Opinions, hopes, dreams and discussions – on every topic from health to welfare, me to you, politics to parenting. Ready for some conversation?
Prostate Cancer UK launches its Awareness Month fundraiser today: the Sledgehammer auction. You can pick up a signed photo of the 1966 England football team, a Gran Corsa high specification bike and a gold plated Optimus Harmonica amongst other lots between now and Sunday 31 March. The auction is a culmination of The Sledgehammer Fund, the charity’s major national awareness and fundraising drive fronted by comedian Bill Bailey.
Last week – on a smaller scale – friends, fundraisers and the office team who make this small charity punch consistently above its weight met up at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden London to celebrate the work that goes on all year, and to introduce new supporters to the organisation. We listened to CEO Owen Sharp (@OwenSharpCEO) explain why awareness is still a driving issue, prostate surgeon Roger Kirby on his personal battle with the condition he treats day in day (my own interview with him, and fellow urologists John Anderson and Damian Hanbury was in the Daily Mail last week), and, as Ambassador, I was lucky enough to interview BAFTA award winning playwright Peter Moffat on stage.
Peter is the writer behind BBC 1′s legal drama Silk – where chambers clerk Billy Lamb develops prostate cancer. Peter revealed to us that his own father had developed prostate cancer and not been diagnosed until it was too late. He had been embarrassed because symptoms concerned his ‘waterworks’, explained Peter with some frustration. His father was treated with hormone therapy but died six years later. After our conversation, we persuaded actor Neil Stuke who plays Billy to join us on stage, and Peter very kindly auctioned a character name in the next series of Silk – which fetched £1,500 from Vice Chair Ray Kelly.
It reminded me of that other village – the one Hillary Clinton conjured up in her book It Takes A Village; the one it takes to raise a child.
I think we need to act like a Village more and more – to work together on diseases like prostate cancer; and to warn those around us – through personal awareness campaigns – of the dangers. The Sledgehammer auction is a terrific way of getting the message across – and of raising funds. But if you don’t get lucky bidding for the hi-vis Royal Mail jacket signed by the Emmerdale cast (for example), you can help in other ways, every day. Talk to your friends and family about prostate cancer. Get the message across anywhere, any time, any how.
Abortions were outlawed in Romania in 1966 until the death of the dictator in 1989. Previously, under the Soviet regime, they had been readily available.
Now a study – Abortion, contraception, maternal mortality and fertility in Romania during the period 1965–2010 - published in today’s edition of the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care shows the effects of that policy: a shocking rise in maternal deaths.
Women, it seems – as many have suggested, but not previously been able to prove using research – don’t stop having abortions if these procedures are outlawed or made more difficult. They carry on ending unwanted pregnancies using any method they can – however unsafe. The study demonstrates that limiting abortion does not prevent women from seeking pregnancy terminations but simply increases the risks they face.
Says Professor Malcolm Potts, one of three authors and British director of the Bixby Centre for Population, Health and Sustainability at the University of California, Berkeley : ‘Countries that increasingly seek to restrict access to abortion and contraception should look and learn from Romania’s example… All legislators in Britain and elsewhere who really care about women’s safety – and, indeed, women’s lives – need to pay attention to these findings.’
Moreover, the study showed that when access to abortion was restored, abortion rates actually began to fall as women were also offered better access to contraception, too. In the long run, high quality family planning information was more useful in seeing the number of terminations reduced than blanket restrictions.
UK-based experts agree: Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) says: ‘When women cannot obtain abortion legally in their own country, they either travel to countries where they can, or they risk their health by resorting to unlawful means at home.’
Kate Guthrie, spokesperson for the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare adds: “This study starkly demonstrates the risks, often with fatal consequences, that women will take to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Equally it shows the dramatic impact that easy access to contraception had on abortion.”
So when UK anti-abortion campaigners demand initiatives to restrict access to abortion – such as MP Nadine Dorries’s proposals reducing the time limit in which legal abortions can be obtained (from the current 24 weeks down to somewhere between 12 and 20 weeks), we know now what this could mean for the women actually affected. Public policy makers have been handed a rare gift in this piece of research – they should use it wisely.
The NHA (National Health Action) new political party launches at Westiminster today with an aim to protect the NHS, which it says ‘is currently being dismantled by the [Coalition] government’s unpopular health reforms’.
Co-leaders Dr Clive Peedell – interviewed first by www.underthescope.co.uk earlier this year - and Dr Richard Taylor (formerly Independent MP for Wyre Forest 2001 and 2010, elected on a Save Kidderminster Hospital banner) will be there with other health professionals and supporters, many wearing stethoscopes and scrubs. The party also intends to follow the recommendations of the Health Select Committee’s 2009/10 reports, and campaign on deprivation, housing, and public health.
Crucially they will announce the top high profile seats they intend to target at the next General Election.
These will be:
South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt)
Tatton (George Osborne)
South Cambridge (Andrew Lansley)
Witney (David Cameron)
Yeovil (David Laws)
As blogger Eion Clarke on The Green Benches says, all are areas where Labour cannot win (and in some has even stood down their candidates in the past to help independents such as Martin Bell succeed). And for statistical reasons none are impossible. Merely threatening the incumbents will be highly embarrassing and divert campaign resources away from marginals.
Clive Peedell told me last May: ‘The NHS almost defines Britishness these days; it is a huge part of the social fabric of this country. It is how we care for one another – once you start to take that apart, you lose what society is about. And yet we are seeing it being dismantled without any democratic mandate. Remember at the last election when the Conservatives promised no top-down reorganisation, no privatisation? It is vital we get people into the House of Commons to prevent it being dismantled further and lost.’
To those who say the reforms are making no negative difference, he pointed out, ‘The changes won’t happen overnight but three, five, ten years from now the system will be completely transformed. Lots of private companies will be using the NHS logo but it won’t be completely privatised because a large chunk simply isn’t profitable so no company will want to take that on.’
Lewisham GP and prominent anti-Health Act campaigner Dr Louise Irvine, another founder of the NHA told GP today that the founders of the party felt a political challenge to the government was necessary because it seemed impervious’ to opinions expressed by the public, professionals and patients about NHS reform. ‘We are taking the fight to them – to where it hurts. They care about losing seats. We feel there should be political consequences for behaving how they did. They said they weren’t going to do anything to the NHS in the election, they covered it up and they went ahead. There need to be consequences. We don’t know if we will achieve anything, but it is worth trying.
‘We have no big donors, membership is open to everyone. We need activists and people to donate – we will build from the bottom up.’
‘We want local candidates with good local knowledge. We’d be happy for doctors to stand, or other health workers. But it could be other ordinary citizens.’
The Labour Party has not welcomed the NHA Party although clearly they share certain left-wing beliefs. In fact, many are warning that a vote for NHA will mean one fewer for Labour and is not without danger, especially as the NHA wishes to stand up to 50 candidates in the next General Election. As Colin Leys points out in the Guardian: Some of the brightest and best of the NHS doctors who led the fight against the coalition’s health and social care bill have lost confidence that the Labour party, which founded the NHS, now has the will to save it. The new party could help to make the NHS an election issue and pose a question for Ed Miliband. He has promised that Labour “will repeal the NHS bill”, but how serious is this commitment?’
Clive’s view was: ‘Labour says it wants to repeal the Bill but we have to remember that New Labour formed the platform enabling Lansley to do what he is doing now.’
And he confirmed: ‘We’ll be analysing the most vulnerable Conservative and LibDem seats and starting there. Labour aren’t safe. There are a couple of its MPs who really sold out the NHS who should be worried.’
The NHA has promised not to field a candidate against anyone who shares its goals for the NHS. Perhaps in my ideal world, it would no longer need to to field any by 2015. But I doubt it somehow.