Councillor James Baker slams public health budget cut to Calderdale

Team of surgeon in uniform perform operation on a patient at car

Figures released by the Department for Health shows the Conservative Government is planning a further £666,229 cut to the public health budget in Calderdale. The budget pays to help improve people’s health – and stop them getting ill in the first place – so there is less pressure on the NHS.

Work undertaken by public health budgets include encouraging people to exercise more, give up smoking, drink less, come off drugs and drink and avoid sexually transmitted diseases.

“This cut will mean that local residents are less likely to make good decisions on their health, and when they do need help it is less likely to be there for them, says Lib Dem Councillor James Baker

“Liberal Democrats say these are the wrong cuts, made in the wrong way and they will end up costing the Government and the NHS more than is saved.”

 

Scrutiny panel recommends a budget for new grit bins

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This Thursday the Economy and Environment Scrutiny panel that I chair recommended that the Council makes provision within its winter services budget for new grit bins. There are many streets in Calderdale that are not gritted and the provision of grit bins allows residents on those streets to attempt to clear ice and snow themselves.

Grit bins are a cost effective way to help prevent trips and falls, and they enable people to get out of their houses in snaps of cold weathers. Knocking on doors around the ward I hear loads of people say how they would like their street to have a grit bin.  Sadly there is no budget for providing new bins at the moment, so as a ward Councillor I’m totally powerless to get any new bins provided.

This recommendation that I proposed was backed by Labour members on the panel. The Conservative members abstained from voting on it. However a majority of the panel were in favor of it and I hope the cabinet of the Council now amends their budget proposals to make some provision for new grit bins.

Labour MP slams ‘Halifax NHS chiefs’ for PFI deal his own party signed off

According to reports on the Huddersfield Examiner the Huddersfield Labour MP Barry Sheerman has blammed the problems facing our local health services on the awful PFI contract that ‘Health chiefs in Halifax got into’.

Mr Sheerman and his colleague, Colne Valley’s Jason McCartney, have both insisted the move is to shore up the controversial Private Finance Initiative which funded the Calderdale Royal Hospital.

Mr Sheerman said: “Health chiefs in Halifax got into serious debt and negotiated a very poor PFI contract to secure the new hospital.

“In Huddersfield we had a very well-run health and hospital service but we were persuaded to merge with Calderdale.

“Now we are being told by the Clinical Commissioning groups that because of that PFI we will have to make the move and send all our people to Halifax for care.

“It makes me furious and I am sure it will make everyone in the town furious.”

Someone ought to point out to Mr Sheerman it was Alan Milburn who was the Labour health secretary at the time who signed off on the deal. This followed extensive lobbying from the then Labour MP for Halifax Alice Mahon, who was in favour of the plan. It should also be pointed out that Liberal Democrats have been campaigning against this PFI deal for years, as this old press cutting demonstrates. It was the late Stephen Pearson a former Calderdale Councillor and Dr Bob Heys who helped run this campaign. At the time not a single Labour or Conservative Councillor signed the petition opposing the PFI deal.

So we now have a Labour MP in Huddersfield blaming the PFI deal his own party signed off for the threat of Huddersfield A&E department. Meanwhile the Labour party in Calderdale are trying to pin the financial blame for the mess on the last government. Here is text taken from their petition

I condemn the threats to local health services caused by the Tory-Lib Dem government.

I call on NHS decision makers to keep urgent care services like Calderdale’s Walk-In Centres and A&E department open.

Labour need to get their story straight on this mess they are responsible!

Anyone’s Child – Families for Safer Drug Control Launch Campaign

Today a new network of families whose lives have been wrecked by our current approach to drugs will hand in a letter to 10 Downing Street calling for the legal regulation of drugs. Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control is a project supported by Transform Drug Policy Foundation.

A spokesperson for Anyone’s Child said:

“Our vicious and stupid drug laws don’t stop young people from taking drugs. But putting dangerous criminals in charge has devastating results for them and their families. In 2002 David Cameron called for a debate on legal regulation. Since then, there have been over 26,000 drug deaths in the UK – compared with 453 UK soldiers in Afghanistan. Enough is enough. He should immediately commission an independent review of our drug laws. The government knows the evidence proves that legally regulating drugs would help protect all our families.”

You can read their letter to the Prime Minister here

How to tackle drug abuse in Calderdale

As a Councillor I regularly attend Ward forums, time and time again we hear from the Police how hard it is to tackle the numbers of people driving around in cars and dealing drugs on our streets. The police are faced with an imposable task. We have to accept they will never prevent people taking and dealing drugs, this is because it is primarily a social and public health issue rather than a criminal one.

Our neighbours in Portugal have nearly eliminated drugs overdoes. They did this by decriminalizing all drug use, providing addicts with housing rather than jail, shifted funds from policing to treatment and prevention, doubled spending on rehab clinics and provide addicts with jobs skills and training. There is a lot we could be learning from their policy approaches.

This week a former deputy assistant police commissioner in the Metropolitan Police Service, Lord Paddock laid down a series of amendments in the House of Lords to the Government’s psychoactive substances bill. Lord Paddock knows a thing about the tackling drugs from his time in the Police force. His amendments if accepted by the Government would decriminalise the possession of all drugs for personal use and the legalisation of medicinal use of cannabis when it is prescribed by a doctor. This would allow drug users to seek help without the fear of prosecution.

In Calderdale the answer has to be to put more public health resources into helping and supporting those people with addictions rather than trying to deal with them through the criminal justice system. The Police do a fantastic job enforcing the laws politicians create, the problem is in this case politicians have asked them to tackle a social problem as a criminal one.

Calerdale Council has to start tacking drug abuse more seriously as a public health issue. This means that we also need to start treating mental health as seriously as physical health, as underlying mental health conditions are often associated with addictions.

Detailed work on tackling the impact the environment has on public health

You often hear in the press and in leaflets when politicians disagree and argue with each other. It’s often because these disagreements are deemed newsworthy and reported. Yet over the past few months a cross-party group of Councillors have been working constructively together on a scrutiny review group I have chaired  looking at the relationships between the local environment and public health.

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We held our first review group meeting in November 2014 and agreed our methodology and ways of working. During the course of our review, we have looked closely at how the Council and its partners work on local environment and public health activities and initiatives, primarily within Calderdale, but also looking at examples of best practice regionally and nationally.

The scrutiny review group focussed on exploring the relationships between the local environment and public health to see if by making our environment a healthier place to live we can improve people’s health.

We identified three key objectives for us to focus on through our review group work: developing policies that promote active and sustainable travel across the borough; developing policies that reduce the negative effects of living in cold homes upon public health and developing policies that seek to mitigate the public health effects of environmental pollution.

The review group has produced and published a report that you can read in full here. It also made nine recommendations in total. These reccomendations will now be put towards whoever forms the next administration of Calderdale Council after the local elections next month.

Recommendation 1

That the Director of Communities and Service and the Director of Public Health, are requested to prepare a leaflet containing details, lengths etc. mapping National Cycle Route 66, perhaps dividing it into manageable lengths, and showing access points, so that local people and tourists are made aware of what Calderdale was offering in its endeavour to support cycling. This would be a good way forward to support healthy living, outdoor pursuits, and safe cycling and it is essential that the information is passed to the public via Tourist Information Centres, libraries and websites, etc.

Recommendation 2

That to help promote active and sustainable travel across the Borough, Cabinet be asked to consider setting aside a portion of the annual highways budget specifically for cycle path improvements.

Recommendation 3

That Cabinet be asked to give consideration to the establishment of one or two data analyst positions to work on a cross- council basis (economic justification for establishment of posts – invest to save basis)

(Whilst appreciating the Council already has an in-house Business Change and Performance Team, the review group felt that a dedicated data analyst resource would be beneficial to the Council in the long run in addressing fuel poverty / affordable warmth in particular and that Cabinet should consider this as a proposal on an “invest to save” basis. Further discussions around the principles of “open data”, sharing with partners and other organisations should also be explored and undertaken).

Recommendation 4

That the Portfolio Holder / Cabinet and the Director, Economy and Environment be

requested to take note of and consider the evidential research previously undertaken by the National Institute of Environmental Health and the Building Research Establishment (BRE) which suggests that targeting the Borough’s worst housing with a £1.4m investment programme could save an estimated £4.65m in associated health care costs (and the increase in economic benefits such work would bring to the Borough).

Recommendation 5

That Cabinet’s agreement and support be sought for the early revision of the Calderdale Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP), which was written in 2009 and is in need of updating.

Recommendation 6

That Cabinet’s agreement and support be sought to the undertaking and promotion of

  • a targeted campaign of awareness of the on-

  • going West Yorkshire Low Emissions

  • Strategy (WYLES) work from a public health

  • perspective, with the primary delivery method

  • to be through low cost platforms such as

  • social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.)

Recommendation 7

That Cabinet is asked to endorse and support more direct enforcement work being undertaken by external partners of the Council, such as the police, through the use of legally enforceable powers to tackle un-roadworthy vehicles with high emissions.

Recommendation 8

That Cabinet is asked to look into the possibility of undertaking a feasibility study into the possibility of introducing designated Low Emission Zones (LEZs) in Calderdale.

Recommendation 9

That Cabinet be informed that it should request a policy paper as soon as possible on how the £1.4m affordable warmth scheme recently agreed by Council providing grants to improve heating and insulation was to be implemented and it is recommended that that the Economy and Environment Scrutiny Panel could be used as “sounding board” on this important piece of policy development work. Links to public health, hospital trust and Adults Health and Social Care, the Better Care Fund and the work of the Health and Well-Being Board would also needed to be considered in taking this work forward.

 

Burnham refuses to commit to £8bn NHS funding

Liberal Democrat General Election Campaign Spokesperson Lord Scriven said:

“Once again Labour have failed to match the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to investing the £8bn extra the NHS says it needs to survive.

“Instead, Andy Burnham tries to pretend the Liberal Democrats haven’t set out how we will pay for the extra investment. Which we have, in full.

“Labour’s paltry offer for the NHS is just another example of their failure on healthcare. From over-generous GP contracts, £12bn wasted on a failed supercomputer, and PFI hospitals that saddle generations with debt – no one can trust Labour with the NHS.”

Team of surgeon in uniform perform operation on a patient at car

NHS funding

Only the Liberal Democrats have committed to matching the £8bn of extra funding NHS England chief Simon Stevens say the health service needs. Neither Labour or the Tories have a credible response to the funding challenges that the NHS faces. Labour have pledged £2.5bn only to be fully introduced by the third year of the next parliament and have not committed to any additional real term increases beyond that, while the Conservatives have made no specific real terms funding commitments.

To achieve the increase in funding in the NHS by 2020/21, The Liberal Democrats will do three things:

  • The additional £1.7bn that the Liberal Democrats successfully secured in the Autumn Statement for 2015/16 will be maintained.
  • In addition to this funding, we will invest a further £1bn in real terms in 2016/17 (£250m of which we secured in this year’s budget). This will be paid for by restricting reliefs on Capital Gains Tax and scrapping the Conservative shares for rights scheme.
  • Once we have finished the job of tackling the deficit in 2017/18, we will increase health spending in line with growth in the economy.

Mental Health

As well as increasing NHS funding, the Liberal Democrats will also commission a non-partisan fundamental review of NHS and social care finances in 2015 before the next spending review, in order to assess the pressures on NHS budgets. We will focus extra funding on two key priorities that will help reduce cost pressures in other areas to help NHS funding remain sustainable. These priorities are:

1) Mental health. We want to end the discrimination against mental health and have pledged £500m extra a year to support this from 2015/16 onwards.

2) Prevention. Keeping people healthier for longer and supporting people to stay as healthy as possible and to receive care closer to home.

Age UK back our affordable warmth scheme

Home Care

Age UK have welcomed the affordable warmth scheme that I proposed at this year’s budget Council, commenting they said:

“Age UK Calderdale and Kirklees are delighted that Calderdale Council have decided to focus on the issue of affordable warmth. Age UK estimates that one older person dies every 7 minutes from cold-related illness during the winter months and many more become seriously ill, so it is an enormous problem. With so many older people suffering unnecessarily in the cold, it’s vitally important that there is investment in preventative measures and making homes warmer and more energy efficient.”

I’m so pleased that as the Council’s affordable warmth champion I’ve been able to secure a budget for this scheme. Insulating the homes of the most vulnerable in Calderdale  will help save lives, and reduce the pressure on our local NHS who have to deal with preventable admissions to hospital.

Talking Politics Column for Courier

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Here is a copy of the talking politics article I wrote for this week’s Courier, it’s available from all good newsagents, and you should go out and buy a copy to support your local newspaper! 

PFI debt shows Labour can’t be trusted with NHS finances

You wouldn’t pay £9.72 for a pint of milk, £10.26 for a litre of petrol or £13.68 for a loaf of bread. Yet the last Labour government paid 12 times what it cost to build Calderdale Royal Hospital. Under the ludicrous PFI deal that built the hospital we, as tax payers, are forking out £773 million for a building that cost £63 million to build.

This PFI deal was supported by the then Labour MP for Halifax, Alice Mahon MP, and was signed off by the Labour health minister Frank Dobson. The cross-party People’s Commission report commissioned by Calderdale described the £10 million a year interest repayments eye-watering, and it was right: this PFI loan truly is the ‘pay day loan’ of public finances. There is now cross-party agreement this PFI debt has impacted on decision making at our hospitals and that the money spent on interest charges would have been better spent on patient care.

Liberal Democrats campaigned against this PFI deal at the time. A campaign called Calderdale against a Smaller Hospital (CASH) led by Dr Bob Heys and the late former Councillor Stephen Pearson collected thousands of signatures from local residents. It called on Tony Blair not to go ahead with the PFI deal. Not a single Conservative or Labour Councillor signed it at the time. Stephen Pearson called the PFI deal Calderdale’s biggest scandal, and he was right.

It is therefore beyond belief that, having saddled the local hospital with “eye-watering” interest repayments, Labour have the sheer brass neck to try and blame our hospital’s financial problems on the coalition government. In leaflets being distributed across the Borough Labour are stating the coalition is to blame for the hospital’s financial problem. I don’t doubt Labour care about the NHS but so do all of those, especially those like myself who wouldn’t be here without it. As much as Labour may care about the NHS though it is clear they don’t have the economic competence to manage its finances. Their habit of borrowing has saddled our local hospital with financial problems, just as their habit of borrowing in government saddled the nation with debt.

The NHS is however in need of more resources, as our changing population is putting additional demand upon NHS resources. An aging population and increases in cases of dementia and diabetes mean the costs of providing health care are increasing. NHS bosses say the service needs an extra £8Bn over the course of the next parliament. To date it is only the Liberal Democrats who have a credible financial plan to provide this funding.

Firstly we will maintain the additional £2bn that the Liberal Democrats successfully secured in the Autumn Statement for 2015/16. In addition to this funding, as we set out at our Autumn Conference, we will invest a further £1bn in real terms in 2016/17 which we will then also maintain in future budgets. This will be paid for by capping pensions tax relief for the very wealthiest (saving £500m); aligning dividend tax with income tax for those earning over £150,000 (saving £400m); and scrapping the Conservative shares for rights scheme (saving £100m). Then once we have finished the job of tackling the deficit in 2017/18, we will increase health spending in line with growth in the economy.

Labour may have the heart for the NHS, but they don’t have the financial brain to manage its finances. It is only the Liberal Democrats who can both deliver a Stronger Economy, and a Fairer Society.

Time to get a grip on the Highways Budget

The budget for the Council’s highway’s department was given a boost last year. With so many roads across the borough in need of repair and improvement you might have expected all the money allocated to this budget would be quickly spent on improving our roads. We are not yet at the end of the financial year but current revenue reports are showing that it’s unlikely all the budget will be spent. Whoever is running the Council after the elections in May needs to get a grip of this budget and ensure officers are delivering on the Highways improvements the roads across our Borough so desperately need.

Air pollution kills ten times more than traffic accidents

I’m currently chairing a detailed scrutiny review on the Council on the relationship between our local environment and public health. The panel recently heard evidence that states ten times more people are dying prematurely due to diseases caused by air pollution than are killed in traffic accidents across the Borough. Air pollution may not be as visible as it once was but the smaller particles expelled especially by diesel engines are more dangerous than we realize. If we are to tackle this problem we need better investment in public transport and cycling infrastructure, and to start looking at measures that restrict the levels of the most polluting diesel vehicles on our roads.

Time to talk about mental health day

Thursday 5 February 2015 is Time to Talk Day – asking the nation to take 5 minutes to have a conversation about mental health.

Having a mental health problem is hard enough, but sometimes the isolation and stigma can make it even worse. But we can all help to break the silence. Talking about mental health doesn’t need to be difficult and can make a big difference. That’s why we’re asking you to take just 5 minutes on the 5th to have a conversation about mental health.We will all know someone who has suffered from a mental health problem.

There is more information on the Time for Change campaign here.

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One in four of us will be personally affected but almost all of us will have a parent, child, sibling, friend or colleague who has experienced a mental health problem.  In the Calderdale area figures show that 12,248 have been diagnosed as suffering from depression, but the real figure could be much higher as many people suffer from this disease in silence.

We need to break down these barriers. The sooner we can talk openly about mental health, the sooner people can get the support they need.

Thursday 5 February is Time to Talk Day; a national day where everyone is asked to take five minutes to have a conversation about mental health. Taking this short time out of your day can make a big difference and it’s completely up to you where you have that conversation – whether it be at work, home, in your community, school or online.

Bit by bit, we are making progress: transforming people’s attitudes and putting in place the reforms necessary to deliver long lasting improvements in our mental health services.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Health Minister Norman Lamb are leading Liberal Democrat plans to invest an extra £150m over five years to improve services for children and young people suffering from eating disorders and calling for all NHS trusts to commit to a new ambition for zero suicides.

Our zero suicide ambition is about changing how people who are in NHS care are treated so that they are not forgotten when they move house or transfer from one service to another.

The Liberal Democrats are also using £400 million to help people with mental health problems get the right support early on, such as psychological (or “talking”) therapies. We are also introducing the first ever access and waiting time standards to make sure people get help quickly when they need it – just as they would with a physical health condition.

We have committed to invest at least £500m extra every year in mental health in the next Parliament, building on the waiting time standards we have already introduced and improving support for new mothers, children and adolescents. Fundamentally, this is about making sure everyone gets a fair chance in life.

The Liberal Democrats will champion equality for all people with mental health problems and won’t stop until this is achieved. It’s wrong that in this day and age there is still stigma around mental health. Simply talking about how you’re feeling can really make a difference to people. You wouldn’t think twice about telling a friend you’ve broken your leg – physical and mental health should not only be treated equally in the NHS but should be discussed and treated equally in all other spheres of life.

Take a small time out of your day on 5 February to talk about mental health – it could make all the difference.