Not In A Tent

In October I’m going be a guest blogger at the Berwick Literary Festival, in NorthumberlandBefore I share what’s on offer; some admissions… I’ve only been to a literary festival once in my life and only been to Berwick twice. For someone who loves the spoken and written word so much and who lives only 40 minutes away from Berwick by train, then nothing to be proud of. I seem to have spent most of my time at the theatre or cinema over the years and Berwick has been a station I pass through, on the way from Newcastle to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. But come October, for three days, I will be going between the various venues around Berwick; listening to contributors; taking notes; blogging and chatting in the festival hub at the Corner House Café and staying overnight. An adventure is in store. 

The festival takes place from Thursday 19 October to Sunday 22 October, mostly within the walls of the historic town, at venues such as the Guildhall and the Holy Trinity Parish Centre. I went on a recce this week with programme co-ordinator Mike Fraser. From talking with Mike I see how Berwick’s festival sets it apart from the literary ones at Hay and Edinburgh… it’s small and intimate; affordable; has a great mix of regional and national contributors; depends on volunteers… and as advertised – it’s not in a tent. A plus for a north east coastal town, in the middle of autumn. 

Take a look at their website for the full programme; festival blogs; list of patrons and sponsors and much more. Award-winning radio and TV poet and raconteur Ian McMillan is participating this year, along with debut novelist Polly Clark; cartoonist Tony Husband; Bloodaxe Books’ Neil Astley; former newspaper editor David Banks and the founder of Barter Books in Alnwick, Mary Manley… to name a few. There’ll be song, music, poetry, novels, non-fiction and screen writing. As Mike Fraser blogs: there’s something for everybody.

There’s a schools’ programme too, with Stuart Reid and Bea Davenport running workshops. Stuart, a children’s author from the Borders, will be catering for primary age pupils. While Bea, whose upcoming YA novel The Misper will be on sale at the festival, is going into Berwick Academy to facilitate two 60-minute creative writing workshops. I spoke with Bea today and discussed the fact that pupils in school don’t experience the freedom of creative writing enough. Bea feels very passionate about authors going into schools and trained with the National Literacy Trust. 

I’m particularly interested in the schools’ programme, as I volunteer as a writing mentor at Live Tales, Newcastle. Live Tales is linked to Live Theatre and offers free writing workshops for schools (Go to for more info) Such sessions at the festival, and at Live Tales, boost children’s wellbeing and creativity and can inspire them. More about Stuart’s and Bea’s endeavours in October and of course about the events I decide to attend. Lots on offer; difficult decisions to be made. 

Finally, another admission… I’m sure Roald Dahl based ‘Matilda’ on me, as I wasn’t allowed to read as a child at home. It was considered a waste of time! However, I read treasured gifts of books under the covers at night with a torch and adored story time in school. I savoured every word. And despite that initial dearth of books; my home now creaks with the weight of them. As I said, I love the spoken and written word, but I think it’s definitely time to meet some wordsmiths and purveyors of words.

Tickets are on sale now for the festival. There are Weekend Passes too. Prices and how to book are on the website. Book early to make sure you hear the contributors you’re most interested in, or take a chance on something new. Join me this October… let’s go on this adventure together. 

Slightly Foxed ~ a new second-hand bookshop, Berwick

Looking out to sea from the mouth of the Tweed, Berwick
From a railway carriage, the bridge at Berwick


Stronger Together… 

That was the purpose and the message at last night’s meeting in Newcastle. No faffing about. No dilly dallying. No objections. Various NHS campaigners from around the North East behaving as activists and organising a Health bloc at the NUT Education rally on Saturday 27 May, in Newcastle ~ under the umbrella of North East Health Campaigns Together (NEHCT). 

Before the looming General Election on 8 June, it’s one last push to inform any wavering members of the public that education and health are up there with the ecomomy, jobs, DWP travesties and housing as the clinch pins of what this General Election is all about. All the issues that are effected by Tory ideology and austerity measures. 

Amongst those present were: Save South Tyneside Hospital; Save North Tyneside NHS; Keep Our NHS Public NE; KONP Durham; KONP Gateshead and Defend Tynedale NHS Services. Officiently chaired by Tony Dowling, of People’s Assembly NE, the meeting lasted just under the hour. Everyone was in agreement – let’s stand united against the Tories and their dismantling and privatisation of OUR NHS. 

In fact the NHS will be 69 years old on 5 July. And a week of celebration was discussed too. Hopefully it will be a celebration. 

Let’s get this message out – hands off our NHS to the Tories. And let’s get Theresa May booking that removal van for 9 June. 

Please join us on 27 May at Grey’s Monument at 12.30pm. And look out on social media for further details of speakers on that day. 

It’s time to say loud n clear: Cut back? Fight back! 

“The Red Lion” Live Theatre Review ~ April 2017 

Plays; are less to do with subject matter and more to do with relationships. 

If this wasn’t true I would never have loved And Then Come The Nightjars last year; all about the foot and mouth tragedy on a farm. A beautiful, organic play. And I would never have gone this Tuesday, to see The Red Lion; all about football, as I know nowt bout footie. Both plays shown at Live Theatre, Newcastle. Both one-location plays. Both, with no interval, had my attention all the way through. 

Masterfully written by Patrick Marber and directed by Max Roberts and played by the hat-trick: Stephen Tompkinson, John Bowler and Dean Bone –  The Red Lion roared and whispered its story. The three hander sees three generations of men, in the locker room of a semi-professional football club. A club that could be anywhere in England, except the Geordie vernacular grounds this adaptation in the North East. Three men who represent the different sides of football, but also the different sides of human needs, deceptions, ambitions and integrity. It’s a play about community, identity – belonging. 

All three actors gave nuanced performances, with Stephen Tompkinson, as Kidd the manager of the club, taking it OTT when need be with just the right touch. Local lad, young Dean Bone, proficiently plays the wide-eyed new recruit Jordan. Dean has been rightly nominated as Best Newcomer in the Journal Culture Awards 2017, for his roles in The Savage and The Terminal Velocity of Snowflakes. Both plays I placed in my top three, at the Live last year (Nightjars of course was on that list too). And John Bowler gives a touchingly, measured portrayal of Yates – the kit-man; the has-been. The exchanges between Kidd and Yates are the most moving for me and I had to wipe a tear for sure when Yates lays into Kidd, taking him apart layer by layer. It would have been funny, if it wasn’t so sad. Bowler’s moments of silent reaction were class too. The blue banter is very funny and comedic timing adds to the mix. The whole thing’s masterful. 

I relished spotting the holy undertones and references along the way. The name Jesus – up on the whiteboard in the team formation; Kidd calling Yates – Judas; Yates being bathed in the locker room sink as a baby – substitute sink for font. 

I read that Kidd and Yates represent post and pre Thatcherite times – I thought Yates was more like Kidd’s conscience… isn’t that the same thing? 

It all sounded, smelt, looked… like a football locker room, even though I have no experience. I can imagine the set by Patrick Connellan is spot on. Little details such as the rusting light strips and clumps of mud with the dirty kit gave it authenticity. One query: was that a real bag of frozen peas, used as an ice-pack? 

The whole production team should feel proud and once again I wanted to shake the hand of all involved. The Live Theatre never fails to showcase the best talent around, locally and nationally. Get tickets; go see; before the 4 star reviews kick in. 

(The Red Lion runs ’til 6 May at Live Theatre, Newcastle) 

The Pride of Durham 

And they did themselves, their kids and their communities proud. The Lions of Durham marched in full voice on Saturday 25 March ~ from the centre of the city ~ over the River Wear ~ up to the Miners’ Hall. 

Hundreds of teaching assistants (TAs) from County Durham, known as the Durham Lions, were joined by hundreds and hundreds of supporters from all around the country. A massive show of solidarity. A massive message to the 57 Labour councillors who have threatened dismissal and a pay cut of up to 23% – that “it ain’t over yet!”

For 18 months the TAs have battled. And still Durham County Council (DCC) is dragging its heels. For 18 months the TAs and their families have had this dispute hanging over them. 

The march through Durham took about 40 minutes, with Saturday shoppers wishing them well. The TAs’ banner led the way, closely followed by the Durham Miners’ Association’s (DMA) Men of Merit banner, bearing the name and face of the late General Secretary: Dave Hopper. Davey was instrumental in taking the TAs under their wing. The association of miners knows only too well what it feels like to be threatened and vilified. 

Other banners representing ATL, Unite, NUT, Unison, RMT, Momentum snaked behind – people with banners from eg, London, Derby, Doncaster and Newcastle. And of course the TAs were recognisable, wearing their white, blue and yellow t-shirts, with #ValueUs emblazoned on the back. The highlight though had to be a young lad, about ten years old, supporting the march with his Dad. He stood at a crossroads chanting: “Who are ya? What do you want? When do you want it?” –  No megaphone needed; waiting for the appropriate responses. 

Eventually the Miners’ Hall at Redhills was in sight. And what a sight. A huge, red brick building with a sweeping drive. I get goosebumps every time I walk towards it and take a pew in the magnificent hall. Those walls have heard some words, debates and speeches. 

The rally had an impressive line-up of 11 speakers – six union reps, four TAs… and class warrior Dave Ayre. All orators. Every one held my attention; every one speaking with conviction and compassion; every one with a strong message to DCC; every one bringing the sting of a tear to my eyes… and bringing the audience… to its feet. That’s a rally! 

Negotiations have been on and off for a year and a half, with the TAs taking strike action last autumn. What a toll on people’s physical and mental health. As Dave Ayre rightly said: “It’s mental torture.” There does appear to be a “handle” on talks again last week. But Dave Ayre’s wisdom should be heeded – “handles can fall off” and a “spare handle” of taking direct action should be kept at the ready. 

Overall the mood of the rally was upbeat and uplifting. With one of the guests, Kevin Courtney (Gen Sec NUT) speaking of the value of TAs; victory; reiterating that education needs investment not cuts and that low paid workers are not a soft target. He reflected the tone of the other speakers and the audience. A nod was given to the TAs from Derby, who have had a similar struggle, and a standing ovation showed appreciation of the contingent’s presence in the hall. Megan Charlton, Secretary of the TAs’ committee, said the Lions had taken their lead from the miners and a healthy disregard for authority and taken their name from the workers at Grunwick – the original Lions. Another TA on the committee, Lisa Turnbull, spoke of the TAs having the power of “Bounce Backability.” Stronger together is the message I heard throughout the rally. Close to one thousand supporters on Saturday heard it too and echoed it by joining in with Dave Ayre singing: We Shall Overcome. Lisa was right, memories are made of such days. 

So, come on Labour councillors play your part now and show the people of Durham County that you value their children’s futures… and therefore value the TAs who teach the children and who contribute to the growth of our region. Do yourselves proud DCC and stay true to the Labour movement. 

And if TAs you ever waiver, then I hope the energy and support from the whole afternoon was bottled and stored to boost you. The finish line is near. Collective voices will be heard. And victory is justifiably yours. 

To #OurNHS ~ with love 

My abiding memory from the #OurNHSdemo in London last Saturday 4 March? Marching through Trafalgar Square. Traffic at standstill; police marking the way; chants of Whose NHS? Our NHS; tourists snapping in awe. A black helicopter whirring high above us. It felt historical. Monumental. 

And it was. It was the largest NHS demonstration in history. Peaceful protesters marched from Tavistock Square… past Nelson’s Column… down Whitehall… past Downing Street and the Department of Health to the rally in Parliament Square. However, only one Sunday paper ran with this huge event on their front page the next day. There were online news reports and postings on Twitter and Facebook, but people at home seemed dismayed with the scant TV coverage. The BBC reported tens of thousands took to the streets – I think they needed to add another zero – as the police estimated 250, 000 people took part. That’s monumental. 

The march and rally, organised by the People’s Assembly and Health Campaigns Together, had an impressive line up of speakers too: Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Jacqui Berry, Len McCluskey, Danielle Tiplady, Mark Serwotka, Jeeves Wij, Dr Tony O’Sullivan and many more. The rally began at 2pm and lasted a couple of hours. But due to the vast number on the march, not everyone managed to get down to Parliament Square in time to hear all of the speakers – this is not a criticism, but further testament to the amazing turn out of committed people. 

Unions such as Unite, PCS, GMB, The BMA and Unison were represented. People were armed with banners, flags, PA systems, megaphones, whistles and voices. And after a seven hour coach journey from Newcastle, I definitely was up for making some noise. 

Everyone was there for different reasons. Everyone had their own story to tell. If you search on youtube you will find amateur and professional footage of the day. Or search for journalist Steve Topple, filming his first documentary for The Canary, by garnering facts and opinions from some eminent people such as Dr Phil Hammond and Jolyon Rubinstein. He even nabbed Corbyn and McDonnell for comment. 

Words and phrases such as underfunding; STPs; no NHS cuts; appreciation of staff; Hunt Must Go and political choices were repeated throughout the day by speakers and interviewees. But we all had one thing in common – every one of us and everyone at home who couldn’t make it – we all had one main aim – to defend the NHS and tell the Tories it’s OURS. 

I’ve often said that my GP has been steadfast in my corner when times were tough. So Corbyn’s speech resonated with me. He said: 

Defending the NHS is defending a basic human value and a basic human right.

He then continued:

You don’t walk by on the other side, when somebody is in difficulties or needing help and support. You put your arms round them and give them the love, the support and the comfort that they need. That’s what our NHS has been doing for all of us for all of our lives.

That certainly is true for me and my family. We are indebted. That was the reason behind my 57 tweets to Jeremy Hunt last year – one for every year I’ve needed our NHS so far. 

Owen Smith MP tweeted on the day: what was the point of the march? He obviously wasn’t there to feel the camaraderie and to know how it feels to be stronger together. He obviously didn’t hear Corbyn say: “Defend the NHS with all of your might.” He obviously doesn’t realise that people can then take the energy and momentum from such a massive demonstration, to lobby their MPs and councillors… and to fight local cuts and closures. Just yesterday I was part of a group collecting signatures outside a Walk-in Centre in North Tyneside, which is facing closure this October, along with another centre. We will be left with one instead of three. We were asking residents to say no to the closure of primary care services in the community. Surely such closures will compound the pressure on GPs and A&E departments? And there would have been countless other campaigns going on across the country yesterday too. People defending our NHS and our right to healthcare. It is a right. It is not a commodity. 

John McDonnell began his speech by paying a “debt of honour to the junior doctors who took strike action last year.” Part of their message was to highlight the plight of the NHS. And today they still blog, tweet and write articles about the front line pressures and the risk to patients. Nurses and other NHS staff are fighting a pay restraint and urge people to back their #scrapthecap campaign. McDonnell said he and Corbyn will stand on the picket lines and carry on taking to the streets, if any further industrial action is needed to be taken by any NHS healthcare workers. That they will do whatever it takes to save the NHS. All fighting talk. 

But we need more action and we really do need to be all in this together. We can’t leave it to some doctors, nurses, campaigners, activists and a few MPs and councillors. Hammersmith Labour council have said no to their STPs. Labour needs to call out to all of their councils to reject STPs and austerity cuts. The NHS Bill needs supporting, which will stop further privatisation and will reinstate the NHS as an accountable public service. The NHS, Social Care and Mental Health services need to be fully resourced. Hound your local MP and councillors and hold them to account. After the disastrous budget last week then email, tweet or write to your MP, asking them to be part of the debate this Tuesday, in Parliament, re the NHS funding crisis and to represent your needs. 

Defending our NHS needs to be the responsibility of all of us – cross party, trade unions and their leaders and patients together. The NHS has shown us so much love; it’s our turn to show it some love back. 

There were 250, 000 voices last Saturday and just as many, if not more, at home in spirit – we are not invisible – we exist and we are not giving up without a fight. Jolyon Rubinstein summed it up for me at the end of his speech on the day: 

As Nelson Mandela said: It always seems impossible until it’s done. 

Warm-up #OurNHS March and Rally ~ Newcastle 

I was one of hundreds and hundreds of people marching from the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle, in support of our NHS, on 4 February. 

People from all backgrounds; of all ages and belonging to lots of trade unions and political parties marched together as one. The RMT, Unite and Unison were represented, to name a few. Along with organisations and parties such as: the Socialist Party, Green Party and the TAs (teaching assistants) from Durham. A show of solidarity for our NHS. A big shout out to Tony Dowling of People’s Assembly NE and to KONP NE (Keep Our NHS Public North East) for organising it. No mean feat. 

Marching (& dancing) to the beat of drummers; waving flags; holding banners & chanting “Whose NHS? Our NHS” we set off ~ with a police escort of two ~ not quite as deserving as a Tyne~Wear derby football match. They stopped the traffic as the peaceful protesters made their way past the Haymarket, and head down Northumberland Street, the main shopping thoroughfare, to Grey’s Monument in the centre of Newcastle for the rally. 

A huge appreciation of our healthcare workers was shown to kick start the rally. And then various speakers outlined the dire NHS crisis we are in the throes of. Some covered the STPs (Sustainability & Transformation Plans) that each regional “footprint” is drafting at the moment. The whole of England has to find “efficiency savings” of £22bn by 2021. The North East is divided into two footprints; one has to find £641m and the other £281m. And that doesn’t include social care savings, that’s just for healthcare. While some measures are commendable, some are not welcome ~ such as the downgrading of the A&E unit at Darlington Memorial Hospital and the closure of a ward at the community hospital in rural Northumberland, at Rothbury. The engagement phase ended in January. Find out about your area’s STP. Get involved in the next phase; the consultation phase. Have your say. 

And where was Jeremy Hunt on Saturday? In the US ~ giving talks on Patient Safety and talking with ‘Big Pharma’. 

Applications to nursing are down by 23%; last year half of junior doctors gave up on training after 2 years; 20 hospitals have been on the most serious Black Alert at some point through January; mental health deaths have increased 50% in the past two years; the budget per head of population will be down 0.6% next year; ever increasing PFI debts (Private Financial Investments ~ taken out to build hospitals) equal £12bn per year and the waiting time for “long-wait” routine operations has risen 163% since 2012… and Hunt was getting schmoozy with the US! 

In my previous blog ~ Part 2: Trust me Mr Hunt, I’m an NHS patient ~ I described the state of the NHS as a game of Jenga. That it is being taken apart brick by brick and that we are heading towards a full privatisation. And Hunt in the US equals more Jenga bricks being removed for sure. Last week in the House of Commons, Theresa May said the NHS wasn’t for sale. Safe in Tories’ hands? Bollocks. Our NHS is up for grabs. 

It is a political choice to underfund our NHS. Money was found for the 2008 bank bailout. Money is found for Trident; which doesn’t even know which direction to move in. And it definitely looks more and more like a political choice to allow private companies to get a slice of the action. Healthcare is a right; not a commodity. 

The march and rally were uplifting though ~ we are definitely stronger together. So many people resisting the austerity cuts. Resisting the Tories. Resisting the dismantling of our NHS. 

It was the warm up for the big demo down in London on Saturday 4 March. Join us if you can. Unite and the People’s Assembly are organising coaches. Let’s see thousands, not just hundreds, take to the streets. 

And if you live in North Tyneside and oppose three walk-in centres being reduced to one, then come along to the meeting in North Shields library, on Saturday 11 February at 1.30pm. 

Let’s together give the message ~ hands off ~ it’s OUR NHS. 

Part two: Trust me Mr Hunt, I’m an NHS patient

Since last August I’ve sent Jeremy Hunt 57 tweets over 57 days, a few emails and one blog (Trust me Mr Hunt, I’m a junior doctor’s mam) and no response from him. Granted his department has emailed me back, but that doesn’t count. One email even said: “This may not be the reply you were hoping for.” So here is part two of my series of NHS blogs – even if it’s not what you were hoping for Mr Hunt.

Every time I’ve sat down to write this blog, I haven’t known where to start. And I really still don’t – because the NHS is in one, big, bloody mess. Every week, every day something hits the news about the patients and staff caught up in the quagmire and the demise of it. It’s like a game of Jenga. Piece by piece our NHS is being taken apart.

I have needed and used the NHS for the past 57 years. And when I returned from living in Athens for three years in 2010, the NHS was high on my list as a reason to come back. And now? Now a system so revered by the rest of the world, is on its knees. The situation was so bad the other week that the Red Cross described the state of our health service as a “humanitarian crisis”. Theresa May said the situation was “overblown” by them and Hunt had the gall to say in the House of Commons, that a “few areas” were of concern. He definitely becomes Pinocchio in that building, as it transpired later that day that in fact 20 hospitals had been put on a “Black Alert” (or on an “OPEL 4 Alert” as hospitals have been told to call them. Campaigners claim the ban on the term Black Alert came about to spin the NHS out of crisis). A Black Alert is the most serious alert; meaning a hospital is “unable to deliver comprehensive care and there is increased potential for patient care and safety to be compromised.” Out of 120 trusts, almost half have declared a major alert during January this year.

But whatever the semantics or codes used; the NHS is in crisis and healthcare practitioners (HCPs) and patients have taken to Twitter, with #NHSCrisis … to illustrate the fact. A litany of atrocious situations has been described. Trawl the hashtag on Twitter or read the chronicles on the internet to find out. Three news reports have particularly upset and outraged me.

Firstly, a mother released the photo of her child with suspected meningitis – lying on a makeshift bed – made out of two plastic hospital chairs pushed together.

Secondly, in November 2016 patients waiting on trolleys for over 12 hours, after a decision was made to admit them, totalled 456 – the second highest figure on record, 16 times higher than in November 2015.

And finally cancer operations have been cancelled. It is a humanitarian crisis – where’s the humanity or dignity in any of this? It’s criminal.

After the denial, came the deflection from May and Hunt. But none of the above is due to lazy doctors or GPs who already work all hours; nor due to people using A&E for a sore finger; nor due to tourists abusing the system (They account for 0.3% of the NHS budget) or immigrants (who contribute to our NHS) No; all of it is due to a shortage of hospital beds – we have fewer beds per head of population than our neighbouring European countries. All due to chronic underfunding – we spend less on healthcare, as a percentage of GDP, and have fewer doctors and nurses (part three on nursing out next) per head than many of those European countries too. Thousands of HCPs warned us last year though. Kevin O’Kane (consultant) was one, who simply summed up the situation last August in a tweet: “Too few doctors; too few beds.” He continued describing the problem: “Places for medical courses through clearing; deliberate underfunding and swingeing cuts.” Speaking with my son recently, who has just finished 6 months in A&E as part of his training, he said: “Not enough beds for older patients with complex needs.” (Can I add he looks dreadful too – exhausted due to a gruelling shift pattern. That’s the mam coming out in me again).

The emails I received from the Department of Health (DoH) extolling Hunt’s and the government’s intentions, made particular reference to the lie that they are investing £10bn in the NHS. Even their own Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, who chaired a cross party Health Committee, refutes it.

The emails failed to mention: the social care cuts of £4.6bn meaning discharged patients can’t get home to be further cared for; failed to mention the cuts in mental health staff and beds meaning distressed patients having to travel up to 100 miles and be away from family; failed to mention funds for mental health not being ring fenced; failed to mention Virgin Care managing over 230 NHS and social care services over the past 6 years meaning Richard Branson has secured contracts worth £1bn; failed to mention outsourcing of administration services meaning referral letters go to the wrong address causing patients to wait longer for specialist appointments; failed to mention PFIs (private financial investments that were used to build hospitals) continuing to accrue interest meaning the debt to the NHS is worth billions – think the biggest Visa credit card ever; failed to mention that they can advertise the sale of NHS contracts, the latest one is a transport contract worth £515m, meaning for-profit businesses can capitalise on a broken system; failed to mention the American companies who have their fingers in pies over here already, such as Bain Capital and United Health; failed to mention that DoH reported £8.7bn of NHS funds went to private companies in 2015/16; failed to mention nearly 100 GPs less in England in Sept 2016, than in 2015, meaning Hunt’s GP recruitment isn’t going too well; failed to mention GP surgery closures due to lack of funds, meaning loss of vital primary care and GPs having to take out personal loans to pay for redundancies; failed to mention rising business rates for some hospitals, our Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Northumberland faces an £8m bill over the next 5 years, due to a 50% increase; failed to mention Sustainability & Transformation Plans (STPs) in the 44 “Footprint” areas in England, needing to find “efficiency savings” of £22bn, as part of the Five Year Forward View – some of the plans sound commendable, but some also mean cuts – e.g. by 2021 7k NHS jobs and 500 beds are to be cut in North West London (as part of the  £1.3bn savings that have to be found) and in rural South Devon four community hospitals are to be replaced by Wellbeing Hubs (part of their £557m savings) and failed to mention that £2.3m will be spent, in London alone, on management consultants for these STPs.

And definitely would have failed to mention May going cap in hand to see Trump last week, with the possibility of our NHS being on the trading table. And definitely would have failed to mention the revelation 2 days ago, that NHS England’s budget will face a reduction of 0.6% per head in 2018/19. So that IS one big £10bn lie. Expect another email from me Mr Hunt.

No wonder I didn’t know where to start… and I could go on and on.

While Hunt and May deny and deflect. It’s patients and frontline staff who take the brunt. The NHS in England sees one million patients every 36 hours. There are potentially 65 million users of the NHS. And ironically, because we have a population that lives longer, more people are using it today than they were in 1948 when it was founded by Labour. This poses a huge challenge for the NHS, hence the STPs. But why should health trusts and patients and staff bear the load of underfunding? 

Yes, it’s in one big bloody mess, but through it all staff show care and tenacity. Someone who encapsulates what our NHS is all about at its best, is Dr Kate Granger, the doctor who pioneered #hellomynameis … simple words, a simple phrase, but they introduce a healthcare practitioner to a patient, a person and open the door to a dialogue. They begin the message: I care; you count.

Sadly, Kate died in July last year, from a rare terminal cancer, but her legacy carries on through that phrase by her husband Chris Pointon and every single doctor, porter, nurse, GP, physiotherapist and consultant who says it. No lip-service. It is part of person-centred care. My new dentist used it the other day when I met her for the first time. Hospitals, clinics and surgeries are less intimidating because of this person-centred care that pervades medicine today. Couple this compassion with collective knowledge, evidence-based practice, skill, training and the ability to stay awake for 12 hour shifts and you have our health service – one that is free at the point of use; publicly funded … you have OUR National Health Service. It says – we have your back. And every HCP busts a gut every day to deliver it. I think it was Ghandi who said: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” I want our NHS to continue for this very reason.

Trust me Mr Hunt; this is what the world reveres. What decent people revere. As a patient this is what I revere. This is what I need for me and my family and future generations. The NHS needs to be run efficiently, we would all agree, but like education our health is not a commodity… to be sold to the highest bidder. 

Trust me Mr Hunt; as a patient I would like safe, non- urgent or elective 5 day care with 24/7 emergency care. I would like to carry on seeing my own designated GP, who I have built a relationship with, during the week, as I want continuity of care. Mr Hunt, you must know that a pilot study of 7/7 GP care showed it didn’t work – people failed to attend weekend appointments and it wasn’t financially viable. If I need urgent care then I know to seek it through a pharmacist, walk-in centre, GP OOH (Out Of Hours) or NHS 111 service. Although at the moment some don’t seem too healthy, eg in North Tyneside, three walk-in centres are being reduced to one (£904m of health & social care savings need to be found in this Footprint. Big question – are the walk-ins part of the STP? Answers are hard to come by).

I don’t need a truly 7/7 NHS. I need the services we already have to be robust and easily accessible and well-resourced and to carry on being publicly funded. Stop claiming you are fulfilling the promise of a 7/7 NHS, made in some general election manifesto in 2015, and that the electorate want or need it.

My part one NHS blog was viewed nearly 2k times and was all about my perceptions as the mam of a junior doctor. At the end I asked you Jeremy Hunt, our Secretary of State for Health, if you would recommend a medical career, without any caveats, to your own children? In the light of the above and the fact that your own constituency’s hospital, the Royal Surrey County Hospital, was also on a Black Alert, then I am now asking you: “Would you recommend using the NHS to your family, Mr Hunt? Would you, without any reservations?”

I’m imploring you to properly fund our NHS – cancelling the PFI debt would be a good start. Remember you are a civil servant to serve and represent us as a member of parliament, even if the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 does absolve you of total responsibility for our health. It is a political choice as to how you and your government spend our taxes and how you fund OUR NHS. But first you have to acknowledge you are part of the problem, in order to solve the problem.

Realistically? I think this will fall on stony ground… Hunt will carry on being self-serving and he will let the removal of the Jenga pieces to continue. And when it all tumbles, it will allow the full privatisation of the NHS to happen, with every Tom, Richard B and Harry running off with the pieces. A private health insurance system is not a pretty sight. Costs are the biggest cause of bankruptcy in the US. And people with a pre-existing condition, are uninsurable, or at the very best have much higher premiums. Healthcare can’t be paid for by insurers, because insurance needs appropriate risky ratios to succeed. Healthcare becomes a utility, instead of a right. It isn’t a pretty sight.

So now I implore you – the electorate – to keep making some noise by going on Twitter and Facebook, blogging, writing newspaper and journal articles, chatting to friends and family, petitioning, joining campaign groups and unions, getting involved in the next consultation phase of the STPs, lobbying your MP about funding and supporting the NHS Bill (to stop further dismantling and privatisation of the NHS and reinstate it as an accountable public service). Write to or email Hunt about anything NHS. 

Engage. Spread the word.

Resist against cuts and closures now before anymore happen. Protest. Demonstrate. Go to the big #OurNHS demo on 4 March in London – backed by Unite, the BMA and the People’s Assembly. If you can’t go, then attend any local events ahead of the march and rally. Publicise and report the big demo on social media and inform mainstream media.

Basically bug the hell out of all of the political parties. Oust the Tories. Go on… you know you want to. It’s what most of us are hoping for.

Patient feedback (Uncredited)
Third – and final – part out soon  about nursing. 

String Around My Finger 

So it’s the month of cheesy Christmas films on Channel 5 and True Christmas channel. Back to back, wall to wall, take your pick. And on Twitter there are even polls with two battling it out daily. For example, White Christmas Vs. Home Alone. Or Elf Vs. The Santa Clause. Serious stuff. 

My daughter and I have our favourites: Serendipity; Miracle on 34th Street; Christmas with The Kranks; The Holiday and The Family Stone being a few. Yes, we are suckers for soppy, sentimentality. I remember taking my two children to see the remake of Miracle on 34th Street, one Christmas Eve when they were little and having ‘I Believe‘ badges on the car seats, ready for when we were going home. Sucker! 

One particular favourite, loved by many is… It’s A Wonderful Life with James Stewart. I’ve probably seen it more than 5 times all the way through and caught it half way through, about 10 times. A black and white 1946 film, but one that I see in colour. It flopped at the box office when it was first made and only became really popular from the 1970s, when the copyright was lifted and TV could show it without paying royalties. I think it’s James Stewart’s portrayal that endears me to it the most. A masterclass in a range of emotions. Plus that moment when he is praying on the bridge, and I’m not a praying woman either! A film that could be about Tory Britain today. Good ol’ George Bailey the protagonist, is up against the heartless, capitalistic Mr Potter. We don’t see Mr Potter get his comeuppance (something audiences have been outraged about over the years, the director Frank Capra disclosed) but we definitely see the flawed main character get what he needs at the end – he discovers he is rich in friends. Yes, money doesn’t make you happy. But – hang on – didn’t his friends just dump dollar bills and coins on his table to help him out? Didn’t that mean he wasn’t bankrupt? Yes! So, money does help to make you happy? 

The Christmas films would like to have us believe otherwise. They all have happy endings ~ that usually involve true love being found, or lessons being learned, or loved ones being reunited… but none of them happen in dire poverty or squalor. They nearly all take place in some double-fronted house with steps up to a huge front door, which opens up on to a large hall, with a sweeping staircase… you get the picture. Hollywood saccharine… and they’re my guilty pleasure. 

A recent LSE (London School of Economics) study would go along with that Hollywood premise. Led by Lord Layard, it concluded that “Happiness depends on health and friends, not money.” It claimed that “…eliminating depression and anxiety would reduce misery by 20% compared to just 5% if policymakers focused on eliminating poverty.” Bollocks! Anyone who has been sanctioned by the DWP (Dept for Work & Pensions) or is on a zero hour contract, or has been made redundant for example, will vouch for the poverty, trauma and abject unhappiness that they can cause. Utterly ridiculous findings. And a group of psychologists, from Liberation Psychology, responded amongst others by saying: the report was “Simplistic thinking on the causes of human misery.” They claim that “Evidence suggests that austerity damages our collective health.” And made it clear that “…reducing poverty and ensuring good mental health services are not alternatives.” I may like a soppy film, but I know who to believe. 

And in between the Christmas films we are fed the Christmas adverts. They definitely rub salt in the wound – plush decor and clothes; big tables heavy with food and families all happy together. This is the big sell. And only money secures most of it. This is when I can’t bear Christmas. The gorging and overindulging turns my stomach. It adds to my love-hate relationship with Christmas. 

In addition to the above, is the fact that, according to new figures from the charity Shelter, over 120,000 children this Christmas, will be in temporary accommodation. That’s a national scandal; a Tory crime. We need that damning fact broadcast. 

My dread of Christmas has also been linked to past memories. Christmas for me as a child was not the happiest of times. Then it was either tainted by toxic people as a young adult or totally spoilt, when our children alternated tween my ex husband and me. So when a mental health charity asked on Twitter: how do people cope? I jotted down a few strategies that I had come up with when my children were young. I had wanted to find a way to reconcile my various misgivings about Christmas, with making it a happy time for my children and me. First of all, it’s just one day out of 365 for goodness sake – put it in perspective. Also we aren’t going to go hungry, just because the shops are all closed for one day. Next we created our own family traditions – one being that Christmas Eve is sacrosanct and another is cryptic clues on pressies. I also don’t go OTT with presents – birthdays are always more special. I make presents – sometimes! I don’t make mince pies – always! I still do stockings – even now that they’re adults. Give to charities when I’ve been able. Cut out seeing toxic people, only spend time with supportive people. Buy a little pressie for myself. Go for walks, especially around Christmassy places, it costs nothing. And when in doubt, less is more with Christmas decorations, unless it’s fairy lights! 

Just as there is no perfect family set up, there is no perfect way of celebrating. The above suits us, it isn’t for everyone. And there are no hard n fast rules about decorations. For three years I haven’t had a tree. What no tree?! But I found the ideal substitute – see the first photo below of our Christmas cone. I got it when I just couldn’t face decorating a tree one year and it’s our new staple decoration. I do concentrate on making the lounge all cosy and festive with other decorations, usually candles… and fairy lights… of course! (photo 2). 

However, I do love other people’s trees. My niece has a pretty one, with their cute dog Hendrix in prime position (photo 3). And my sister has a magnificent tree – some of her decorations are over 30 years old, on a colour theme and most have a tale to tell (photo 4). Recently on Twitter I saw a lovely idea by Des Davis. He has a ‘Memories of Christmas’ tree – see photo 5. He has decorated bare branches with mementoes of loved ones, as he wants it to have meaning. I noticed the other day a supermarket had one similar – you could donate money to Macmillan Cancer and write a message on a silver star gift tag, in memory of a loved one, and hang it on their tree. 

The memory trees above are symbols of gratitude, rather than just a way of simply remembering. I would think a ‘Memories of Christmas’ tree could have mementoes of various loved ones and friends. Ones who have passed away, ones who have crossed our path at some point and ones who enrich our present day. 

And this is why I love Christmas, when I give a thought to the people who have crossed my path over the years and those who are in my corner day by day, whatever the distance. When I write a card, or send a virtual card on Twitter, or find the gift to match the person – then I’m saying: thank you. I’m feeling grateful. I may not be able to rescue the whole world, but I can definitely be thankful for the people in my own small world, who have shown love, care, friendship, encouragement and support. 

In my second ever blog, Summer Breeze, written this AugustI thanked my grown-up son and daughter, my sister and sister in law and my GP for their love and support over the past few years that have been a particular struggle. Who would I add to this list today? Who would be on my memory tree? I’m afraid I’ll miss someone off! So, Carly Simon once sang… you’re so vain, I bet you think this song is about you. Well… to my family and friends (nearby, abroad and on Twitter) I say… you’re so lovely, I bet you don’t think this blog is about you! And you’re wrong… it is!

Just like George Bailey in the film I need a modicum of monetary wealth to get by. We all do. But just like George Bailey I also have what I need – a bank of good friends and family. George’s Uncle Billy had string tied around various fingers, as an aides-memoire. I don’t need string to help me remember people who have been steadfast. But I think I might be pinching that tree idea from Des next year. 

And on that thought ~ I hope you put your own stamp on this Christmas; savour a moment or two and treasure a memory. Wendy xx

Our Christmas Cone 

Candles & fairy lights 

My niece’s tree 

My sister’s tree 

 Memories of Christmas tree by @DesDavis2 

… post election ‘ramblings’ towards freedom.

Hilary, not Hillary, took the plunge and put thoughts to paper. Thoughts on freedom and nature and kitchen tables. Please take a read of her debut piece. 

the write me

I’m sitting at my kitchen table with my little iPad perched in the centre while I watch the news.  It’s screaming at me about the seismic shift which is unfolding in the free world. The most significant thing to happen in American political history.

kitchen-tables-pic-close-upMy kitchen table is less significant to the world but it is hugely significant in my family’s history.  It’s where me, my husband our children, grandchildren and our friends and their friends have discussed, eaten, laughed, cried, debated and generally sorted out ‘stuff’ for 33 years.  It’s grown with our family – been through changes of situation and personality with changes in fashion and house moves and it has seen many political elections – some with shock results, some predictable but all provoking discussion round this kitchen table.  There have been all nationalities with different religious and political leanings and experiences at our table.  And every…

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Being a Blogger ~ at Live Theatre, Newcastle

In September 2016 I wrote the following for Live Theatre’s website, as an introduction to being the resident blogger for them. It was a voluntary job, but I got a pair of complimentary tickets to see four plays throughout September. The reviews for The 56; And Then Come The Nightjars; Spine and The Lamppost Petition are all here on my wordpress account. If your local theatre runs such a scheme then I thoroughly recommend the experience and if not, then ask them  – why not?!

September’s Resident Blogger

Hello, I’m Wendy Errington and I’m Live Theatre’s resident blogger for September. I also volunteer as a writing mentor, at Live Tales, the theatre’s brand new creative writing centre for children and young people, which officially opens this month.

From being about 4 years old I have loved writing. I remember scribbling on lots of sheets of paper and declaring I had written a story! At school I enjoyed English lessons the most and I guess that’s when my love for Shakespeare and plays kicked in. I have always kept a private journal; full of notes, poems and short stories.

I came late in life to writing for a wider audience. Four years ago I enrolled on the “beaplaywright” online course that the Live Theatre runs. I have completed 3/5 of the modules and I felt a bit stuck recently, until I started blogging on 1 August this year. I have published five blogs so far. Ranging from: reflections, to a Fringe review, to political opinion. I used the review, to apply for this fantastic opportunity at the Live – being a blogger for my favourite theatre in the North East. Blogging and Live Tales seem to have unstuck me!

So as the cliché goes – it’s never too late. And I know I’m going to relish every play I see during September and sharing my thoughts about them with you.