Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 02 January 2019 0 Comments by Claire

As we enter the New Year I thought that it would be a timely point to provide you with a summary of the work I have been involved with during 2018!...

Read on to find out more…

January
Winter pressures information denied
In my role as a Devon County Council health scrutiny councillor the year started with a challenge to the NHS to provide full information about winter pressures, which across the country were causing huge concern, with patients waiting on trolleys, people not being able to be discharged home because of a lack of care, ambulances not being able to deliver their patients, long waits for ambulances and in A&E.

Despite huge efforts by committed NHS staff, the service struggles increasingly in the winter due to a lack of funding. In Devon alone, the NHS has been forced by the government to make hundreds of millions of pounds of ‘efficiency savings’ – with the annual growth increase, hovering at around one per cent, this still left us with around five per cent less funding than in 2010.

No wonder things are tough.

I asked, through the health scrutiny function, for full information on winter pressures for the January committee meeting. The Clinical Commissioning Group refused to provide the information and Conservative chair, Sara Randall Johnson backed NHS managers in delaying bringing the report to the March committee instead, an unnecessary delay of two months.

Frustrated in obtaining any data whatsoever for the winter period, I (a member of Devon County Council’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee) had to resort to submitting a Freedom Of Information request to obtain this.

It should not have had to come to this.

I was proud to kick off the speeches for this brilliant rally. Hundreds of people came to listen to a range of expert and knowledgeable speakers. It was a great show of fortitude and determination to support the NHS during a very tough time, which of course continues.

In fact this winter is set to be the most challenging on record, according a press release earlier this month from the British Medical Association, a lack of hospital beds is a key reason for this. Over 15,000 are thought to have been closed since 2010, due to continued funding pressures from central government.

February
My motion on animal sentience
I lodged a motion at full council calling on the government to fully implement the EU rules on animal sentience after it emerged that ministers were planning to remove state responsibility for animal welfare post Brexit and instead make it the responsibility of the keeper only.

The British Veterinary Association was deeply concerned about this and it meant that the state could absolve itself of any responsibility.

Michael Gove, Environment Secretary was full of warm words about animal welfare protections, but unfortunately, it appears the policy may not match up to the rhetoric, which is so often the case sadly.

My suspicion is that the real intention is to enable trade deals with countries that have dubious animal welfare rules. I very much hope this is not the case.

Devon County Council voted unanimously in favour of my motion, but unfortunately, despite chasing, I have still not had a satisfactory response from government ministers on this.

Save our Hospital Services film on the loss of Devon community hospital beds

I took part in a short film which highlighted the impact of the loss of community hospital beds all over Devon. They have been reduced from around 200 to 70 in just five years. Here’s the link if you’d like to watch - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQ3ddkEW_C8

£13m shaved off Devon County Council budget in latest government funding cuts

Devon County Council’s budget was slashed by a further £13m in February as council tax was hiked by around five per cent in a desperate attempt to raise a few more pounds for services. Over £155m worth of cuts have now been made to Devon County Council by central government, since austerity began in 2010. That’s around 80 per cent of the council’s core funding… gone….a situation I find completely unacceptable. For more see - http://www.claire-wright.org/…/20m_of_devon_service_cuts_vo…

Before the local government funding cuts were debated in parliament I urged Hugo Swire (as I do every year) via a detailed email, to speak and vote against the cuts. As usual he ignored my email and said nothing and either voted in favour of the cuts, or was absent.

Exeter University students lodge a vote of no confidence in the government

Rather topical this one! I took part in another debate (I am invited along fairly regularly!) in front of the politics students at Exeter University.

This time it was on whether the students had confidence in the government. I was arguing for the proposition,(i.e. no confidence). The students agreed and voted in favour of the proposition too. It was great fun, as it always is, and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of debate and answering questions from such knowledgeable and interesting students!

Voted as one of the 100 most influential women in Exeter!
I was really proud to take part in a ceremony to celebrate the 100 most influential women in and around Exeter. The event, which took part at the Deer Park Hotel, was organised by Grow Exeter Magazine and I was really proud to be nominated!

April
Proposing to relax public speaking rules
I proposed that public speaking rules were relaxed in this month. I was partially successful. Councillors are now allowed to ask clarifications of members of the public who present to scrutiny committees.

However, my proposal to allow later registration of people to speak at County Council committees was not supported. It is currently four days and I still think it should be two days. Four days means people already have to be ‘in the know’ and it is in my opinion, much too restrictive.

I raised the issue at Procedures Committee after someone was refused to address the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee as she registered to speak too late.

Also, I was prevented by the chair, from asking a question of a GP who told the committee of his concerns relating to the Care at Home or Rapid Response service.

May
Protections for community hospitals rejected by Conservative councillors

This month Conservative councillors on Devon County Council’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee, blocked my proposal to protect community hospital buildings, which are currently at risk, especially those in Eastern Devon owned by the NHS Property Services, which was set up under the Conservative led coalition government in 2012.

It was deeply disappointing that the Conservatives on the Devon County Council Health Scrutiny Committee took this position.

In October, I took the same motion to full council and it was supported, albeit with a loophole that allowed the NHS to wriggle out of retaining community hospital buildings that they deem to be not fit for purpose. At least community hospital buildings in Devon are now better protected than they were previously.

June
Unpaid carers at breaking point?
I have worked to establish how carers are faring in Devon. After several meetings and sight of a ‘warts and all’ report which I asked to see (but was otherwise regarded as confidential) I proposed that the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee held a spotlight review into how unpaid carers are managing.

This was not supported. Instead we were invited to talk to officers at Devon Carers at Westbank League of Friends which runs Devon County Council’s carers contract.

What I saw from the report worried me. It was clear that many unpaid carers in Devon are not coping well and are lacking financial support, respite and good health.

It appears that since the Care Act came into force in 2014, things have been tougher for unpaid carers. Sadly, it is now harder to obtain financial support and respite care, based on new strict eligibility criteria introduced by the government.

Eventually (at the October Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee meeting) I managed to successfully propose to have this looked at in a proper scrutiny review.

The review has not yet taken place so if you are a carer who is finding things tough, or you know of someone who is please do get in touch with me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) - thank you.

Opening a winter log bank for people on low incomes
I was really pleased to open a log bank for people on low incomes in June, at Knapp Copse, between Ottery St Mary and Sidmouth. Increasing numbers of people are struggling to afford heating bills so this log bank could be a huge help to many people with open fires or woodburning stoves. Well done to Axewoods Co-operative for coming up with this excellent initiative!

July
My motion to full council in July was urging the government to retain the same environmental protections post Brexit as currently exist under strict EU legislation. Many landscapes and wildlife, including in East Devon, is highly protected under EU law, such as the pebblebed heaths at Woodbury and Aylesbeare Commons.

The council backed my motion, but in principle only, opting to take no action. This was an opportunity missed in my opinion and very disappointing, given the state of nature in the UK, which is very much at risk of collapse due to human activity causing climate breakdown and habitat loss. Nature is in serious trouble. We caused it and it is up to us to fix it. Urgent action is needed by governments across the world.

Demonstrating against Trump’s visit to the UK
I took part in a peaceful protest in Exeter in July, against President Trump’s visit to the UK. Given Trump’s disgraceful record on a range of different issues, I was pretty disgusted that our government welcomed him here. It was an hour or two of inspiring solidarity against what I believe to be the very worrying rise of the far right across many parts of the globe.

Devon for Europe stalls
I volunteered on (with others) several stalls over the summer with Devon for Europe. I firmly believe that there should be a People’s Vote to prevent a catastrophic no deal Brexit.

In my view it is the only way to move parliament from the impasse that now exists over Brexit. People now know more accurately what Brexit entails and it is right that a second vote should take place now we are better informed.

August
Helping people who are struggling on benefits
I organised a meeting with the Citizens Advice Bureau to help people who are struggling with the Department of Work and Pensions with their benefits. The system appears to be punitive, leaving people with little or no money at short notice and sometimes forcing them to use foodbanks.

I am happy to say that we managed to assist virtually every person who attended the meeting. It was very satisfying to read the subsequent emails. One or two had their lives positively turned around, which was wonderful to hear.

I am intending to run another session soon. Please get in touch at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) if you would like to be involved

September
Helping fosters carers
Devon County Council’s plans to attract more foster carers (who do a wonderful job under difficult circumstances) meant that more than 100 existing foster carers across Devon would lose between £5-£15,000 a year.

I had supported the most experienced foster carers (who stood to lose the most) for most of this year while these proposals were making their way through various committees.

A campaign was launched by the foster carers, supported by me. The final council decision meetings came in September and plans were amended at the last minute to make them slightly less damaging. I wouldn’t call it a victory exactly, but it was better than what was originally planned. The foster carers mounted a very effective campaign indeed.


Health cuts heated debate
There was more heated debate between the chair of the health and adult care scrutiny committee and me this month as she refused to take a vote on my proposal for a proper review into health cuts, or more commonly known as the Sustainability and Transformation Plan, which is the government’s cuts and centralisation plan to see off a £30bn shortfall in NHS budgets by 2020.

In Devon we were told the NHS would be around £500m in the red if nothing was done. It appears lots has been done but trying to get to the bottom of the cuts is very difficult. My repeated requests for information have simply resulted in generalisations. NHS managers seem to be adept at sidestepping questions.

I asked for a review at the September scrutiny meeting but the chair refused, which resulted in an disagreement between us. It was incredibly frustrating and the refusal to hold the NHS to account on this is totally contrary to the interests of those we are supposed to represent. Local people have a right to know where and how those government-enforced cuts have been made.


Secretary of State for Health visits Ottery Hospital!
I was told by the local media that Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary was visiting Ottery Hospital, with some members of the community, at the invitation of Sir Hugo Swire, East Devon’s MP. It was all rather last minute and hush hush.

As the Devon County Councillor for Ottery (and someone who has fought to protect local hospitals and their beds for years) you might have expected I would be invited.
I was not.

I arrived at the hospital to do my interview with ITV Westcountry and was joined by around half a dozen residents who wanted to meet Mr Hancock. After my interview I waited outside the hospital doors to speak to him about the future of Ottery Hospital, which I had campaigned to protect for many years. I was told to leave by an NHS manager. I refused.

Eventually, a silly game of cat and mouse with the ministerial car took place, which saw Mr Hancock emergency blue-lighted out of the car park at speed, to avoid speaking to us. It was all rather pointless and over the top. We didn’t have placards and we were waiting quietly.

Mt Hancock told the media that Ottery Hospital has a ‘bright future’ - I hope he is right about that and all the other local hospitals, however the future remains unconfirmed by the NHS.

It is also an irony that Sir Hugo invited his Health Secretary to visit a local hospital to help promote the idea the hospital is safe, when the reason the local hospitals futures are not safe is because of the policies of Sir Hugo’s own Government.

The reality is that the only way local hospitals will survive is if NHS Property Services stops charging immoral and unaffordable rents to NHS organisations. No amount of rhetoric will make up for that problem.

Devastating fire in Ottery leads to major road closure
A dreadful fire which fortunately did not cause any injuries took place above the Pine Store on the corner of the Square and Silver Street on 14 September. It kicked off weeks of traffic chaos as one of the main routes in and out of the town was blocked.

I led the efforts to keep everyone informed and working together on this and was generally the central point of contact for queries. Happily, the road reopened last month, earlier than expected!

October
Unpaid carers at breaking point?
I have worked to establish how carers are faring in Devon. After several meetings and sight of a ‘warts and all’ report which I asked to see (but was otherwise regarded as confidential) I proposed that the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee held a spotlight review into how unpaid carers are managing.

What I saw from the report worried me. It was clear that many unpaid carers in Devon are not coping well and are lacking financial support, respite and good health. This was not supported. Instead we were invited to talk to officers at Devon Carers at Westbank League of Friends which runs Devon County Council’s carers contract.

It appears that since the Carers Act came into force in 2014, things have been tougher for unpaid carers. Sadly, it is now harder to obtain financial support and respite care, based on new eligibility criteria introduced by the government.

Eventually (at the October Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee meeting) I managed to successfully propose to have this looked at in a proper scrutiny review.

We’re looking for carers to take part in the review so if you are an unpaid carer and would like to get involved, or know of someone else who might please get in touch with me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

November
A scrutiny review into Care At Home finds care of the dying under pressure due to lack of paid carers
A scrutiny review into the system that’s designed to replace community hospital beds recommended a raft of measures that was debated at Devon County Council’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee in November.

I proposed and chaired the review following concerns by a local GP. The review took place during the summer and found that the care at home (or Rapid Response) service was very stretched and care of the dying in particular was highlighted as an area of concern, especially since community hospital beds were closed.

Some local GPs have lost confidence in the service due to the lack of paid carers and have ceased to use it.

One of the report’s key recommendations was a halt on community hospital bed closures, which was raised as an issue during the round table discussions.

Very unfortunately, this key recommendation designed to help ease the pressure, was blocked by the Conservative health scrutiny councillors at the committee meeting…
For more see here - http://www.claire-wright.org/…/halt_on_more_community_hospi…

And here - http://www.claire-wright.org/…/no_more_community_hospital_b…

Plastic free Tar Barrels is a great success!
A joint initiative by Plastic Free Ottery and Ottery Tar Barrels Committee was a brilliant success and resulted a fraction of the litter compared with what is usually collected heroically by EDDC’s Streetscene in the early hours of the morning after town’s the historic Tar Barrels event.

Towards the end of the event I scoured the town looking for recyclable plastic mugs to return to Plastic Free Ottery, but only found three which was great!

Local shops are still selling the recyclable plastic beer mugs for next year, which people are encouraged to keep and bring along to next year’s event! This year there was extra work caused by the fire, but Silver Street was blocked and manned and there were no mishaps thanks to the vigilance of the marshals.

A working group to help retain Ottery Hospital?
Along with several other councillors this was proposed at Ottery Town Council.

Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a helpful proposal started a row.

Quite unexpectedly the town councillors (bar the two who supported the group) were all opposed to it taking place on the grounds that it was not necessary due to a group – the Health and Care Forum - already working on trying to protect the hospital.

This group, however, had approached us as they felt they were stuck and not making as much progress as they liked. We proposed the working group with their agreement.

At the November Ottery Town Council meeting most councillors abstained thinking they were voting the proposal down. They were not. So it was approved by three votes to none.

Later, four councillors signed their names to trigger an Extraordinary Meeting in order to rescind the decision. Even East Devon’s MP, Sir Hugo Swire got involved, just a day before the Extraordinary Meeting of Ottery Town Council, by mentioning Ottery Hospital and all the work of the Health and Care Forum in Parliament!

It was to my knowledge, the first time Sire Hugo had talked about Ottery Hospital in the House of Commons. Many angry members of the public attended this Extraordinary Meeting, baffled as to why the town council were so opposed to the working group. It was agreed to defer the decision until February.

December
Talking to the Royal College of Nurses conference
I was very happy to address a Royal College of Nurses conference in Taunton on the role of council health scrutiny committees and how, as legally constituted democratically elected bodies, they hold the NHS to account.

Looking ahead to 2019 - complete my survey and have your say!

I have launched my survey and announced that I intend to run for the East Devon Parliamentary seat once again. Although we aren’t due to have another general election until 2022, the ongoing debacle over Brexit and Teresa may’s leadership of her party seem to make it a high possibility that one could be held much sooner. So, I am getting ready to fight for this seat, just in case!

I have now launched a survey which will inform my manifesto, should a general election take place in the near future. It will build on the results of my last survey during my campaign of 2015 and last year’s general election!

Here’s the link, please do complete the survey to have your say! https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/EastDevonSurvey

Thousands of my leaflets have started to be delivered across parts of the constituency. Many thanks to those who gave up their time to deliver them.

If there is a general election soon, my team and I are ready and waiting…

I wish you all a happy and healthy 2019!

Claire Wright
Prospective Parliamentary Candidate
East Devon Constituency

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