River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The Village Soap Box

November 2006

Ray lets rip from Ron's Soapbox about Waste Collection and the National health Service

Ron Watts has been unable to provide a "Soapbox" this month, so I though t I would offer some topics that could generate a response from our readers....

Alternate Weekly Collection or AWC for Short

Our Daily press has revealed some nefarious dealings with our rubbish....

Local Authorities are under heavy pressure from the Government to get rid of weekly collection programmes and have been told that they could lose money or risk Whitehall interference if they refuse. Around 100 councils have already replaced weekly collections with 'alternate weekly collections' or AWCs in Government jargon. The guidance on these cynical tactics, put out on behalf of Environment secretary David Millband, deepened the row over Government plans to make householders reduce the amount of rubbish they leave out to levy new taxes on wheelie bins

Ministers say they need to end weekly rubbish collections to meet government recycling targets and protect the environment by cutting the amount of waste sent to landfill sites. The advice sent out by the Government's Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) makes it clear that saving money is the primary reason weekly collections are being ended. Their guidance says 'Ultimately an AWC scheme will save you money as you are serving the same population less frequently'. It goes on to say ' A common concern raised by residents is that alternate weekly collections will lead to bad smells and problems with vermin as a result of refuse and/or food waste being stored for a longer period of time.' 'It is therefore advisable to roll out the scheme in autumn, winter or early spring such that, by the time the warm weather arrives. Residents will have got use to the scheme and initial resistance has faded.'

The guidance also instructs town hall officials to ensure that elected council members do not block fortnightly collections. It says 'As an AWC is such a high-profile change in service provision, a party in opposition can use the change for political gain. This can cause unnecessary public opposition in advance of or following the introduction of an AWC scheme The risk should be identified at the outset and action taken to address it if necessary as soon as possible.' Amid repeated warnings that public resistance should be minimised, the instructions say: 'The timing of local elections may affect your thinking on when best to introduce the concept to members and to the public, and the proposed roll-out schedule for the AWC.'

WRAP, which has 200 staff and costs the taxpayer £80million a year, was set up by Mr Miliband's department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to further the Government's waste strategies across the UK.


I was particularly moved by an article in the weekend press by Julia Langdon. She said, and I quote: "It is never going to be easy, sitting at the bedside of someone who is dying. But, as I held my sister-in-law's hand on what was to be her last day of her life, I had a few hours for solitary reflection on the sorts of things one thinks of at these times and - because of where I was - the state of hospital care in this country. She was in a private hospital in Canterbury. She had her own room and bathroom. It was pleasant, clean and comfortable. The nurses were there to comfort and make sure she was not in any pain. How odd, I thought that hospitals in the NHS are never like this.....

Last week, with all these memories still quite fresh in my mind, I went to another hospital - this time in West London - where I was visiting a friend who had undergone a routine hip replacement operation on the NHS. The Ravenscourt Park Hospital was acquired by the Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust four years ago and, although I had been there for a routine mammogram, I had not previously been further than the diagnostic screening department.

It turns out to be a magical establishment - for a hospital, anyway. It immediately gave the lie to my gloomy reflections (on the NHS). It is light and bright and quiet and cheerful. I found my friend in her own room on a newly refurbished ward, part of the improvements which one Government minister boasted that £10 million of our money had been spent - and I felt glad my taxes had gone into such an enterprise. She had her own bathroom, a hand basin in the room, a window on to the garden and access to a geranium-bedecked terrace. The nursing staff were accessible and interested and the food looked healthy and appetising.

The building, which had once been the Royal Masonic Hospital, is a monument to Thirties construction and design. The place has been completely updated - at our expense - as one of the new-style diagnostic treatment centres. It has several new operating theatres and everything is state-of-the-art. It is one of the cleanest hospitals in the country. Every one loves working there. It has been described as 'one of the jewels of the NHS.' When he was Health Minister, John Hutton said in praise of Ravenscourt Park Hospital 'This is what investment and reform of the NHS is helping to bring about.'

And so? And so dear readers, it is to be closed in two weeks time.

This is a story of unbelievable incompetence and mismanagement, of Government policy not having been thought through, of a tragic and insupportable waste of taxpayers' money, of crass stupidity, of a National Health Service that is falling to bits because of a lack of political leadership, and of management bungling.

The simple facts are that the hospital was acquired on a 15-year lease in 2002 for £14 million. It was intended to be a centre for elective surgery - hips, knees and eyes - and for diagnostic health care. It was seen as a route to cutting hospital waiting lists. In order to be financially viable, the hospital had to treat 11,000 to 12,000 patients each year, but the patients have never arrived. The average number each year has been 4,500. The reason for this is that, as a result of deliberate change in Government policy, operations with long waiting lists were switched to the private sector. Ravenscourt Park cannot perform operations for other hospital trusts at competitive rates that the trusts can afford. Therefore, five out of the seven local hospital trusts have refused to use it.

Ravenscourt Park has had only 40 of its 106 beds in use on average and is running at an annual deficit of £12 million with a forecast accumulated loss of £37 million over the next four years.

The hospital building is subject to a preservation order and will be mothballed at a cost of £5 million a year until a private-sector entrepreneur spots the investment potential; I do not imagine it will be long.

In the meantime, I shall probably find that my next mammogram will be conducted, as it was before, in a caravan in the public swimming pool car park."

You couldn't make it up, could you?


Ray Thompson

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