Friday, 17 June 2011

Hotel rooms -be careful what you believe in an advert.

On 14th June I found myself looking for a hotel in Oxford. A receptionist at one hotel that was full kindly called a Travelodge. They had a room but I was staggered to be quoted a cost that was so outrageous I've forgotten exactly what it was - something like £130. The Travelodge receptionist kindly said that I might get a better rate if I 'phoned central reservations & gave me a number. I expect you can guess what happened - several minutes of PR claptrap at a premium rate before I am invited to press a number to speak to reservations & - you got it- more minutes of PR claptrap before my phone ran out of credit. I eventually got a four star hotel dinner bed & breakfast deal at less than Travelodge quoted for a bare room. On the way home I checked at a Travelodge reception and was told that for 'walk in' bookings there are 'flexible charges'.I tried to verify this when I got home but could find nothing on the Travelodge website - not even a central reservations number. So if any Travelodge executive reads this could they please use the comment option to correct me if I have anything wrong and set out exactly how their system works when one cannot use the online service.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Links, statistics & lies

A few years ago we were told that gas prices followed crude oil prices as crude powered to $145 a barrel in July 2008 & gas followed. At that time the price of diesel was 129pp/l. By December 2008 the oil price had collapsed to $33 p/b and diesel was 95pp/l but gas had not moved down much. A few weeks ago crude was about $140p/b & diesel was 141pp/l. NOTICE THAT THIS FUEL COST IS 12pp/l HIGHER THAN THE PREVIOUS PEAK. Crude has now fallen back to $98p/b & diesel dropped by 4pp/l. SCOTTISH POWER ANNOUNCES A 19% PRICE HIKE IN GAS. Is someone being economical with the truth when they talk about wholesale & retail commodity price relationships?

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Back me or sack me says Cameron over NHS

According to the Independent newspaper Cameron is going to make a back me or sack me speech about the NHS in which he is expected to repeat the old message that 'no change is not an option'. Clegg comes out with the same type of remark. But what does the phrase actually mean? In truth not a lot. Any organisation (except apparently the House of Commons given the dreadful NO2AV campaign) that takes the view that no change is necessary is in serious trouble. What actually matters is what change,by whom,how & when. I have not seen any persuasive case to support the need for the sort of wholesale shake up that the Government is proposing. The instances of NHS failure so lovingly & extensively paraded by the right wing Tories & their print media are failures of detail management not wholesale structural inadequacy. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that shareholder owned, commercial businesses are any better at such detail management of a large & diverse business. Look at the mess BP got itself into to say nothing of the Banks. Indeed as my previous recent blogs have shown 'private' companies in the health sector can easily be worse than the NHS. So any NHS Bill however mutilated [right wing words] or improved [left wing words] which is based on the previous proposals just needs to be totally abandoned and the issue re-visited much more carefully and hopefully with all party support. Dream on.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Another ? over private involvement in the NHS

Yet more evidence that the private sector is maybe no better at doing the job, either in terms of clinical excellence or financial management, than the NHS. The 'Observer' reports [5th June 2011] that Circle Health, the first private Company selected last November to run an NHS hospital reported losses of over £27m in its accounts filed last year - before the NHS Hospital deal. They did have NHS contracts during this period of loss. Circle Health has a large number of clinicians in its ownership but it is just one company in a complex corporate structure involving the British Virgin Islands and Jersey. Its financial backers include generous donors to the Tories. The Observer quotes a City health analyst as saying:"I can't get my head round the model and how it will make any real money. It seems to require more revenue to cover operating costs". Nothing illegal or improper but surely worth thinking about a bit more deeply before piling headlong into private sector involvement in the NHS.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The NHS and Private Health Care

Silly me, I thought it was only Nick Clegg who broke election promises. Cameron stood for election promising 'no more top down re-organisations of the NHS'.

Let us be clear. The NHS so called 'reform' debate has nothing to do with private hospitals or other care provision provided via private health insurance or by individuals.

The issue is whether taxpayers money should be spent in those businesses. All the evidence shouts a resounding NO. Tory MP Nick de Bois is pushing for a YES. He has done nothing wrong but does not advertise that he is heavily involved with a company that stands to greatly benefit if the current Lansley proposals go through.

The Financial Times [not famous for being a left wing publication] on 4th June carried a front page headline; SOUTHERN CROSS CHIEFS NETTED £35m. Five Directors sold their shareholdings in Dec 2007 for 550p a share. The current share price is 6.3p, the Company is in deep trouble and some 31000 elderly & vulnerable people may well have their lives disrupted. Again there is nothing illegal about any of this but it cannot be right that the services that Southern Cross provide can be treated like any other business to be just bought & sold like a bar of chocolate. An FT investigation published on 31st May found that one in seven care homes run by private sector companies were rated 'poor' or 'adequate'. Old people deserve 'excellence' - not stock dealing profit making.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Winterbourne View - private 'care' a misnomer?

The Winterbourne View exposure demonstrates that the private sector MUST NOT be allowed to penetrate the NHS and indeed if the NHS is to be "reformed" those private sector habits that have already been introduced over the years must be subject to intense scrutiny & change.

After the shocking Panorama programme relating to abuse at Castlebeck's home the company made a comprehensive & welcome statement of contrition saying " As soon as senior Management were made aware of these allegations 12th May 2011 we etc etc". They went on to say " two managers have separately been suspended" and add that senior professional staff had no knowledge etc. WELL WHY ON EARTH DIDN'T THEY? Did anyone from Head Office in Darlington ever visit unannounced? Did any of the senior professional staff turn up unannounced? If they had they could hardly have missed what was going on. No good just blaming failures of the Regulator. When you run ANY business you should make it a priority to know what is going on, not just relying on reports. In my industrial career the production director would turn up at 3 in the morning and so forth & walk round the factory & see if the manager was asleep etc.

Do not get the idea that the failings at Winterbourne are unique. Extreme maybe but far from unique. I have qualified children who work in the sector. The norm is to employ the minimum number of qualified staff and use 'support staff' paid not a penny more than the minimum wage. In one home belonging to a major company in the sector the manager had no medical qualifications & her role was simply & exclusively to cut as many corners as possible to squeeze costs.
Complaints fell on deaf ears. It was so bad that my daughter & some colleagues got legal advice but, of course, were advised against doing anything. The imbalance of legal resources was too great. She doesn't work there any more. The Civil Law & Justice have no contact with each other but that's another story.

HgCapital invested in Castlebeck in 2002 valuing the enterprise at £50million [see website]. It identified potential to improve margins through: operational leverage and efficiency gains and improved occupancy management. No mention of patient care improvement!!