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News and Comment September 2012

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26 September (Part 2) - Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee

I could get used to this new fangled delegation thing. Someone else posted the Sunday blog, Nick Dowling reported on last Saturday’s Parking Consultation in which Bexley council thought it right and proper to engage no Parking Department staff and as I had a prior engagement last night I asked him if he could look in at the Civic Offices to see what Bexley council was up to after its long Summer break. The following is his report. I hope you wrote it all down Nick and didn’t use a sneaky recorder. Presumably you were afforded all the trappings of a bona-fide journalist too in accordance with the new law?

As a resident concerned about politics in Bexley I had hoped that this, the first Bexley council meeting for several months would be a good one. Alas I was to be sorely disappointed. I noted a good crowd present as at least four members of the public apart from the usual suspects had turned out for the spectacle.

Matthew KershawThe main business kicked off with an item which according to the council supplied agenda was going to be presented by a council officer because Matthew Kershaw, the Trust Special Administrator at South London Healthcare Trust (SHLT) – the man brought in by The Secretary of State for Health to turn that heavily indebted organisation around – was unable to attend. However, contrary to the council’s written indication he was actually present and launched into a fairly general spiel about the in excess of £200 million deficit that the SHLT had accrued in the last three years or so and, as any fool could deduce, that this was not sustainable.

It always amazes me how these people can blithely state the bleeding obvious and not consider for a moment how anyone could have created such a debacle in the first place. He claimed to be working on a three pronged approach targeting internal inefficiencies; Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts; and NHS or other organisations medical service provision across the entire South London region.

Councillor Chris TaylorThe inevitable Bexley councillors’ questions were the normal below par efforts framed in such general terms that Mr. Kershaw was able to bat them back in singularly general terms. My particular favourite piece of nonsense came from councillor Chris Taylor, who after reminding us all that he was the baby faced cabinet member for Adult Services waffled on about how great adult services were in Bexley. I do not think that he actually framed a question but went on to whine about how hard done by Bexley always is by central government – which is another of the council gripes wearing a bit thin given that the coalition government is led by, and has been for some time now, those of his own stripe! I think he like many of the so called ‘members’ are just overly fond of their own voices.

Councillor John Wilkinson wanted to make sure that Scrutiny Committees in general – and no doubt Bexley’s in particular – were to be prioritised in importance when it came to feedback in the overall process. I am sure that I saw Mr. Kershaw stifle a smile as he assured the councillor that of course they had a valuable contribution to make. Still as neither he nor his Communications Director colleague wrote a single note about what was said over the course of an hour or so I think we can be completely assured that this particular committee’s input would not feature heavily in any future deliberations.

The most interesting statement I heard from Mr. Kershaw related to his admission that there was a yearly £20 million advantage to using a public sector financial model as opposed to the current PFI arrangement currently in place. Proving to those willing to listen – no chance for us here in Bexley then – that private is not always best and may end up costing much more than the proverbial arm and a leg. Anybody any ideas for some more outsourcing then?

In fact Bexley does. We were treated to some drivel about establishing a new service known as ‘Healthwatch Bexley’. Obviously our council does not have the requisite expertise for this so it is putting the whole affair out to tender and/or giving aspects of it to existing partners. Remind me again what all those highly paid managers, assistant directors and directors at Bexley council are there for? Still, the funding is not actually ring-fenced so perhaps they will try and take the opportunity to generate some revenue for another department somewhere in their bureaucratic machine.

Dr. Sarah Ismail, Consultant Community Paediatrician, and Elizabeth Bell the Children’s & Young People’s General Manager had been invited to talk to the committee about the Child Development Centre at Queen Mary’s Hospital. I suppose they thought councillors would be really interested to hear about their work and efforts. Unfortunately these worthies were rushed along and not allowed to show their pre-prepared slides. They will not be so naïve if they ever bother to come before Bexley council again.

David SturgeonDavid Sturgeon the Director of Primary Care of NHS South East London was up next to try to whitewash poor access to GPs in Bexley. It appears that we are not doing so well in this arena having lost some 25% of our medical practices since their peak and the third lowest GP to population ratio in London. Still no doubt that will all be reversed when our magnificent council gets responsibility for local health next year. Yeah, right!

There were no real solutions offered but I got the impression that a keep your fingers crossed approach coupled with plenty more planning strategies and papers should provide some crumbs for the borough as time went on! The councillors questions this time concentrated on the ethnic monitoring aspects of some patient survey. Councillors Richard Gillespie and John Wilkinson demonstrating their own brand of ‘one nation Conservatism‘ and parochial ‘Little Englander’ credentials!

Maureen HolkhamOur favourite Bexley council officer, Maureen Holkham, the Deputy Director of Corporate Policy & Communications, was in fine form informing us that her colleagues are diligently supplying the statistics required by Mr. Kershaw and his people to make sure that their decisions are well informed. Not a hope in hell then that we will get to keep Queen Mary’s Sidcup as a major hospital!

Councillor Ball managed to defeat her and her colleagues’ efforts in the 1st Quarter Bexley Status Report by querying a number that did not appear to make any sense at all. Holkham promised in her usual evasive manner to get back to him on the matter. When even she admitted that the NHS performance monitoring report was hard to read and understand - describing it as ‘work in progress’, being just a lazy admission that they all really should have done so much better – everybody was left in no doubt of the general level of incompetence.

My personal favourite error was on page 45 of the agenda “The formal tender process will commence in October 2012 with a view to a successful provider being in place by 1 April 2012.” With attention to detail like that what hope is there for this useless shower?

I think the meeting closed about 10 p.m. I was fairly numb at this point and failed to note the time as I bolted for the door - fully reassured that Local Government fails again.


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