Sunday, 14 October 2018

The cliff

Hospitals have things in common with prisons and it's not just the Serco 'food'. There's also the attention to numbers – the counting of days. One difference. A prisoner can mark off the days to his/her release, but here there is no end date so I count forward – today 25 days completed . Of course any other comparisons end there. Prisons are places for containment and punishment. Oh and of course now profit. I read that Serco are to be given the power of arrest soon! But there is one other comparison – the slow passing of time which allows for reflection and thought. And time to write these blogs. One of my first questions to visitors is to ask about the weather. It's hard to tell from the inside of these frosted windows. Yesterday was apparently very warm for mid-October and I was told it was 'too warm', 'unusual weather' and so on. Here I am outside these experiences, looking out at them, but not a part of. And this curious situation brings me to another 'reflection'. More than ever before this hospital stay has made me acutely aware that I am observing something quite troubling out there. The advance of barbarism. Brought close to me courtesy of Serco of course, but also in the comments and conversation from my visitors. Yesterday a friend telling me she was heading off from here to Notting Hill for a Grenfell march and that the surrounds of the massacred building are full of toxins, as found at Ground Zero in NYC. Other topics passing through my hospital room range from the impending struggle over the decline in social security payments to the twelve, or is it thirteen, years we have left to save our world from global warming. And have you heard that the 1% who are responsible for this are buying up property in New Zealand? I am sure you have your own concerns which you can add to this list. So now to this train and the cliff. I was once a member of the International Socialists – today's SWP. In my time I have been an anarchist, Trotskyist, syndicalist, nihilist and today's desperatist. Anyway, their leading cadre was Yigael Gluckstein, an Israeli revolutionary who changed his name to Tony Cliff. He would often open his talks with this. “Comrades, we are all on the same train. The rich are eating caviar and sipping champagne in the restaurant car. The middle class are asleep in their couchettes. The working class are crammed into the corridors. But we are all on the same train. And it is heading to barbarism.” I used to think his view was extreme. Surely we had plenty of time to stop the train. Today I think he was thinking along the right tracks. Visit me, tell me about the weather and let me know what you think. Help me pass the time as we head towards that cliff.

Friday, 12 October 2018

In The Living Years

After three weeks in hospital and with the likelihood of at least the same again I have plenty of time in the company of my own thoughts. Plenty of time to observe the goings on in my ward and the lives of other patients. There are some here who are having a much worse time of it than me, medically and personally. I feel for those who do not have family or friends to visit them. The patient whose wife is disabled and housebound for example. Those without friends or whose family and friends live far away. I am lucky. My wife is, for the third time in almost as many years, my life-saving presence and working hard to challenge my weight-loss with her supply of burittos. She is there on ward rounds to ask the questions I never thought to ask. Waits with me while I have the endless checks and scans. Then my visitors. My family and friends who cheer me up and supply me with foods, drinks and other treats. Books of course. I start reading one when my attention is distracted by the next arrival. Of course pride of place, an ex-neighbour's collection of her poems which nearly rolled me onto the floor in laughter. Then those who give me distance healing and their prayers. My son who put together a music programme for me. My Bosnian 'son' who suggests music to get better with. Finally the staff here whose care and humour I have already written about. And not allowed to escape without mention. The Barts nurse, now working here in research, who became a friend when I was here for the operation in February and who regularly visits me and answers the questions I still need answers to! I am not going to claim all is perfect in my life. There are those once close to me who remain distant. This song says it all and is dedicated to all those in this and other hospitals who have or are experiencing sadness and loss

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

NHS Pirates, reposted. SERCO is only part of our problem

Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community” Aneurin Bevan 

Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wicked of men will do the most wicked of things for the greatest good of everyone.” JM Keynes

Virgin Care leads the way in negating the founding principles of the NHS whilst claiming to promote the greatest good. So I will start with them.
Over the past seven years they have been awarded NHS contracts worth over £2 billion. By this year, they were running over 400 NHS services. 
Virgin Care has two arms to its business in the NHS: primary care services, including GP services and community-based NHS services.
In January 2018 Virgin Care Private was launched, opening its first health and wellbeing centre in Birmingham.This centre provides GP services, specialist consultations, diagnostics and tests on a pay-as-you-go service.
The company targets large contracts containing numerous services in the area of community health and social care. Since 2012 they have won these contracts in over seven UK regions.
When Virgin Care has failed to win contacts it has resorted to legal action. The full amount paid to date to Virgin by you and me as taxpayers could be as high as £2.6 million.
Labour MP Paula Sherriff, revealed that when she worked for Virgin Care the company insisted on “extra consultations before surgery, boosting their profits at the expense of the taxpayer and patient safety”.
The parent company, Virgin Group Holdings Ltd, is registered in the British Virgin Islands. Richard Branson and his family hold a £2.7 billion stake in this offshore, tax-free, tax-haven company.
Virgin is just the tip of the scalpel.
NHS Support Federation, reveals that profit-driven companies such as Bupa, Virgin Care and Care UK have in the last four years won more than 130 NHS service contracts worth £2.6bn to provide NHS services. Dr Mark Porter, of the British Medical Association, said: “These figures show the extent of privatisation in the NHS following the pushing through of the Health and Social Care Act. An act that the government denied loud and long would lead to privatisation, has done exactly that. Enforcing competition has not only fragmented services and compromised the delivery of high-quality care, but it is also diverting vital funding away from frontline services to costly, complicated tendering processes, highlighting just how counterproductive the reorganisation has been.”
At the beginning of 2017 private-sector companies had been invited to bid for 14% more NHS contracts than a year previously. According to the Department of Health accounts, the private sector delivered a total of £8.7bn of NHS services for 2015/16, or around 7.6 per cent of the total NHS budget. These figures exclude GP services, dentistry and community pharmacy.
David Hare, chief executive of the Partners Network, which represents private sector providers, has said there was a slow “evolutionary trajectory” of greater private sector involvement in the NHS.

So who, alongside Richard Branson and his family, are a part of this trajectory? These are the 'privateers' I have discovered. There are others. 32 to date and counting.
Alliance / Lodestone - Diagnostics for the NHS and independent sector
BDO - Commissioning services for the NHS
BMI - You can now choose to have your NHS treatment at a BMI Healthcare hospital
BUPA - The biggest private healthcare company which takes your money and then depends on the NHS to carry out expensive treatments.
Capio - Free family practice services if registered with them.
Capita - IT, patient engagement, HR, payroll, commissioning services.
Cap Gemine – NHS programme management and technical expertise.
Care UK - Day care and homes for elderly. GP services, diagnostics, treatment centres, mental health services learning disability services.
Centene - IT, digital technologies for NHS.
Circle UK - Large community care contracts and is the first private company to run an NHS hospital – Hinchingbrooke in Cambridgeshire.
Classic Care - homecare services.
Diaverum UK Ltd - kidney services in partnership with the NHS.
Exel Europe Ltd - consumer procurables acquired for NHS.
Facilities First LLP - pathology services to NHS Foundation Trusts.
Gemini - IT support for NHS
General Healthcare - a private specialist in fertility treatment.
HCA International - Through US companies Tenet Healthcare and Aspen Healthcare provide “opportunities to work with and support the NHS.
IBM - Electronic staff records services to NHS, payroll, pensions and other human resources functions.
InHealth Group - diagnostics for NHS throughout the UK.
McKesson - IT support
Mouchel - Commissioning services.
Nector Primecare - Home care, care homes, mental health services, children’s services, out-of-hours, dentistry and primary care.
Netcare - Clinics set up iby South African company, which works under contract to the NHS.
Optimum - part of of US United Health Group which works with the NHS to provide services such as contract negotiations and medication management.
Partnership in Care – Working with NHS as provider of secure mental health facilities across the UK. Working with the NHS.
Pathology First LLP - pathology services to NHS Foundation Trusts.
The Practice - 75% owned by US company Centene, providing primary care services and specialist clinical services to GPs.
Priory Group - Provider of acute mental health care, complex care and neuro-rehabilitation services, fostering and care homes.
Ramsay UK - 22 hospitals in the UK delivering both private treatment and care under contract to the NHS 

Serco with an annual turnover in excess of £3 bn, it operates prisons and immigration detention centres, provides support to the military and manages healthcare facilities.

Spite Classic - Second largest private healthcare hospital group in the UK with 37 hospitals; NHS admissions accounting for 25% of its business.
Totally PLC - Working with the NHS including physiotherapy, podiatry, dermatology, referral management services and clinical health coaching.
United Health/Optum - Health needs assessment, GP Commissioning, performance & contract management, Medicines management.

An historical note on pirates: Richard Branson has a home on Necker Island, part of the British Virgin Isles. In the 17th century these islands were a centre of piracy. Yes I know peg-legged, one-eyed, walk-the-plank buccaneers. The truth is the 'pirates' were often escaped black slaves who set up a Pirate's Republic in the area. The Jack Sparrow / Jonny Depp characterisation is myth which has become reality in our times with the arrival of the real Jack Sparrow in the form of Richard Branson.

Redemption Song

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Let Them Eat Serco

Now for the dark side of hospitals, creeping – no galloping - privatisation of our NHS and what it means in reality. As I have already reported Serco, 'serves many community services, including hospitals, the military and prisons.' Oh and controls the Flyingdales early warning system in Yorkshire. It also runs Yarls Wood women's immigration detenton centre. The company was referred to the Serious Fraud Office for overcharging the Ministry of Justice for the electronic tagging of prisoners there and in other 'holding' facilities. When the women went on hunger strike in March 2018 their supporters left decaying food on the steps of Serco's London HQ as an act of solidarity.
The company has since struggled to win new work while losing a series of contracts including a deal to manage the Docklands Light Railway in London and run a New Zealand prison amid allegations that staff were running “fight clubs”.
Meanwhile Serco food here at Barts is, well, a mess of mash. I have started chosing sandwiches as an option; today's tuna lunch, shrouded in white chemical bread. It would not cut much into Winston Churchill's grandson and Cerco CEO, Rupert Soames' £850,000 annual salary to use a half-way decent roll.
Serco employees at Barts are excluded from the limited protection of NHS pay agreements and receive less than £10 per hour. Serco should be thrown out of our hospitals and food should, once again, be treated as central to health and getting better. It must not be a means to enrichment for Soames and his wealthy cronies.
Qustion for Serco's CEO. What did you eat for lunch today Mr Soames?

song: Money 

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Here Comes The Sun

I hope that my 'Barts blogs' are a small insight into life as a patient in hospital and into the state of our NHS today. I am trying to avoid writing about my own condition, but hope you will excuse this lapse. It is because I want to talk once again about the importance of music in our lives. My stroke has meant that I am unable to play Deicola Neves guitar that sits sadly by my bedside. Damage to my left hand means that I can't grip the strings to make the chords and individual notes. If I was a professional musician this would be a catastrophe, but for me it is just sad. I came to the guitar late in life, even after spending much of my working life with music and musicians. Firstly with War Child and then at the Pavarotti Music Centre. I was enjoying being the oldest student of Deicola Neves and Dil Sandhu. They and all those at Camden Guitars have become my London Pavarotti Centre. So I will return there, will take more classes, will treat my guitar as central to my recovery. Will, hopefully before long, once again start each day with Autumn Leaves and Here Comes the Sun. Enjoy.

The Willow Box

When Native Americans visit a friend, they symbolically place any troubles they have in a willow box at the door so they don't bring them into another's life. I mention this because hospitals are suprisingly cheerful places if you ignore the illness and suffering that accompany the lives of most patients.

The reason for this is that the people who make up the NHS—the consultants, doctors, nurses, cleaners and caterers—all have their own troubles, but they are experts at leaving them “in the willow box” as they enter the hospital.

There is so much good humor, good will and optimism. And they don't mind being sent up. (See cartoon!) One way I deal with my depression is humour. For example, when a nurse comes to take my blood, I greet her with, 'Good morning, Dracula.' If my temperature's too high, I pretend to bribe them, asking them to probe the other ear.

We all deal with our depression in different ways and we all have mechanisms to combat it. I am fortunate because I have my wife, Anne, who is my rock and my island. I also have other family and many friends who seem to want to visit me. Others are less fortunate and seem to be entirely alone in the middle of their illness and the worries that accompany it. They are entirely dependent on the willow box.