We’ve had two weekends of supposition about a new ‘deal’ with the EU to resolve the status of Northern Ireland. As ever, the discussions merely focus on trade and the complications, which should never have arisen, in the movement of medicines, goods, trees and even pets between GB and Northern Ireland. It is quite ridiculous that the low risk and small volumes of potential onward movement of such items into the EU’s Single Market should have even registered as a serious problem. If EU borders were that important and secure how is it each and every country across Europe is awash with illicit drugs? If the ‘deal’ resolves perceived problems then all well and good, but my concerns are more constitutional with the hard-won Good Friday Agreement bringing peace across the communities at the pinnacle of what needs to be preserved and respected. The writ of EU law should not apply in any part of the UK and there should be no difference in the status of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland within our Union.
Health provision locally is a big issue with complex difficulties. I want to understand it and improve it, particularly whether it is GP provision, which many are finding delays in accessing that is not operating as it should? To that end, I held a meeting with one of the larger local GP practices. I came away reassured, if not shocked. Out of a patient base of 19,000 the Practice had held close to 12,000 appointments over just a three-month period. Take that in if you will. Some appointments may be the same people multiple times but to think that close to 2/3rds of a patient list goes through the door each quarter is quite something and I was left unsurprised that intense pressure exists.
I’d like to see the figures for other jurisdictions like France, Germany, Israel, Ireland and Australia. They have a more mixed model of health provision with some charging but fundamentally universal in that nobody is left behind. I bet the numbers of GP appointments per head are not on the scale of what we see locally. The senior practitioner I spoke to did say that many who did come in for appointments would probably have been dealt with more effectively and quickly by community pharmacists. It comes down, as ever, to that old adage – ‘If it’s free, I’ll have two’. All governments shy away from a proper debate about the NHS, preferring to throw more money and bureaucrats at it (there are now 650,000 of these employed not involved in frontline care) hoping for better results that never come rather than have an honest cross-politics debate about what we want to achieve from a universal NHS that we all want and how to get there. All the while, the amount, as a percentage of GDP spent by the Department for Health now exceeds Germany and France and yet we have waiting lists and outcomes way worse.
Continuing on health, I had an online meeting with the CEO of the East Kent Health Trust, mainly on the issue of ‘bed-blocking’. An inelegant word for the simple problem of expensive NHS beds being occupied by patients that could be at home with support, in residential care or in a step-down ‘cottage hospital’ style facility. Whilst hospital beds are unnecessarily occupied, strain on the way in at A&E and ambulance waiting because of bed shortages blocks the whole system, puts additional pressures on staff, worry and uncertainty for patients and their families. It would be fair to say we had a purposeful and productive meeting with a good deal of accord on the issues and measures to solve them requiring a greater degree of ‘working together’ across the entirety of health bodies, KCC and private sector care providers. I highlighted similar issues when I was a Councillor in 2007; let us hope it doesn’t take another 16 years before we can finally pull the threads properly together.
On Manston, I’m hearing reports that the local lobby, seeking further crowdfunding to continue a costly legal fight against the airport are running out of steam. Let’s hope so. After 9 years of closure, I want this local asset creating the jobs and opportunities we deserve. The added benefit is that this is a true ‘Levelling-Up’ project requiring no taxpayer funding.