared by 185 percent – to reach 205,385 -over the same six year period.

The figures are bound to be a huge underestimate as they take no account of the rule change that allowed people to claim the benefits if they had to stay at home because of Covid 19 this year. But they do allow a direct comparison during the period when the only big material change for this group of women was the loss of their state pension.

The disclosure of these figures -obviously not available at the time of the hearing – does undermine the forceful case made by Sir James Eadie, QC, who represented the Department of Work and Pensions, that any poverty or ill health suffered by these women could not be linked to the rise in the pension age to 66.

They also back up the argument made by Mr Mansfield who is quoted in the judgement:
” It is not uncommon for women born in the 1950s to have contracted various ailments and health problems by the time they reach their early 60s, because of the environment they lived in during their early years.  He said further that it is common for women in this age group to be living in straitened circumstances particularly if they are now single, with part time jobs at best and working for low pay. 

” It is also very common for them to be caring for elderly and infirm parents.  He argued that the lack of state pension means that they have to resort to makeshift measures to make ends meet, selling their houses, using up their savings and cutting back on any non-essential spending so that they are not in a position to enjoy their retirement years.”

But the judges concluded: ” there is no sufficient causal link here between the withdrawal of the state pension from women in the age group 60 to 65 and the disadvantage caused to that group. 

” The fact that poorer people are likely to experience a more serious adverse effect from the withdrawal of the pension and that groups who have historically been the victims of discrimination in the workplace are more likely to be poor does not make it indirectly discriminatory to apply the same criterion for eligibility to everyone, if that criterion is not more difficult for the group with the protected characteristic to satisfy.”

The figures also provide a useful constituency by constituency breakdown – showing an unequal distribution of the misery caused by ill health and failure to get as job depending on where you live. The guide would provide a very useful campaigning tool if people wish to lobby their MP over the bad treatment of 50s born women over their loss of pensions – as they can quote the figures back at their MP.

These are some of the top increases and the names of the MPs who were elected at the last election.

Unemployment biggest percentage constituency rises

Knowsley 1388 pc rise from 8 to 119 George Howarth ( Lab)

Newcastle North 1347 pc rise from 6 to 88 Catherine McKinnell (Lab)

Morecombe and Lunesdale 1300 pc rise from 6 to 84 David Morris (Con)

Birmingham Yardley 1270 pc rise from 10 to 137 Jess Phillips (Lab)

Wells 1220 per cent rise from 5 to 66 James Heappey (Con)

Disabled and ESA biggest constituency percentage rises

Glasgow North East 315 pc rise from 214 to 889 Anne McLaughlin (SNP)

NE Hampshire 300 pc rise from 32 to 128 Ranil Jayawardena (Con)

Linlithgow and East Falkirk 292pc rise 149 to 584 Martyn Day (SNP)

Brecon and Radnorshire 292 pc rise from 77 to 302 Fay Jones (Con)

Leeds NE 291pc rise from 89 to348 Fabian Hamilton (Lab)

Glasgow SW 287pc rise from 205 to 794 Chris Stephens (SNP)

Interestingly Martyn Day is the one MP who challenged Boris Johnson about the court judgement at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

The full report is available here. You need to download the table on working age benefits 2020 to get all the info on the big increases in payments. There is also an up to date breakdown of the numbers of 50sborn women living in individual constituencies.

So again we yet have another disclosure backing up the case for the 50swomen to get their pensions.

New Film: The triple whammy horror facing 1950s born women

Today Backto60 launched the first of two campaigning films in the run up to their appeal against the judicial review decision in the Court of Appeal on July 21.

They aim to overturn the judicial review which rejected their claim for compensation and full restitution of their pension back to 60 which was rejected on all grounds by judges. They have been given permission by the Court of Appeal to appeal on all grounds.

The film shows how 50swomen – already waiting up to six years for their pensions – are now hit by the Covid-19 pandemic- forced to work in unsafe situations in their 60s in hospitals or care homes or left isolated facing mental health problems.

We now know through a report from the National Audit Office,Parliament’s financial watchdog, that 25,000 people were moved from hospital to care homes at the beginning of the pandemic without any health checks for Covid-19. No wonder so many died and Dr Bharat Pankhania, Senior Clinical Lecturer at University of Exeter Medical School, in the film condemns this as a disgrace.

The film quotes experts who have backed the campaign to point out how just how damaging the situation. You can follow them on Twitter here – @2020Comms @JackieJonesWal1 @ManzurHannah @DrDavinaLloyd1 @doctorshaib @NexusChambers @AnnaCCampaigns @SOS_Initiatives.

The overall picture is bleak – the combination of the pensions delay, austerity and now the virus- have made difficult lives even worse.

But there is also hope. Professor Jackie Jones points out that the UN Convention on the Elimation of Discrimination against Women – may well launch an inquiry into how badly the UK treated 50s women – shaming the country internationally.

The court case is likely to have to hear additional evidence on whether it was a really equal playing field if at the same time 4.6 million men over 60 are estimated by the Department for Work and Pensions to have had all their national insurance contributions paid by the government so they could get higher pensions. A government promise in the 1990s to extend this scheme to women for eight years after the change was introduced in 2010 was reneged on by the last Labour government and the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition.

The film directed by Jasper Warry at Hello Dear Productions is eminently watchable and the experts explain their points succinctly – my only apology is that you have to put up visually with me having a shaggy lockdown non hair cut!