Newham Transforming – East Ham CLP AGM is happening!

The Labour Party in Newham is beginning to transform as the revival of East Ham CLP began late last year. All ten branches held their AGMs under the supervision of London Region, which is going through its own renaissance with the appointment of a new Director and a regional organiser.

Members of East Ham CLP learnt recently that their long-awaited AGM will finally be held on the 25th of February 2019 at The Trinity Centre East Avenue E12 6SG.

Based on the nominations during the branch AGMs, a mixed slate of pro-Corbyn and some other local Labour Party activists has emerged for the CLP officer positions. In spite of rumours and misinformation spread by local Blairites, the left group Newham Momentum did not organise a slate.

Newham Momentum’s secretary Linda Laurie spoke to Newham Transformed about the East Ham CLP ward AGMs and said: “The outcome of these elections was simply the result of the democratic processes and debates which took place in those long overdue and rejuvenated ward meetings. Ours is a broad and democratic Party. Newham Momentum is always willing to work with those comrades who genuinely respect this proud democratic tradition and are willing to work with us to combat cuts in local services whilst campaigning for the election of a radical, socialist Labour Government under Jeremy.”

Once the East Ham CLP is up and running, there is hope that Newham Local Campaign Forum (LCF), which was deliberately run to the ground by supporters of former right wing Mayor, Robin Wales, will finally begin to take shape. LCF is an important body, which enables a channel of communication between grassroots Labour Party activists and the Labour Group. It also organises local councillor and mayoral selections.

West Ham CLP activists hope that once the neighbouring East Ham CLP is up and running, they will be joined by their comrades in supporting some important borough wide campaigns.

Barts and the ‘Hostile Environment’

At this month’s Barts Board meeting we again followed up with our questions concerning Barts Trust and its complicity in implementing the ‘Hostile Environment’ policy which the Tory Government continues to pursue. First, however, we asked why without notice the meeting had been cut short by 45 minutes. The Chair made some allusion to a mysterious topic which they needed to look at after the public had left. In the event we were unable to have two of our questions answered because of lack of time. These will presumably be answered at the next session.

There were 6 of us present from NELSONHS and NSONHS . My questions, to which they were unable to answer concerned the Liberty document ” Care Don’t Share’. This alluded to the Home Office Immigration Enforcement Checking and Advice Service which Trusts can pay to access. I wanted to know if Barts used this service and what they paid for it.

The second question concerned the 3 year contract Barts had contracted out to an American company called the Institute of Healthcare Improvement . Despite the wealth of expertise inside the NHS Barts had chosen to pay a private company. Why, we asked, were they being so secretive about what they were paying them . Why, we continued, are these costs not being made public now but were instead being delayed and where and when would these costs be revealed on the Barts website? No answers as yet.

We did get answers to our questions about asset sales. An asset sale raising £60m did not in the end take place so that the Trust’s deficit was overly optimistic. We asked about secret locations for sale which they denied existed . Actually part of the Mile End site is due to be sold.

We asked too about massive loans taken out from the Department of Health ( £96m this year) and the associated risk to funding for areas such as fire safety and medical equipment. They insisted that these risks had been rigorously assessed .

We then asked about the Hostile Environment. Last year the Trust met us twice to discuss this but were slow to answer our questions. They sent up to 100 names per week to the Home Office and we know that they made errors. They are playing with people’s lives here. The Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Faculty of Public Health have all expressed their opposition to NHS overseas charging but Barts continues to implement this policy. Concerns were raised by these professional bodies about individual health and risks to public health and the probable poorer patient outcomes and drop in staff morale associated with the damage to trust between staff and their patients. The Trust told us that they would address these concerns in a reply by the end of the month. They have, they said, met with Healthwatch groups and will be contacting community groups about these issues. So again we face delays in addressing these concerns as at present it just looks like Barts will continue with this racist and discriminatory policy which does nothing to ameliorate the financial pressures they face but does a lot to discriminate against ethnic minority communities.

NHS in Crisis ( the future in Newham )

I am intending to write a regular blog on the NHS in Newham . This does, however, present somewhat of a challenge, as many of the issues we confront do not just relate to Newham and it is difficult to disentangle them from decisions which are already being made right across the North East London footprint. By way of an introduction I feel duty bound to introduce these issues in a more general way, in part because of the way in which the Forward Five Year Plan set up in 2016 has set up decision making structures ( STP’s or Sustainability and Transformation Plans ) which cut right across borough borders . More of that later.

I became involved in our local Newham Save Our NHS campaign, on a personal level, in part because my late wife had since 2012 been treated in every one of the five hospitals which then comprised Barts. Trust. ( This is the largest Trust in the country with a massive budget ) . This includes, of course, Newham University Hospital. Our experience of staff and treatment from diagnosis to treatment and rehabilitation was almost entirely faultless. That is to say, the commitment, professionalism and on a human level the care and concern of staff at every level , could not be faulted. The problems in the NHS, therefore, as everyone must by now be aware, lie in lack of funding by central Government and in a series of restructuring plans begun by the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 and culminating in the latest initiatives to set up STP’s, or since their bad Press, ICO’s and ICS’s ( Integrated Care Partnerships or Organisations or systems). These are designed, without even legislation, to open the doors for further privatising those elements of the NHS outside of acute care and other specialist emergency treatment areas, which the private sector deems to be potentially profitable.

The organisations set up to make decisions regarding providers and commissioners are a complex web of groups which meet regularly and which we as a public campaigning body, try our best to be present at. They are at present largely still open for the public to attend but the mechanisms for genuine engagement or consultation are at best inadequate and at worst, non-existent.

Newham is currently one of 7 boroughs comprising the East London ICO along with Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, Barking and dagenham, Redbridge and City of London. This is now the ELHCP ( East London Health and Social Care Partnership ). The original STP’s were tasked with implementing £22bn of cuts by 2021 in the guise of “integrating” health and social care. Renamed ICO’s these bodies in some parts of the country are already involving private sector bodies or in some cases are even leaving the private sector to manage their finances. To its credit, our local authority has distanced itself from supporting the ELHCP in a meaningful way but local authorities are becoming increasingly marginalised from meaningful involvement in decisions on budget strategies which will affect their local communities at every level.

Now in the middle of the Brexit chaos , the Tories have announced a further 10 year plan for the NHS. Having been responsible for the decimation of public health budgets, which are supposed to cater for creating the conditions for people themselves to be supported in improving their health and wellbeing, the emphasis now is on putting the responsibility for health and well being on people’s individual behaviours and on keeping them out of hospital. Whilst keeping people out of hospital is a highly laudable aim it ceases to be so if they are being handed back to poorly funded community services already overburdened beyond their capacity in communities decimated by austerity and cuts.

Our local campaign regularly highlights the implications of some of these developments. We have recently engaged with the Barts. Board which met only today, on the issue of increased waiting times, sale of local assets to counter budgetary pressures and particularly over recent months on the ‘hostile environment’ policies in our hospitals. This last issue we have argued, is a way of not just further turning migrants in our communities into pariahs but also of acclimatising people to the notion that charging different groups is legitimate, thus further eroding the foundation upon which the NHS was founded ie. Health provision free and unconditional at the point of delivery. Our questions to Barts have not been properly answered and today we again reiterated some of our concerns. A “Liberty” document called “Care Not Share ” ( available online) describes the evolution of these initiatives and the associated bureaucracies and asks how it can be legitimate on anti-discriminatory and equality levels to pick on sections of society who are the most vulnerable, in order to raise funds and which involve healthcare professionals and administrators in passing on private information on individuals to the Home Office for the purpose of identifying illegal immigrants. Naturally the cohort most likely to be asked to fill in the forms in Barts. hospitals are ethnic minority groups. Furthermore, they are being asked to fill in forms regarding length of stay in the country, ethnicity, address, etc. in A and E wards. A and E is free to everyone. Were it not we would have a public health scandal on our hands . We have a petition on which calls on councillors and members of the public to oppose the hostile environment created in hospitals and to cease cooperating with the Home Office. The scheme set up to find out about patients’ migrant status or otherwise was a pilot . Nevertheless, Barts is still implementing it and even focused its attention on maternity wards. .

We have also campaigned with Tower hamlets Keep Our NHS Public and all the other borough campaigns in our North East London ‘footprint’ on issues including saving King George’s A and E in Redbridge, joining the junior doctors’ pickets outside Newham General , and opposing “GP at Hand”. The Government has announced as part of its 10 year plan, a desire to fully digitise the NHS and its partners in Social Care. “GP at Hand”, set up by an American company called ‘Babylon’, promised immediate access to GP’s online for patients in need. A large publicity drive including enormous posters at tube stations attempted to recruit young healthy adults to its books and benefit , as other private providers do, from grants of money and huge potential profits from a computer savvy generation, leaving those most at risk from acute health problems to be dealt with by the NHS and by mainstream GP’s , already suffering from shortage of numbers and recruitment problems. Furthermore, they did not even announce to their signatories that they would be taken off of their GP’s lists. Those returning to their GP’s caused countless problems at reception in Tower Hamlets when they found this to be the case.

We have constantly complained about lack of consultation, especially around the question of STP’s/ICP’s. The response of the ELHCP has been to set up a Citizens’ Advice Panel. Instead of setting up meetings or asking questions about policy direction or budget pressures they have instead released a number of online surveys. The most recent of these asked personal questions about health lifestyles, drug habits, alcohol abuse and mental health issues. Whilst insisting that this was confidential, it hardly invites those most vulnerable to lifestyle issues to confide in them with their email address at the top.

Newham Save Our NHS meets regularly , is well attended and we are a healthy (!) campaign. We invite anyone interested to contact us and to participate in our activities. We have a Facebook page and a website ( URL’s below) A fuller report on today’s Barts Board meeting and some of the issues raised regarding Newham will appear on our Facebook page in a few days time. Phil Edwards