Monday, 30 June 2014

Moving Forward (and Back)

It's time to move long again Gentle Reader, to pastures new. I've been using BlogSpot for many years, here and at my previous blog - Mike's Blog.

Well, I've decided to jump ship and give Wordpress a try. At the same time it allows me to resurrect Mike's Blog and make a clean break rather than trying to do the same-but-different at another site. Also, I get a helluva lot of spam/unsolicited marketing messages and I need to turn off the tap.

So, from now on I'll be blogging at where Mike's Blog will be continuing in a new form. I hope you'll like it.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

The tale of Miss R

I don't really know Miss R; in fact I couldn't really pick her out of a police line-up. Still, as Miss R couldn't really pick Miss R out of a police line-up I don't suppose it matters. What matters is Miss R is 81 years old, has severe memory problems and dementia, no family, no money, and as of now nowhere to live.

I have the privilege of serving on the management committee of a residential care home for the elderly. It's not a nursing home - it doesn't (or shouldn't) provide medical care. It's a charity set up after the War to look after the old who had lost everything and everyone in the Blitz. 70 years later and the old are much older than they were, and their attendant health problems have certainly not gone away. Dementia care and palliative care are very much the order of the day even for non-medical care settings.

The care home is in Wandsworth (a part of south west London). Because in Britain healthcare is free but social care is means tested the care home charges the princely sum of £640 per week per resident funded partly by the county the resident is/was from and partly from their own money as determined by some fiendishly incomprehensible formula derived by a bureaucrat who was Not Having A Good Day that day.

Miss R has a happy enough life with the care home. She has her friends, and a wonderful care worker who has been by her side for five years and despite the dementia has built a real bond with her. Miss R has even made friends with one of the innumerable cats who hang around too.

The problem is Miss R isn't from Wandsworth. she is from Westminster. And Westminster won't pay. Can pay - one of the wealthiest parts of London. Just won't.

After five years with us they have built up a deficit of several thousand pounds, and not unreasonably the care home is seeking to avoid the situation worsening by getting Westminster to pay the home's full fees. It's really tough for us to stick to our guns on this because we deeply care for the person, far more than any other part of the system. However, as a charity there is a real risk we won't be able to afford the care and accommodation the residents deserve if we can't get organisations that fund us to pay up.

So, in theory Westminster has to pay up or she goes. Problem is we're very likely to blink first as we are mindful of the person not the paperwork.

Westminster itself is quite insistent that the care home must do more to 'control its costs' but I find that argument a problem for two and a half reasons. Firstly, I do feel we provide incredible value for money - it is about the quality that we provide and the continuity of care that is in Miss R's best interests. Secondly, partly in response to serious and significant cuts to local authorities' funding to help manage the Government's yawning budget deficit, costs have been pushed down hill. Miss R has complex and intractable care needs that are not best met outside a nursing-care environment. Yet increasingly the threshold for more intensive (cf. expensive) care seems much higher than it ought to be. Finally, though, in the back of my mind is the thought that if Westminster were exercising appropriate control then Miss R would have been given care in the place she came from, and they would not have needed to rely on our good offices in the first place.

Well, I've often written that no good deed goes unpunished. Doesn't means we shouldn't do it, however, so we'll write our letters and argue back but overall it's pretty good to write that Miss R is safe and will be so for the rest of her life. We know what the real victory here is - and it is such a pity the powers that be don't.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Who else but UKIP?

Do you watch Family Guy, Gentle Reader? Well if you do - and you should, it's great - you know a character called Quagmire who is, putting it mildly, a sex pest. Whenever he does something outrageous a recurring gag is a cutaway that says "who else but Quagmire?"

Well, if you a Britisher then you will almost certainly be aware of a party called UKIP (the UK Independence Party). UKIP, broadly speaking is politically right of the Conservative party, the main right of centre party in the UK, and more toward the British National Party (BNP), an openly nationalist very right  wing, traditionally very racist and homophobic party. The BNP, UKIP and others like the English Defence League have historically been consigned to the lunatic fringes of British politics. However, UKIP has emerged over the last few years to become something verging on entering the political establishment.

How and why? Well, the Conservatives have been inching leftward over the last few years - equal marriage for the gays is an example of this; another is subsidies for renewable energy. All the mainstream parties have been doing this. Thus there is a bit of room on the right hand side of the normal range of politics. A bit of room that asks, and this is UKIP's totem, should Britain be in the European Union? Are there too many immigrants coming into the country? So UKIP has its traditional followers and is picking up traditional Conservative party voters who have been left behind by the party moving ground.

This apparent electability is a problem because unfortunately UKIP is beset by scandal. Time and time again its candidates for election, and not a small number of the local councillors it has had (many of whom defected from the Conservatives) have come up with bizarre, even irrational views. That 'gay marriage' caused recent severe flooding. That Muslims should be forced to sign up to a special code of conduct. That the developing world is "bongo bongo land".

Or even:
Charming. You can read a much more succinct and captivating article about UKIP than I could ever write here:

Well, I've reached a point where I feel like "... who else but UKIP?" when a scandal comes along.

The UKIP leader, Nigel Farage complains none of the other parties get this kind of focus. Maybe so, but it is clear UKIP has not got fit for purpose vetting procedures for its candidates and is thoroughly unable to keep them on message; or alternatively many more people in its party machine agree with those views. In addition, as an 'anti-establishment' party that says the mainstream parties have sold Britain out and politicians should de better,  the expectation it can get its act together and that it can behave in a way that sets it above its competition. As The Spectator put it "scandals are so frequent you have to conclude that it is not the rotten apple that needs throwing out but the whole stinking barrel."

Still, scandal after scandal and little changes. It's time to face the fact that UKIP is a bit Teflon at the moment and the truly odd and upsetting things some people linked to it have done won't harm it very much.

So what will? Well, fearful of conferring legitimacy on the party the mainstreams seems not to be fighting back on their policies. We should. People should be told about how UKIP policies would affect them.

Let's tackle them with some simple questions or reminders about Britain's membership of the EU for anyone thinking of voting UKIP:

  • Do you ever travel to Europe? do you like doing a booze cruise to Calais or soaking up the sun in Spain? Think that will be as easy if you're not in the club?
  • Are you in favour of animal testing? It's EU legislation that banned it. And most forms of factory farming e.g. for chickens and pigs too.
  • Do you remember all the furore about the sharing of medical records recently? The Data Protection Act came from a EU directive.
  • Ever been made redundant or had your job transferred under TUPE? EU protections again.
  • Oh, and the guarantee on your electronics, the rules around getting compensation for a delayed flight, the cap on mobile phone charges: consumer protection generally: EU again.
  • Rules against advertising cigarettes to children. Will you keep them?
  • Clear food labelling so you know what you're eating... pesky eurocrats again, or something worthwhile?
Yes, ask UKIP why it wants to make your holidays more expensive, your job less safe, your information less secure. They want to make it easier for you to be ripped off. They even want to harm fluffy animals! And... for what? Seriously, what will UKIP do for you? Conversely if they don't want to do those things, what's the point of UKIP??

I often put a Quote Of The Day on my Twitter feed - here's one I got from the reader comments on the Pink News Article that I found the 'poofter' quote, above.

"If I had a pound for every time Nigel Farage said he'd "never heard" of a candidate accused of homophobic/racist/transphobic/sexist comments, I probably could have single-handedly bailed out the British economy and had a bit left over to build a Death Star. Plausibility only lasts as long at it's plausible"

NB on the grounds of strict fairness the UKIP website is here.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Diet reimagined

Embarrassing though it is I have to admit I've gone rather wide of the mark with my diet. To be fair I lost a fair bit and have kept it off, but the truth is I'm still rather chunkier than I ought to be.

January's success was largely down to it being dry. It's not just the excess calories alcohol contains, but the fact that my willpower is soluble.

February and March were quite busy, so it was very difficult to go to the gym. Going to the gym doesn't in itself mean I lose a lot of extra weight but it helps keep the metabolism going so I have found it is rather essential. April was more of the same.

Unfortunately my concerns about my weight are compelling me to avoid social gatherings. I'll be sociable when I'm thin! So the sooner that happens the better.

I've therefore decided to reboot the diet and start again for May.

I'm not going to go on some kind of crash diet; but I am going to take tips of a dietician colleague of mine to help me on my way. For example, she suggested using a dessert plate rather than a dinner plate for meals, as portion control is a issue for dieters. I've also promised myself that if I don't get my arse in gear and actually use the gym properly I'll give up my gym membership.

Also, I've had a little epiphany and thought about how to make dieting a bit more fun. Well, interesting really.

When things seem a bit of a trial, and they often will for anything with an element of delayed gratification (especially for me) then there is always that wonderful old trick of reinvention. That means if one strategy wears a bit thin, trying something else. Fortunately, that is where this blog can come in. My old blog was about my search for Mr Right - this one can help in the search for Mr Thin!

It is positive that I've not given up, even if progress has slowed. So, onwards!!

Monday, 7 April 2014

A hard year

Yet again it has been a month since I last posted, so I'm only doing about a quarter of the writing I'm aiming for. Well, the reasons for it are plain enough. Clearly 2014 is shaping up to be a bit of a hard slog.

I'm not afraid of hard work, and goodness knows it's all in a good cause. I just hope the expectation - that this year of hard work will mean less work next year, and the year after... - is a reasonably achievable one.

Yet again this is mostly my own fault. I have chosen to work with a couple of charities, and as in particular I'm on the fund raising committee for one of them I am doing a lot of leg-work in that area. It's enjoyable and I'm learning (and developing) a lot. But it's amazing how easy it is to fall behind with the reading and keeping the momentum going on projects. For example, to help with fundraising bids in the future I'm leading on developing and rolling out a research project on how effective the charity has been helping its clients. I love being able to capitalise on the skills I learned doing my research degree, but it's not a small thing to do.

Also work-work is busy. I'm in the middle of running elections to our Board and have just delivered a project for my employer, which is as many of you know a NHS body, to become an "accredited safe haven". What that actually means is complex but it required achieving 100% against a framework requiring some 200 pieces of evidence. I was highly doubtful we had the capability to achieve this, and was playing a political game of managing expectations for some time, but no - we did it!

Now that the organisation has been around for a year and things are ticking over it will be interesting to see how the workload goes. I spent a lot of time trying to get the culture and ethics right and I've succeeded in the sense that people are thinking of the things I want them to think about when investing in healthcare services (e.g. the patient!) but in a sense it is a pyrrhic victory in that I have to be a lot more involved in every piece of work. On the plus side I have the extraordinary privilege of  working directly with patients and front line staff so I have the opportunity of subtly shifting the culture I my local area so everyone shapes and hears the same message at the same time.  

Outside of this I'm starting to look for my next career move. For the first time it's as much about the money as anything else. A bigger pay-cheque helps smooth the way for our long-advertised house buy toward the end of this year. Until then it's hard work, hard job hunting and hard saving; early half of what I take home now is put aside for that time.

Next week we are on a holiday with some friends - a canal boat in Oxfordshire and the midlands for a week. It will be nice to have the break before plunging back into the thick of it.

Here's to 2014.