Friday, 30 March 2007

Taking a break

We have just been given a very kind offer that doesn't come evey year! A friend has given me the key to a home in France that is unlet for next week.

Last year when we went on a family holiday to the Alps we caught the night train from Paris - I strongly recommend the whole experience and my 5 year old still counts it as his best ever journey. Sadly the big doc won't be able to get away from clinics to catch the train tomorrow. I've listened to Al Gore and don't want to burn up the planet so we're jumping in the car and driving overnight with the 3 children to the Alps instead. Has anyone got a carbon calculator - are we doing the right thing?

On the way back we will visit relatives in Paris and pick up two extra nieces for a spell in the English countryside before returning them via Eurostar to their French homes. I must go and pack.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Saving the Park



I've written before about saving our country park here. This morning I received a fistful of passionate letters from 9 year olds about how important their park is to them. Today was a big day for its future. We met with over 50 representatives of different organisations - from the National Trust, Natural England, local charities, Wildlife experts, preservation experts, local councils, the Friends etc etc to have a brainstorming on its future. We brainstormed for 4 1/2 hours.

This is not an easy problem. As ever there is not enough money in local government to go around,and local councils tend to have huge bureaucratic problems. However none of us want to close much loved open spaces. I have come away with many questions - but also many useful suggestions. It is also again clear that voluntary organisations are under huge pressures. We have made progress and on a vote the vast majority of those present feel that we will find a solution - but it will be hard work.

The government have just announced that they won't cap councils this year - but only after we all agreed to keep our council tax below 5% rises - the threat still remains for next year. Those Tory run councils with taxes well below the national average but cost demands now nearing national average remain stuck in a budget that doesn't balance .

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Power of a Public Meeting

I have just returned from a packed public meeting about my local road. In a 6 mile stretch of road 21 people have died in 10 years and 4 in the last twelve months. The population of the villages near the road is no more than 4,000. Imagine the press if those deaths had been due to violent murders - not just dangerous driving.

The issue here is that the town at one end of the road and the city at the other have grown dramatically over the past few years. As a Conservative candidate travelling all around the south of England I know that tens of thousands of new houses are being built from Devon to Norfolk without sensible provision for infrastructure and my local road is only one of the symptoms.

Hands are tied by the bureaucracy of negotiations for developer money, by lack of government funds for "less deprived" areas, by the bureaucracy of "policy" that forces all areas to be treated equally rather than local issues taken into consideration.

By attending local meetings, reaching out to the regional and local press I hope I am helping to make sure local issues are heard and will help fast-track bureaucracy.

The government's growth agenda is not making our lives any safer.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Climate Change and danger on the roads

I have just returned from a lecture by Al Gore in Cambridge on Climate Change. For 2 1/2 hours he held the 1,200 strong audience in a flowing explanation of the risks that we face. There is no doubt in my mind that the pollution that we are creating is the single largest danger to my own children's future. Let alone the political insatiability that is already being created by global warming. We were reminded that scientists may be getting it wrong - they are not wrong about the issue - but in trying to be only specific about the risks that they are certain about - they sometimes under play some key tipping points and global warming effects could escalate even more rapidly.

I don't want my children's homes to be six foot underwater by the time they are the age of my mother. We were told that by all making little changes we can make a difference. I had already have changed all my normal light bulbs to the energy savings ones and switched the heating down. I'd love to see solar power and other alternative power become more affordable for everyone.

In the short term though the biggest danger that my children face is every time we put the car on the nearest main road. The A1307 is now known as the "Road of Death" locally. 21 people have died in a 9 mile stretch in 10 years, 4 in separate accidents in the past 6 months. More and more houses are being built without decent infrastructure and that means more cars on the roads. I've been campaigning for sensible improvements for over 2 years. Victim's families tell me to keep the pressure up. We have launched a web survey with my local MP Jim Paice to try to demonstrate public support to reduce the speed limit. I've been on Regional TV (BBC Look East), radio and in the papers. I've taken a motion to my council and encouraged police to think of road safety as an equivalent to safety from other crimes. Tomorrow evening there is a public meeting. More then.

Friday, 23 March 2007

MTAS -From Bad to Worse?

Ive just been sent these comments on the announced changes to the MTAS system - please remember that 12,000 doctors took to the streets last week. The first time in history doctors have had a mass protest march.

Basically they're proposing each applicant gets one interview, of their choice from their original four selections. Everyone it seems will have to pick their 1st preference, even those with more than one interview, as the shortlisting process has been declared useless.

So everyone will get ONE shot at deciding the rest of their lives - ONE 30 minute interview. All jobs will be filled in round one, there will not be a round 2! So we have 30000 doctors, 22000 jobs, one shot each. I think they may have actually made it worse, I didn't think that was even possible!

The new process also discriminates against those who have already had their interview under the original process, as they will have had no chance to present their CV and the interviews will not be repeated.


Clearly doctors are reassessing tonight what the "review" means but if this analysis is true then the situation really is worse than before .... and I thought I should report it.

p.s. Remedy UK report 90% dis-satisfaction with the review proposals

Thursday, 22 March 2007

NHS Numbers are 300% Wrong


One of my local hospitals has been under the threat of closure with a £30 million financial deficit. I've been supporting the campaign to save this hospital since last September here. Now it appears that it paid the government £19.1 million pounds for "payment by results" when the actual sum should have been only £5.6 million. i.e. the accounts were out by over 300%.

I know that NHS accounts are hopelessly complicated by how, how, how can they be out by over 3 times?

The Government is generously returning £9 million but another £4.5 million is lost for ever into the dark hole of NHS budgets.

The people who suffer are the doctors, nurses and other staff who have lived with the threat of closure for months and ultimately the patients. To cap it all this is being spun as "good news".

Madness of Local Government

I've now been a local councillor for nearly a year - and the more my eyes are opened to the "system" the more I am convinced that everyone in Westminster should be forced to do time in local government.

Housing is a big issue - house prices are rising so fast that many people become desperate. In my ward we have just had a farmer put up a 20ft high wall of straw bales so he could build a 3 bedroom house without planning permission.

At the latest Parish Council meeting, local residents clearly felt this is deeply wrong - but what can be done? The legal process is that the owner must now apply for retrospective planning permission and the application will be judged as if it had never been built. Everyone has to sit back and wait for an independent planning commission.

In the meantime, I am not allowed to say anything. If I express any opinion I could be deemed to be "pre-determined" and would lose my right to vote. Imagine how MPs would feel if they were not allowed to express their views on issues before the day of a vote? At least the newspapers would be lighter.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Tax rip off budget

Like many parents I worry about how my children are ever going to get their foot on the property ladder and what I will leave them when I'm gone.

Like many listeners I was delighted to hear Brown say he was going to raise the inheritance tax allowance from £285,000 to £350,000 by 2010 - until I did the maths.

House prices in the UK are still rising by 10% a year so a house worth £285,000 will be worth £380,000 by 2010 - so yet again the allowances dont keep up with the inflation.

I learnt my maths in Cambridge City. Prices there are rising at 22% a year so the same home would be worth £520,000.

Gordon yet again you have failed to give me much hope for my children.

Whats in your basket?


Inflation has just reached 4.6% a 16 year high - what does this mean for me. I looked at the "basket" of goods that is used to measure inflation and actually, yes, quite a few of those products have been on my own shopping list.

Brocolli and Pro-biotic drinks appear in the basket for the first time - they were both in my fridge.

However there were plenty of things in the Chancellor's basket that my mother would never buy. Hence why older people face a real inflation rate of over 9%. That is really tough as many of them are on fixed incomes.

Fizzy drinks from vending machines and low cost flights have become so popular that they too are in the basket for the first time. I thought these were things Gordon Brown was trying to get us to cut down on.

P.S. the inheritance tax comments from Gordon today were another con. Go here

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Post code con


Today I have renewed my car insurance. I also wanted to tell the insurance companies about the new postcodes that are being thrust upon us because of all the new homes in our area. I was given one quote - then I told the operator our new code - the operator told me the new postcode would cost me an additional £50 on my insurance.

Outraged I told them to leave my postcode unchanged on their records for this year.

I know that insurance companies give different quotes depending on crime and accident data in your area - but I haven't moved, crime and accidents haven't changed, so why am I suddenly a riskier customer? Presumably no bureaucrat has bothered to let insurance companies know the historic data for the new postcode zones and everyone will have to pay. Yet another hidden tax.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Who will care for our NHS?


A new website set up by doctors is asking "Following David Camerons speech at the MMC March, do you believe the Conservative Party will manage doctors training better than New Labour?"

Please register your vote here.

This week I have visited a hospital with David Cameron, heard him listen to then concerns of patients, doctor, nurses, volunteers, managers - and cleaners too. There is no doubt in my mind that Cameron is committed to a better NHS

This weekend I heard his commitment to our doctors on the MMC march.

This evening I have met a former Labour parliamentary candidate who is on the board of our local hospital. Even he is spitting furious.

Please vote. here.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

End of an Era


I returned home last night to hear of the passing on of one of my electorate. Sir Arthur Marshall was 103. For nearly 50 years he ran Marshalls Aerospace - our largest employer and a driving force behind the Cambridge economy. For generations Marshalls has taken local apprentices and turned them into world class engineers. He has supported his local village for decades.

Only last year aged 102 Sir Arthur chaired a meeting regarding a controversial planning application. An inspiration.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

I'm a socialist - but I love you

These were the parting words shouted to David Cameron as he left the doctors protest march [here] in London today after addressing over 10,000 doctors in central london. David's speech was relayed to the Conservative Party conference in Nottingham. There were tears in the conference hall too. David said three things
1. Doctors are hard workers - they are not cogs in a machine they are human beings, they should not be judged by a machine. (see here for explaination of crisis affecting doctors)
2. The government promised doctors that if they work hard, and pass all their training there will be jobs for them - this promise has been broken by the government
3. If the "review" of doctors training that has been promised by Labour is not working then it should be scrapped and a system that works should be found.

George Osborne meanwhile laid the blame for financial mis-management that has lead to the NHS crisis firmly on the shoulders of Gordon Brown.

Vicky Ford (me) meanwhile told conference that Patricia Hewitt refuses to meet her own constituents if they work for the Health Service. How can we trust this government to run our public services if they won't listen to the public servants that care for us?

I have now heard from other Leicester based Doctors that this has been going on for a while - watch this space Hewitt we are watching you.

Good news for the Midlands


I was delighted that Charles Barwell was elected onto the Board of the Conservative Party today. A right hand man to many in the Midlands during previous general elections (including me), he has driven the regeneration of the Conservative party in the heart of England. I was honoured to be his right hand man in his election today. Great news for the Conservative Party - bad news for the other parties.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Taking David Cameron to the Hospitals...



Today I was able to take David Cameron to a local community hospital in Ely in Cambridgeshire. I picked him up off the train from London and we drove past the cathedral to visit this excellent local hospital. Just the sort of service that smaller towns need. It is important that in the crisis in the NHS we focus on smaller hospitals and services as well as the really big ones.

He toured the radiography, minor injuries, day surgery and neuro-rehab units talking to doctors, nurses and patients as well as volunteers. We used a lot of alcohol gel - but there were few sinks for washing hands.

Cambridgeshire PCT is over £50 million in debt, the PCT chairman tried to persuade me that this debt would be ringfenced and would not affect services. In Ely though they have had a problem with a recruitment freeze in appointing GPs. Patients deserve top quality of care. Locum doctors can be excellent but they don't follow the patients history and can't give continuity of care. A hospital is not just a building its the staff that work there.

David and Andrew Lansley also spoke to the press about new policies the Conservatives are launcing on public health.

Ely is not a teaching hospital - it doesn't have many junior doctors. Who will be doing all the junior doctors jobs in the bigger hospitals this August if the MTAS crisis is not resolved?

Monday, 12 March 2007

Climate Change Deniers

To be honest I get fed up with climate-change-deniers. There are a few on my council and a few littering up the airwaves.

Even if you do doubt the scientists on the global warming issue you must agree that man is a fearsome polluter. Pollution is bad. 10 years ago I was taken to a valley in the Czech Republic where for 20 miles around the air was full of sulphur, the buildings were yellow even the grass was yellow. I would not want my children to grow up in that valley.

We are a crowded island in an increasingly crowded world. Please get on the bus with the rest of us and, where possible, make your life a little bit less polluting.

Tonight the Junior Doctors take on the TV

Tonight I will be appearing in a blogger TV show on 18 Doughty Street all about the crisis in the health service and particularly about the junior doctors and the C*ck up with Modernising Medical Careers.

I will be there with Dr Michelle Tempest, Dr Shazia Ovaisi, Dr Philip Lee. Please watch this evening to support those who work in the NHS.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Junior Doctors

Today I spoke to a doctor about MTAS - of the 35 doctors in her department looking for jobs only 5 have interviews. She, like many, was concerned that the review promised by Hewitt is too late. Finally this crisis is beginning to get some profile but needs more and needs action not just reviews.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

On drugs...


There has been lots of comment on the airwaves on drugs today following a report from Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. (who???)The report is titled "Drugs a matter of health, not just crime".

How can one discuss drugs without considering victims of crime? We have just lived through the Peckham murders and before Christmas the Ipswich murders.

Today I've heard people suggest that the whole issue of drugs is not treated seriously because it is "too political". Of course its political - people expect their politicians to keep them safe.

I know that thousands more people die from smoking and drinking each year than illegal drugs - but usually they don't get involved in crime to feed their addiction. I for one won't think about drugs without thinking about crime.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

On Giving....

A few years ago I was interviewed for a thesis that was being written on charitable giving in the UK. At the time I was working for a US company.

I explained that it was an unwritten policy of the company that every senior manager had to give 5% of their annual income to charity - or be called in front of the terrifying chief exec. The thesis writer started taking frantic notes and expressed amazement.

But in the US there is long history of wealthier people (and often the semi wealthy) endowing charities in their community. The tax system allows donations to be made in tax friendly way and you can't buy a peerage. Its not perfect but it helps.

Many of the local villages I represent are crying out for money for infrastructure - from leaky sports facilities to road safety initiatives let alone hospitals, schools, universities. I've seen the same need in Cities too. Local people often have a better idea of where money can make a real difference - but the first and only call here often seems to be to the tax-collector for funds. There is a better way - give people more choice where their money goes and it will be spent more wisely.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Bringing the NHS concerns to Westminster


Thank you to the hundreds of doctors and politicians who have read this site over the past few days. I'm happy to be the dating agency where the two communities meet.

Today I have drafted some questions to be put to Ms Hewitt directly in the House of Commons - if you want to add questions please email me on vford@btinternet.com

Your comments............

"If 8000 people were about to made redundant (or forced to retrain) in any other company it would be front page news and everyone would know about it."


In the last general election I fought the seat that was home to the MG Rover crisis. 6,000 redundancies and all the worlds media descended. Tony even visited and promised millions in retraining .... but when it is "junior" doctors with no election in the offing the PM doesnt care. I still care.

"Vicky I never thought I would ever vote anything other than Labour, but seeing what this government is doing to this NHS and am swinging towards the torys more and more"

I know it will be a hard battle to rebuild this mess - in the NHS and across the country. Politicians won't be able to do it alone - we will need people like you.

p.s. I live near Cambridge and am happy to meet junior doctors in my area. Contact me!

Monday, 5 March 2007

Hewitt really doesn't talk to doctors.......

This email came from one angry junior surgeon of Leicester... Patricia Hewitt - is it true that you won't talk to doctors even if they are your constituents?

"In autumn last year (October-ish) I telephoned her constituency office for an appointment unrelated to any health service matters. I was asked what I did for a living. (Surgeon). Then asked if I was NHS or private employee. I said NHS.

Then informed "Ms Hewitt is unwilling to meet with any representative of the NHS at any level within her local offices".

Tried to explain that the issue had nothing to do with the NHS and was about something in the housing development where I live.
The lovely lady then put the phone down."



Meanwhile, 12 leading surgeons met in the West Midlands - they were the jury panel of senior consultants about to interview a select group of "junior" surgeons to divide up the jobs that will ultimately create the next generation of doctors in the Midlands. They met, they talked, they sent everyone home.

The interviews were cancelled. The seniors have joined the rebellion.

The new MTAS computer appears to be sending some of our best younger doctors into the never never rather than to the next job.

The senior doctors said. "[this system] not been shown to select candidates best suited to be surgeons. It fails to distinguish adequately between candidates, giving credibility to creative writing skills rather than hard evidence of competency."
Well I've tried to read lots of doctor's writing in my life and failed. If I need an operation I want a competent surgeon not one with decent handwriting skills.

The senior doctors are joining the junior doctors....

Vote Lib get Lab

It is the Lib Dems that are the main opposition in local elections in my area. Speaking to a few Conservative party constituency chairmen around they area today they are delighted that Ming is talking about coalitions with Gordon Brown. Vote Lib get Lab will be the message from now on.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

One more blog for the weekend

At dinner last night I sat next to a very elegant recent head of the local Magistrates. She joked about being referred to as the "bench chair" when she is sitting.

Her son, a member of the TA, has just been called to Basra. Like all parents of men and women in the armed services she was very worried.

The doctors rise up in protest

I am not a doctor but my parents were doctors, my sister is a doctor and my husband is a doctor. All my life I have been surrounded by doctors and medical professionals but I have never known them so angry to take to the streets in protest - until now.

On March 17th thousands of doctors say they are planning a protest march across London from the Royal College of Physicians near Regents Park to the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincolns Inn Fields.

In the last 10 years the government has restructured junior doctors hours so that they no longer need to work the solid 60 hour shifts I remember my contemporaries doing, doctors pay has been restructured so that are on the whole much better off and money has been poured into the NHS - why are they so angry?

Doctors are professionals and like most professionals they just want to get on with their jobs - all the doctors I know just want to do is make sick people better. Now many excellent "junior" doctors find they don't have a job at all - see here. That is why they are marching.

Other doctors across the country tell me of their frustrations due to restructurings and financial constraints.

Doctors are clever people. To get into most medical schools these days you need AAB minimum at A level. They are also numerate. Most have A grade at A level maths - but even to these mathematical elite financial accounting in the NHS is a mystery.

The system is too complicated, patient care is often manipulated to meet targets and the end result is that the sick suffer more. That is why doctors are angry.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Its not about how much money you spend its about how you spend it

At dinner last night sitting between another A list candidate and a lobbyist - both charming but the conversation did at one point slip into politics - what had I thought of George Osborne's warning to Tories to stop promising to spend more money?

"Its not about how much money you spend its how you spend it" I said

I was promptly told that this was a very complicated concept.

RUBBISH - its a very simple concept. Every person knows that you can go into the supermarket with £100 and come out with a basket full of expensive luxuries that wouldn't feed the family for a day - or you could fill up a whole trolley and still have food in the fridge on Friday. Labour spending is even worse than that - its more like giving 10 people a tenner and asking them to go off and each buy a part of the shopping list. You have to have meetings beforehand to divide up the list and then negotiations all around the store to reallocate the money between the "partners". Some peoples budget will be too low for their list and others will have spare change that they will spend on the sweeties at the checkout. The whole process is hopelessly time consuming - and time means money.

I see this in local government all the time. From trying to build some tennis courts to running round with my begging bowl to save the Country park let alone trying to take action on crime reduction or getting roads improved.

There are numerous examples of the over complicated way in which the Labour government spends our money - from Defra and the farm payment system, to the ludicrous system of Taxing people with one hand and giving it back in Tax Credits with the other. (which is just like having to queue up at two checkouts - one to pay at and a second to get your change from).

Of course the right solution is not to centralise, centralise, centralise but instead to localise - and simplify. Its not about cuts to services its about how we make sure that the taxpayer receives a full trolley of services without spending more money than was in the wallet at the start of the exercise.

Friday, 2 March 2007

"Junior" Doctors are not "Junior"

Good news the Telegraph today has blown open the story about the c*ck up in "modernising" medical careers that I wrote about earlier this week.

Please remember that "junior" doctors often aren't really "junior" in anyone else's books - the term covers any doctor working in the hospital until they are a consultant.

I remember how cheesed off I used to be hearing my husband referred to as a "Junior" when he was 36. He had trained for 7 years and been working as a doctor for 11 years - altogether over half his life had been given to medicine. By this stage in my own career my business card said "Managing Director" and other equally gifted contemporaries in other professions held cards that ranged from Head Teacher, to Partner to Judge.

These doctors are really important don't fall into the trap of believing we can do without them.

p.s. Still find that Patricia Hewitt's advice surgery remains "suspended". I'm off to my doctors to pick up a prescription - at least for now the doctor's surgery remains open to all.