Monday, January 22, 2007

Hospital alarm

Alarming changes to our local hospitals will also be under discussion at the ward committee next Monday (that's 7pm at Rocky Lane Methodist Church, Monday 29th).
The project team are coming to explain their proposals. I'm not expecting to feel comforted.

The first wave of changes would strip children's wards and emergency surgery from City Hospital.

Then there's 2010 - or probably much later than 2010 - when they plan to replace all major services at City and Sandwell Hospitals on a new site in Grove Lane, Smethwick.

I spoke on this subject at the city council meeting two weeks ago and was interested to discover that the Grove Lane they mean is the one at Cape Hill, not the one that runs down from Soho Road. There are no maps in the consultation documents to explain.

Local people use both hospitals. My children were all born at Sandwell Hospital. Grove Lane, Smethwick, is approached via the Rabone Lane industrial estate from north west Birmingham. I've used that route a few times, it's a useful cut-hrough but we've also had some nasty bumps along there. I guess the ambulances might use the motorway.

Also alarming when Good Hope, our third local hospital, is going under the wing of Heartlands. I was on the community health council when City and Sandwell were sandwiched together under the same management. We were assured repeatedly that it was purely a management reorganisation to save on the costs of bureaucracy. Some of us were pretty certain it was not - and how right we were. If City had gone under the same management as Good Hope the new hospital would be going up in Witton, by Spaghetti Junction, and THAT'S WHERE IT SHOULD BE! A few years ago in fact there was a report in the papers warning that the region could end up with one super-hospital at just this site. No chance!

Our constituents in Witton are even more worried as many do not have cars. I talked to one whose child regularly uses the children's ward at City Hospital. Now she will have to travel to West Bromwich. How many bus changes is that?

The problem, if you follow my argument, is not that NHS managers keep trying to change things. It is the utterly pointless and endless reorganisations that take place. So we end up with short-termism dressed up as long-term strategy. All that is taking place at the moment is being driven by the inadequate funding of health services for west Birmingham and for Sandwell.

The plan also involves proposals for a chain of community hospitals, including one placed somewhere like Witton. I like it in theory but get alarmed when they try to suggest that casualties could be diverted to these hospitals.

When I spoke at the council I reminded the council of some history. That when the General Hospital was closed in the early 90s, people were told city centre emergency services would be provided by Dudley Road Hospital, which was then renamed City Hospital. In addition a minor injuries unit was open on the site of the General Hospital. The minor injuries unit was hardly used and closed within a year or two.

There is already concern about the staffing of the five community hospitals. And once the public realise they are not open 24 hours they lose confidence in them and cease using them. Exactly the same fate as has befallen our local police station and neighbourhood office (which however continues to provide a good service to many people, I hasten to add). In addition, how is somebody with, say, a sprained ankle supposed to know which kind of hospital to use? How do they know whether it's just a muscle sprain or a broken bone?


A chat with the new park warden

A walk in Perry Hall Park today and a chat with the new park warden Jez Lilley.

What a great appointment this is! He is brimming with ideas both for Perry Hall and for Perry Barr Parks.

He has already opened up a new "avenue walk" from the Perry Avenue car park. There is an avenue of trees tucked behind Derrydown Road which Jez has identified as an old Victorian Avenue so he has made a walkway through from the car park and has plans to create more natural features along it. So please don't kick the piles of leaves he's made. In a year or two they will be breeding beautiful butterflies.

He's also been taking a look at the old Chinese water garden and confirms that it was built as just that. Now he's thinking about how it can be restored.

In Perry Barr park he's getting involved in the project to clean up the lake and has hopes of setting up angling lessons for local youngsters.

Jez and the parks team will be coming to the ward committee meeting next week to tell us more.

The meeting's at 7pm at Rocky Lane Methodist Church on the 29th.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Trolley watch

We have been doing an intensive trolley watch for a few weeks now. Last week we reported a total of 8 trolleys on Cliveden Avenue.

Abandoned trolleys are the blight of modern society. A quick search on the internet gives details of how the rest the of world is trying to cope with the problem.

As local councillors we have been battling with Asda for some time trying to get them to take responsibility for their trolleys. It must be costly for them to keep losing them.

We have been told that the trolleys have wheel locks that operate when the trolleys are taken out of the vicinity of the supermarket. With the amount of trolleys we have dumped in the ward it is obvious this is not working.

A tour of the ward this weekend turned up two trolleys both in the Perry Hall area. They have been reported and we will be checking to make sure that they have been removed.

If you see an abandoned trolley, contact Asda on 0121 344 4550.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Buses and tolls

One story all week in different guises.

OnTuesday the city council meeting received a report on bus use, identifying measures to improve the popularity of buses.

We know what needs to be done - better safety and better routes but have little power to do it. I'm hoping and have been pressing for the West Midlands to be allowed to do what London does and franchise bus routes. That would mean the bus companies having to agree standards and fares to get a bus route. TWM and its owners National Express is dead against this and demonstrated this by hiking fares by 25 per cent this month.

One local resident told me the other day that buses are by far and away faster than a car to commute into town - but he won't use them because they are so smelly and uncomfortable.

My comments in my speech to the council, condeming this "utter disgrace", were widely quoted.

But I went on to talk about the other side of the coin, the proposals for road pricing. We pledged not to be too party political on this blog but the local MP has decided to try to make the issue political, accusing us of overstating the case by describing the congestion charging proposals as "official". Well, they were the main charging proposal in the consultation document Gridlock or Growth issued in the autumn and financed with some £2 m of public money. The government wants the West Midlands to introduce some form of road pricing by 2014. Is that official enough?

I remain hopeful we can nip the toll proposals in the bud. It is true there is probably no local political support for them - but the councils do not have any alternative to offer the government and the highly paid consultants who drew up Gridlock or Growth could not think of anything better.

On Thursday the Liberal Democrat shadow transport secretary Alistair Carmichael MP came to visit the West Midlands and, after a meeting with councillors, I brought him to view the M6 running over the Beeches Estate. His first comment, as he saw it approaching from a distance, was "this was Stalinist planning, wasn't it?". Yes it was and we're trying now to get a change in attitude from the public authorities.

Alistair's message was the sooner or later the system of taxing for vehicles will change.Petrol will run out and global warming is already a major problem. But we must get the solutions right and crude, badly thought out proposals get us nowhere.

I drove him back to the station on the M6, mostly all the along the boundaries of Perry Barr ward to Spaghetti Junction, and up the Aston Expressway which delivers cars straight into Birmingham city centre.