I received a direct answer to my question and a commitment from a minister to do something about it this week in Parliament, which is not as common as you may think. The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was making a statement to the House updating what steps have been taken across the NHS to reduce the number of stillbirths.
I told him that a recent (excellent) report compiled by the ONS (Office of National Statistics) and Eastbourne Borough Council has identified that our own Trust - ESHT - had 19 stillbirths last year and that this figure was higher than most comparable Hospital Trusts. So would he, the Secretary of State, agree to the Department of Health looking into this? Hunt agreed and I have already written to him asking for details of the process; in politics as in life it’s important to both bank and act on a commitment immediately. With regards to our own NHS Trust, ESHT, which runs the DGH, the Conquest and the community health services, I have been tremendously impressed with the different, pro-active style of leadership the new(ish) chief executive, Dr Adrian Bull, has provided since he took over from the un-lamented Darren Grayson (who I can safely say if he’d lived in Eastbourne wouldn’t have voted for me!), and my frequent visits to the DGH since being re-elected to meet the staff across a range of different departments show me our hospital is really going in the right direction which is excellent, but 19 still-births is too high for whatever reason. I know we will all want to find out why this happened and what can be done to bring such worrying numbers down. I will keep the readers of the Herald informed of progress.
The saga of the noxious haze keeps rumbling on. I heard from the relevant minister this week that they are ‘reviewing our current protocols along with those of the Environment Agency to understand how we can improve on our response to such incidents in future’ which at least goes some way to what I have been pushing for. It would have been much simpler if right at the beginning the various statutory authorities involved had just ‘fessed up to say they did not have the kit to collect a sample of the gas which was why they hadn’t done so, which means they were unable to trace the source and to apologise to the public for dropping the ball, but that they would (a) invest in the right equipment so they’d be better prepared next time and (b) the money to purchase said equipment would be made available. This was after all a potentially very dangerous public health issue and just because it didn’t turn out as bad as it could have is no excuse for the government and the statutory authority to sweep such a systemic failure under the carpet. Rest assured that I will NOT let that happen.
I also spoke this week in Westminster during an opposition day debate brought by the SNP on the issues affecting WASPi women. These are women who were born in the 50’s and whose pension age has recently been equalised with men. Though it was only an opposition day debate and an SNP one at that, the Chamber was pretty full as it’s an issue which affects many hundreds of thousands of women across the UK. The debate was very heated at times and I was struck just how much the SNP, Scottish Tories and Labour absolutely loathe each other. Politics is certainly red in tooth and claw north of the border! There was also a considerable amount of humbug thrown around the Chamber as all sides appeared to profess complete ignorance of their own party’s culpability. A point that I made forcefully in my own contribution; we are all culpable and we all let these WASPi women down. The Tories for not communicating the impact years ago when they introduced the pensions act in 1995, the Labour government who agreed with the changes for their 13 years of government but singularly failed to tell the women about what was coming down the track, the coalition for speeding up the age to be impacted and from what I gathered during the debate, the SNP because they have the powers in Scotland to do something but prefer instead to just blame everyone else. Not an edifying sight frankly. I went on to urge the government to pay WASPi women a proper transition payment to make up for their loss. It’s the least the government can do (it’s the least all of us can do frankly) and it would also be the right thing. This generation of women, our wives, our mothers, our friends, have been treated shoddily so less humbug and more honesty from all politicians I suspect would be appreciated. I will keep actively pressing the WASPi case in Parliament.
This Saturday is small business Saturday where the FSB (Federation of Small Business) publicise the key role so many hundreds of thousands of small businesses play across our country both in employment terms and in boosting the economic prowess of the UK. I am looking forward to joining them to show my support for the hundreds of local companies who also play such an important role locally in keeping Eastbourne prosperous and thriving.
That’s all folks. Have a good weekend and I hope to see you around town.