Sunday, 27 September 2009

Healthy Haringey?

Having travelled past the variously-named Hornsey Poly-Clinic/Hornsey Central Hospital/Hornsey Neighbourhood Health Centre on the bus umpteen times, it was good today to final get the chance to visit.

It was the AGM of NHS Haringey (formerly Haringey PCT – do keep up!),and I attended with my ‘Defend Haringey Health Services’ hat on.

The building is an odd combination of steel and glass with the war memorial (which was on the site already) tacked on the front, at an angle. Patients whose doctors have moved into the building have complained that they cannot hear their name being called because of the acoustics.

There’s a café downstairs run by Muswell Hill’s ‘Feast’ – good to see a local business getting the franchise, I thought, though a quick glance showed that their environmental credentials needed improving. Bottled water – so 5 years ago! If the land at the back of the building is turned into a community garden, a plan which is on the table, perhaps fruit and veg could be grown there and used in the café?

Richard Sumray, chair of NHS Haringey, kicked off the AGM by saying that resources are getting tighter – a point underlined by Harry Turner, Corporate Director of Finance. Who said there had already been a small cut in spending on primary care services.

They hadn’t scheduled questions, but we activists didn’t let that stop us. I asked where the cuts in primary care services had been, and on top of that, whether the Executives planned to take a pay cut? After all, Tracey Baldwin, Chief Executive of NHS Haringey, reportedly earned £190,000 last year.

Ms. Baldwin laughed at my suggestion and patiently explained that their wages are determined by the Government’s pay scales and there isn’t anything they can do about it. (I’ll let you insert your own comment here!)

We also asked what the plans were for the building – much of it is empty still. We were told that they don’t really know what’s going into it (the Millennium Dome situation springs to mind!) but it’ll be what we the patients want.

So here’s my wish-list: I’d like a good, sympathetic Dr I see often and can build up a relationship with, thus getting continuity of care.I’d like a baby clinic, more podiatrists and mental health provision. I’d like to see a user board that properly represents the community and has a real say about how things are run.

But here’s the big ask: I’d like to then pick this up and put it in a small practice, within walking distance, so people don’t have to get two buses to get there, especially when they’re feeling unwell.

When I brought up some of these points I was told that people don’t mind travelling on two buses if they are going to a nice building. I was told that mothers want to go to the polyclinic (again, because it’s a sexy building – supposedly). My reply: I’m a mother. I don’t. I want to go to the one around the corner (which was closed down with one week’s notice). I was also told that people don’t care about seeing the same GP and that is why they often go to A&E.

I love the NHS, and to see it taken apart before my eyes was thoroughly depressing. Let’s defend our local doctor’s surgeries whilst we still have them!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Spinning the war in Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan is fast running up the UK political flagpole. A succession of British ex-army generals are making noises that the army wants out, and now, Eric Joyce a ministerial aid, has quit the government over the way the war is being justified.

The recent Afghan elections are subject to loud claims of fraud from opposition parties, whilst we continue to prop up the corrupt government of President Karzai and a collection of narco barons.

The prime minister, Gordon Brown talks deluded nonsense about ‘our aims being realistic and achievable’, but what are these aims?

The first justification to be trotted out is that by fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, we are stopping terrorism visiting the streets of the UK. This is verging on risible. There has not been a single link to Afghanistan with terrorism in this country. Meanwhile, opinion polls say that two thirds of the British public are against our involvement in this eight year long occupation, so few seem to be convinced by this argument.

The second justification for this occupation, is that we can stop opium growing in Afghanistan, and so reduce the supply of heroin onto our streets. It is true that opium growing has reduced this year, but this is mainly due to the rising price of wheat, making it an attractive alternative crop. The price of wheat will fall again, and so too, the price of heroin will rise, the presence of the British army has little to do with the situation. The Taliban did manage to almost completely wipe out heroin production in Afghanistan before the US/UK et al invasion, albeit by brutal means, but foreign armies actually increase the attraction of growing this crop, as has been seen since 2001.

A recent British army operation, dramatically entitled ‘Panther’s Claw’, saw around 3000 British troops clear an area the size of the Isle of Wight of 500 Taliban fighters over a couple months. In the process, a dozen British soldiers were killed and getting on for a hundred wounded. Of course, as soon as the British withdraw in substantial numbers to fight in another area, the Taliban will return.

The truth of the matter is, that we have got ourselves involved in a civil war in Afghanistan, rather reminiscent of Vietnam, with no doubt the same abject defeat for the invaders, in the long run. The Russians, with hundreds of thousands of troops, were unable to quell Afghan resistance in the 1980’s (although we did supply the resistance with as much weaponry as they could use). The British army also failed in the nineteenth century to occupy this country, have we learnt nothing from history?

The sooner the US cuts a deal with the Taliban, the sooner we can bring some resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan. The British government should tell the Americans that this is the case, and announce plans for the withdrawal of our forces. I don’t think that the British public will put up with the continuing level of losses to our armed forces for much longer, in a far away country that they know nothing about. And how much is all this costing, with cuts to public services being roundly predicted?

Time to cut the spin, and come up with a sensible plan, to get us out of this disastrous situation.