Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Cutting Domestic Violence... The Budget For

Let me preface this post by announcing that I am not a deficit denier. That phrase is loosely applied to anyone who doesn't agree with George Osbourne's strategy for dealing with the massive debt this country faces but it is extremely misleading. To criticise and illuminate people is not to deny.

I've been alarmed by the swingeing cuts to arts budgets. I've been perturbed by the wholesale reorganisation of the NHS which appears to be a vehicle for implementing Tory ideology. However, several notable stories have cropped up which have reminded me there is something even more precious at stake as the government swings the axe.

Today, the Guardian are reporting that the county council in Devon have proposed to cut 100% of the £1m it current gives to the three charities which constitute its domestic-violence network. Without this money the organisations will likely flounder as the amount they receive in donations is, comparatively speaking, rather small. It isn't scaremongering to suggest these cuts will have severe consequences. More women will be injured with no place to go, more children will watch their parents engaging in fights and their futures may be harmed by the experiences. Also, if such situations do result in hospitalisation or worse then the burden falls back onto the tax payer anyway.

I see this as the latest in a worrying line of ideological cuts which impact vulnerable families. Married couples are to be given tax breaks to promote the stable family environment as the one to aspire to. Who doubts that this will encourage people to stay in unhappy and possibly abusive relationships because they can't afford to be apart? In addition, legal aid is being cut to cases where the custody of a child is up for discussion. If a mother can't afford the legal costs of fighting for her children then won't she just stay in a relationship that's bad for all concerned?

Taken separately most government legislation can be seen in terms of the money it saves. That's all well and good - the money needs to be saved somehow. However, add up the impact of these cuts on the most vulnerable members of society and they begin to look a little less rosy.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Resignations, Accusations and Appearances... Oh, My

It's been quite a week as far as politics goes.

In the space of a few days we've had Baroness Warsi accusing us all of Islamophobia, Alan Johnson resigning from front-line politics and Tony Blair appearing for the second time at the Chilcot inquiry. The latest news is that Andy Coulson, communications chief for Downing Street, has resigned, apparently under pressure about his role in phone hacking when editor of the News of the World.

Now I'm a grade-one cynic. I do not believe that the sudden resignation of a man whom the media and public have been baying for is completely unrelated to the wider political sphere. After all, what better way to appease the public in the wake of drastic and controversial NHS reorganisation plans than to give them something they've wanted for months?

Additionally, Baroness Warsi's comments, although not officially endorsed by Downing Street, have created a storm that has served well as a mask at the end of the week. Tony Blair at the Iraq inquiry is a delightful smokescreen for Cameron, one which enforces the vision that Labour were involved in an illegal war. It's been a great week for burying things really.

Alan Johnson, of course, was far beyond the control of No. 10. Having read an interview with him over Christmas I'm saddened by his departure and I wish him well (and I wish him privacy).

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Suing the NHS: Yes or No?

Jeremy Vine had an interesting debate on his radio programme this lunchtime about the payments of compensation to NHS contraception 'error' victims. The essence of the argument was whether people should sue the NHS at all, or whether, as we all stump up for it within our taxes, we should just leave it alone.

Fundamentally, I believe negligence should be paid for.

If something with a relatively low risk goes catastrophically wrong due to preventable human error then the victim should be within their rights to complain about the outcome. What I don't agree with are the vast sums won in compensation claims - are they really representative of the injuries and distress someone has suffered? In the case of requiring further care and assistance then, of course, this is justified. However, mental distress resulting from an error is much more difficult to quantify and, as such, much more open to abuse from greedy individuals. So is the answer just to put a blanket ban on claiming compensation from the NHS?

Well, no. With the NHS facing a tough few years with reorganisation, efficiency savings and cuts (it's hardly as protected as it was advertised) standards will inevitably drop. Although doctors are prevented from working too many hours by EU law there is no guarantee that negligence will not be caused by other aspects of day-to-day working life: lack of training, shortage of materials, staff or information, for example. Removing the threat of claiming against the NHS simply removes the danger that the health service cuts will be seen as what they are - a dangerous attempt to reduce the deficit by putting our staple system at risk.

This is not to say that the arguments against the contraception cases are entirely without merit. No contraceptive is comprehensively reliant. Any pregnancy in these cases which has resulted from the patient being in the 1% whom the unit unfortunately failed shouldn't be open to compensation in my view. It is an inherent risk and it's one that most women take. However, several cases were highlighted where the implant had been inserted wrongly to the detriment of the health of the patient involved. One woman had suffered injuries to her muscle due to the incorrect insertion of the implant. This is negligent, whether from lack of training or just idiocy on the part of the doctor.

I don't at all believe in this compensation culture which our country seems so enamoured with. Only in cases of negligence when the person sincerely needs the money they are awarded would I say action is justified against the NHS. By all means, highlight the case, campaign tirelessly for a certain error to be recognised and/or admitted to by the health service in the name of improving the service.

Don't, however, sue the NHS simply to line your own pockets. Taking money from the rest of us in a time of deep and painful cuts isn't the way to endear yourself to anyone. After all, I'm sure the neighbour waiting for an operation which has been delayed due to lack of funds will be less than impressed with your new television bought from the proceeds of their taxes.