Friday, June 22, 2018

Legalising Cannabis

There was much publicity about legalisation of Cannabis this last week. Two reasons. The Home Secretary signalled a changed approach from Government, introducing some flexibility into Cannabis use for medicinal purposes. And former Conservative Leader and recent Home Secretary, Lord (William) Hague called for Cannabis to be legalised for both medicinal and recreational use. That’s further than I’ve ever gone. William is always logical and worth listening to. On this he may be too far ahead of social change, and public opinion won’t be ready accept it. Personally, I’m open to a review of evidence, including from jurisdictions where marijuana use is already legal. And looking forwards to a discussion with William about this next week. Anyway, here is the column he wrote for the Telegraph last Tuesday, which I’ve just read again. It’s worth reading.


“The case of Billy Caldwell, the 12 year old with epilepsy whose vital cannabis oil medication was confiscated by Border Force officials to comply with UK drugs laws, provides one of those illuminating moments when a longstanding policy is revealed to be inappropriate, ineffective and utterly out of date.
That our border officials, with so much to deal with to prevent the smuggling of arms, people, wildlife and much else, should be expected to make off with a medicine that contains a tiny quantity of the psychoactive element in marijuana but had clear benefits for a boy with severe seizures, is beyond ridiculous. It suggests that official intransigence is now at odds with common sense.
Over the weekend, the Home Office sensibly backed down and returned Billy’s medicine. By doing so, it implicitly conceded that the law has become indefensible. It must now be asked whether Britain should join the many other countries that permit medical-grade marijuana, or indeed join Canada in preparing for a lawful, regulated market in cannabis for recreational use as well.
Under successive governments it has been assumed that there has been little alternative to trying to win a war on drugs, cannabis included. Medical advice to ministers has always stressed that limited use of soft drugs can lead to harder drugs and addiction. It has also been one of the taboo subjects of British politics at a senior level, on which taking an alternative view has been regarded as indicating a tendency to weird, irresponsible or crazily liberal opinions.
It’s time to acknowledge facts, and to embrace a decisive change that would be economically and socially beneficial, as well as rather liberating for Conservatives in showing sensible new opinions are welcome.
First of all, as far as marijuana, or cannabis, is concerned, any war has been comprehensively and irreversibly lost. The idea that the drug can be driven off the streets and out of people’s lives by the state is nothing short of deluded. Surveys of young people attest that they find it easier to purchase cannabis than virtually anything else, including fast food, cigarettes and alcohol. Everyone sitting in a Whitehall conference room needs to recognise that, out there, cannabis is ubiquitous, and issuing orders to the police to defeat its use is about as up to date and relevant as asking the army to recover the Empire. This battle is effectively over.
Some police forces, recognising this and focusing their resources on more serious crimes, have stopped worrying about it. When a law has ceased to be credible and worth enforcing to many police as well as the public, respect for the law in general is damaged. We should have laws we believe in and enforce or we should get rid of them.
Just as bad is the next unavoidable fact, that where prosecutions still take place they create burdens on the criminal justice system for no appreciable gain. Tens of millions of pounds are still spent each year in forensics, legal aid, courts, prisons and probation services. Estimates of the savings involved from ending the prohibition on cannabis vary, but can easily add up to about £300 million a year.
In the meantime, something of decisive importance has happened, which for me has tipped the balance of argument. The grey zone of something being illegal but not effectively prevented has permitted the worst of all worlds to arise. The potency of drugs available on the streets has risen sharply in recent years. This has led to an increase in dependency and health problems, but of course people are reluctant to seek help for using drugs that are still illegal. The overall result is the rise of a multi-billion pound black market for an unregulated and increasingly potent product, creating more addiction and mental health problems but without any enforceable policy to do something about it. The only beneficiaries are organised crime gangs. It is absolutely unacceptable to allow this situation to continue.
A major change in policy is therefore necessary. The licensing of medical products, such as Billy Caldwell’s oil, is already allowed in Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands and most of the US. Adopting the same approach would be a step forward. But the Canadian parliament is now on the verge of agreeing something much more radical: a legal, regulated market for cannabis for recreational use.
The proponents of this in Canada have been clear from the outset that a legal market will involve licensed stores selling cannabis of regulated strength, with a strict prohibition on sales to teenagers and no relaxation of laws against other and more powerful drugs. The expected benefits include reduced harm and addiction for users, a major reduction in the black market, less pressure on police and courts and tax revenues running into billions of dollars. If this works, it sounds more sensible than the current position.
Can British Conservatives be as bold as Canadian Liberals? We ought to be. After all, we believe in market forces and the responsible exercise of freedom, regulated as necessary. We should prefer to provide for lawful taxes than preside over increased profits from crime. And we are pragmatists, who change with society and revise our opinions when the facts change. On this issue, the facts have changed very seriously and clearly.
For Tories who cannot quite bring themselves to admit that this is all necessary, I leave you with the story of one of our great heroes, William Wilberforce. One of the fascinating aspects of writing a biography of him was the realisation that he was, for his whole life from his late twenties onwards, a daily user of opium. He lived when the dangers of addiction were only just becoming recognised, but finding that opium brought reliable relief from debilitating digestive problems, he recommended it widely while going on to achieve the abolition of the slave trade and become one of the most universally admired figures in British history.
I feel that Wilberforce would have spoken up very quickly for the Billy Caldwells of today. And while not advocating the recreational use of any drugs at all, I think it is right that people of all persuasions should now focus on sorting out a failed policy and an unsustainable law, and replacing both with new ideas that might just command respect and success.


Thursday, June 21, 2018

Tribute to Jane Harvey


Last week I went to the funeral of Jane Harvey in Meifod. For many years she suffered from the condition, Schizophrenia. I didn’t know Jane well, but her husband Robert has been a source of good political advice and support to me for many years. I was so moved by the tribute, written by Jane’s family that I asked if I could post it on my blog. Schizophrenia is a condition not much understood. Posting the tribute on A View for Rural Wales may extend knowledge and understanding of this cruel disease. With permission of the Harvey family, here is the Tribute. 

“Jane was an exceptionally beautiful woman,within and without.  She was famous for her smile, which could light up a room or anyone she met, precisely because it reflected her inner warmth. In her later years, on hospital admissions, every nurse that met her would call her ‘a lovely lady’ and one even thought she could remember which film she starred in.

Her beauty also reflected her happiness, joy, gaiety, free spirit, sweetness and untameable personality, also her exceptional gentleness and humility. She was completely unpretentious, uninterested in the superficial things of life; there are innumerable stories of her kindness to children and vulnerable people, even when she herself was highly vulnerable.

When well, she never had a cross word to say to anyone. She was, in Winston Churchill’s phrase about his own wife Clementine, ‘a being without an ignoble thought’. Her interests were simple: children, cats, other animals, birds, flowers and trees, which meant that her quarter of a century in the Meifod countryside were a paradise to her; she was utterly happy here. Her nature was pure, innocent and without guile.

The fact that she had a very serious chronic condition, ultimately bringing on three more, did not make her house a place of sadness. The exuberance of her nature and her determination to conquer her disabilities meant she would still walk when she could barely do so and feed her cats when she could hardly bend down. She loved being taken for drives around the Meifod hills, when she would exclaim, ‘who couldn’t believe in God on a lovely day like this?’ as she did on the day before she passed away. She was quietly and devoutly religious. She was also still active in the anti-pylon campaign a couple of years ago. She was irrepressible.

Jane came from Devon, another very beautiful part of the country and was educated at the Sherborne school in Dorset before she met Robert at Oxford where they both studied. Jane was also a talented pianist and singer, performing in a choir in the Albert Hall in London. She was a highly intelligent person with a high IQ but was uninterested in academic work and joined the Foreign Office - in fact the security service, MI6 - as a secretary (a Miss Moneypenny!). She went on to a job as PA to the head of an oil company based in London and then as PA to a famous, but hard-driving industrialist, the then chairman of BOC. She had a wonderful, full young life going to parties, plays, concerts and holidaying all over the world.  She then devoted herself to campaigning and the often difficult and exhausting role of being an MP’s wife, where her natural warmth and approachability made her many friends, both among the constituents and her husband’s political supporters.

But soon afterwards she began to suffer from the symptoms of Schizophrenia - one of the most devastating and life-changing of all mental illnesses. We now know it is not caused by some lurid experience in life, it is simply a malfunction of one of the transmitters in the brain. The illness was diagnosed at one of the most advanced psychiatric hospitals in the world - the Bethlem and its sister hospital, the Maudsley, in London. The illness involved periods of huge fluctuations in her emotions, from over happy to very angry, to crying miserably, plus sometimes paranoia and delusions, but, as was to be the pattern for the rest of her life, after a few months, she recovered to being exactly the same rational, happy, person she was before. The joyous event that most fulfilled her soon afterwards was the birth of her son, Oliver.

Shortly afterwards Jane, Robert and Oliver moved to Montgomeryshire, where Robert hailed from, on his grandmother’s side, and the stresses of life in a big city were lifted from Jane’s shoulders, while Robert continued to commute weekly, then monthly to London. Meifod in history was famous as a place of healing. It is also, as is Montgomeryshire and indeed of Wales, a place of great welcome. Jane was as happy as a lark, although her condition could not be cured and recurred with regularity. The people of Meifod and its surroundings were always understanding and embraced her as one of their own. The family extends its heartfelt thanks to them all.

Even more unexpected was the small army of helpers that emerged from the hills here and the plains of Shropshire. When Jane was first hospitalised in Wales, she entered the then Shelton Hospital in Shrewsbury, then the famous Housman Ward in the grounds and recently the modern Redwoods Centre. The patience, love and care of all the doctors and nurses involved in her care was overwhelming.

Jane’s happiness derived from the happiness of other people and nowhere was this truer than on special occasions like birthdays and Christmases. 

On one occasion, Jane was in hospital at the Redwoods Centre on her son's birthday. It was a Friday, and Oliver had travelled up from London to Shrewsbury, and had said he would try to stop by and see her.

Although it was very late at night and well past visiting hours, the wonderful staff at the Redwoods Centre allowed him to come onto the ward. He had hoped to spend just a few minutes with her and was quite tired from his journey.

When he arrived on the ward, mum appeared from behind a corner with a cake and candles, which somehow herself and her fellow patients on the ward had managed, perhaps illicitly, to procure, a signed card from the nurses and all patients, and some party hats.

In spite of her and her fellow patients’ difficult illnesses, they had evidently spent much time and planning preparing this late-night party on the ward and carried it off with aplomb. It was also the most enjoyable Oliver had ever had, with much cake and laughter had by all.

When Jane returned home, she was not left to her own devices: a pioneering and wonderful outreach and support centre, called Bryntirion, in Welshpool, carefully monitored her condition and supported her for some 20 years under a succession of dedicated, conscientious and hugely competent community psychiatric nurses who became firm friends and should be a model for the rest of the country. We are very touched to see some of them here today.  More recently this was added to by the Crisis Team from Newtown. There were also many dedicated social workers.

In addition, the doctors’ surgery at Llanfyllin was unbelievably sympathetic and professional and again we are delighted to see them represented here. Finally, there were the emergency services. The police were considerate, gentle and utterly professional on the very many times she would call them with her concerns. The Fire Service, on the fewer times they were called, were sympathetic and very cheerful. And finally, the Ambulance Service was beyond praise on every occasion in rushing her to Shrewsbury as her condition deteriorated in recent years.

It did so because of a breathing condition, now known as COPD, but many recognise it as Emphysema, as result of her chain smoking during periods of acute mental illness, despite all the attempts of her family and the nurses to control it. This also weakened her and finally her valiant heart, which had fought and survived four critical hospital admissions in recent years, gave out. But she consciously died at home, not in hospital, as she had always wished, went out like a light, with no pain and was brave, active and happy to the very end.

There are some 600,000 people, one in 100 of the British population who suffer from Schizophrenia. Most are sweet, mild, gentle and intelligent and are only a problem, often a difficult one, for their own families and, as in Jane’s case, can live full, if restricted lives and can enormously enhance those of their families. Too often Schizophrenics are ignored, treated as lepers or regarded as dangerous, although the incidence of violence among them is less than that of the general population.

Jane’s life was cut short before her time but was certainly not in vain either for her family or if it helps to serve to raise the profile of her fellow sufferers and destroy the stigma of Schizophrenia.

Robert and Oliver and all her many dedicated carers were privileged to know her; to love and be loved by her and to care for her, for chronic illness and disability brings out the best in people in the fullest expression of the real love described in St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, read earlier. The more limited life Jane had to live in the past 10 years simply increased the intensity of love she gave out to the small circle fortunate to receive it.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

David Davis writes to MPs.


Dear Colleagues,

EUROPEAN UNION (WITHDRAWAL) BILL: COMMONS CONSIDERATION OF LORDS AMENDMENTS

On Tuesday the EU (Withdrawal) Bill will return to the Commons to take its final steps through our Parliament. It is worth reflecting on the fundamental purpose of this Bill. The Withdrawal Bill is not about influencing the policy choices we make as we leave the EU. It is, instead, simply about ensuring the entire United Kingdom has a functioning statute book on the day we leave. That is an aim on which I am sure we can all agree. Our constituents – whether they voted leave or remain – will rightly expect the Government to provide continuity, certainty and clarity as we leave the EU. And that is exactly what this Bill will deliver.

We have already had over 250 hours of debate in both Houses and reviewed over 1,000 non-Government amendments, and hundreds of Government amendments.

Throughout, we have listened carefully to those who have sought to test, scrutinise and improve this vital piece of legislation. We have already made a significant number of amendments to address the fair concerns which have been raised. And I firmly believe that the Bill is better for it. So, while the fundamental goal of the Bill has remained unchanged, it now rightly reflects the knowledge and expertise of both Houses in that respect.

As the Bill returns to the Commons, it is worth having at the forefront of our minds the state in which it was sent to the Lords. A clean and correctly focused Bill, aimed solely at ensuring that our laws continue to function seamlessly on the day we leave the EU. The Bill that has been returned to us has, in some aspects, been strengthened. But in others, it has become less focused and, therefore, less clear in the goals which it is trying to achieve.

The amendments from the Lords fall into four broad categories. First, there are those which are constructive and genuinely seek to address concerns about certain aspects of the legislation. Second, there are some which seek to address issues which the Commons has already considered. Third, there are certain amendments, while possibly well intentioned, which may hamper our attempts to provide continuity, certainty and clarity via the Bill. And

fourth, there are some changes which simply risk undermining our approach in our negotiations with the EU altogether.

Let me start with this fourth category. The amendments which seek to force the UK to re-join the European Economic Area (EEA) after we leave would involve continuing the free movement of people with the EU and would mean accepting a huge swathe of EU rules without a say on them. That amounts to less control, not more. We have been clear since day one that such an approach is not the right path for the UK to take after we leave the EU. Pursuing it would fail the fundamental tests we have set for our future relationship with the EU – to return control to the UK over our money, our borders and our laws.

Similarly, amendments which seek to encourage us to stay in a customs union are not compatible with our desire to take the opportunity to build deeper links with old friends and new allies across the globe. Nor are they compatible with the manifesto on which the Government was elected last year. We want to ensure that our new customs arrangements with the EU can allow for trade which is as frictionless as possible, while ensuring we can tap into fast growing markets elsewhere and that there is no hard border around Northern Ireland, either between it and the rest of the United Kingdom or North-South. We recognise however that Parliament will want to be kept updated and as such will give our support to the amendment tabled by Oliver Letwin and supported by colleagues from across the Party including Nicky Morgan and Theresa Villiers.

Of course, in any case, this Bill is not the right vehicle for debating these policy choices. Such discussions can and will be had during the passage of other bills. This Bill is simply about making sure that our statute book continues to function after we leave.

One of the most important issues raised by the Lords is the process by which the outcome of the negotiations will be considered by Parliament. While we agree with the spirit of parts of the Lords amendment – much of it mirrors commitments we have already given – there are other parts which risk fundamentally undermining our negotiations with the EU. It would be impossible for negotiators to demonstrate the flexibility necessary for an effective negotiation if they are stripped of their authority to make decisions. That will do nothing but guarantee a bad deal for our country. In its current form the amendment would set a range of arbitrary deadlines and milestones after which Parliament may give binding directions to the Government - up to and including an attempt to overturn the referendum result.

Fundamentally, the British people voted to leave the EU and the Government is delivering on that. Since the referendum, there has been a general election in which both of the major parties committed to deliver the result of the referendum. It is simply not right that Parliament could overturn this. That is why we have tabled our own version of the amendment, which respects the commitments we have made, ensures Parliament can have its say on the final deal, but that we also that we respect the result of the referendum.

On the second category - most notably on the Charter of Fundamental Rights and General

Principles of EU law -  the House of Lords has amended the Bill on issues that the Commons has already considered in detail. We have been clear throughout this process that the removal of the Charter from UK law will not substantially affect the substantive rights that individuals already benefit from in the UK, as the Charter was never the source of those rights. And on General Principles, we have now tabled a further amendment to protect the rights of challenge accrued before we have left the EU for 3 years after exit.

There are also amendments which seem purely technical but which risk significantly constraining the Government's ability to deliver a functioning statute. For example, the amendment on 'enhanced protection' will mean the Government is prevented from acting quickly to update environmental regulations. Throughout this process we have listened to concerns regarding the delegated powers in this Bill, not least on the scrutiny of their use, and we tabled further amendments in the Lords to this end. But we cannot allow for the fundamental aim of this Bill to be put at risk.

The final category of amendments are those that the Government can agree or at least agree in principle. For example, the Lords have flagged important issues regarding family reunification. While we agree with the spirit of these amendments, they required further clarification. Therefore, the Government has brought forward its own amendments to make the amendments more accurate and to enable the Government to deliver the intended outcome in a far more effective manner.

The process around this Bill has been thorough, and inclusive. I have always said that I will listen to members of all sides of our House to ensure we get it right. As it re-enters the Commons we must work together to consider the various amendments constructively but we must also work together to ensure its fundamental purpose is not undermined. I look forward to working closely with you all over the coming days to ensure the UK has a functioning legal order on the day we deliver what people voted for in the referendum and leave the European Union.


RT HON DAVID DAVIS MP
SECRETARY OF STATE FOR EXITING THE EUROPEAN UNION

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Brexit Week to Come, and the Brexit week that was.


I write this column on Monday morning, before driving down to the House of Commons for a very important week, which could have major implications for our Government and our country. Yet again this week the dominating issue will be Brexit, and in particular, the EU Withdrawal Bill. When this article appears, MPs will have voted anything up to 20 times on amendments to this Bill by the House of Lords. At the risk of leaving myself looking silly, I believe the Government will win every vote, sending the EU Withdrawal Bill back to their Lordships to reconsider their position. I’m deeply disappointed that some of my colleagues are telling the media they are considering voting against the Gov’t. I know loyalty is becoming a devalued commodity in today’s politics, but I find it hard to understand what might drive a Conservative MP to so undermine our Prime Minister, and give succour to those sitting opposite her at the negotiating table. 

What has driven and guided me as I’ve considered the future status of the United Kingdom in Europe has been the aim of making a success of Brexit. I realise there are UK citizens who have differing views on our future in Europe. But in the EU Referendum in 2016, 48% of voters favoured remaining in the EU while 52% of voters backed Leave. So the UK will be leaving in March 2019. Sometimes, I think this stark reality is being overlooked. There are some who have not accepted the public vote in the referendum, either wanting it to be ignored by the Government, or another referendum held in an attempt to reverse it. This is not going to happen. The UK is leaving the EU. We must try to arrange our leaving on the best possible terms, which suit the UK and the EU as far as possible. 

But of course, the UK is not ‘leaving Europe’. All that is happening is that the UK is recovering our ability to control who moves to our country to study, work and to live; to control our own laws, and to stop handing over billions of pounds for the European Commission to spend as it chooses. The UK will remain a part of Europe - we will want to work as closely and positively as possible with our neighbouring countries. We will need migrants from across the world including from Europe to work in our NHS and Social Care services. We will want to trade with the EU.

Even though I hope that this week MPs will have reversed all of the House of Lords amendments, there will be more important debates and votes to come over the next 2/3 years. This week has been about giving some legal certainty to the ‘Leaving’ process. It is, in most part a technical bill, which the House of Lords has used as an attempt to overturn the EU Referendum result. Personally, I think their Lordships were out of order. Their job is to put forward reasoned amendments to improve Government legislation, without challenging the primacy of the elected House of Commons. It cannot be otherwise. For that reason alone, I hope all the Lords amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill will have been defeated by the time this column is published.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Disgraceful behaviour at Shropshire Hospitals reform meetings.

Not time to blog for a while. But was so utterly disgusted that two public consultation meeting about hospital reconfiguration in Shropshire had to be abandoned to protect the staff manning the exhibitions that I’m forced from my hibernation. The joint Chief Executives on the Clinical Commissioning Groups have written a public response. I can only imagine how angry they were. The culprits should be ashamed of themselves. I decided to reprint the letter here.

“We write in relation to your letter concerning the proposed Future Fit programme and the current public consultation which commenced on 30 May 2018.
The Future Fit Programme has been developed by over 300 clinicians, endorsed by a wide range of stakeholder organisations through the Future Fit Programme Board, subject to an independent process review by KMPG and endorsed and agreed by the West Midlands Clinical Senate.
It was also agreed unanimously through the two CCG Boards and assured as fit for consultation by NHS England demonstrably offering a sustainable future for health services for Shropshire Telford, Wrekin & Powys providing a long term vision for hospital based services.
Your contention that the capital funding for the scheme will require cuts in services is demonstrably not true.
The £312m of capital to be provided to the health community will be funded in part by de-duplication of services, the ability to better recruit and retain clinical staff and so reduce significant over reliance on costly interim staffing at our two hospitals.
The business case available on the Future Fit website clearly demonstrates that the hospital will not require income over existing tariff to fund the development.
What is more, both options provide for better outcomes for both planned and emergency care over the current configuration of services. Put simply the plan, and this is true for both options being consulted on, provides for a future that is BETTER for patients, BETTER for outcomes, provides BETTER facilities for staff to work and BETTER facilities for patients to be treated in.
If the proposals did not provide those better outcomes it would not be supported by clinicians, who in their day to day work know what better could look like.
As regards the Princess Royal Hospital site in Telford it is true, should the preferred option be selected, that some emergency patients treated formerly at Telford will now be treated at Shrewsbury, but a significant majority of patients under either model will continue to be treated at the site at which they currently attend.
Obviously if option 2 is selected then the reverse will be true with some emergency patients having to travel from Shrewsbury to Telford.
As regards the Women & Children’s centre at Princess Royal Hospital, the majority of services currently undertaken there will remain there under the preferred option, only consultant-led obstetrics and in-patient paediatrics will be undertaken at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital site.
Obviously if option 2 is selected then the Women & Children’s centre at Telford would be unchanged.
The rural maternity units are not part of this consultation, but any recommendation to amend the maternity delivery model will be subject to public consultation in due course.
This is not expected to commence prior to the closure of the Future Fit consultation on 5 September.
You say that you are ‘open to any set of proposals which will improve the level and quality of care for our patients and communities’.
The Future Fit programme evidentially provides just that.
If you believe otherwise then this should form part of a formal consultation response.
There is absolutely no evidence that these procedures place either patients, or staff, at risk and we are concerned that this may be communicated to the public without any clinical or other evidence to support that statement.
As regards capital funding and viability we would comment as follows.
The pre-consultation Business Case was subject to rigorous assurance through NHS England as to affordability.
This is important as CCGs cannot legally consult on options, or service changes, that are not demonstrably affordable.
As with any major capital scheme, the precise funding nature of the £312m will not be finalised until the Final Business Case.
What we are aware of at this time is that up to £200m will come from Public Dividend Capital, the remainder will come from the Trust’s own capital resources, or land sales, and at least one tranche will come from private finance.
Such mixed capital funding solutions are stated NHS and Department of Health policy.
Lastly we have developed these plans over a number of years precisely as the current state of play of split services across the Princess Royal Hospital and the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital site are neither financially, or clinically sustainable.
Put simply we cannot afford them within allocations, and we cannot staff them.
That is why the Future Fit plan provides for a strategic plan that is funded to meet the needs of all the communities of Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and mid-Wales for now and the future.
We appreciate how much you care for and support the NHS. Its continued existence depends on the backing of people who are passionate about its future.
This is never more so than in the year in which it celebrates its 70th birthday.
Please, though, acknowledge that the NHS clinicians, health experts, managers and staff that have worked so hard on these models for change, care just as passionately as you do.
We do not embark on this difficult case for change because it is easy - it is not - we do so because it is essential.
We have a once in a generation opportunity to transform health care for the people of Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin.
There is a fantastic prize in the hands of the communities we all want the best for.
To run it down now and not seize it, will not just be a matter of an opportunity lost, it will be to condemn local people to a struggling service, in decaying buildings making the recruitment and retention of essential staff all the more difficult.
Objecting to the Future Fit programme thinking something better will turn up is to live more in hope than the reality of what we have before us.
We ask you to re-consider your opposition for the sake of everyone in our county and beyond.
Kind regards.
Yours sincerely
Dr Simon Freeman, Accountable Officer, Shropshire CCG
David Evans, Chief Officer, Telford and Wrekin CCG

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Alfie Evans.

Last week, those of us who try to follow the news agenda had a confusing few days. There were the usual mixture of misleading and simply untrue ‘news’ stories about Brexit. We’re used to that, and have learned to largely ignore it. But in Wales, we did have an astonishingly good news Brexit story. It was really big breakthrough news. After predictions of constitutional chaos and multiple headlines about a “Power Grab” by the UK Parliament, and a bizarre ‘Continuity Bill’ passed in the Welsh Parliament, which led to the UK Govt taking the Welsh Government to the Supreme Court, the Wales Office and the Welsh Gov’t agreed post-Brexit arrangements in relation to devolved powers. Just like that! Defied all the predictions. Until now the devolved Governments in Wales and Scotland had worked together. Wales has now left the Scottish National Party to carry on its anti-Brexit campaigning on its own. In Wales, we have agreed a pragmatic way forward, trying to deliver the best way future for Wales, rather than play politics games. And as is usual with very complex issues, the Welsh media largely ignored this most significant news story of the week.

We also had the hugely worrying story about how immigrants who moved to Britain in the 1960s on the Windrush and other ships have been shockingly let down by our immigration system. No-one emerges from this scandal, (because that’s what it is) with any credit. Although it’s impossible to know exactly where ‘blame’ lies, it is clear that managing the UKs immigration system has been a challenge too far for the Home Office. I write this as Amber Rudd resigns over the issue. Personally I am sorry about this. I thought she was the right person to sort out the problem. The position today is just not acceptable. Of course, the UK Government must control ‘illegal’ immigration, but must also do whatever it takes to ensure those immigrants who are today in Britain entirely legally are not in any way disadvantaged. 

But the news story last week which impacted on me most was the circumstances surrounding the death of Alfie Evans, a 23 month old little boy at Alder Hey Hospital who died from an untreatable neurological condition, after his life support was turned off.  Everyone sympathised with Alfie’s parents, who must have gone through the most traumatic of experiences. Its very difficult to disentangle the clinical and ethical issues. Increasingly, developing science means we are going to confront more decisions about when to end a life that is being maintained only by a machine, when there is no hope of recovery. While I do not approve of the behaviour of some of those who protested outside Alder Hey Hospital, I find myself, yet again, conflicted by the proper responsibilities of the family and the state in life and death issues.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

‘Limited, targeted and effective’.

Last week, three of the five permanent members of the Security Council joined forces to conduct coordinated targeted military strikes to degrade the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons capability, and deter their use. The principle partner, delivering about 90% of the bombardment was the US. Britain and France played smaller roles, but their involvement was crucial to reinforce the message the use of chemical weapons is contrary to Chemical Weapons Convention and not acceptable in today’s world. The action was supported by a wide range of countries, including all NATO members plus Australia plus Turkey and others. The military strike was in response to a despicable and barbaric act by the Syrian Regime in Douma, killing innocent people who were seeking shelter from bombardment in underground basements.
There is little doubt that the Syrian Regime led by Bashar al-Ashad was responsible. It has an utterly abhorrent record of using poison gas against its own people. Over recent years there have been numerous examples of chemical weapon use by the forces of the Syrian Dictator, Bashar al-Assad. For a century, use of chemical weapons has been banned as a crime against humanity. Assad is in flagrant breach of international law. The use of Chemical Weapons must be stopped. Every reform in the Security Council has failed, thwarted by the Russian veto. The leaders of the US, France and the UK have done what they had to do.
Before acting, the UK Prime Minister and Cabinet considered advice from the Attorney General, the National Security Advisor and Chief of Staff and received a full intelligence briefing. Theresa May decided to act in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering by degrading the Syrian Regime’s Chemical Weapons capability. There is no desire to intervene in a civil war. There is no desire or intention to deliver regime change. It was a ‘Limited, Targeted and Effective’ strike with clear boundaries designed to avoid escalation and civilian casualties. The aim is to prevent future use of chemical weapons.
In 2013, David Cameron sought support from MPs to launch a military strike against Damascus in response to Assad’s use of poison gas. MPs refused to agree. I thought that a mistake, which led to
President Obama cancelling any action at all.  Last year the US did respond to another poison gas attack with a limited military response. It did not stop Assad. We must hope that last weekend’s military strike will have more effect.
I hope there will also be a new diplomatic effort as well. We cannot allow chemical weapons to become ‘normalised’ as a method of war. Britain has always taken a stance to defend global rules and standards. That’s  what we did last weekend.