Thoughts from an active pensioner who is now somewhat past his Biblical "Use-by date"

"Why just be difficult, when with a little more effort you can be bloody impossible?"

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Leeds Hospital

The media tell us that the Leeds General Infirmary’s children’s heart centre has been temporarily closed because of above average mortality rates for that type of unit. Campaigners tell us that it is all a plot and part of some greater NHS scheme and that it should remain open as the statistics are incomplete.
I just wonder who these campaigners are?
I very much doubt if they are parents of children, as surely any parent would want the best possible treatment for their child and would try to avoid, like a plague, any hospital where there was any suggestion of problems, whether justified or not.
So are they the usual NHS jobsworths supported by militant trade unions? Or perhaps local citizens who feel the loss would be a matter of prestige?

I have an indirect interest in this matter. Our younger daughter was born with a heart defect and was operated on some 38 years ago at Harefield Hospital which I believe was the only British hospital doing such operations at the time. Although it was a minor operation by modern standards, we thought long and hard about it and even considered whether it was worth trying to raise the money to have the operation in America where they had more experience. Certainly, if there had been the slightest air of doubt over Harefield we would not have agreed to the operation. But Magdi Yacoob did a marvellous job and four years ago our daughter produced our only grandson.

Hence my question about "who are actually complaining about the Leeds decision?".

Thursday, 28 March 2013

A Dangerous Weekend for NHS Patients

After the Christmas/New Year break, the Easter break is one of the most dangerous times of the year for anyone who is suddenly taken ill, and of course this applies particularly to us oldies who are prone to possible strokes or heart attacks.
From this afternoon until sometime Tuesday morning, the NHS will virtually cease to exist for emergencies. Indeed, the holiday started today, as our surgery was not booking patients for blood tests as the laboratories will be closed by the time that the samples arrive.
If you are taken ill over the next few days and need to be admitted to hospital, you are only likely to get basic care. The chance of getting an X-ray or a scan of any type is minimal, even if a radiologist was available, there is little chance of a specialist also being available to interpret the results. That is, of course, if you were lucky enough to get to that point; with normal waiting times in  A&E of something like 4 hours, your chances of survival get slimmer by the minute.

I have previously mentioned that I used to work in the aviation industry where the majority of those employed from cleaners, baggage handlers, check-in staff right through to air traffic controllers, engineers and of course air-crew all had to work shifts throughout the whole year. Thinking of taking leave at Easter - you must be joking!

Yet looked at objectively, it is far less important to have aircraft flying over the Easter weekend than it is to have fully staffed hospitals. Whilst many people would be angry, it is unlikely that anyone would die if all flights were discontinued for the four day break, yet it is a statistically proven fact that the number of emergency NHS patients dying over this weekend is likely to be about double that which would normally be expected.

But then the airlines have to serve the customer to remain in existence, whereas when it comes to the NHS, there are far to many individuals and unions who are only intent on serving their own private interests. There is something seriously wrong when a non-essential service can be provided by a largely private industry, but an essential service like the NHS, provided by the state, fails to meet even their customers' basic needs and can allow people to die unnecessarily.

The NHS has had about 65 years to get organised and provide a proper service, which is surely more than enough time. It is time for drastic action, not just the re-shuffling of the management structure being carried out by this government.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Euro Banks

Last Tuesday I suggested that if the European Central Bank aka the German Central Bank had its way with taxing depositors in the failing Cyprus banks, the habit was likely to spread.
Today I am proved correct - Jeroen Dijsselbloem, chairman of the Eurogroup gatherings of the 17 eurozone finance ministers, said that the Cyprus model should become Europe's default approach for dealing with ailing lenders.

As usual, the Law of Unintended Consequences has already started to take affect, with both the Dax in Frankfurt and the Cac 40 falling sharply as did shares in French and Spanish banks. The pound rose slightly against the Euro, possibly due to some investors moving from the Euro to Sterling.

I imagine that it will probably take a few days for the ordinary investors in Spain, Italy and possibly France to appreciate what has happened and for implications of Mr Dijsselbloem's remarks to sink in, but I feel that it is now quite reasonable to expect that we could see a run on the weaker banks in those countries.

Meanwhile, as my own ISAs are with the Halifax, which is now part of Lloyds TSB and one of the British Banks in hock to the government, I must give some serious thought about moving them elsewhere before someone in our government also decides on a compulsory levy to recover the government loan. But where can I put the money; only Barclays and HSBC are not in debt to the government, but they have problems of their own with Barclays having borrowed heavily from the rich Arab countries, and HSBC with regulatory problems in various countries. Perhaps cash under the bed is now the safest option or possibly gold in the form of Sovereigns, which would be somewhat easier to hide.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Power Shortage

It has been known for a good few years, even whilst Labour was still in power, that our electricity generating capacity was on a knife's edge in cold weather. I think it was about three years ago when I was told by a colleague who worked in the industry that there was almost a total blackout over parts of the country when some major generating plant failed; fortunately, some plant elsewhere became available ahead of schedule following repair and disaster was narrowly avoided. Since then, in spite of all the trivial measures put in place such as forcing us to have "energy-saving" lamps, demand has continued to rise both due to the increasing population and the extra electrical devices in our homes. Meanwhile, in order to conform to EU diktats and the fantasies of the "Greens", Didcot power station is being closed down, although it is still capable of service for many more years, because it doesn't meet emission requirements.
Such new power stations as we have, or could be built in a hurry, are gas fired, although these too are under attack from the zealots. But there is a major snag here, gas supplies are running out. We were told yesterday that there was a mere 35 hours of gas supplies left in storage in this country.

It is clear from this that this government is failing in one of its primary duties to the people of this country, that is to ensure that the country has adequate energy supplies. They have ploughed millions of our money into windmills, yet the whole lot combined, if they are all working, still don't provide enough electricity to replace that lost by the closure of Didcot. The gas supply situation is similar.  The "Greens" have opposed any new major storage units and are vehemently opposed to fracking which could be our salvation. And as for nuclear, in spite of it being one of the greenest methods of generation, well forget it!

Meanwhile, figures indicate that there have been an estimated 4,000 extra deaths in just five weeks as compared with the same period over the past five years, largely due the wintry conditions. If we have any major power cuts, this figure could rise dramatically.

I believe that if we have any significant outages of electricity or gas, it will be the end of the Tory party for many years. People are prepared to tolerate cuts when they are due to industrial action, as has happened in the past, or unforeseen natural causes, but, whilst a cold March might be unusual, it is not an unforeseen possibility. What people are not prepared to tolerate is incompetence, and any major power cuts in peacetime can generally be regarded as incompetence. It is the Tories who will get the blame, not the Greens, and it is the Tories who will suffer as they will have failed in one of their basic duties as a government.

Saturday, 23 March 2013


I have just been reading in the Telegraph that the "finger of suspicion" with regards to the use of chemical weapons in the town of Khan al-Assal last week now points strongly towards the Islamic jihadist rebels. It appears to have been an unsophisticated weapon using a form of chlorine known as CL17. One argument suggests that Syrian troops have far more sophisticated weapons at their disposal, and thus it would be unlikely to have been fired by them. Of course, as in all conflicts of this nature, it is always difficult to get at the truth and it could have been a "double bluff" by government forces.

Nevertheless, our government still seems convinced that it should supply weapons to the rebels as a result of some convoluted reasoning that it would help the refugees. I am glad that the EU turned down the Anglo-French proposal to partially lift the Syrian arms embargo to allow the supply of weapons to the rebel groups and I must place on record that for once I approve of an EU decision.

As far as I am concerned the old phrase "A Plague on both your houses " applies here.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Cyprus - Advantage Germany?

A couple of days ago I outlined why I believe German's ultimate aim is to dominate Europe, but this time by financial rather than military means.
The action being proposed by the Cyprus Government to levy a tax of around 10% on all savings, in order to get an EU loan, will be the ultimate deterrent to anyone wanting to save. Assuming that it happens (and even if it doesn't), would you now even think of putting money in one of their banks? With the present low interest rates, there would be very little to lose by hiding it away as cash on the basis that what the government doesn't know you've got, it can't tax!

But Cyprus only represents a very small, indeed tiny, part of the Eurozone economy, so why all the fuss, and why the draconian action? Some see it s an implied threat to all the other debtor countries in the Eu - "Pay up, or else", but I would go further and ask what might happen in the other Southern European Countries which are in the same position.

Imagine that you are a citizen of Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and perhaps even Ireland and have still managed to have some savings in the bank. Suddenly, one country, which is in a similar financial position to your own, decides to levy a tax on all savings held in its banks. What would be your reaction? Surely it would be to ask why the same thing can't happen in your own country, and whether the Italian (or Greek, etc) government is likely to tax your savings. I certainly would if Britain was in the Eurozone, and even here I am sure that someone like Vince Cable, given half a chance, would think that it a brilliant idea to follow his mansion tax.

But what advantage is this to the Germans? Well, even a simple 10% tax will reduce the amount of money available for investment by that amount and if, as seems very likely, many times this amount is withdrawn from the banks there will be even less for investment. There will be no money for the banks to lend to businesses whether they are a small cafe on the coast or a large company seeking to expand. The economy would become stagnant, if it isn't already. If the citizens of Italy (or Spain etc), in turn start to withdraw their savings for fear that they will be stolen by the government, these countries too will find that funds for investment become virtually non-existent. And the Germans? They will be the only European nation with significant funds to invest. The little cafe in Cyprus will become part of a chain of German cafes seeking to expand, whilst the larger company will probably end up in bankruptcy because it can no longer compete with its modernised German counterpart. One can envisage German companies taking over businesses all over southern Europe to take advantage of their rock-bottom labour rates.

As I argued before, Germany will gain control of much of Europe, not by its military might, but by using its financial muscle.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Press Freedom

A few Quotes from the media and other sources

Not my usual read, but an extract from the Sun's editorial today:
"Ten years after the 2014 Regulation of the Press Act, MPs are fiddling expenses on an industrial scale. But Sun readers have no right to know.

"Our Boys are fighting another war with shoddy kit while their families live in squalor on MoD bases. But Sun readers have no right to know.

"Indeed in 2024 you know nothing of any Government failings or the personal activities of MPs, peers, judges, celebrities or sport stars.

"Such stories fall foul of Privacy Czar Lord Grant, the Labour Peer once known as Hacked Off Hugh, who can veto them under draconian amendments to the 2014 Act which ended 300 years of Press freedom" 

A quote from Hitler:
"The organisation of our press has truly been a success. Our law concerning the press is such that divergences of opinion between members of the government are no longer an occasion for public exhibitions, which are not the newspapers' business. We've eliminated that conception of political freedom which holds that everybody has the right to say whatever comes into his head"

The First amendment to the US Consitution:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The farce of the situation is that any form of censorship will be the beginning of the end for our national press. People, particularly the younger generation, will turn to the internet for their news. Indeed, my son-in-law already sits at the breakfast table reading the news on his iPad rather than from a newspaper or watching it on TV.
News from the internet will be subject to less controls than apply to the media at present and rumour will abound doing far more damage than the news media ever did. Look at the problem faced by Lord McAlpine over Twitter. He has money and could afford to employ experts to track down the perpetrators and take legal action, but ordinary people such as the Dowlers or McCanns certainly wouldn't be able to do so and so would be worse off than at present.
Some newspapers have certainly behaved badly, but where they did, they broke the law and should be prosecuted under existing legislation.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Germany and European Debts

My namesake in Scotland, A Scottish Pensioner, asks in her blog why Germany is paying Southern Europe's bills, and why the German people are content to do so.
I posted a reply, but decided that perhaps I should amplify what I said and why I reached my present viewpoint.
I was born before WW2 and lived through it as a child. My father had strong views on the Germans and no doubt he has strongly influenced my thinking.
I always knew that my father spoke German, but until recently with the publication of the 1911 census, I didn't know that my grandfather was Swiss from the Canton of Berne and so German would have been his native tongue. My father served with the Machine Gun Corps in the trenches, and after 1918 served for a while with the army of occupation, and although only a gunner, somehow he managed to see a lot of Germany during that time.
Subsequently, having come home and qualified as an accountant, he secured a job with the UK subsidiary of  Bayer gmbh, the major German pharmaceutical and agri-chemical company, in a senior position. Between the wars both he and my mother visited Germany numerous times and made quite a few friends there.
Nevertheless, although he got on well with Germans as individuals, he always felt that the Germans wanted to dominate everything, believing that only their way of doing things was best. He never believed in the idea that the Germans were coerced into by the Nazis into war, but always argued that they wanted it, firstly as a matter of pride, having been beaten in 1918, and secondly because many, particularly in Prussia, felt that they had the right to rule.
There have been other previous European leaders who would have liked to dominate Europe, the main on being Napoleon, and indeed he did manage to rule large parts of the continent. However the difference between him and both the Kaiser and Hitler seems to be that whilst the French accepted what Napoleon was doing, he never had the real support of the French people, unlike the Germans who were enthusiastic supporters of what their leaders were trying to achieve.

So coming to the present and the original question as to why Germany is paying Southern Europe's bills. I would argue that a large part of the German people still want to dominate Europe and that they still feel their defeat in WW2. They still believe that they are the natural leaders of Europe and that their their way of doing things is the best. However they now have politicians who realize that they are no longer going to be able to achieve their goal by military means but can achieve virtually the same objective by financial means.

The EU has provided them with an ideal platform for their objectives. Before the Euro, Germany was keen on regulation and standardisation, with their representatives, of course, being the main instigators of the rules. With the advent of the Euro, they had the strongest economy and the strongest currency, and as a result have been seen as the managers of the new currency (in spite of what the French might think!). By insisting on low interest rates, they tempted the free spending southern European countries into borrowing well beyond their means. Whilst previously these countries would have managed their currency by allowing quite substantial inflation to reduce their debts, this now became impossible, and to prevent them going bankrupt, Germany put up considerable sums of money, in effect, to buy their debts, provided that the government did what it was told in financial terms.

So Greece did as it was told, appointed an EU/German approved prime minister, called off a referendum on the Euro and now has something like half its population unemployed and on the bread line. Italy was instructed to do something similar, but things have not gone as expected and they called a general election with the result that a party run by a stand-up comedian has the balance of power. And today, Cyprus has effectively declared that it will be bankrupt by May, and in order to get EU help has been told to levy a tax on all savings accounts.

To me, Germany's aim of dominating these countries by financial means is beginning to pay off. Germany will pull all the financial stings and the puppet governments will jump. Germany, in due course will want its money back and when they can't pay will make other demands. Domination will be just as effective as if their army had walked in. The countries will be unable to resist, individuals will have any savings stolen to pay the debts and to all intents and purposes they will become German colonies.

Their only failure was that Britain didn't join the Euro, although it was a near run thing. But we are in the EU and dominated by German inspired rules and regulations designed to benefit their economy. As an example, try to buy some old fashioned Sodium Chlorate weed-killer. You can't - it has been banned by the EU on health and safety grounds, although the only problem, as far as I can ascertain, was that the IRA used it for bomb making. What do we have instead? Well most of the replacement products on the shelves at my local garden centre are made by Bayer and imported from Germany,

I rest my case.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

NHS Statistics

According to the Daily Mail,

Fiddling figures in NHS ‘to be a crime’:
Trusts could be fined millions and managers jailed if data on waiting times or death rates is falsified

It further notes that

"A criminal offence could be created to punish doctors and health chiefs who manipulate hospital statistics, it emerged last night."

Why on earth do we need laws to enforce normal management procedures? What major company expects to have laws passed to make staff do what the management expects? In my days at work, if a member of the board wanted some information they simply sent an instruction to local managers to provide it. No laws were necessary, but if it was found that anyone had deliberately falsified the information the were likely to be fired. Simple and straightforward!

"If approved, the move will mean trusts could be fined millions"

Perhaps someone could explain to me how fining an NHS Trust is going to help the patients. The Trust covering the area where I live is already short of money and restricting some types of operations. It is one of those currently under investigation for possible abnormal death rates and excessive waiting times, so how is taking a few million from their budget going to improve things?

The solution to the problem of senior managers hiding the true figures is, if they are found out,  to fire them without compensation, just as would happen in industry. And I mean fire the managers, not some junior clerk who is merely collecting and compiling the data according to their instructions.

In my view, every NHS Trust should be made to produce an annual report, in a similar manner to that produced by any public company. It should of course detail all salaries of senior management, their bonus details, together with formal reports from the Board Chairman, Chief Executive, Chief Financial Officer, and of course, a full set of audited accounts. Whist is is perhaps not reasonable to send one to every household, they should certainly be readily available at hospitals, doctors' surgeries, public libraries, town halls, etc.   Possibly such a report is produced each year; if it is then they keep very quiet about it!

If Jeremy Hunt thinks that his approach is going to solve the problems of the NHS, he is, in my view, making a grave mistake. The quickest and easiest solution would be to fire a few of those responsible for the present problems and, more importantly, ensure that they can never be employed in the NHS ever again, not simply promoted elsewhere as in the case of Sir David Nicholson.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Tories - All Talk and No Action

The main problem with the current Conservative Party, and the reason why it is where it is in the polls, can be summed up in two words - "David Cameron".
As a retired engineer, there are a number of phrases that I could use about him (without resorting to foul language), but the one at this time which seems most appropriate is that he should "learn to put his brain into gear before opening his mouth".
Only this morning, we are told that he has dropped his proposal for a "per unit" tax on alcohol, apparently under pressure from some members of the Cabinet. One might ask why on earth did he put forward the proposal without first discussing it with his colleagues? It seems to me that he heard about the idea, decided "That's great" without even the slightest thought that there could be problems in implementation. In any case, a subject like this is surely for a junior minister to consider, not the Prime Minister personally.  Next on the PM's agenda - Plastic bags!. We'd have never won the war if Churchill had worried about such trivia rather than fighting the war!

Another problem with Cameron is that in issues that matter to the electorate, all we get are promises but no action. "If" (a very big "if") he wins the next election, and "when" he has held negotiations with the EU, we are then promised a referendum on our membership. But he has said that he will campaign to stay in which hardly indicates much enthusiasm for real change.

He is loosing votes to UKIP because they make their position very, very clear; they want out of the EU. No "ifs" or "buts", they just want to get out. If by some miracle they were elected, no referendum would be needed as it is part of their manifesto, and they would simply be doing what they said that they would.

In my view, if Cameron wants to stop the erosion of votes to UKIP, he needs to do one thing, table the necessary legislation before Parliament for a referendum at the earliest possible date. We know the LibDems would oppose this (although in doing so they oppose democracy) but what would Labour do? Milliband has said that he opposes a referendum, and if he does, at least the public will know where Labour stands come the General Election.

Theresa May could also follow the same approach with the European Human Rights legislation. Put forward changes to our own laws to allow our Supreme Court to be the highest court of appeal. If Labour opposes this, the Tories would be in a far stronger position to blame Labour for all the difficulties in deporting illegal immigrants who manage to argue their right to family life under European law.

Meanwhile I am confident that UKIP's position in the polls will steadily rise followed by a big boost early next year as the Romanians and Bulgarians start to arrive here.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Foreign Aid

I am strongly against the way that our government has been giving aid to third world countries; not only does it fail to do anything for the broad population of these countries but more often ends up either as luxuary goods for the ruling dictator or as cash in his Swiss bank account. Many people feel that it is given for political reasons rather than need.

This does not mean that I'm against trying to help some of these countries, but I believe that, in general, it should only be given when needed to meet some unforeseen emergency and not as a matter of routine where at the best it is used to prop up the country's budget leading to a form of dependency. Indeed the foreign minister of one African country (I forget which) recently said it would be more help to his country if, rather tha giving aid, the EU simply removed the tariffs on the sale of his country's goods.
I do, however, strongly feel that we should supply emergency aid when necessary; earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, droughts, disease epidemics, etc, are generally unforeseen and the poorer countries simply don't have the resources to take any effective action.

I am pleased to see that at last our government is beginning to see sense on this issue and wants more UK involvement in the aid and to this end it is intended to direct some of the money towards British companies who are providing services in the poorer countries. It has also said that peace-keeping operations should come out of the Aid budget rather than from the Defence budget. Hopefully, this will apply to the military assistance being provided in Mali (assuming the French aren't paying us, a reasonable assumption, I would imagine!). We also have troops in Nigeria and other parts of Africa, nominally on training missions, and this, too, I hope, will be classified as aid.

My criteria for aid would be
  1. Emergencies only.
  2. Never cash.
  3. British made goods or British supplied services (Thus helping our economy as we help others).
  4. No luxury goods (these are taken as perks by the elite).
  5. Goods that are not readily "sold on" by officials for cash.
  6. All aid to be marked as such, just like the EU insists that the ring of stars is displayed on anything where they have made a contribution.
Lets hope for further realism from our government. The present "Overseas Development" department seems to have very little support from the public at large, most of whom would like to help the poorer countries but feel that the way that the money is being spent at present is worse than useless.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Stafford and Sir David Nicholson

Today Sir David Nicholson appeared in front of the Commons Health Select Committee and had the gall to say that he was not to blame for what happened at Stafford Hospital, notwithstanding the fact that he was the head of that part of the NHS responsible for running the hospital at the time.
I think that the piece by Tim Stanley in the Telegraph, entitled
"Sir David Nicholson: waffle and buck-passing at the health select committee",  says it all.

He was at the top, and he simply takes the attitude that no-one told him what was happening and it therefore follows that it can't possibly be his fault!  Surely it is the job of the person at the top to know if anything significant is happening, but here it seems that, if he is to be believed, he was content to sit in his air-conditioned office accepting everything that his staff told him without asking any questions and without ensuring that he had the whole story.

I worked once for a company where the engineering director made a point of eating in the staff canteen whenever he could and was happy to sit with staff of any grade, something that his managers didn't necessarily appreciate. His attitude was that the canteen was the place where he heard all the best gossip and the real facts as to how the various projects were going, and if nothing else, it made his managers tell him the truth.

If I had been one of the MPs on the committee, I'd have asked Sir David Nicholson if he had  ever actually visited any of the hospitals for which he was responsible, whether he'd been to a ward without an entourage of managers and actually talked to any of the staff. I suspect that as his whole testimony was management-speak, referring to "numbers" rather than "patients" the answer would have been a resounding "No".

Seemingly he has the Prime Minister's support along with one of his cronies who is chairman of the select committee, so we can expect little to come from today's events unless any of the committee members should chose to submit a minority report.

Personally, I believe there should have been (and still should be) a full police investigation into the unexplained deaths followed by charges of corporate manslaughter. Certainly this would have happened if this had been a private hospital, but seemingly the NHS is exempt from such nastiness.