Thursday, October 23, 2014

Socialism at work in Wales -- yet another case of the socialist dream turning into a nightmare

Untreated patients left to die: The Labour-run Welsh health service wastes money on bureaucrats in non-jobs yet has lethally long waiting lists for the seriously-ill that would shame a Third World country.  A timely warning about where Obamacare is headed if it is not stopped

Somewhere in north-west Wales is an office occupied by one very well-remunerated employee of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board.  At a time of supposed austerity, when the principality’s Labour government has reduced health spending by 1 per cent a year, resulting in total cuts of more than 8 per cent since 2010, he (or she) earns a £43,414 a year. In addition, their pension is topped up by £6,078.

However, this well-paid NHS staffer has no key medical role, but is instead the health board’s ‘carbon manager’.  Quite what this job actually entails (presumably it involves raising the profile of energy conservation) and what relevance it has to healthcare, is anyone’s guess.

But in the free-spending, politically-correct world of the Welsh NHS, there are other posts akin to ‘carbon manager’. Betsi Cadwaladr also pays £50,000 for a ‘head of communications’, along with £30,000 for a ‘leadership officer’, £30,000 for a ‘head of equality, diversity and human rights’, and another £30,000 for a ‘senior equality manager’.

They are part of the army of people recently identified by the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) pressure group as being employed in weird and unnecessary ‘non-jobs’ by the Welsh NHS last year.

In a report, which it believes exposed the tip of an iceberg of public waste, the TPA detailed the munificent pay packages, bizarre job titles and pointless remits of 43 of the Labour-run service’s non-clinical staff, who together earn a total of £1.5 million a year.

During 2013 (the last year for which the information is available), their ranks included a ‘sustainable transport manager’ in Gwent on £30,308 per year, a ‘leadership/management coach’ in Cwm Taf on £40,511 a year, and an ‘equality and diversity lead’ in Velindre NHS Trust on another £40,511.

Bear in mind their salaries while you consider the fates of some of the thousands of patients who are now stuck on the supposedly cash-strapped Welsh NHS’s lengthy waiting lists.

Take the plight of Robin Williams, 69, a grandfather of ten from Penarth in South Wales, who was recently told that he’s expected to die by Christmas. Robin tells how his nightmare at the hands of the Welsh NHS began in 2010, when he was admitted to hospital in Cardiff with heart symptoms.

Despite being in obvious pain, he was sent home without seeing a cardiologist or without being given an angiogram to discover the precise nature of his problem. He then had to wait three months before being referred to a heart consultant, and then a further six months before getting an actual appointment.

By this stage, his condition had deteriorated so far that a specialist said there was nothing they could do to cure it. Over the ensuing three years, he has edged slowly towards death.

‘Two of my arteries had become completely blocked,’ Robin says. ‘There was this third one they wanted to look at. But by the time of the appointment, it had become calcified, so they couldn’t get a stent in.

‘If they had tried six months earlier, they probably could have, and I wouldn’t be in this state now. I am just waiting to die. I recently pushed my cardiologist to say how long I am likely to last. He replied: “Christmas.” ’

Cardiff, where Robin was originally treated, was the subject of an investigation last year by the Royal College of Surgeons, who inspected its hospitals amid concerns that it has some of the country’s highest mortality rates.

They discovered ‘serious service problems’, with 2,000 operations not scheduled in the previous three months because of ‘a lack of beds’, widespread ‘failures in cleaning and sterilisation’, cancer operations ‘cancelled on a regular basis’ due to a ‘lack of capacity’, and ‘patients regularly dying on the waiting list’ for heart operations.

Concluding that ‘the Welsh government does not give leadership’, the Royal College, one of the most respected medical organisations in Britain, reported: ‘South Wales is the only part of the UK where patients are dying on Cardiac Surgery waiting lists.’

No wonder Robin Williams accuses the Labour authorities of ‘a level of incompetence I’ve not seen before in my lifetime’. He adds: “More and more heart patients are dying unnecessarily but these deaths are preventable.”

Tragically, he’s not alone in his anger. After 15 years of Labour rule, there are now nearly 1,400 Welsh NHS patients who have been waiting more than a year for treatment. In England, where the population is 17 times higher, that number is just 574.

Those still on waiting lists are fortunate in comparison with Ron Jones, who served for more than three decades as a local councillor.  He died last year, aged 78, after spending more than 15 months awaiting a major heart operation. His partner, Pam Allen, says he’d been diagnosed the previous May and later he needed a triple heart bypass.  ‘The doctor asked: “Do you have any questions?” We said: “When do we come in? Tomorrow?” He replied: “No, three to six months.” ’

The operation was then repeatedly delayed and cancelled before Ron eventually died of heart failure.  In a stern rebuke to the Welsh government, who routinely dismiss critics as Right-wing political opportunists, Mrs Allen points out that Ron was a Labour councillor and lifelong party supporter.

‘He was let down by the NHS he loved,’ she says. ‘Why did he wait so long when they knew what was wrong with him? Something has got to be done.’

Perhaps the most depressing fact about the Welsh NHS is the widespread sense of public disillusion — particularly among the elderly.

Patients needing basic operations, such as hip or knee surgery, must wait an average of 170 days in Wales — compared with 70 days in England and Scotland.

Among them is Athena Williams, 58, a mother-of-two from Pembrokeshire. After being told that she would have to wait 12 to 18 months for a hip operation on the Welsh NHS, she decided to pay £9,000 to have it done privately.

‘What makes me really cross is that my father, who lives in England, has a neighbour who waited just two weeks for their hip replacement,’ she says. ‘Also, my sister is a nurse in the Midlands and has said that waiting times there are only two to three months.

‘I don’t understand it. Why is there such a huge discrepancy? I’m lucky that I could afford to pay to go private, but I’m not going to see a penny of that money back. It’s so wrong.’

Meanwhile, Diana Hannam, 73, a former mayor of Rhyl in North Wales, faced similar difficulties.  In severe pain from a ruptured tendon in her shoulder, she waited more than a year for surgery before being removed from the waiting list in April because she had made a series of angry phone calls to staff, complaining about the excessive length of time it was taking for her operation to be scheduled.

They responded by accusing her of ‘harassment’ and telling her to go elsewhere for treatment. Diana says: ‘It’s extremely alarming that they seem to think they can do this to older people. We are not valued.

‘It’s frightening to live in Wales, and it’s affecting everyone. If what happened to me happened to an animal, they would be prosecuted for causing needless suffering.”

In August, after a total of 16 months on waiting lists, Diana finally underwent her operation at a hospital in Wrexham [North Wales].

In other cases, the stakes are even higher. For cancer victims, delays of just a few weeks can be the difference between life and death. But under the Labour-run Welsh NHS, people wait longer for a raft of crucial tests.

Indeed, roughly 50 per cent of Welsh cancer victims must wait more than six weeks for many scans and tests. In England, just 6 per cent of patients wait that long.

Beth Prout, a 57-year-old nurse from Pembroke was particularly unfortunate. She has a rare form of stomach cancer, which requires a type of operation available in just two UK hospitals (Manchester and Basingstoke).

Since both facilities are in England, the Welsh NHS must agree to pay £70,000 for her to have the life-saving treatment. Appallingly, it has yet to do that despite Beth first being told she needed the operation in June.

The Welsh NHS turned down her request for funding in August and it has yet to respond to an appeal against that decision.

Beth says: ‘My specialist told me after I was turned down for treatment: “You’ve got to make a fuss.”  'But it shouldn’t be that way. You shouldn’t have to go through this to be treated the same as other people living elsewhere in the UK.  ‘In the last few years, the Welsh NHS has gone downhill.’

She adds that the baby unit at the hospital where she works ‘has gone’. And she says about the service: ‘I’m really worried.’

At the same time as Welsh NHS managers are making tough decisions about what medical treatments they can afford, it is galling to discover they are paying for a small army of spin doctors.

For example, the Velindre NHS Trust, which offers specialist cancer care services, employs an astonishing eight — yes, eight — full-time staff in its press office, including a £49,492 Head of Communications, at a total annual cost of more than £250,000.

Such expenditure is unforgivable when you consider the fact that a major cause of the Welsh NHS’s lengthy waiting times for patients is down to a shortage of money. It’s a scandal that would shame even a Third World country.

Between 2010 and this year, the Welsh government has imposed cuts totalling more than 8 per cent on its NHS, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Yet in England, NHS spending has risen by one per cent above inflation each year since the Coalition came to power.

That was paid for partly by cuts in other areas of public expenditure. But in Wales, effectively a one-party Labour state, its government has shown precious little appetite for reforming the bloated public sector.

Proof is the fact that Cardiff has, for example, spent £75 million on a ‘communities first’ scheme which involved (among other things) teaching residents of Ebbw Fawr to ‘design your own tattoo’ or take part in a ‘guitar-making course’.

And an IT project named Merlin, meant to cost £220 million over a decade, has already cost the government £270 million in its first seven years.

Another £36 million was spent by Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones on a back-to-work scheme called Genesis, which was described as ‘under-performing’ when it closed in 2013, after managing to help just 800 people gain jobs. That’s £45,000 for every person it took off the dole.

Back in Newport, a 78-year-old former post mistress has particular cause to complain about Welsh government waste. June Crum has had to spend her life-savings on open-heart surgery after waiting 18 months for treatment on the Welsh NHS.  She took the decision in April after being told — despite having just been taken to hospital with heart problems — that it would be six months before she made it to the top of the waiting list.

‘My hands had turned blue and some of my fingers black. I thought I had left it too long. I was very frightened. I thought I was going to die.  ‘When I found I could be waiting until October, I took my savings out of my Isa and decided to pay for it.’

The procedure cost £19,444. In the sad parallel universe of the incompetent Welsh NHS, that’s less than half the amount Labour health tsars see fit to spend on a single health trust ‘carbon manager’.



America, we need to talk about the word ‘progressive’

Comment from Britain

Thanks to a quirk of American English, it has long been difficult for people who believe in personal freedom to describe themselves without risking confusion. In Britain, the word ‘liberal’ is still more likely to evoke thoughts of liberty rather than visions of socialism, but this is being gradually worn away by the influence of political rhetoric from the US, where a tipping point occurred many decades ago.

Today, Americans who espouse personal and economic liberty have to settle for terms like libertarian, classical liberal or neoliberal. This is slightly irksome to British liberals, but we get our own back by calling private schools ‘public schools’ and talking about smoking fags. In the great scheme of things, perhaps it doesn’t really matter. We understand that liberals and conservatives are the two main factions in American politics and we can predict the views of each with reasonable accuracy.

The word ‘progressive’, however, is a different beast. In the US, it is virtually a synonym for ‘liberal’ (in the corrupted sense of the word), whereas in the UK every major political party, with the possible exception of UKIP, describes itself as progressive. David Cameron describes himself as a ‘progressive Conservative’ and Nick Clegg says that he and his coalition partners are the ‘new progressives’. The socialists, meanwhile, hope to form a ‘progressive majority’ to defeat the government. The word is near meaningless. At best, it implies a vague belief in modernity and pragmatism. At worst, it implies a self-satisfied conviction that one’s policies are the way of the future (and what politician doesn’t believe that?).

In the US, the progressive cause has a firmer definition and a longer history (a history from which policies such as prohibition and eugenics have been largely written out). To see what the word progressive means today, consider the city of Berkeley, California. According to Robert Reich, a professor at UC Berkeley, it is ‘the most progressive city in America’. It has also been described as a ‘liberal bastion’. How liberal is it? So liberal that it is illegal to smoke a cigarette in your own flat (sorry, ‘apartment’) and, at the city’s university, it is against the rules to chew tobacco or use e-cigarettes anywhere at all, including in the open air.

Berkeley is also seriously considering a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages – aka a ‘soda tax’. A public vote will settle the matter next month, and, in the view of Robert Reich, ‘if a soda tax can’t pass in the most progressive city in America, it can’t pass anywhere’.

Consider that statement for a moment. If you didn’t know what the word ‘progressive’ meant – and you knew nothing about Berkeley – what could you infer from the context? If the sentence was changed to ‘if a soda tax can’t pass in the most oppressive city in America, it can’t pass anywhere’, it would make sense. If words like ‘tax-hungry’, ‘anti-business’, ‘puritanical’ or ‘illiberal’ were substituted for ‘progressive’, it would still read correctly.

If, however, the sentence was changed to ‘if a soda tax can’t pass in the most tolerant city in America, it can’t pass anywhere’, it would be incongruous. Words like ‘permissive’, ‘libertarian’, ‘easygoing’ and ‘broad-minded’ would also be confusing substitutes for ‘progressive’ in this context, and yet these are all adjectives that appear in the thesaurus under the word ‘liberal’. From this we might conclude either that soda taxes are not terribly liberal or that progressives are not terribly liberal. Or both.

In economics, unlike politics, the word ‘progressive’ has a fixed meaning. A progressive tax is one that takes a larger share of income from the rich than from the poor. The alternative is a regressive tax, one that takes a larger share of income from the poor than from the rich. Taxes on fizzy drinks are highly and indisputably regressive, not only because the rate of tax is the same for all income groups, but also because the poor tend to consume more of them in the first place. So while it is true that Berkeley is a bellwether city when it comes to eye-catching ‘public health’ initiatives, the adoption of punitive taxes on soft drinks would be a step towards it becoming America’s most regressive, not progressive, city in economic terms.

This is what confuses us, America. If a ‘liberal bastion’ – your ‘most progressive city’ – is one in which the government effectively fines people for drinking the wrong type of soft drink, what on earth are your illiberal bastions like?



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