Floods, Fire and Fresh Thinking in the North

imgresAs I was driving along the A6 today, between Carnforth and Morecambe, on my way to visit an elderly patient, I experienced in the space of a few moments both exhilaration and dismay. I was exhilarated by the magnificent view of the mountains of Cumbria, just across the Bay in the beautiful sunshine and felt very grateful for living in such an inspiring and spacious place. And then onto my radio, came the voice of the Prime Minister in response to Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs. He was asking David Cameron about the lack of government response to the floods in Cumbria of 2014. This direct lack of action across the North of England (despite clear warnings) contributed to the appalling flooding that thousands of people have experienced over the last month. That, coupled with de-forrestation and the clearing of land upstream was a recipe for disaster once the storms hit us. Mrimgres Cameron, however, seemed to think it more important to mock Mr Corbyn on his shadow cabinet reshuffle rather than address the very serious questions in hand. The floods have been no laughing matter for the North. They have been devastating and could have been avoided had the North been treated with equity to the South.

The North is a remarkable place, filled with people of great heart and courage, a people who have historically had the ability to unite at a level to bring about significant change. As one example, it was a petition of the people of Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield that saw the end of the slave trade in the UK. So, when the people of the North get a fire in their bellies, you can guarantee that change will come.

imgresWell, the floods are serving as a catalyst for this fire. The floods are only another indication of the injustice the North suffers in favour of the politically lucrative South. The South is not to blame and nor is this post intended to be divisive in any way, but it is high time that the North stood up to be treated as an equal partner and not a poorer brother. In my area of passion, health and well-being, the differences between the North and South are completely unacceptable and indeed detrimental when it comes to making effective change to health outcomes.

As already stated on this blog, despite all the worst health outcomes being in the North, 94% of all health research money is currently spent south of Cambridge. We have conclusive evidence from the Academic and Health Science Network, that health outcomes are significantly better in places where research is carried out , because funding follows the research.

We also know, from Health Education England, that when a direct comparison is made head for headimgres between the North and South when it comes to recruitment and staffing levels there is a £17million deficit in the North. It’s not that we can’t attract people to work here, we’re just not given the money to pay for them in the same way.

imgresWhen it comes to council cuts, again we see the North punished in comparison to the South, even though the need is greater here – which area has the highest use of food banks? The answer is the North West! If you study the map on council cuts (deep red = heaviest cuts, blue = increase in spend) – you will see just one blue area in the North, but major areas of protection and even significant growth in budgets for the South.

 

In Lancashire alone, the county council has to cut £262 million from their budget in the next 2 years. This is going to have devastating consequences to public health provision and social services, which is in in effect a cut to the NHS also. We are already seeing severe bed blockages in our hospitals and without social workers to support our elderly citizens, the crisis will only deepen.

 

imgresMy hope is that the North harnesses the emerging fire to come to a place of equal partnership with the South, raising its voice for justice and love rather than in vindictive, competitive vitriol. I hope that the North will together decide what it is to become a “Northern Powerhouse” rather than being prescribed what it will mean via the ideas and ideals of the Chancellor in Westminster. From my perspective, the North is about a different way of doing things. The North stands for a more equitable and co-operative society. In this moment the North can stand for a forward looking culture in which:

Men and women are equal.

Children are prioritised.

The environment is stewarded well.

Hospitality is an art form, practised and adhered to, where all are welcome and all can find a home.

Inter-culturalism thrives as mutual respect for difference is a core value.

The elderly are honoured and cared for with dignity.

Justice involves much more restoration and less retribution.

The rich do not become ever richer whilst the poor become ever poorer, but cycles of poverty and deprivation are broken through hope and aspiration.

Work is done, not simply to earn money and pay debt, but to create more joy, beauty and care in the world.

Well-being is more important than economic growth which involves people being used as fodder to drive the ever hungry machine.

People take responsibility for themselves and each other leading to more sustainable systems (health/education/social services etc) for all.

Healthcare and education is free and accessible to all.

The North must rise up, not to dominate but to become a different kind of “powerhouse”. A house in which power is poured out for the sake of those who need it most in order to create a more fair, just, loving and peaceful world. This is the new politics, not the farce we are seeing in the corridors of power. People learning to live together differently, having important conversations together to create a future that is more beautiful. Come on the North – let’s use this passion for good!

 

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UK, You’ve Had a Heart Attack – How Are You Now?

MIYou might want a cup of tea whilst you read this! I often see patients a week or two after they have been discharged from hospital with a Myocardial Infarction (what we often refer to as a heart attack). In this part of my home county, once someone is diagnosed with having a MI, they are admitted to Blackpool Victoria Hospital, where an amazing team of cardiologists literally save their life by putting stents into arteries in their heart that have become clogged up. It has been a phenomenal breakthrough in medical science in the last 15 years and has revolutionised how cardiology services are configured.

New medicines are prescribed to help keep the heart and kidneys healthy and patients are reviewed to see how they are getting on. What I always love in the initial consultation following a heart attack is how reflective a person becomes. Everything in their life gets assessed and reprioritised. Key questions are asked about how much stress they have been under, and why they were living at such a fast pace whilst forgetting about what is really important – living well, relationships, love, beauty, people and connecting with the story of who they feel they really want to be for the rest of their life. It is very rare to find a person who is desperate to get back to business as usual or someone who doesn’t ask some fundamental questions about what life is for. It is possible in some of these consultations to have some of the best coaching conversations a practitioner can ever hope to participate in. Asking some questions of the patient about what they are going to change and how they are going to do so.

And yet, in the UK (and indeed the west), we suffered a heart attack beyond all proportions with the economic crash of 2008. But we have not really reflected on the major warning sign that it was to us. We have a government and financial system intent on “getting us back on track” – and I wonder to what, exactly? It isn’t that the financial system alone, just happened to have an infarction. It’s like assuming that a heart attack happens simply because of a defect in the cardiac system itself – this simply isn’t true. The crash was only a sign of just how broken our entire body is and we would do well to reflect a great deal more about how we are living as a nation and whether it gives us any real sustainability for the future of the planet and the generations to come. Our current response is not only to “get back on track” with where we were, but  to “tighten our belts” (which means to cut benefits left right and centre without regard for the dehumanisation of people in the process). It’s like believing the correct response following an MI is to emaciate and punish yourself, without asking some fundamental questions about how healthy your whole life is.

So, what about about a national health check – let’s look at each system in turn and ask some questions – because the truth is, we haven’t faced the fact that we are in an age of transition in which answers are not obvious and we don’t have any experts who have been to the alternative future we long for. So, we have to learn together and ask open questions that provoke better conversations to help us.

Let’s start with Education. George Monbiot has written a stunning piece in the Guardian about the current health of the education system: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/09/aspirational-parents-children-elite?CMP=share_btn_fb – well worth a read. Our education secretary, Nicky Morgan on the other hand isNicky Morgan intent on more testing of our children and has recently given a speech in which she claimed that arts and humanities subject choices close down a child’s career options and they will earn 10% more in their life if they do Maths at A level – whooppee do dah. For an alternative and altogether more inspiring approach, look to the lovely Ken Robinson:

Couldn’t education become about real learning in which our children feel inspired and find hope for the future?

Ecology – Oh dear – so far a string of broken promises on the environment from the western governments. It turns out that oil and industry is more important than the future of the planet. Is it? If not, what are we going to do?

Defence – undergirding our entire nation are three things: Money as debt (see finance), the state of the exception (see law and order) and military violence. The ultimate trust of our nation rests on nuclear warheads. How healthy is this? How much fear do we have to create as a narrative to believe this is actually a good thing? Do we want that to be the undergirding faith of our nation? And what about the change in rhetoric regarding soldiers who die in war. David Cameron recently referred to soil from the battle fields of WWI (which was brought to London) as ‘Holy Ground’ and he described those who died fighting for the ‘allied forces’ as ‘martyrs’. Is the nation state therefore the ‘saviour’? If it is, what on earth do we mean by this? If not, then is there other language we can find to use about the two world wars without creating a very dangerous worldview?

Housing – 69% of the land continues to be owned by 0.6% of the population and there is a real lack of social housing available in deprived areas. This is causing significant problems for those already under huge financial strain, given the effects of austerity measures. Who does the land belong to and why?

Justice – How many of the perpetrators of crime are victims of a system that left them with little or no other choice but to commit crime? How restorative is our justice process?

Law and Order – our prisons are full to breaking, our police force is being cut and replaced with private security firms. How effective is our law and order system? And what undergirds it? Georgio Agamben cuts through to the heart of the issue in his exquisite book ‘State of Exception’. Underneath the whole of western ‘democracy’ lies the right for the government to suspend the rule of law i.e. invoke Marshall law if deemed necessary. I look at the people movements emerging across Europe right now and wonder how far we are from the ‘state of exception’ being invoked. All it will prove, as we already know, is that democracy is a vain imagination. What is it that undoes ‘the powers’? Could a movement for positive peace, founded on love offer any realistic alternative? If so, what?

Immigration – apparently the answer to our problems is to become more fearful of the ‘other’, create a politics of fear and blame immigrants for our financial problems. We are barricading our doors Syrian Refugeesand building up our walls to ‘protect our way of life’. And while there are currently 4 million homeless Syrian refugees, the UK has welcomed 147 of them in total. Did you know that the entire world population could fit into Texas? Our concerns about lack of space and lack of jobs is really unfounded and we seem willing to ‘love our neighbours’ with great initiatives like comic relief and generous charitable giving, just as long as it doesn’t actually have to affect us and our way of life…..how loving is that? How healthy is love that does not truly cost us and change us?

Health – this whole blog is about it, but 1 in every 5 pounds spent in the NHS is due to poor lifestyle choices we are making. We can’t live imgresexactly how we want if we hope to continue with a health service that is free for everybody. How will we change the culture? Can we find innovative ways of working collaboratively within the system that breaks down the silos in order to work more effectively for the good of our national health? Is privatisation the answer? If not, what are we willing to change/protest about to keep it public?

Government – a majority with 36.4% of the vote? Deeply wrong. There continues to be profound disengagement with the system and a deep cynicism that the current style of government can bring any real lasting change. We need a new politics – what might that be like? Where are the leaders who will choose to facilitate instead of dominate?

imgresEconomy – ah yes, that old chestnut. Do we want an economy in which the gap between rich and poor continues to widen? Do we want a system in which the poor are punished whilst the rich are exonerated for their greedy crimes? The entire western economy is based on a system of debt that requires us to continually grow and expand our borders so that the debt can be serviced. We have become slaves to the economic beast. Where are the alternative experiments emerging? What can we learn from them? Are we brave enough to try something new? I have posted this before, on my other blog – www.reimaginingthefuture.org  but Charles Eisenstein is so worth watching:

The human heart provides us with a great metaphor. The health of our nation(s) is not good. We’ve had the wake up call, and if we’re not careful (this is a warning from a doctor, so take heed), the next heart attack will be even more catastrophic. We have to reflect on where we are and ask ourselves where our current trajectory will lead us. I don’t want to get back on track if it leads us to more depression, destruction and decay. I want to find the road less traveled by – the one that leads to life, hope, love, regeneration, recreation and a beautiful future for our children. So many questions. So much to learn.

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