Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Health & NHS’

HEALTH WATCH: our Forest Hospitals – the controversy continues!

In R.Richardson on January 23, 2018 at 5:31 pm

Since the proposals for the shake-up in the Forest’s hospitals were first announced (see our last issue), things have moved on apace,

A glossy information pamphlet was produced and distributed – and an attempted “consultation” was made. Mobile outlets were set up in various locations in the Forest to answer questions and to provide soothing assurances.

So, what was in that information pamphlet, one that was clearly produced by a publicity company at some expense?  It’s full of pictures of the Dean, presumably to make us all feel good about the place we live in, plus text to try to persuade us that the loss of one of the two local hospitals will be good for us all.

“Health and Wellbeing for all”, it proclaims on the cover. It also assures us that our feedback is “greatly valued”.

It goes on to claim that “the two existing community hospitals are reaching the stage where it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide modern, efficient, effective, high-quality care.”

It goes on to tell us that it’s becoming more and more difficult for “healthcare professionals” to work across different sites (ie Lydney and the Dilke). And there are difficulties, it suggests, in “training and maintaining enough staff with the right skills.

It goes on to criticise the present hospital provision, and then tells us that “too many people from the Forest of Dean are having to travel outside the area for treatment…”


So what are the benefits? Well, according to the document, we’ll all benefit from a new community hospital facility “fit for modern healthcare”.

And so it goes on. There will be “significantly improved facilities, more consistent, reliable and sustainable community hospital services… and so it goes on.


All these, of course are either platitudes or generalisations.  Apart from a promise of an endoscopy suite, there is not a single specific gain in service provision.

Indeed, opponents have made the point that there will be significantly fewer beds available to patients than there are now. Patients will still have to travel outside the area (to Gloucester or even further afield) for specialist care. And the Forest still won’t have many of the facilities that it wants (high on the list of demands by local people are maternity facilities).


It’s no wonder that opposition to the plans has been growing. Whilst not everyone is happy with the status quo, few would welcome the alternative presented to us.  This amounts to a considerable cut in provision with no guarantee of better hospital service at the end of it.

A public meeting to oppose the plans, at Lydney Town Hall is being held on the 27th of November – as we go to press. It may well be a spring board for a more sustained campaign for our hospital services. Watch this space!


One promise that emerged from the budget was a promise for an increase in funding for the National Health Service.  Indeed, it was even described as a “national treasure”!

Since the Tories came to power it’s been consistently under-funded – whilst vast sums of money have been siphoned off on privatisation schemes (resulting in waste of money that the NHS could ill afford). It has also been pointed out that the amount of money promised in the budget is nowhere near enough to meet its needs. It is at best a sop.




In Editorial, Uncategorized on January 8, 2018 at 1:45 pm

Our new-style Tory Chancellor has now, with a suitable flourish, presented his Autumn budget, But what are we to make of it?

Most of the items on his list of “goodies” seemed to amount to something or nothing. So was it meant merely as a kind of “steady as she goes” approach? One with one eye on our stagnating economy (which currently seems to be flat-lining)?  Or maybe he thought he would scatter a few crumbs in our direction – maybe in the hope that we’d all be suitably grateful. Or was it just a piece of typical Tory flannel?


The one item that seemed to capture the attention of the media was the promise to build 300,000 house in a year (he didn’t stipulate whether that would be maintained over future years, or whether it was to be a one-off).  We wonder who these houses  will be built for?  There’s the usual talk of “first time buyers, whoever they may be. For them stamp duty will be scrapped providing their new home costs less than £300,000.  But it’s highly unlikely that there will be anything for the homeless.  Their numbers are increasing – but as far as the Tories are concerned, they’re off the radar,

There was a slight concession as far as Universal Credit was concerned (that much hated system that used to be referred to as “the dole”). This will remain but there will be “additional aid” to tide claimants over that waiting period. No, we’re not talking about food banks here – we’ll come back to that on another page. But we were told that the waiting time for payment will be cut from six weeks to five, which is hardly a big deal.


As far as the NHS is concerned there’s a promise of an extra £2.8 billion for the Service. Sounds good – until you consider the needs of the Health Service.  Indeed, the head of NHS England responded with a call for an immediate payment of £4 billion. Philip Hammond, instead, promised a mere £350 million to help counter “winter pressures”. The rest of the promised cash will be spread more thinly over the next couple of years.  And, as Jeremy Corbyn pointed out that was no cash promised for much-needed social care.

The only thing to be said is that this isn’t an Osborne-style budget. Any cuts are well hidden – and if Hammond is to carry it through it will involve a significant amount of borrowing. But we’re assured that this will only be temporary.  As the economy picks up, we’re told, the borrowing will be paid back and everything will be hunky-dory.

This is a Tory budget. But, like most budgets, it may be the headline news on the day, but the reports may well be next week’s fish ‘n chip wrapping paper (except of course that’s gone out of the window these days).  It’s hardly likely to have any long-term impact on the economy, or on the lives of people  to whom it’s directed. It will not re-distribute any wealth, and for those who need the benefits of a welfare state there’s  nothing for them.

Basically it isn’t what was in the this budget speech, but what wasn’t in it.


In O. Adams, R.Richardson, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 6:26 am


Earlier this year we heralded the amalgamation of two large teachers’ unions – the NUT and the ATL. Now it has happened, and the result is a union half a million strong – the fourth biggest affiliate to the TUC. Its title is the National Education Union (NEU).

The NEU will have its work cut out. De-regulation and marketisation has seen local authorities undermined and support services cut.  A prescribed narrowed down curriculum is dominated by assessment and testing and teachers’ workloads are unacceptable.    The new union, says the Morning Star, “promotes an opportunity for an organised fight-back against the dominant ideas that have done so much damage in education.”


Infants’ teachers throughout England have no doubt seized with delight on the news that SATS (Standard Assessment Tests) for seven-year-olds are to be scrapped – but not until 2023.  If it has at last been recognised that these tests are, as teachers have long argued, harmful, why wait six years to abolish them? A new “baseline” check will be introduced in the reception class, presumably to help assess progress made – yet it’s something else to fit in to the busy infants’ teacher’s day.


School funding was one of the key issues in June’s General Election. Here in the Forest leaflets were distributed outlining what the proposed cuts would mean to individual schools. Many Conservative MPs pointed to the cuts as being a decisive factor behind the Tories losing their majority, and several in the worst affected areas lost their seats after sustained anti-cuts campaigns. Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, under significant pressure from her own MPs, was forced finally to find an extra £1.3 billion to ensure that no school was left worse off after the reforms. But heads complain that inflationary cost pressures have not been addressed, and that schools are still losing out in real terms.


We have long been concerned at the lack of accountability of academies. Now the Wakefield City Academies Trust has admitted that it is unable to improve its schools quickly enough, and is asking the Department of Education to seek new sponsors for its 21 schools.

Only two years ago this trust was earmarked by the Government as one of the best-performing sponsors in the North. It was handed a share of a £5 million pot to take on more schools.  Since then, however, it has come to light that the trust paid £440,000 to companies owned by the CEO, Mike Ramsay and his daughter.

A report some months ago in the Independent said that the trust had been put in an “extremely vulnerable position as a result of inadequate governance, leadership and overall financial management.”


Robin Head, an educationalist writing in the Morning Star, produced an interesting article on education in Finland. It is a country, says Head, whose standards are universally admired and which does very well in the international “Pisa” league tables.

In Finland young children up to the age of seven learn mainly through play, develop at their own pace and are not crammed with inappropriate rules of grammar or mathematical theory.

When more formal teaching is introduced classes are of mixed ability and are kept below 24 pupils in size. Pupils have free transport to their nearest school and free school meals. There are no league tables and no national inspection system – the teaching profession is trusted to regulate itself.

Such a regime, says Robin Head, improves life chances and opportunities for all.

He goes on, “Theresa May and Justine Greenwood would do well to heed the lesson of the Finnish experience.”




When the authorities produced their new plans for hospital provision in the Forest of Dean they might have thought that it was all a matter of working out the details.

It was about replacing the Dean’s two existing hospitals with one single facility (referred to as “the hub” in technical jargon).  It was, they thought, just a matter of deciding where this new “hub” would be sited – and perhaps a bit of tweaking of the facilities to be offered.

Although the concept had been on the cards for some time, it only became public in mid-September – and immediately controversy came bubbling to the surface.

It wasn’t simply a parochial reaction to the (still) rather sketchy plans – though there was a certain amount of that in where, out of the three Forest towns, would the new facilities be based. It was more concern about what this new “hub” would offer.


The Forest Review gave us some information. First it would be paid for by the NHS. No threat of private capital, then.  The new hospital would contain a “minimum” of 24 beds. This compares with the combined number of 47 in the Dilke and Lydney at present. Readers can, of course, do their own maths.

Meanwhile, we’re told, that the new “hub” would contain a “wider range of services” possibly including an endoscopy suite. What it wouldn’t have, though is a maternity unit, or a full operating theatre.  For such facilities patients are expected to take themselves out of the Forest to such places as Gloucester or even further afield.

The new hospital is planned to open by 2021 – though given the consultation needed plus the decision making involved before work actually begins, such a planned opening date must be speculative to say the least.


There is, of course, concern about these plans, with some critics feeling the need for a campaign of opposition on the scale of the “SOS” campaign in a previous decade, when a (“New Labour”) government put forward plans to close both the Forest’s hospitals.. That campaign was successful.

According to one critical Facebook page, “this consultation is asking us to sign up to plans without scrutiny of them.  All we know is there will be half the number of beds there currently is.”


Meanwhile, Owen Adams writes:

“… do you worry about the lack of any detail except the new hospital will be ‘state of the art’ , have better X-ray facilities and endoscopy  if we’re really lucky (but no maternity ward and half the number of beds – and no guaranteed minor injuries unit either… )

“Are you concerned that our attachment to the two hospitals is patronisingly classed by professionals as “emotional” or “affectionate” – never mind that the Dilke was built by mostly local subscription, is public land in the heart of the Forest (private developers must already be dreaming of the pounds) and has a covenant for the site to be always used for a facility to treat the poor and the sick?”

“Are you convinced this project has nothing to do with asset-stripping; the Naylor Report (now Government policy) to help make £220m of NHS cuts (otherwise known as ‘savings’) or to help private contractors rake in one billion pounds in contracts?

“Maybe it’s just me but I feel we’re being ripped off … and a great many of our elected and unelected representatives have fallen for the con (and that goes for people of all political persuasions). Anyone with a vanity development project they want fulfilled?”


Clarion Comment & Health-watch special: CRISIS IN THE NHS

In Editorial, R.Richardson on April 24, 2017 at 12:08 pm

As 2017 dawned, crises struck the National Health Service in England. Our hospital services in particular were hit by what seemed like a sudden tsunami of patients needing treatment. The media showed us queues in hospital corridors of patients left (often overnight) on trolleys because beds just weren’t available. Or, indeed immediate treatment. It showed up a service in meltdown. Even the Red Cross described it as a “humanitarian crisis”.

Yet it was a crisis that seemed to have a certain inevitability about it. Indeed it wasn’t really a case of if but when. A bout of bad weather together with a build-up of urgent cases that couldn’t be put on the back burner was enough to trigger the emergency. Even cancer cases were put on hold in some hospitals.

The National Health Service has come a long way since it was founded with such high expectations in the post-war years. It came into being in the summer of 1948, at a time when the country was trying to pull itself together after the devastation of war. It was the most visible, and most welcomed, part of the new welfare state being created following the adoption of the “Beveridge Plan”. The Tories didn’t like it, of course, claiming loudly that it was something that we just couldn’t afford.

We could of course afford it (as we could today if the will was there). True, the provision of “National Health” glasses disappeared, along with free dental care, not to mention modest prescription charges. But apart from that the NHS had become rooted and accepted by the time the Tories returned to power in the early ‘fifties. And the new Government accepted it as part of the status quo.


It wasn’t until Margaret Thatcher returned to power that the NHS came under attack. She made it clear (at least privately) that she disliked our Health Service. But she realised that any frontal attack would be unwise, and so instead she encouraged the spread of private health care, to provide “options”. The strategy was clear. As funds were re-directed from the public to the private sector, then the NHS would decline into providing a second class service.

Certainly within Thatcher’s own period of office it failed to have the impact she desired. But when Blair came to power it seemed he had his own plans for the NHS which in many ways ran counter to the original ideals of the Service. Early examples of democratic control disappeared. Smaller hospitals and care facilities were closed, and a process of centralisation of services was introduced.

Even hospital provision in the Forest came under threat. Both Lydney and the Dilke were earmarked for closure, and were only saved after a determined and sustained campaign across the Forest of Dean.

But Blair’s biggest attack on the founding principles of the Health Service was the introduction of “foundation hospitals” in 2003. This was bitterly opposed by Labour MPs in the Commons (63 voted against it), and Frank Dobson, a former Health Minister described them as a “cuckoo in the nest”. Health campaigner, Professor Allyson Pollock declared that such foundation trusts were a “fig leaf for privatisation.”

Incidentally, one of those that applied for “foundation trust” status was the Gloucester hospital trust. Fortunately, it never went ahead.


All these changes to the structure of the National Health Service contributed to its fragmentation. Local health boards had, by now, disappeared – and there was a blurring of the line between public and private health care.

Fast forward to the Cameron era, and the “age of austerity”. Health care was soon identified as one of the country’s big spenders which, it seemed, we couldn’t afford. Strict financial controls were imposed on health care – particularly on hospital budgets.

Of course if a patient needs treatment, he or she should get it. And the NHS was founded to ensure that the care would be available, “free at the point of need”. They shouldn’t have to shop around, or join a waiting list, let alone dig into their pockets in order to “go private”.

David Cameron was keen to point out that “we were all in this together, but by this time the lines were so blurred and care was being increasingly rationed that the NHS was struggling to provide adequate care.


We’ve come a long way from the establishment of the NHS in the summer of 1948 to the sorry state of the service today. Our Health Care needs more, much more, than extra cash to fund it adequately. It also to be able to return to the principles and practices on which it was founded.

And we should also salute those who work within the service who’ve worked hard, for long hours, to keep it operating for so long – often for little reward.


Whatever happened to those promises that if we achieved “Brexit” there’d be all that extra money to pump back into the NHS?

The pledge was plastered all over the sides of campaign buses. It figured in speeches made by pro-Brexit campaigners. And then quietly forgotten after the votes had been counted.

Now, it seems, the opposite will be true. There will be swingeing cuts to an already cash-strapped service.

According to the BMA, £22 billion’s worth of cuts will have to be made in order to balance the books. And Dr. Mark Porter, head of the doctors’ union, charged those with pushing the cuts of using them “as a cover for starving services and resources and patients of vital care.”


The cuts are all part of the new “Sustainability and Transformation” plan (revealed in the last issue of the Clarion.) The plan has been introduced with little or no consultation with those who will be most affected – the doctors (not to mention the patients!

In response Dr. Porter says, “improving patient care must be the priority… There is a real risk that these transformative plans will be used as a cover for delivering cuts, starving services of resources and patients of vital care.”

Meanwhile, a conference held in Birmingham to “challenge the Sustainability and Transformation Plan” back in September was organised by Health Campaigns Together. It drew a packed audience. One of its main speakers was Dr. John Lister.


There are three missing elements from the NHS as we know it today, declared Dr. Lister. One, the money. Two, the staff to do the job. And, three, the evidence that the policies can deliver the expected results.

Documents produced by the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) show a reluctance to engage with this harsh reality, he said. Instead there’s an air of wishful thinking, of pie in the sky.

Consequently, plans are written not by those from within the NHS, but by lavishly paid management consultants. Meanwhile, have these consultants, however lavishly paid, offered any real evidence to support the assertions and proposals that they’ve made?


“What is glaringly obvious is that throughout the 51 pages of text there is not one example of a working model of the type of new systems that are proposed to replace hospital bed provision… According to another document prepared by management consultants “intermediate care” is supposed to enable the NHS in North West London to dispense with over 400 hospital beds – but the document lacks any definition of intermediate care, let alone any plans to establish or expand it.”


Faced with this welter of confusion, Dr. Lister sees the STPs as being presented as ways of curbing health spending, to live within the impossible spending limits imposed since 2010 even while the needs for health services continue to grow.

Or, asks Dr. Lister, “is it in fact the cuts that are being driven through now on the ground, and already happening even as we plough through the small print?”

Meanwhile, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS providers, has been busy in the media stating the case that there is not enough money to sustain services at the current level or meet increased demand over the next four years.

His options include: a reduction in the number of priorities that the NHS is trying to deliver; rationing access to care; and reducing the size of the NHS workforce.

Dr Lister retorts that “Hopson’s choice” is effectively to abandon NHS principles – or to cut the NHS to vanishing point. He adds that “most of these things are already being done in some form at local level…”

Hopson suggests a “public debate” on how the NHS should be sustained. Dr. Lister doesn’t favour the idea, in which one side “backed by the right wing media… and the backwoods Tory right that is now dominant will be urging us to turn the clock back to the 1930s drop the NHS principles and adopt some combination of charging for treatment and private health insurance.”

“Let’s fund the NHS properly from general taxation. It’s already under-funded compared to almost any comparable country, with fewer staff, fewer beds and less modern equipment than almost any developed economy.”





In R.Richardson on January 3, 2017 at 5:22 pm

EDUCATION MATTERS: Who Wants Grammar Schools?

As schools went back after the long summer break, the big news was that Theresa May intends to lift the 17-year ban on establishing new selective schools – in other words to bring back grammar schools.

The “tripartite system” of secondary education which was set up following the Education Act of 1944 prescribed  a universal exam at 11, whereby children were selected for what was considered the most suitable education for them.  The three types of schools were grammar schools for the more academic pupils, technical schools  for the technologically minded (though few of these were established) and secondary modern schools for the rest.


Twenty years later the system was  being criticised by educationalists on several counts. First, eleven was far too young an age to predict ability  and consequently to prescribe a suitable educational path.  Secondly, those who went to the secondary modern schools were all too often deemed to have “failed” and thus had low expectations.

The solution was the setting up of comprehensive schools countrywide, where children worked and played alongside all their classmates from the primary schools. This policy which obviously took several years to implement, was begun under a Labour government, with Harold Wilson being PM and Anthony Crossland as the then education minister.


When a Conservative government under Edward Heath was returned in 1970 , the comprehensive  programme was not yet complete, so there was the anomaly of some grammar schools remaining in Tory local education authorities.  It has never been part of Conservative education policy to promote comprehensive schools, and Margaret Thatcher (who was then education minister) brought the programme to an abrupt halt.


Those remaining grammar schools have survived through successive Conservative and Labour regimes, so it is possible to look today at areas such as Kent and Buckinghamshire which have retained their policy of selection at 11. . An article by Stephen Bush in the “i” newspaper points out that while in those areas the grammar school  does create higher education opportunities for some children it is by no means a panacea for those from the working class.

A third of grammar school pupils from deprived backgrounds left without a single GCSE, wrote Stephen Bush. Strangely, Theresa May claimed on September 9th that “the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils is reduced to almost zero for children in selective schools.” So who is correct?

Jeremy Corbyn cited Kent as an area  where there was evidence of the shortcomings of selection. He said that GCSE results in Kent showed the system was not working.  In Kent, said Corbyn, only 27 percent of children on free school meals (an important indicator of social deprivation) got at  least five GCSEs whereas in inner London, a fully comprehensivve area, the figure is 45 per cent.

Some Conservative MPs have also expressed concern. Theresa Villiers, former Northern Ireland Secretary, asked how new grammar schools would actually benefit the communities in which they are situated. Keith Simpson, Tory MP for Broadland also had “severe reservations.”

Theresa May was at pains to point out that new grammar schools would be required to take a proportion of pupils from lower-income households.  They would, in fact, promote social mobility, she claimed.


May’s announcement managed to unify against her the “seemingly un-unifiable Labour Party, along with a coalition of the likes of Teach First, the University of Oxford  and Kings College, London”, The Sutton Trust has recently produced research warning that grammar schools entrench inequality. Its CEO, Dr. Elliott Major points out that children from less affluent backgrounds would have to be offered lower thresholds to take up a place if May’s claims of social mobility are to be met. At present only 3 per cent of grammar school pupils are entitled to free school meals as against 17 per cent of the national average.

An article in the Observer quotes the reaction of a number of educationalists to May’s announcement. Among them is Melissa Benn, who writes “All the evidence shows that where schools select social segregation  and widening gaps in attainment follow, and it’s ordinary working class people who lose out …  but what May and co. have not yet reckoned on is the fury these plans will arouse among parents across the country…   for whom comprehensive education is working well. They certainly won’t accept the rejection of their own children before they have even left primary school.”



The notion of  “Sustainability and Transformation Plans” (STPs) seems to have been exercising the minds of those within the English NHS a great deal this year. It seems to be presented as a kind of panacea for the problems facing the Health Service – without providing any extra funding.

Draft plans for STPs were submitted in June this year. To the layperson it’s difficult to understand what exactly they will mean for the Health Service on the ground. There’s plenty of talk about “co-ordination” and “working together”- and, perhaps more ominously, of “closing the funding gap”.

Health campaigner, Dr. John Lister,though is in no doubt. He points to the fact that Health Care managers and top bureaucrats have been involved from the beginning in the preparation of these STPs, whilst those on the ground have been left out of the process. “The STPs don’t just exclude GPs and primary care staff  from the process – they also exclude hospital staff and staff in community health services” he points out (writing in the Morning Star) . In other words, all those who will be most affected by the planned changes are to have no say.

With NHS budgets frozen at levels totally inadequate to meet needs plus mounting deficits, it’s difficult to see how the STPs are supposed to resolve the underlying problem of lack of funding.  Indeed, Dr Lister suggests that they are little more than a “slash and burn” exercise.

At present NHS budgets are insufficient to meet the needs of the Service.  Rather than looking to increase funding, the STPs seem to be based on cutting services to meet what money’s available.

As far as the care for those who need it in the NHS is concerned, that’s no solution.  The proposals like to use words like “reconfiguration” without spelling out what this means – the closing of hospitals.

All this is to prepare us for making the NHS a second class service – whilst opening the door to more private health care, charges for certain treatment within the NHS – and private health insurance.

So, beware of managers bearing gifts. Study the small print – if you’re able. The more jargon is involved the more we should be suspicious of the intentions. The STPs look suspiciously like another blow at the National Health Service as we’ve known and cherished it.

Paying for a consultation – or a quick fix?

A new service has recently been promoted by a group of  GPs allowing patients to gain access on line to a quick quarter of an hour consultation.  Those surgeries who wish to be involved sign up to “Doctaly”, which allows its doctors to join in the new service.-  And  to charge £40  for the 15 minute consultation.

According to those behind the scheme, it’s “the quickest way to find and book an affordable face-to-face GP  appointment. Choose from our trusted private doctors, at a convenient time  and location from just £39.99”

The blurb tells those who may be interested that the scheme “allows patients to book and pay for a 15 minute appointment with a GP – who primarily works in the NHS – at a local practice for £40 on line” (incidentally, this cost rises to £69.99 for  any out of hours appointments).

This new service has already been rolled out in North London (and the Doctaly website includes a glowing reference from a patient from Bounds Green). It’s being extended throughout London, followed by the rest of the country over the next couple of  years.  Incidentally, London patients can also get a same-day appointment at a BUPA hospital for £70.

It’s not surprising that it has its critics. “This is privatisation of the worst kind,” declared  Alan Taman for “Keep our NHS Public”.  “Not only is it substituting for what should be freely available to all – a GP appointment in a decent time – but it’s doing so at a time when GP services are on their knees.

“This creates a three-tier service – a fully privatised version for those willing to pay, a deteriorating NHS service for those who cannot afford to pay, and now this – a queue jumping scheme parasiting off the NHS while getting people to dig into their pockets.”



In R.Richardson on July 30, 2016 at 8:55 pm


So, who is Jeremy Hunt – and what led him into such a bitter confrontation with junior doctors, their union – and indeed with most of the medical profession?

First, some biographical points. His background was in consultancy, but he entered Parliament as member for South West Surrey in 2005, and became Culture Secretary in the new Government. But in 2012, he took over as Health Secretary from Andrew Lansley. It may have been seen as a strange choice – particularly as he’d already courted some controversy by co-writing a book which proposed replacing the NHS with a system of health provision in which those who could afford it would pay into personal accounts which would enable them to shop around for care and treatment. Those who couldn’t would have to put up with what care was still available. This, of course, would have sunk the NHS replacing it with a second grade two tier system.   Maybe he was a bit ahead of his time, as the concept sunk without trace!


Last autumn, Hunt was accused by a number of doctors and medical experts of making false claims that hospitals were more unsafe at weekends. He was accused of “misrepresenting the facts”. Not only were figures inaccurate but they were also out of date. His claim that stroke patients were more likely to die if admitted to hospital at weekends was also denied by those working in the profession.

These misrepresentations were Hunt’s pretext for attempting to force junior doctors into a new contract – which was bitterly opposed.

By September 2015 came the announcement that new contracts would be imposed on junior doctors in England (Hunt’s remit, of course, doesn’t extend to other parts of the UK). Basically these new conditions would include extended hours on all days except Sundays, without premium pay. Instead those doctors affected would be given an overall increase in salary.

After several days of action, backed by the doctors’ union, Hunt announced that he would impose his proposed contract unilaterally. Those in the medical profession united in condemnation of his announcement. Some suggested that Hunt saw himself as emulating Thatcher, in her dispute with the miners.

Certainly, there’s been no attempt at conciliation – and no sign that the doctors involved are prepared to accept their new working conditions.


Meanwhile, a recent issue of Tribune carried an article by a GP, Dr. David Wrigley, under the headline, “Get angry and get active: we must fight to save our NHS”. He joined the picket lines himself, at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

“As a GP, I support our junior colleagues 100 per cent in this fight for a safe and fair contract and what is in effect a fight for the National Health Service,” he wrote. “… they don’t want to be on strike but they have been forced into this by David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt who now see doctors as their enemy and are trying to crush them.” He continues with the point that if the junior doctors lose their battle then “next in line will be nurses, porters, radiographers, midwives and many other public sector workers.”

Dr. Wrigley concludes: “The Government should be ashamed of itself having brought the service to its knees but they continue to ply us with their lies about the NHS doing well and care improving – when every NHS staff member knows the exact opposite is true.

“It is a national scandal. It should see the Government fall. It should see millions of us on the streets….

“The only way to stop what is happening is to get angry and get active.”

Since then, of course, agreement has been reached, via ACAS, on the dispute, and further action has been called off. The conditions agreed certainly aren’t perfect, but enough has been conceded for agreement to be reached.

And many in the medical profession still believe that this was a dispute that just shouldn’t have happened, if it hadn’t been for the obstinacy of Jeremy Hunt who chose to make an issue out of his plans to rub the noses of senior doctors in the dust.



As our last edition of the Clarion was being prepared, the news had just broken that the Government intended to force all schools to become academies by, or before, 2022.  There was a huge outcry from parents and teachers alike. Petitions were organised and rallies held.

In the face of all the opposition, the Government was forced to back down and withdraw the target date for wholesale academisation. A welcome victory for people power! This does not mean of course that the Government has abandoned the idea of academies. It is still its preferred model.


And other proposals in the White Paper remain, giving cause for concern. The requirement for schools to have elected parent governors is removed and, even more worrying, qualified teacher status is to be abolished.  Already unqualified teachers are regularly employed in academies and free schools, and this latest piece of legislation can only accelerate the process. In a recent article in the Morning Star Sarah Carter describes the situation in Chile where for-profit schools regularly under-perform in relation to the not-for-profit schools, as the former pay low salaries and have less qualified teachers. It’s precisely what academies are doing here.


The other model promoted by the Tories is that of the Free School. These are state-funded institutions set up by groups of parents or other interested bodies. The NUT has called for councils to be able to open new schools, especially as a population bulge is about to hit. But bizarrely all new schools must be “free schools” – councils can only try to persuade someone – any one – to open one in their area. Solomon Hughes in the Morning Star says that “this is a massive piece of social engineering”


Back in 2013, Michael Gove (then Minister for Education) said that his school reforms were being resisted by “The Blob”. By this Gove meant teachers, LEAs and teacher training colleges – all those with professional expertise. He branded them “Marxist”.  Instead, Gove wanted to give control of schools to private chains, religious groups or rich men “wanting a bit of glory”.

Local Authorities, of course, have less money for schools under their control. This makes it increasingly difficult for them to provide for the schools they do retain services such as special needs provision, musical instrument tuition or outdoor pursuit centres. So local authorities look to private service providers to fill the gaps. At a stroke the Tories have curbed the power of local authorities and provided business with money-making opportunities.


This is the term when our year two and year six primary school pupils undergo the dreaded “sats” (standardised attainment targets). This year, new, tougher tests have been introduced.

In response parents formed a group called “Let our kids be kids”, and took their key stage one children out of school for the day on May 3rd in protest. The parents’ website explains that they “want our kids to be kids again and enjoy learning for learning’s sake, not for Ofsted results or league table figures. Bring back the creativity and the fun – say goodbye to repetition and boredom.”

Sats for six and seven year-olds were dropped some years ago, but were re-introduced in the belief that testing raises standards. Another explanation put forward by one campaigning parent is that children and schools are being set up to fail so that the Government can push through its academy agenda and claim it as saving struggling schools.  Apart from the stress of the tests themselves, the curriculum for the whole of year two (six to seven year-olds) is skewed, say campaigners, being centred on comprehension and arithmetic.

Teachers are as vociferous as parents in their condemnation of SATS, as was evident in the recent NUT conference. Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT, said “it frankly beggars belief that Nicky Morgan is not listening to the voice of the profession on the chaos that the Government has caused in the assessment system.”


Another Forest school, St. John’s Church of England primary in Coleford, has just been placed in special measures. Significantly the Ofsted report said that “Since converting to an academy in 2012 leaders have received little scrutiny or challenge.” There were low expectations and a failure to inspire. However, pupils’ personal development and welfare was praised. We wish St. John’s well for the future.


EDUCATION MATTERS: Dean Academy still seeking new Head & HEALTHWATCH

In R.Richardson on May 5, 2016 at 12:37 pm

In our last issue, we highlighted the woes that had befallen the Dean Academy in Lydney. A new permanent Head was being sought, and interviews took place in February.

But judging from the school’s website no appointment has yet been made. It is still hoped that the new Head will begin the new school year in September, with the present acting head, John Barrett, staying on as part-time adviser. The website outlines the post-Ofsted action plan that has been put in place to lift the school out of “special measures” which is already being acted on. Ofsted will no doubt be visiting in the not-too-distant future, to judge whether the action plan has been effective.


Speaking of Ofsted, its chief, Michael Wilshaw has been commenting on the “brain drain” of teachers to work abroad. He is seeking ways to persuade at least newly-qualified teachers to spend two or three years teaching here. But Ben Culverhouse, a junior school teacher from Somerset, writing in the Guardian, believes Michael Wilshaw is part of the problem. Michael Gove, when Minister for Education, instructed Wilshaw to “raise standards”. Ofsted “suddenly got nasty”. Good schools were deemed to be coasting and any weakness in a school was ruthlessly exploited.


This policy, of course, went hand-in-hand with the Gove/Cameron objective of academisation.

Any school judged inadequate could be forced into becoming an academy. The belief in the efficacy of a “could do better” approach to teachers and schools is epitomised by a reported remark to the Guardian by Wilshaw in 2012: “If anyone says to you that staff morale is at an all-time low, you know you are doing something right.” Unbelievable! No wonder teachers are leaving in droves. And pupil numbers are set to rise by one million by 2022.


Tim Paramour, a deputy head in a London primary school (pictured above), wrote a blog which outlines his reasons for leaving teaching at the end of this school year after twelve years in the profession. He writes that unless teachers want to get their Head the sack they have to teach to a series of dull, uninspiring tests. “Got a passion for music? Primary teaching is not for you!” He wrote. “Want to inspire children with drama? Go hug a tree, you Corbyn-loving hippie. Teachers want trust, respect and the right to exercise their own professional judgement.”

In our last issue, we highlighted the woes that had befallen the Dean Academy in Lydney. A new permanent Head was being sought, and interviews took place in February.

But judging from the school’s website no appointment has yet been made. It is still hoped that the new Head will begin the new school year in September, with the present acting head, John Barrett, staying on as part-time adviser. The website outlines the post-Ofsted action plan that has been put in place to lift the school out of “special measures” which is already being acted on. Ofsted will no doubt be visiting in the not-too-distant future, to judge whether the action plan has been effective.

Apart from a general teacher shortage, there are shortages in particular areas. 73 per cent of Heads say that they are having to resort to putting teachers not trained in the subject in front of classes. Maths, with 78 per cent of schools using non-specialist teachers, and Science (75 per cent) are the most worrying, and languages (33 per cent) are also having problems.

One of the side-effects of the emphasis on exam results was high-lighted by “Secret Teacher”, an anonymous contributor to the Guardian. She writes of how the A Level and GCSE groups are assigned specialist teachers whilst the others often have non-specialists or long term supply teachers. Key Stage Three (the first years at Secondary School) are the ones who lose out. “If your performance is judged completely on exam groups and you’re creaking under the strain of an unsustainable workload of 60-plus hours a week, you’re going to cut corners, and it’s going to be in Key Stage Three,” writes “Secret Teacher”.


It seems that our own MP, Mark Harper, is all in favour of tests. Previous expectations have been too low, he wrote recently in the Forester. He approves of the new tests this year for Key Stages One and Two (incidentally Key Stage One tests were abolished around 2000 but are now being brought back). Harper thinks it essential that schools are “held to account” for their pupils’ performance – and that they will be required to publish results. Testing and more testing Mark Harper thinks is bound to raise standards so that “the next generation have the skills they need to succeed in today’s competitive global market.


It was George Osborne’s budget that dropped an unexpected bombshell. We were told, abruptly, that all schools in England should become academies by 2020 – a change that will affect 15,000 schools. Teachers’ organisations were all but unanimous in opposing these plans – and Jeremy Corbyn, speaking at the annual NUT conference roundly condemned the pan as “an ideological attack on teachers and on local and parental accountability.” He received a standing ovation. Meanwhile, education minister, Nicky Morgan, floundered against a hostile audience in the Commons.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that as Wales and Scotland have control over their own education, their schools will remain firmly under the direction of local authorities.

HEALTH WATCH: Under-funded NHS trusts denied funding

The majority of England’s NHS trusts are in deficit, with no way to claw their way back without making drastic cuts. Yet the Health Minister Jeremy Hunt has denied them the means to get back on even keel without cutting NHS services and front line jobs.

According to recent figures, deficits continue to rise with 130 out of 150 trusts in the red, and the number is rising. Barts, in London, heads the list with a deficit of £134 million.

Meanwhile any share of the £1.5 billion “transformation fund” for 2016-2017 are to be denied them.


Hunt has demanded that trusts “balance the books without compromising patient care” if they’re to get any of the much-needed cash injection. In other words, if you really need the money you can’t have any.

Meanwhile, guidance from the NHS regulator “Monitor” has urged those trusts in deficit to agree action that would include “headcount reduction”. In other words, by sacking staff. How this is compatible with Hunt’s drive to recruit more doctors and to bring in 24-hour cover to hospitals is not explained.

Dr. John Lister, who produces the website Health Emergency writes in response: “Five years of frozen funding under David Cameron’s governments have reduced the NHS to a cash-strapped shadow of the service the Tories inherited when they took office in 2010 …. But the latest call for trusts to balance the books by culling staff is a sure-fire recipe for growing waiting lists, waiting times, trolley waits and all the misery some of us remember from the grim Thatcher years in the late 1980s.”


Meanwhile, campaigns in defence of our Health Service and those who work in the NHS continue. In many parts of the country there have been marches in support of the junior doctors who have faced a “take it or leave it” ultimatum from Jeremy Hunt in his insistence on imposing new hours and conditions.

Other demonstrations have focused on declining conditions in hospitals – including those in Gloucestershire. In March campaigners from across the county rallied in a march through Cheltenham in support of junior doctors and to protest against the lack of adequate funding for the NHS generally. Protesters also showed their support for the doctors outside the Gloucester Royal.


As we go to press the junior doctors have given notice that they intend to accelerate their campaign against the new conditions being imposed on them by Health Minister Jeremy Hunt.

Further strike action will take place on April 26 and 27 – and on this occasion there will be no emergency cover provided. So what has provoked this hardening of attitude amongst the doctors?

It can be summed up in two words. Jeremy Hunt. It was his decision to break off negotiations and impose a deal willy nilly that in its present form is unacceptable to the doctors involved.

Hunt’s response was to declare that “the matter is closed.” The BMA spokesman for the junior doctors responded by saying that “The Government will bear full responsibility for the first full walkout of doctors in this country.

He went on to point out that the biggest barrier to seven-day cover is “a chronic lack of investment and a shortage of staff.”

And with the intransigence of the Tory Government, this is likely to get worse rather than better.


A NEW VOICE FOR MONMOUTH: An Interview with Labour Candidate Catherine Fookes

In T. Chinnick on February 12, 2016 at 1:56 pm


Labour AM Candidate for the Monmouth Constituency Catherine Fookes.

In September of last year Monmouth Constituency Labour Party selected Catherine Fookes to fight the seat in the Welsh Assembly elections next year.

Born in Dorset in a small village near Blandford, Catherine grew up on a farm before moving to London and then Bristol. But it was only after marrying her Catalan husband 15 years ago that they decided to move to the countryside and raise a family. “We craved space and a great environment for our kids to grow up in.” She says and so they decided on Monmouthshire.

She currently works as a freelance food campaigner for the Organic Trade Board and ‘Sustain’, promoting organic food. She previously worked for the Soil Association campaigning against GM and with the Pesticides Action Network to raise awareness about the hazards of pesticide residues on food. Her work in this area has lead to changes in Government policy.

I spoke to Catherine about her life, politics and issues of concern to Clarion readers.

When and why did you join the Labour party?

“I joined two years ago as until that point I was pretty disillusioned with politics in general. I also used to sit on a Government Committee and political party membership at that time was not permitted.

I felt following the recession that instead of those who caused the crisis – the bankers and financial institutions – being punished those on low incomes were being punished instead. It made me incredibly angry and once I realised that debating on twitter, writing letters to the papers and shouting at the TV wasn’t making a difference I felt it was time to get active in my local Labour party.”

What had been your political engagement prior to that?

“Part of my work in the 90’s was lobbying parliament on environmental and food issues including getting better support for organic producers. I also went on the Stop the War demonstrations. That’s another reason I didn’t join the Labour party earlier. I have also been a school Governor and active in the community – for example setting up a food co-op. I view those things as political with a small “p.” I’ve always been active – when I see a problem I try to solve it.”

It’s fair to say that Catherine didn’t expect to win. Standing against Monmouth’s three time former MP Huw Edwards her success can largely be attributed to the energy and determination with which she campaigned

“I worked very hard to win and I called up every single Labour Party member who had a telephone number and wrote to those that didn’t. However I knew I was up against a person who has a lot more experience than me and has a proven political track record, so I have to say I was surprised I won. I think what people like is I have new ideas, new energy and I’m not steeped in politics so I can relate to ordinary people.”

This energy and dedication is in sharp contrast to her Conservative opponent Nick Ramsay who, amongst other things has fallen asleep in public meetings and claimed for a flat in Cardiff despite only living 40 minutes away. Monmouth is blighted by being represented by two Conservatives: Ramsay in Cardiff Bay and David Davies in Westminster. (Not to mention a Conservative County Council). But whereas Davies is never shy about his views, some of which are very extreme, what exactly does Ramsay stand for?

“I am not sure what Nick Ramsay stands for as we don’t hear about his political beliefs in the way we do with Davies. With David Davies we know he’s anti–EU, anti-immigration and you could say anti-environment with his views on climate change, but Nick Ramsay keeps his views close to his chest which is strange for an Assembly Member.”

But not being as outspoken as Davies doesn’t mean he isn’t a conscientious AM – what’s he done for the Monmouth Constituency?

“Apart from writing letters to Ministers I am not entirely sure what he’s done for the constituency – I’ve asked many local groups and charities and have not heard of a single campaign he’s championed. I believe he’s become complacent and he does nothing of any consequence for the constituency. We deserve better.”

But for all her evident qualities Catherine faces an uphill struggle to get elected. Monmouth Labour has never won an Assembly election before, in a Conservative leaning constituency and with an incumbent Welsh Labour Government what chance is there that they will this time around?

“I think people are fed up with the Conservatives locally so we have a great chance. The Tory led council has resulted in our education system in Monmouthshire being in Special Measures*; our Tory AM is invisible and our Tory MP really shocked people this summer with his nasty comments on refugees. So I think we have a great chance.”

You mention the fact that Monmouthshire is in special measures, how will you make sure it improves?*

“As I’m a school governor** and also a Mum I can see at first hand the effects of our Tory Led councils cuts on education. Head Teachers and staff are facing real challenges keeping their schools going. I want to work with them to ensure they have the resources they need.

None of our secondary schools are designated ‘green’ by Ofsted and given the prosperity of the region they really should be. Local schools were also found to be failing children on free school meals. There is a huge gap between them and other children. The County Council (MCC) have been complacent and haven’t really pushed schools enough. I would put pressure on the MCC to get the standards up.”

Jeremy Corbyn (JC) has talked about wanting to narrow the “red water” between Westminster and Cardiff Bay. What could he and English Labour learn from the Government in Wales?

“We’re not just slashing and burning like the Tories, we’re targeting investment. What JC and English Labour could learn from us is how to target effectively like in Jobs Growth Wales which has created 15,000 jobs – so while we’ve got less money we’re still investing in our economy.

Our school system is better because it’s non-selective and we’re not creating academies, which is creating a two-tier system in England.

We’ve also reduced tuition fees for Welsh students regardless of where they’re studying, introduced the Domestic Violence Act, not to mention introducing free school breakfasts, prescriptions and bus passes. So we have achieved so much but we need to get the message across.”

Nick Ramsay, David Davies, Mark Harper and the Prime Minister have all attacked the Welsh NHS. Ambulance response times, cancer care and waiting times in A&E are all worse than in England – are Tory criticisms justified or is it just cynical fear-mongering?

“Comparing England and Wales directly is an over-simplification. Our population is far more dispersed and we’re a poorer country. Part of it is scare-mongering – some of our waiting times are too long, doctors and the health board are desperately trying to get them down but using the NHS as a political football isn’t helpful. But we’ve protected the NHS by having fewer PFI contracts and increased funding – we spend £120 more per head on health and social care than in England.

One of the things that my meeting with local health experts made clear to me is that we have a fixation on targets – but we can’t allow targets to become an end in themselves. We have an 8 minute response time target for ambulances. If someone breaks their leg it’s not important that an ambulance arrives in under 8 minutes but if someone suffers a heart attack then we need the ambulance to be there as soon as possible. It’s about prioritising.

We have a GP and nurse shortage in the Monmouth constituency – we’re recruiting nurses from overseas which is a real shame when we have unemployment in our area. We need to make sure careers advice includes what public service jobs are out there, especially in the Aneurin Bevan Health Board because there are probably brilliant school leavers who could fulfill some of these roles but they need to know the jobs are there.

Co-operation between public services and local schools is a very simple idea but it doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment.”

Do you oppose fracking in the Forest of Dean?

“I do. It’s just another sticking plaster, another investment in fossil fuels when we need to be moving toward renewables. And it’s another example of where the WLG has lead the way.” (The Welsh Government has introduced a moratorium on Fracking).

What can Forest Of Dean residents do to help your campaign?

“Write letters of support to the press, talk about why they support Labour to their friends. But most of all we need people to come and campaign with us!”

If you want to help get Catherine elected please contact Su McConnel on 07817076232 or at

*MCC has been taken out of special measures since this interview was conducted.
** The Governing Body of Cross Ash School of which Catherine is a member has recently won ‘the Quality Mark Bronze Award’.

LEFT INSIDE: welcome home. Time to leave.

In C.Spiby on October 6, 2015 at 2:03 pm

by Carl Spiby

After the defeat of Ed Miliband’s One Nation view of socialism under Labour, and despite a very progressive local manifesto (I should know, I lead the Manifesto Drafting Group who authored it, and it included all the things we so desperately need right now: a strong anti-fracking, anti-cuts and pro-public Forest stance), who would have thought that Labour would come back to its natural home?

The success of Jeremy Corbyn shows, to me, just how out of touch the Parliamentary Labour Party was with its own grass-roots membership.

But, while supporting Tom Watson as Deputy, Forest of Dean CLP actually voted to back Andy Burnham for leader.  And now there are rumours afoot within the CLP that Corbyn’s success and the left is tearing the local branch apart. But they’re just rumours. What I’ve seen is a fractured bureaucratic CLP Exec concerned more with rules and in-fighting than changing lives and building socialism, whichever brand you support.

And that’s why this will be my last ‘Left Inside’ column for the Clarion.

The Executive Committee, in my experience, despite its aims and objectives turns out to be an inadvertent vehicle for losing members and quelling activism.

On social media I touted the idea of a Red Labour campaigning group, but there just isn’t the support for that locally. Nationally, however, new members joined in their thousands following Corbyn’s success, but locally they’ll be (rightly) directed to the CLP first. But our CLP is, to me, little more than an extension of the District Council Labour Group, not an independent campaigning and organising committee for the success of the next Labour MP in the Dean, working to win a socialist sitting in Parliament for the Dean among other socialists in a majority Labour government.

Besides, in the meantime, we need to build support for the Dean anti-fracking campaign. Then there’s TTIP. Instead our CLP is bent on a long-running internal investigation on the appropriate use of members’ e-mail lists. A process so painful that even the incumbent acting Secretary won’t be seeking re-election in that role, after only a matter of months in the post.

As Agent for Steve Parry-Hearn (your Labour candidate in the last General Election), I continue to meet with Steve and his Campaign Manager, the hard-working Roger Gilson. All three of us welcomed Corbyn’s success. But I for one don’t feel that our current CLP is the vehicle to locally show that support let alone build on it. I will vote and continue to support Corbyn’s Labour but I no longer feel I am the ‘left inside’ in the local LP. Hopefully there are others, new faces which will re-purpose the CLP Executive.

For me, for now, thanks for the ride.

C. Spiby is a member of Forest of Dean Constituency Labour Party and was on its Executive Committee. He was nominated the lead in the 2015 General Election FoD Labour Party manifesto drafting group for the District Council (which we also laid out our Parliamentary Candidate’s priorities) and was Social Media Officer for the CLP on the Executive, and finally the Electoral Agent for our Parliamentary Candidate. He remains a Labour party member but has resigned from the local CLP Executive and handed over Social Media duties for FoD CLP.


REVIEW: What’s important to us – “Get it together”, by Zoe Williams.

In S. Richardson on June 25, 2015 at 12:12 pm


Zoe Williams, a Guardian journalist, has written an interesting new book on current affairs. Its launch was timed to coincide with the run-up to the recent General Election, but it remains relevant in this era of a continued Tory administration.

The book is in the form of a collection of essays about social issues such as housing, education and health. The title given to each chapter is in the form of a controversial question – such as, “Was your education bog standard?” Her prose style is accessible and readable and she gives examples from personal experience. She reminds us that it is up to all of us to decide what we put a value on. For example, it is wrong that people who work with the very young (i.e. childminders) and the very old (health care assistants) are frequently paid less than the minimum wage. Are we saying that pensioners and under-fives are not important?


I was lucky enough to hear the author speak recently at a “Q and A” session at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, London. She was lively and informed with strong personal politics. She was asked what in the book she felt most strongly about. She said that an area that she was particularly shocked about was the privatisation of children’s services and its implication for Child Protection.

She explained that in the past, Local Authorities were responsible for their own children’s homes. Now many of these have been sold off and run by private companies. When children are taken into care they could be sent hundreds of miles away from their school, community, friends and extended family. This made them more vulnerable and, she argued, made scandals such as the Rotherham child abuse ring more likely to happen with children left isolated from support.


In the final chapter, Williams argues that we need to get involved to change things, be this in a political party, trades union or single issue campaign. She reminds us that collective action is more likely to succeed and less likely to lead to demoralisation of the campaigner. “Do something” seems a good watchword to hold on to when things are as bleak as they are at the moment.

Don’t give up, find the thing you care most about and join a campaign group to support it.



“Get It Together”, by Zoe Williams, is published by Hutchinson; 2015, at £14.99.