Saturday, April 15, 2017

Should farmers grow trees post Brexit.

Two articles of interest to me in today's Telegraph. Firstly, an article about challenges facing farming post-Brexit. And secondly, a report, of dubious provenance that UK is to scrap EU renewable energy targets. Let's consider the future economics of farming first. Its all conjecture at this stage of course. We have no real idea of what the position will be.

There are two main concerns facing the farming industry. Firstly there is the annual subsidy payments, guaranteed up to 2020, but not afterwards. The background to this policy of subsidy was the then Govt's 'cheap food policy' after the Second World War. Over recent years it's become an essential support to farming. Many farms would not be viable without the subsidy payment. It's not a healthy position for any industry to be dependent on subsidy into the far distance but a cliff-edge cut off in 2020 would be devastating. Let me take a guess at what might happen post Brexit. Subsidy will gradually move from being universal to being paid for a specific 'public benefit' - principally environment enhancing payments. It's moving that way already. Perhaps this could involve planting up land, currently used for arable or livestock, with trees. I've long thought a forestry expansion programme to make sense, economically and environmentally. Support guarantees would have to be long term, include for public access for recreation - walking, biking activities etc.. Whatever, most switched on farmers are already looking at diversification of one sort or another.

The second concern for farmers, especially sheep farmers in Wales is access to EU markets at nil or manageably low tariffs. Wales is particularly dependent on lamb exports. All the current talk by the NFU about 'food security' doesn't apply here. Hopefully, there will be a UK/EU deal which covers lamb exports, but in the longer run, we could see development of other markets or a gradual move from sheep farming to forestry perhaps.

Now for the possible link with the other Telegraph story - about the UK abandoning EU 'renewable energy' targets. We are legally obliged to access 15% of our energy from 'renewable sources' by 2020. I've always thought trans-EU targets as a nonsense. This 15% target doesn't include energy efficiency, carbon capture or nuclear power. That's makes no sense. While I think the UK will be well rid of EU targets post Brexit, we will need low carbon targets of our own. We need to think laterally. From a global perspective, we would acheive more cost benefit by investing in solar energy in a hot African country than ploughing money into solar in the UK. Such a policy could be linked with our foreign aid commitments. Let us use our UK resources to develop battery technology, carbon capture or hydrogen/electric cars rather than ploughing resources into second rate established technologies which put up the bills of energy customers.  Or maybe more biomass from the millions of acres of extra trees we might grow, rather than import timber great distances from faraway countries, as if carbon emissions are not a global issue. We could have a UK renewables policy suited to our own circumstances.

This is all very early consideration of how we might change policy to cope with Brexit. I expect to return to these issues from time to time - and don't rule out having an entirely different perspective next time. We live in uncertain times.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Hospitals row is built on misunderstanding.

Its many years since I concluded that the NHS hospitals structure that most Montgomeryshire patients depend on, (located in Shropshire) is unsustainable. For years it's been clear that two major hospitals providing all NHS services is unsustainable. It leads to a poorer standard of service, costs more to manage and delivers less satisfying outcomes for patients. It's been clear for years that one hospital should be 'hot' and the other hospital should be 'cold' - one hospital should deal with 'emergency' care and the other hospital should cover 'planned' care.

For some unthought through reason a pubic battle, complete with campaigns, shouting matches, public marches and political manoeuvrings has focussed on 'winning' the 'hot' services. All I care about is putting in place the best service - for my constituents and for Shropshire and Mid Wales as a whole. A few years ago I wasn't certain whether Montgomeryshire patients would benefit more from 'hot' or 'cold'. Unfortunately, a chief executive named Adam Cairns arrived in Shropshire and made a total pigs ear of things (before clearing off to Cardiff and then the Middle East) . To an extent we are still clearing up the ill-considered mess he left. From a Montgomeryshire perspective I asked people whether they wanted 'emergency' care (hot) or 'planned' care (cold) in the nearer hospital at Shrewsbury, or at Telford. Telford would be 20 minutes further away for emergencies ((under blue light) and more like 45 minutes further for planned care. They all wanted emergency care at Shrewsbury. Fair enough, but I always thought it was a marginal call. Illogically, the NHS care commissioners based at Telford and Wrekin wanted the 'hot' site in Telford. Deeply regrettably, the Council has become involved and made it a 'political' issue rather that a 'patient benefit' issue. The people of Telford have been misled (in my opinion) about what the planned care option means.

Firstly, the Princess Royal at Telford will continue to be an A&E for about 60% of the people who pitch up at at A&E now. It will perform 28,000 day case and inpatient procedures per year. Cancelled appointments would largely disappear as the priority given to emergency cases would cease (since they would be taken to a new emergency unit at Shrewsbury. It will provide several specialist services and, most importantly, there would be more specialist consultants on site. There would be the same no of beds as now. Most children's and women's services would remain in the Princess Royal, included most maternity, (Though not the most complex cases). Majority of orthopaedics would be in Telford and a new purpose built Edoscopy facility. There would be Centres of Excellence in Bariatric and Breast Services and chemotherapy services would be in the Princess Royal as well. The proposed new NHS Structure to serve Shropshire and Mid Wales would be based on two sustainable complemtary major hospitals, capable of attracting new services and consultants to our area. It can only go ahead with investment of around £200million in the two hospitals. We have a very short period to commit to this new arrangement. If we don't commit very soon, the investment will be lost to compelling cases elsewhere. It will be an absolute tragedy for Shropshire and Mid Wales and the patients living in the area if the bickering, the dithering  and political posturing prevents it going ahead.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

'Avoidable Deaths' in Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals.

The dominant UK story today of interest to me has concerned 'avoidable deaths' of babies at or soon after birth, under the care of doctors and midwifes based at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford. The BBC have given this issue a very high profile - a bit  surprising to me because there was nothing I didn't know already. It's a very emotive issue. Every death of a baby at birth is a personal tragedy for the affected family. It must seem much worse if it's concluded that the death was 'avoidable'. I find it difficult to grasp just how sad and tragic losing a baby in such circumstances must be.

When first contacted by the media to comment on this story yesterday, I was very reluctant to become involved. Certainly did not wish to comment on any individual case. That would be for the family involved. Initially, the media was unsure what this story had to do with Wales. I had to explain that there are no consultant led maternity services in Montgomeryshire, and the majority of mums cross the border into Shropshire for hospital based births. Any births expected to carry extra 'risk' will take place at the new Women's and Children's Hospital at Telford. Today, I agreed to be interviewed by BBC Wales, by Newyddion and by Post Prynhawn on Radio Wales. I believe both TV channels also interviewed a Newtown family who lost a child.

Over the last 15 years, I've taken a very keen interest in the delivery of secondary care services in Shropshire. Montgomeryshire depends on them. The reason I was not surprised by today's news story was that I was involved in detailed discussions with the Chief Executive of the SaTH (Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust) last month. We all welcomed the decision taken in January by Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt to ask NHS England and NHS Improvement to investigate each case over recent years where the death of a baby was judged to be 'avoidable'. SaTH has also asked the Royal College of Obstreticians to review its entire maternity service, and return six months later to assess progress against any targets set. It's so important to SaTH that it's maternity services is top standard and known to be top standard.

A real worry to me arising out of today's publicity is the negative impact it may have on the thinking of consultants who might think about coming to work in Shropshire. There is already serious pressure on some services arising from an inability to attract consultants to Shropshire. Inevitably, insufficient consultant cover means clinically unsafe services and then the migration of services out of Shropshire altogether and further away from Mid Wales. That's why a proper response to the 'avoidable baby deaths' issue is so crucial. Over the last few months, I have developed a growing respect for the current SaTH management, and expect a response based on fulsome apologies to every family affected, an intense investigation into every case and total transparency. It's the only response that will be acceptable.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dithering over Shropshire NHS Reform.

This week it's my turn to write the 'Politically Speaking' column for the County Times. So I've decided to get a few things off my chest. As follows;

Not for the first time, my 'Politically Speaking' column concerns the Shropshire NHS services available to patients in mid Wales. The current position is deeply worrying.  In 2014 all management groups in Shropshire and Mid Wales agreed reform of A&E service provision has to be reformed to remain clinically safe and sustainable. Both Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), SaTH (Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust, and Powys agreed to set up an organisation called 'Future Fit' (a weird confusing title) to recommend how reform should be taken forward. They decisively recommended that there should be one Emergency Centre, located at Shrewsbury, which would handle about 20% of those currently turning up at A&E - the 20% that are life-threatening emergencies. It would also handle complex births and paediatrics. 'Future Fit' took 3 years and investment of £2 million pounds to arrive at its recommendation - only for Telford and Wrekin CCG to reject it last Christmas. This was a stunning blow to those of us who want to see thriving hospitals at both Shrewsbury and Telford, serving Shropshire and Mid Wales patients.

For a few days the two CCGs and 'Future Fit' were like rabbits in headlights. Eventually it was decided the only way forward was to commission a report to establish the credibility and soundness of the 'Future Fit' report which had been rejected. This should have been produced many weeks ago, in order that the next stage of public consultation could begin. We are still waiting! I become increasingly fearful that the Chief Executive of 'Future Fit' is not capable of delivering this report in time. The current dithering and delay is simply not acceptable. Unless there is real progress in the next week or two, the Chief Executive of 'Future Fit' should be replaced. The NHS serving Shropshire and Mid Wales is too important to be left floundering because of a failure to deliver. We have waited long enough. Patience has been exhausted.

And another important change is needed. The two CCGs who could not reach agreement should both be scrapped, and replaced by one Shropshire CCG. It seems that this change is on the agenda, but it should happen now. It's clear that the territorial instincts inherent in the current CCG structure is incapable of making decisions for the overall benefit of Shropshire and Mid Wales patients. If it's accepted that merger is the only way forward, and I think it is, why not get on with it and sort it now. While all this dithering and posturing continues, it is the patients who suffer.

In situations like this, it's easy to just let things drift. But 'drift' has serious implication for the NHS serving Shropshire and Mid Wales. The refusal to commit to reform which all the clinicians, (and those not seeking to pursue political interests) know are crucial to a safe and sustainable future, make both Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals look unsustainable to the rest of the UK (even the world, where quality consultants often come from). They will not come to work in Shropshire. We know that two weeks ago, neurological services for all new patients were transferred with immediate effect to Wolverhampton. I'm president of both the local branches of Motor Neurone Disease and Parkinson's so appreciate the implications of this. The reason is inability to attract suitable skilled consultants. More and more services will be transferred to Stoke, Wolverhampton and elsewhere. It’s happening now. 

And finally there's the availability of Government money to finance the reform of emergency services. It will need around £200 million. Currently, we have a small window of opportunity to access the money. Further delay will see this window close, see reform stifled for the long term, and Shropshire hospitals lose services to further afield. And it's the injured, the seriously ill and the frail who will pay the price for dithering. It's utterly shameful.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

World Parkinson's Disease Day

Despite having no family history of Parkinson's Disease or Motor Neurone Disease, I'm president of local Montgomeryshire branches of both. So called today by a PD lunch at the Royal Oak where members were enjoying a lunch to mark the 200th anniversary of an essay written by Dr James Parkinson on The Shaking Palsy, the first recognition of the condition Peter to be named after him. He observed that if a patient placed a trembling arm on a table and it stopped shaking, the patient did not have PD, or what he called The Shaking Palsy. If it continued to shake, the patient did suffer from the condition. I'm sure Dr Parkinson would be disappointed if he were alive today to observe that there is not a total cure for the condition. There have certainly been improvements in treatment, and better controls enabling many who live with PD to enjoy much more full and active lives. April 11th is still designated World Parkinson's Disease Day because it was Dr Parkinson's birthday.

The cause of Parkinson's was not established until the 1950s, when it became understood that the cause is cell damage in the mid-brain leading to a decrease in the amount of dopamine produced. This causes neurones to fire uncontrollably which leads to the patients loss of control. Since then drugs have been developed to correct the dopamine difficiency, and later a procedure known as 'deep brain stimulation' further improved treatment. Dr Parkinson might have hoped for more in 200 yrs.

Through my involvement with people living with neurological diseases, I've learned quite a bit about them. Many have become good friends. I'm sure there will someday be a complete treatment which reverses the progression of PD and not just controls it. Coincidentally, there is discussion in today's news about promising research which may deliver progress. I've read this sort of report before. We will have to wait and see.

And finally, I never fail to be emotionally effected by just how accepting of the condition those living with PD are. Invariably they just get on with life and make the best of it. When I accepted the wonderful Ann Smedley's invitation to be president of the Montgomeryshire branch of PD, I had not realised how rewarding it would be.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Defence Budget.

Not been near my blog site for a while and how I would like to write about the turbulence involving the Welsh Conservative (and Independent) Group in the Welsh Assembly. But serving as PPS in the Wales Office tells me that I should hold my tongue. Refused more media interviews in the last few days than I have since being elected an MP seven years ago. My time will come though.

So tonight I will write about the UK's commitment to defence. Read an article by Roger Bootle in today's Telegraph which linked well with reflection on the Trump military strike on Homs Airport and Boris pulling out of his trip to Moscow. Since I've been an MP, I've thought the UK does not spend enough on defence. I've been very much a member of the 2% club - those MPs demanding that the UK Government spends 2% of GDP on defence. I accept this is more 'symbolic' percentage than a carefully worked out demand-led figure. But it makes the point. Every Government, since states identified defined territories, has a first duty towards the protection of its citizens from external threats.

Over recent decades, there has grown a view by many that external threats have lessened, largely because there have been no major wars between European countries. This is true. The reasons are disputed. Some think it's a consequence of the establishment of the European Union, while others point to the development of nuclear weapons and Mutually Assured Destruction. It doesn't really make much difference. The external threat today is not from other European countries, but from well armed states like Russia and Korea. And China is investing mega-money in defence. Others are upping defence spending as well.

I suspect I'm in a minority. Most public demand for increased spending is for health and social care, the welfare state and education (even when our debt and deficit are at eye-watering levels). The UK is the world's 5th largest economy, with significant global interests, likely to become more global, post Brexit. And defence spending underpins technology development in the UK, career development, soft power across the world and a strong British element in European defence. I think I may have talked myself into joining the 2.5% club.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Council Election Candidates - Montgomeryshire

Heulwen Hulne - Independent
Ann Jones - Plaid Cymru
Ann Lewis - Welsh Conservatives

Michael Jones - Independent - Elected.

Angharad Mair Butler - Plaid Cymru
Diane Jones-Poston - Welsh Conservatives
Dai Jones - Independent.

John Wilkinson - Welsh Conservative - Elected

Gareth Pugh - Welsh Conservative
Leon Karl Shearer - Independent.

Peter Lewis - Welsh Conservative
Richard Chaloner - Welsh Greens.

Phil Bettley - Welsh Conservative
Alan Roger Burch - Welsh Lib Dem.
Dai Davies - Independent.

Graham Frederick Brand - Welsh Greens
Graham McArthur - Independent
Gareth Morgan - Welsh Lib Dem
Pam Smith - Welsh Conservative.

Calum Davies - Welsh Conservative
Elwyn Vaughan - Plaid Cymru.

Simon Baynes - Welsh Conservative.
Bryan Peryddon Davies - Plaid Cymru
Jenny Mathews - Welsh Greens
Darren Mayor - Independent.

Aled Davies - Welsh Conservative
Steve Jones - Welsh Greens.

David John Collington - Welsh Lib Dems
Les George - Welsh Conservatives
Pippa Pemberton - Welsh Greens.

Berwyn Davies - Independent
Christopher Richards- Welsh Lib Dems
Gwynfor Thomas - Welsh Conservatives.

Michael Williams - Independent - Elected

Stephen Hayes - Independent
Jeremy Thorp - Welsh Greens.

Gwyneth Bird - Welsh Conservatives
Linda Corfield - Independent.

Roy Norris - Plaid Cymru
Derry Quinlan - Welsh Lib Dems
Dan Rowlands - Welsh Conservatives

David Selby - Welsh Lib Dems
Rupert Taylor - Welsh Conservatives.

Sion Conlin - Independent
Richard Edwards- Plaid Cymru
Sharon Evans - Independent
Neil Morrison - Welsh Conservatives.

Ian Harrison - Welsh Conservatives
David Jones - Independent
Jennifer Susan Pratt - Welsh Lib Dems.

Paul Martin - Welsh Conservatives
Kath Roberts-Jones - Independent.

Graham Breeze - Independent
Folkert Veenstra - Welsh Lib Dem.

Myfanwy Alexander - Independent
Dafydd Morgan Lewis - Plaid Cymru.

Mike Harris - Indepenent
Karl Lewis - Welsh Conservatives
William Alistair McAllister-Lovett - Plaid Cymru
David Christopher Williams - Welsh Greens

Mark Barnes - Welsh Conservatives
Peter Hough - Welsh Liberal Democrats.
Emyr Sean Poole- Plaid Cymru
Richard White - Independent.

Dave Edwards - Welsh Liberal Democrats
Lucy Roberts- Welsh Conservatives.

Mat Edwards - Welsh Conservatives
Arwel Jones - Independent.

Gareth Jones - Independent
Jennifer Margaret Elizabeth Trythall - Welsh Greens.

Pamela Jane James - Independent
Emyr Jones - Independent
Gary Northeast - Plaid Cymru
Nick Powell - Welsh Conservatives.

Joy Jones - Independent - Elected

Marion Brench - Welsh Lib Dems
Andrew Capel - Independent
Phyl Davies - Welsh Conservatives
Pam Williams - Welsh Greens

Jessica Bradley - Independent
Amanda Fenner - Welsh Conservatives.

Richard Church - Welsh Lib Dems
Des Parkinson - Welsh Conservatives
Phil Pritchard - Independent.

Ruth Canning - Welsh Conservatives
Francesca Jump - Welsh Lib Dems
Steve Kaye - Undeclared
David Senior -Plaid Cymru.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Nuclear Power in the UK.

To begin. If you are just reading this, looking to criticise and make some **** comment, don't bother. Comments are so miserable, (and almost always anonymous) that I'm no longer going to publish them. If you have no wish to engage in constructive debate, go read someone else's blog. I don't write it for you. I write it for me, to help me think through issues of concern.

And today's issue is nuclear power. The future of nuclear power in the UK looks very uncertain. For years we've watched the twists and turns at the Hinckley Point development in Somerset, not entirely certain it would ever get off the ground. The French Govt has been hugely committed though, and through EDF, has shown great commitment to the UK. Often through history, France has been a friend to the UK, never more so than during the Falklands crisis. Any supposed 'enmity' twixt the UK and France is usually fictitious.

But what's triggered this post is the proposed Nugen power plant at Moorside in Cumbria. I'd thought this would be the first of a new generation of nuclear power stations to begin operations in the UK. Looking a bit unlikely today, with the US based developer, Westinghouse, declaring bankruptcy - all stemming from financial problems for Japanese conglomerate Toshiba. The big question now is where is the risk money going to come from. Inevitably, there will be calls for the UK Gov't to step in, borrowing the money at comparatively low rates. And if the Govt does agree to stand part of the financial risk, how long will it be until the Horizon project at Wylfa is making the same demand? Big important decisions on the Govt's desk.

Inevitably there will plenty calling for the abandonment of new nuclear altogether. I might have been with them 15 yrs ago, until I signed up to a carbon emissions reduction agenda. Moorside will generate 7% of the UK's energy needs - stable, consistent and carbon emissions free. Eventually, wecan hope that Small Modular Reactors become a reality. But that is all at the pilot stage. One for the future. No doubt, there will be more uncertainties ahead, but I expect the UK Govt to be resolute and deliver on new nuclear power.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Trouble in Gibraltar

I first went to Gibraltar 47 yrs ago. For 10 days in July/Aug. It was hot. In those days I was a keen runner,  and the staff in our hotel thought I was some sort of leading athlete. At the time I was playing rugby around Shropshire and Lancashire/Midlands area and a fitness fanatic. I just loved running. One of my biggest disappointments today is that because of back/knee problems I can no longer run. Liked the local macaques and the underground caves. Couldn't afford to stay in the Rock Hotel, and always hankered on returning to do so.

But back to the matter of Gibraltar currently being in the news. It all seems a bit odd to me. An unnecessary row that shouldn't have happened. There are some things we know. Gibraltar was ceded to Great Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht about 300 yrs ago. Gibraltar is British. Polls tell us that around 99% of Gibraltarians consider themselves British. Coincidentally when I was there in 1969 there was a General Election taking place. Robert Peliza, leader of the Integration With Britain Party (IWBP) took over as Prime Minister from the long dominant Joshua Hassan. The aim was to elect MPs to Westminster. It was that British. It still is.

We also know that Spain claims Gibraltar as Spanish. No grounds at all. Spain just wants it - in the way a child might want another child's doll or toy tractor. We know Gibratarians voted Remain (96%)   in the EU referendum and are not happy with the UK leaving. But they are still British. They leave with us. I really cannot comprehend why the EU has decided to become involved, suggesting that Spain should have a veto over whether Gibraltar should be part of any UK trade deal with the EU. It's not that a Spanish veto is unacceptable. It's beyond my understanding how anyone would think anything else. I suppose it's thrown casually into the negotiation pot as something that can be traded. Anyway, in my view that is no way a Spanish veto is going to happen.

I went back to Gibraltar a few months back for its National Day. Memories of good times. But we didn't stay in The Rock Hotel. I'm feeling a desire to go back again - to show solidarity with fellow British citizens. And I will make sure I do stay in the Rock Hotel next time.