Judy Terry is a marketing professional who stood down as a councillor last May.
The general election campaign kicked off for me when, very late on 2nd January evening, Ipswich Borough Council’s newspaper popped through my letterbox. The November/December ‘festive’ edition told me all about free park and ride in the run-up to Christmas, bin collections over the holiday period and how to contact the council on boxing day!
I was also reminded that this year’s panto was Cinderella, finishing on 30th December. If only I’d known!
In the coming months, several more editions of this Labour propaganda, designed to promote the council leader, who also happens to be their parliamentary candidate, will find their way into my cat’s litter tray, with the council leader’s smiling face uppermost; crap on crap, so to speak..
And the annual cost? £75,000! Such hypocrisy, when the council continues to bleat about a ‘lack of government funding’ and increase council tax, penalising hard working families and pensioners.
Running alongside the General Election will be lots of local elections right across the country, with campaigns no doubt emulating those already launched by the party leaders – the NHS versus the economy. Raising the fear factor by misrepresenting facts means that no-one can be believed; the general public are not as stupid as some politicians seem to think.
Whilst Ed Miliband reportedly intends to ‘weaponise’ the NHS, people know that, although under pressure for a number of reasons (not least the irresponsible third who clog up A & E with minor problems which could be dealt with by pharmacists, GPs or just the application of some commonsense) it is not going to disappear.
They dislike it being used as a political football, but are aware that reform is required; pouring more money into it is not the sole answer.
One solution, would be to have discussions with private health insurers to see whether they can provide lifetime packages from an early age, enabling some conditions to be treated privately, leaving NHS hospitals to re-focus. It could also bring significant investment into new facilities/equipment for cost-effective joint working – for example attaching walk-in centres to existing GP/dental practices, pharmacies and major retailers (many now with unwanted space) as well as hospitals, with extended hours – including weekends – to suit working people who cannot take time off during the day.
Such a suggestion will undoubtedly be booed by those too ready with accusations of ‘privatisation’, when all I am proposing is that we seek solutions, however radical.
Health & Wellbeing boards should explore the potential urgently, whilst also enquiring how the extra £700m government funding for A & E has actually been spent by local hospitals; Clifford Mann, President of the College of Emergency Medicine, suspects that some hospitals re-allocated it. He has also said that there needs to be more co-location of health provision (confirming my own view). So why aren’t all GP commissioning groups sharing council offices, as in Bury St. Edmunds? Separate accommodation merely emphasises the continued silo mentality, whilst adding to costs.
Former GP, Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the Health Scrutiny committee in Parliament, and is always worth listening to, recently said that health needs vary around the country because of disparate populations: different age groups, ethnicity, education, lifestyles, etc. and the regions should identify for themselves how services need to be adapted to meet their specific challenges.
Given that we have a million more people over 80 compared with 2010, the right housing could have a significant impact to extend independence. Health & Wellbeing boards now acknowledge this, but have no housing expertise (private sector please). So the lack of a joined up strategy leaves older people especially vulnerable, with more now suffering urgent healthcare problems, leading to red light transmission to A & E, which, in turn, leads to ‘bed blocking’ because these patients remain in hospital for longer than necessary, having nowhere else to go.
It’s surely time that council leaders did something about it!
They should use their New Homes Bonus, and the current government’s additional £5 billion to improve social care integration, to co-operate with suitable developers and housing associations to prioritise specialist retirement housing across all tenures for our ageing population, to deliver:
1. Improved health, happiness and wellbeing for residents;
2. Lower health and social care bills through better living environments; and
3. Highly sustainable developments with lower heating bills for older people.
Although it’s obvious that ‘austerity’ has further to go, voters are more confident about their own finances, and want to keep more of their money to spend on their own priorities. They know that the state is bloated and want to hear the truth from politicians. They want to see strong leadership, politicians they can trust with creative solutions, realistic promises and upbeat messages about the direction of travel, rather than negativity and ‘hopelessness’ – remember that if you want them to put their cross somewhere on the ballot paper, preferably in the Conservative box.
Politicians have to earn voters’ respect and the unseemly start to the general election campaign so far is hardly a good advert. 2015 is going to be a dirty fight, and the dirtier it becomes the more people will be turned off or decide to give their vote to fringe parties, deliberately causing an upheaval to leave the established parties in limbo. If that happens, the parties only have themselves to blame, whether in local or national elections. Voters are intelligent, and they want intelligent debate on the issues which concern them.